Swallows off Caribou (Saigon, Vietnam)

Okay, so this was our first City with a mishap but that’s pretty good considering we’re onto city #5 and we planned this all ourselves. There were some really funny moments that I’ll try to explain but you probably won’t find quite as funny… but try to humor me!

Quick history 

This City had been called Saigon by the Republic in the South and Ho Chi Minh City by the North, under communism. It’s now used interchangeably, with most young people calling Ho Chi Minh City. The city has a population of 10 million, with another 2 million coming in from the country to work everyday. Everyone pretty much owns a motor bike, and you can buy one for about $1,000 USD (meanwhile cars have a 200% tax).

Day 1: Dennis set up a group tour (first mistake) for us to see the city and head to the Cu Chi Tunnels, another tour in the evening to go out with a local for drinks and street food, and while on the city tour we went off the spreadsheet and bought tickets to see the Saigon Opera that night.

All was going great on our 8 hour tour (the length of time was in the title of the tour), even after walking up to Independence Palace for our tour guide to say “Please wait for me, I’ve lost the tickets” and not understanding our question of “where is the bathroom/water closet/washroom….”. We went to Notre Dam Cathedral (we couldn’t go in because it was under renovation), and the Post Office (which we later found was pretty cool but our guide left us to fend on our own). This is also where we bought the tickets to the Opera for 6pm. Next stopped at the War Remnant Museum before lunch, where we got the Vietnamese take on the Vietnam War.


On the way to lunch, Pennis… I mean Dennis… asked what time we’d be back from the tunnels in the afternoon. We assumed 4pm based on the timing on all correspondence, and figured if even an hour or 2 late, we could go directly to the Opera without a stop to the hotel. Glad we asked…. the tour guide said we’d be back around 7/7:30 if traffic wasn’t too bad. In rolls everyone’s frustration, and we decide to leave the tour after another rice and noodle lunch. Of course we all get pissed at each other, even though it’s nobody’s fault, and tensions started to rise. The tour company offered to take us to the tunnels the following day, but this conflicted with our already booked tours: morning through China Town with a local and a sunset cruise on the Saigon River. We needed to decide what to do but first, a little afternoon nap before the Opera.

Opera was amazing – it was a cirque de soliel style show. Next we did the tour with the local, but it was raining and we were all pretty exhausted and some not feeling too well. We probably could’ve skipped the final tour, but we did see cool stuff and it would’ve been a lot of fun had we been feeling up to it. Dennis was a trooper tasting everything, our guide at the end didn’t think we enjoyed it much. :/

Day 2: We decided to split up – HH and I went to the tunnels, missing the China Town Tour, and Dennis went on a date to China Town (he loved it, and his post will be coming soon). some of his photos are below).

The Cu Chi Tunnels were fascinating, and it was very interesting to learn about all the methods they used: booby traps, shoes that made the appearance of going the opposite direction, the chimney smoke from cooking purposely coming up serval feet away and made to look like morning fog, etc. HH and I went though only one of the tunnels, but the other 2 in our group did the longer tunnels, which included a few bat encounters. The couple on our tour with us was from Denmark and they were very nice, we chatted quite a bit on the way back and realized we had a picture of the woman from the night before at the Opera… creepy and still not sure if I should’ve shared with them, but I did and the four of us had a good laugh. We also made a stop at a warehouse where victims of agent orange made artwork using duck shells and mother of pearl. The pieces took 18 steps and were beautiful, we each bought one.

Back to the hotel we had a Western lunch at Le Meridien: Pizza, pasta and grilled cheese. We heard about Dennis’ tour and we shared about ours. Quickly we went to change and then headed out for the Saigon River Cruise. Our tour guide Tee picked us up (a common nickname amongst our tour guides it seemed). The tour was supposed to have others on it but they cancelled in the afternoon since it had been raining all day. Luckily the sun was now out so we had a private tour. We went down a black river – polluted with garbage from the slum areas, and were told that it looked this way since people weren’t educated and thought if they threw waste into the water it’d push out to sea. We took this river to a floating temple, the entire time I sniffed a clementine peel to get past the smell, then back up the river to a floating village, stopped for a fresh coconut milk on the way, before making our way back to the doc and seeing city center in lights from the water. We had some great conversation with Tee, who had some of the best English in comparison to other tour guides. Except for the moment I misunderstood which went something like this:

  • TOUR GUIDE: What was your favorite tea in Vietnam so far?
  • ME: I didn’t have much but black, English breakfast.
  • HH: (looking confused as all hell): um, I guess the same, English Breakfast.
  • DENNIS: I’m sorry, did you say tea or THING?
  • TOUR GUIDE: thing.

We all had a great laugh, including Tee. Also worth mentioning: swallows are not to be confused with the Caribou.

We got dropped off after this boat tour at the Sky Bar, located on the 52nd floor giving a clear view of the city from above. We had a night cap with live music before heading black to the hotel to pack up and go to bed.

Verdict: we should’ve spent another day here. There was so much history and lots to see, but we made the best of it and weren’t even going to make Saigon a stop originally. It may become one of my favorite cities on the trip and I’m glad we fit it in!

#travel #southeastasia #Vietnam

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