We finally made it to our last destination by train!!
Reflecting upon the ambitious journey we set out to do from Hong Kong to Ho Chi Minh by train, I was somewhat nostalgic of the fact that the excitement and anticipation had come to an end, and yet I also felt so accomplished because we did it!
Out of all the night rides we have done, this trip from Quy Nhon to Saigon wasn’t the best I must admit. We almost had an entire carriage to ourselves as this train was not full, and whilst this was a bonus because it meant there were fewer people to spoil a toilet, the train rocked and shook pretty hard the whole journey. I can still hear the train toot every couple hundred metres and will never forget that distinct smell of Vietnam trains.
We arrived at 4:30am on new years day feeling pleased with ourselves but also a little sad it had all come to an end (I know, I already made this point), but surely you would understand why we were feeling this way.
I was excited to experience Ho Chi Minh, the history, the chaos, the people, the foods! In short, I enjoyed Ho Chi Minh. It is a big city, but there is so much happening on every corner street that it’s impossible to feel bored. It is almost like the Vietnamese New York equivalent. The best explanation I heard was that “everyone wants to move to the south, that is, to Ho Chi Minh city, but rarely will you find people from the south move to the north”. Ho Chi Minh truly is a happening city, I guess the Vietnamese city of opportunity.
A brief overview of places we visited whilst in Ho Chi Minh
1. The war remnants museum – previously known as Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes. I love history and places that tell a story. Unfortunately this place depicts a dark, distressing, grief-stricken period in the history of Vietnam. It is difficult to not be disturbed by some of the images and stories reflected in the museum. Particularly images of the effects of the Agent Orange (the toxic chemical) on deformed babies, unborn fetuses and so on. There are also weapons used during the war on display and a tribute to the journalist photographers who died during the war whilst on the job.
Some would say that these images are not appropriate for children, however I used this opportunity to walk with the boys and explain exactly what the images and war was about. You would think that they would have gotten bored right? NOT AT ALL… This was one museum they loved and didn’t want to leave! Of course they loved seeing the guns, grenades and bazookas, but they also had many questions about why the boy had big eyes, or why all the babies were laying dead? This was certainly an interesting museum to visit and I would highly recommend this on your visit to Ho Chi Minh. Just keep in mind that this museum is highly biased and comes across very anti-America. One sort of expects it, but at the same time, I think a more balanced depiction of the war would make this museum top-notch.
2. Saigon Zoo and Botanical Gardens – Unlike the museum, I probably would not recommend the zoo. Especially if you feel any compassion for animals, which I believe is everyone! My main concern was the lack of effort placed in the caged areas. For example the reptiles and tiger areas were just cement, with a lack of any form of life or branches. What was really the final straw was seeing plastic bottles and lids within arms reach of a crocodile. I’m no detective, but it was obvious some silly person or people threw the bottles in order to get a reaction from the crocodile. In another instance a man was taunting a Leopard from the glass window to also get a reaction. The white tiger was hissing at people as they walked by and looked a bit distressed. I wondered why it looked so distressed, maybe it was the fact that it was bored or had no water (I could not see any and it wasn’t difficult to see inside the cage as it was small and nothing but cement).
I usually enjoy Zoos but there was something about this place that made me very uneasy and sad. I know it might sound strange, but it felt like the animals were not happy. Rather than enjoy what is usually a happy family place, the more I walked around the various cages and animal areas the sadder I felt for the poor animals. I have been to Taronga Zoo, Featherdale wildlife park, Reptile park in Sydney, Kölner Zoo in Köln, Germany, Hong Kong Zoo and Botanical gardens and did not feel this same way at either of the places. The animals are really well-kept, you constantly witness zookeepers around the various areas and a lot of effort is placed in making their areas “homely” and inviting for the animals. Unfortunately the insides of where the animals are kept at Saigon Zoo just felt very depressing and I couldn’t wait to get out of there.
I know that Vietnam is still a developing country, maybe the fact that the fee entrance to the zoo is only 50,000 Dong ($2.95 AUD) therefore there is not enough funding to provide better housing for the animals? To end on a positive, the zoo had lovely gardens that are well maintained and there was an area of rides, roller coaster and children activities that you pay extra money for. The boys enjoyed going on the helicopter ride and we all enjoyed the roller coaster.
If gardens and rides are not enough to entice you to visit the zoo, then I would probably recommend giving the zoo a miss – there are plenty of other things to see in Saigon.
3. The Independence Palace
The Palace has recently introduced a kids room where parents can leave their children to play and do activities, while they visit the Palace kid free.
After our time spent being tourists in the morning, we met up with one of Jason’s ex work colleagues for lunch.
4. Cu Chi Tunnels – I highly recommend visiting the tunnels. We caught a taxi from Ho Chi Minh and thought we would make our own way as we didn’t want to get stuck in a tour group. Last time we did it felt a bit awkward on the bus with the multiple toilet stops needed with kids.
Whilst the Cu Chi tunnels has become somewhat commercialised, the history behind the tunnels and just the manner in which these were built is so fascinating! There is an entire village recreated to demonstrate how the Viet Cong militia lived and mannequins to demonstrate the clothing and weapons used.
Just be aware that there are two different Cu Chi tunnel sites. After doing some research, most of the reviews said the Ben Duoc was less crowded and a little further away than Ben Dinh, which is where most tour groups get taken to. Ben Dinh tunnels are recreations, whilst Ben Duoc have original tunnels. All the tunnels have been adjusted to make the entrances wider, the tops opened up in some areas to see the meeting areas etc…
Walking around the area it is just amazing to witness the big craters in the ground that were a result of the B52 bombs.
Tourists get to taste the food that the Viet Cong ate. This is tapioca dipped in peanut and salt and washed down with a cup of green tea.
More Pictures of Ho Chi Minh