With all of the riding finished up two days ago, in Nha Trang, I had some time to kill in Sagion. We got here Thursday night, had a great last dinner together with the entire group, but I leave on Sunday. That left all of Friday and Saturday to explore the city. Ho Chi Minh City is 8 million people, and much more western-feeling than Hanoi. It’s broken up into districts (technically “Saigon” is districts 1, 3, and 5—think Manhattan vs. New York for semantics).
With so much time, I could easily accommodate both individual exploration and group tourist activities. Many of the tour riders were sticking around through the weekend, so 11 of us got together and rented a bus to head out to the tunnels. The Viet Cong built a gigantic series of tunnels, initially to fight the French, and then expanded them in the war against America. They’re pretty wild.
The tunnels they take you through have been expanded, thanks to fatty tourists, although one section is supposedly original size. Some of us went through short sections of the tunnels. It’s definitely not the place for anyone with claustrophobia. They have them lit, of course, but it still gets awfully dark, hot, and cramped in parts. We emerged sweaty and grimy. It’s hard to imagine what it must have been like scampering through those tunnels in the midst of summer with the chaos and death of war around you.
I also went around the city’s various sights by myself, spending a few hours each day just walking. I saw the Reunification Palace (bombed by a VC spy in the war, who reportedly works for Vietnam Airlines today), the War Remnants museum, went to the big markets, and generally experienced much of the city. Everything is much more expensive than the rest of Vietnam, but you can still have noodles from a street vendor for 10,000 dong a bowl, or about $0.66. One night we went to a nice Indian place with a group of ten, which was 2,000,000 VND, including plenty of beer. It’s much more than a dinner elsewhere in the country, but of course still less than the states.
I had a new roommate for the last two nights—Geoff, from Australia—and we were both getting tired of the tourist routine. Of course, we still had time to kill, so what better way than to set off into the city for a random night of drinking and shenanigans? I think we left the hotel at 5pm and returned at 3am. Our night included:
- Steak dinner, only marginally delicious
- Drinks at the top of each big hotel
- Congratulating a just-married bride and groom (including a kiss on the cheek, hah)
- 232,000 VND glasses of cognac
- Dancing at a jam-packed club named Apocalypse Now
- Zipping around town on motorbike taxis
- Spurring our last two bikes into a race (“no, no more money—losers don’t get extra money”)
It definitely accomplished our goal of killing time until we had to leave, especially because the next morning was shot. Without much sleep, and strained livers, it was all we could do to pack, wash our unicycles, and get some food. I left the city at 2pm; I’m actually writing this in an airplane, some 32 hours later, but that’s a sob story for the final Vietnam post…