WE have just sailed into Phu My, the port that services Ho Chi Minh City or as the locals still call it Saigon.
There was a long and protracted war between North and South Vietnam, what is also called the American War, which all came to an end in 1975 when the National Liberation Front (North Vietnam) rolled into Saigon in their tanks and took over the President’s Palace. As the tanks crashed through the front gates of the palace, American helicopters took off from the roof signalling the end of the war.
The Americans had turned Saigon into a bustling city with a huge nightlife and it still goes on today.
With a population of over 9 million, Saigon caters for everything from its central Ben Thanh market, full of copy tee shirts and watches and everything else in between, to a sophisticated nightlife full of clubs and more it has it all.
Must sees are the Reunification Palace, Notre Dame Cathedral, Central Post Office designed by Gustave Eiffel, who also did the tower in Paris and the Chu Chi Tunnels, which is where the Viet Cong had an underground network with hospitals and accommodation for troops so as they could hide during the war. The hand dug tunnels would just fit a small Vietnamese but not the much bigger allies.
A warning though. If you visit the Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes, expect a far different story of war than what we see in the West. The hundreds of graphic photos of the destruction of war tell a horrific story from the communist view point.
Saigon is a great city to visit with its wide streets. A hangover from its French Colonial influence, which still lives on today, is its freshly baked bread and croissants for sale on the streets together with the Vietnamese love of coffee.
Armed with our purchases and experiences, we return to our ship to head further down the coast.
It’s early morning as you arrive to what many call the Mediterranean of Vietnam, the port of Nha Trang. The crystal clear, blue water of the bay is a buzz with little fishing and tourist craft busily plying their trade.
Overhead are seven huge towers crossing the harbour where a cable car carries visitors to Pearl Island, a blossoming tourist attraction with an aquarium and much more.
Nha Trang has a temperate climate and over the years has attracted new residents from many parts of the world.
Its long white sand beaches and turquoise sea make this resort town a great place to spend some time. The shopping is good, and there is a range of options from simple markets to five star shopping. The town’s history dates back to the Champa Kingdom 13 centuries ago, and it still offers the spectacular view of the Cham Tower complex, which is still used by locals as a religious site today.
Vietnam is the land of the motorbike. It often seems there are more motorbikes than people.
In the cities it can be daunting to face a wall of motorbikes coming towards you as you cross the wide roads. The idea is that you just step off the curb and keep walking at a steady pace and all going well the motorbikes will go around you.
Out in the countryside every so often you will see a wayside stop with refreshments and shade on offer and a number of hammocks. It has become the custom that weary motorbike riders, after 50km or so, will pull over, buy a drink and lie in a hammock for a while before resuming their journey.
Maybe we could do something similar for country motorists in Australia. Just think of it, a Big Mac and a good lie down.
Our journey in Vietnam continues as we call into the port of Da Nang, a big city highlighted with a 67m tall statue of the Goddess of Mercy overlooking the waters of the South China Sea.
The white sandy beach runs for kilometres and was known by the American soldiers as China Beach. It’s where they spent much of their ‘R&R’ during the Vietnam War. The government no longer likes any reference to China so they have renamed it My Khe Beach, but to me it will always be China Beach.
Da Nang is home to the museum of ancient stone statues from the Charm Civilisation. It’s an incredible record of the Champa era that ruled the area for 2,000 years. Not Buddhist but Hindu.
It’s from Da Nang you make your way to Hoi An. Hoi An is a fascinating ancient city with its incredible old section. Today it’s the city of tailors where you can have anything made in just one day.
You can also travel from Da Nang to Hue, which was once Vietnam’s Imperial City. The huge citadel there bears testament to the greatness of a people whose architecture would have rivalled the great buildings of the world.
As we re-board our ship we set sail for one of the jewels in the crown of Vietnam, Halong Bay, but more on that when we arrive.
Until next time,