Apr 29, 2011

Sensory Overload in HCMC

It's just dawned on us that Vietnam is a very very big country and we have a lot of ground to cover in just 30 days.  On one of our lazy beach days in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, with guidebook in hand, we identified a lot of places we want to visit,  so it looks like we will only be able to spend an average of 3 nights and 2.5 days in each.  It will be a busy month ahead.

While our first day in HCMC was a bit of a write-off due to our very late arrival the night before, not only did we manage a good walk to the Ben Thanh Market and the Thai Binh Market (our hotel was conveniently located just in between the two), which was 2km each way, we also organised most of our transportation through the country.  We've decided to go with the 'Open Tour' bus ticket.  With it, you basically identify the destinations you want and pay for it as a whole.  You then travel each 'leg' of the trip and spend as long as you want at the place, before boarding the bus again with the same company to proceed to the next place.  You merely have to book your seat the day before your intended departure.   Departure times are generally once a day and on a fixed schedule.  We've also booked for 'sleeper buses' which will be an interesting experience.  From HCMC to Hanoi with stops in Mui Ne, Dalat, Nha Trang, Hoi An, Hue and finally Hanoi, we've paid approximately $41 US each for 3 seats.

Our second day was jam packed with activity.  At 8am we left for a half day tour to the Chu Chi Tunnel, which is the preserved tunnel system used by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam war.  The original tunnel was actually constructed during the early 1960's and spanned a distance of 200km from Saigon to the Cambodian border.  This section of the tunnel has both been preserved in it's original state as well as reconstructed in parts.  We were able to actually descend into part of it.  While Yasmine and I only traveled 20m of it, Jim and Maddy traveled the entire 100m length, where at points it was only 60cm high and 40cm wide!  Jim also fired 10 rounds of live ammunition with an AK-47 machine gun! The tour dropped us back at the city centre at 3pm, where we grabbed some lunch, then Jim and I took turns getting a massage at the Vietnamese Traditional Massage Institute by blind masseurs, and the girls then had a play at the amusement park across the street. 

Tunnel Opening

Firing an AK-47 with 'live' rounds

This wasn't even the lowest point!

But the day didn't end there!  Next door, the Ho Chi Minh City Circus was performing (only on Saturday and Sunday evenings).  Tickets were $3.50 US/70,000d each for adults, children $2.50 US/ 50,000d and under 3 was free.  It was such an incredibly professional performance with very 'old school' acts.  There were incredible trapeze performers, flying high above the centre ring without any harnesses.  There were acrobats and clowns.  A girl who twirled a zillion hoola hoops at once.  There was a female magician who sliced and diced a person in a box, pulled a bird out of a book, and pulled 'switcheroos' with a person supposedly chained in a box.  My favourite was the contortionist who did things with her body that just didn't seem right!  Yasmine liked the lady with the trick dogs as well as the magician.  Maddy's favourite was the triple trapeze artists.  Two hours of jam packed acts--you really couldn't have asked for any more, especially for $9.50 that we paid for our whole family not to mention our front row seats!  Highly recommended, with or without kids in tow.

With a population of over 5 million people, HCMC is a very busy hectic city renowned for its traffic.  We did manage to cross the road numerous times, doing as the locals do--walking VERY slowly so that the scooters and cars have time to gauge your position and hopefully go around you.  It's also a very interesting city with an eclectic mix of architecture of old and new, commercial and residential buildings all co-existing together.  It's also surprisingly 'green' with tree lined streets and intricate topiary shrubs everywhere, even lining the median strips of major highways, influences of the French no doubt.  It's a city best appreciated by just walking its streets.  However with young kids in tow, this was too challenging for us.  The sidewalks are cluttered with parked and moving scooters, and 'sandwich board' signage from shops vie for space with goods. Most of the time, you have to walk on the street itself, with the scooters, tour buses, local buses, bicycles, other pedestrians, hawkers and even wheelchairs!  While our kids have good traffic sense, at the end of the day, they are just kids who like to daydream at times and sometimes even hop and skip while they walk.  They just can't be expected to have their full 100% attention turned to the act of just 'walking'.  As parents, having to be hyper-vigilant in HCMC is extremely exhausting.  So while we could have definitely spent more time there, we were happy to have had a taste and to LEAVE!

No comments:

Post a Comment