MEKONG BLOG 04
Wednesday March 13, 2019
We’re well into our second week now, and having the time of our lives. On Monday we left the peace’n’quiet of laidback Hoi An and flew into the well-ordered madness and mayhem of Ho Chi Minh City (or Saigon as it’s still called by many locals). Its youthful population of 10 million-plus ALL seemed to hit the road whenever we went walking or driving!
You know the feeling you get on NZ roads when a big bunch of motorcyclists overtake you? Well, multiply that feeling by at least several thousand – and repeat it at every intersection – and you’ll start to get close to what it’s like in this bursting-at-the-seams Asian metropolis. Imagine torrents of helmet-clad bikers (often mum, dad and the kids) whizzing around you, behind you, in front of you, straight for you, and (seemingly) underneath you! Frankly, it’s wonderful!
Don’t ask me what the road-rules are (survival of the fittest?), but the system (or lack of it) works amazingly well … and driving through NZ’s big (small) cities just doesn’t compare.
Tonight, and for the two previous nights, we Kiwis have bunked down in the opulent Hotel Reverie Saigon – listed amongst the world’s Top 100 hotels, and normally way out of our league! But this is the kind of added value Kiwi Mad Midlifers have come to expect!
Yesterday, after an over-the-top breakfast, we took to our feet and checked out Ho Chi Minh City’s historic landmarks – like the Reunification Palace and the Notre Dame Cathedral – including a stop at the Rex Hotel for a refreshing drink at the rooftop bar where the U.S. Military held their infamous ‘Five O’Clock Follies’ during the war.
Tuesday afternoon we dropped in on the Saigon Culinary Arts Centre for another fun Vietnamese cooking class (we’re getting good at this now) … followed by a wander through the bustling Ben Thanh Market.
At some point we also spent an hour in the sobering War Remnants Museum – a grim reminder of the tragedy that shook this region (and the world) back in the 60s and 70s.
This morning, we pursued the theme a little further, motoring out through the rush-hour crush (then, later, past endless rubber-plantations) for yet another unforgettable Indochina experience: the remarkable Cu Chi Tunnels. This 250km-long network of narrow underground bunkers and passageways was used by the communist forces (Viet Cong) to carry out the long struggle for independence that they remember as the ‘American War’. If you’re feeling brave, you can even try some tunnel-crawling yourself – and several of our Mad Midlifers got down-and-dirty doing just that! We also got to see some of the lethal weapons and booby-traps, and watched a guy making Viet Cong sandals out of old tyres.
This scandalous chapter in military history cost 58,000 American GIs their lives … and left 3.5 million Vietnamese dead: most of them simple peasant farmers (along with their women and children) who understood little or nothing of the grand political theories being outworked here in this bombed-to-bits land.
Mixed feelings? I think we’ve all had them during the past day or two … big time!
COMING UP: We transfer to the port on the Saigon River where we get welcomed aboard the Avalon Siem Reap – to start our long-anticipated cruise up the mighty Mekong. Please stay tuned …
PEOPLE-NEWS: Another happy Quacky Yellow Duck has flapped off and found a new home …
- PHIL (who bravely undertook to be a guinea-pig ‘tunnel rat’ this afternoon) wins our ‘Breaking & Entering Award’ – for entering the hotel’s spectacular ballroom, forgetting to close the door, and setting off alarms that had security guards running! Phil and Janet, fortunately, escaped without injury.
- ROB walked away with our ‘Lost & Found Award’ – after walking from the hotel back to the War Remnants Museum, then losing his normally reliable sense of direction and walking around in circles for up to 100 kms (slight exaggeration) before finally turning up hot and flustered a little late for dinner.
Yours bloggedly – JOHN
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