I wasn’t overly enamored with it the first time, but always wanted to come back having missed the South last time. And now at least I can say with certainty that I like the North much better! But I needed to fly to somewhere this neck of the woods from China, so it kind of all worked out. It definitely has been one of those stop-gap type places, and i’ve spent most of my week here with my head sorting out flights/all things India so my heart hasn’t really been in it. None the less:


1)      From minus 1 in Beijing to 25 in HCMC, it’s warm again and my backpack is lots lighter with only my summer threads.

2)      Yoghurt Space. A giant frozen yoghurt chain, with choices of toppings so wide its like the Subway of the desert world or a big version of Pizza Hut’s Icecream factory. And who doesn’t love these.

3)      The Reunification Palace and Chu Chi Tunnels. Making history fun.


1)      Traffic/roads. When you actually avoid going somewhere, just because it’s not worth your time to cross you know it’s getting tiresome. Pass me Gilly T or Koh Samet (no roads) on the asap please.

2)      Apart from Yoghurt-ville and a posh bakery on the way to the War Museum, I have to say I wasn’t loving the food here.

3)      Currency. 30,000 dong to the $1. Come on, just make life easy and knock a few zeros off. Nobody likes withdrawing 5 million from the bank!

Where I stayed:

Bo Tung Xeo HCMC, Saigon Backpackers HCMC, Homestay Long Ho District, Vinh Phuoc Chau Doc.

My Tho/Ben Tre/Can Tho, Mekong Delta, Vietnam

This is the bottom South corner of Vietnam and a scenic few days detour to the Chau Doc Vietnam/Cambodia border for the slow boat to Phonm Phen. And for $30 usd for a little three day tour (with hotels/buses/grub too) it actually easier and almost as cheap as doing it the DIY way. Plus I fancy being mollycoddled and having someone organize me. Sometimes it has to be done.

We go via bus & boat to My Tho, Ben Tre, & Can Tho and along the way take in a bee farm (nice honey tea) a crocodile farm (kind of boring but you get to feed them). Oh and get this; Unicorn Island! Sadly names as it resembles one from the air (apparently) it is not, despite my wildest dreams, inhabited by the little fellas. One day i’m going to find one, mark my words.

We stay in a ‘homestay’ i.e a Vietnamese family home where they cook you a meal, and you hang out and pretend they are your rellys. It’s a little fake but still fun/different, with a nice mixed crowd of us. Like all good gatherings, most of night was overshadowed when our hosts busted out a huge plastic bottle filled with the local homemade ‘happy juice’ – Vietnamese rice wine. (Bit like fermented tequila/sake) Absolutely toxic.  We kept drinking till it tasted nicer. This never happened.

Cu Chi Tunnels, HCMC, Vietnam

This vast warren of underground dirt tunnels were the HQ for the Vietcong in the late 60’s/7o’s.  They spread from Cu Chi (2h from HCMC) right to the Cambodia border. They are made even more remarkable as they were dug on the whole by hand, and maybe the odd handmade trowel here and there.

Our tour guide (Ken) called us all ‘his family.’ The place is swarming with tourists and the guides all have pet names for their groups. We heard lots of ‘this way my brothers’ too. Ken talked gave us a lesson in Guerilla Warfare 101, in case any of want to start our own gory bloodbath, but I have to say he showed us some great tips. Here are my top three things I’ve learnt today.

1) The first is not war related, he told us on the bus on the way there. HCMC is home to 8 million people. And guess how many motorbikes? 5 Million. And all of these are in the last 36 years, since 1975.

2) He showed us a whole range of boobie traps. To give you a visual think of the classic ‘leaves camouflaging a bear pit’ with some bamboo spikes thrown in for extra gore. Very like Leo in the beach when he goes rogue agent and tries to wind up the farmers. Ken proudly demo’s them all, then proudly smiled when he showed us ‘his favorite.’ Macarbe hey, but you know if you are going to have a fave weapon of war, his was a good choice – more bamboo spike rotaries that speared you if you struggles then speared you harder if you were rescued too. Nasty.

3) Now this one is genius. Those clever Vietcong not only fashioned some fetching flipflop shoes out of old tyres. You can but these for $2 and apparently they last you years. BUT they designed them so that they look back to front. In other words, when they were walking away, and American troops tracking their steps, it looked like they were walking backwards! No wonder it took the best part of 10 years to defeat them. Dragon’s Den anyone.

After this surprisingly decent tour, we had a horrible 15 mins at a shooting range where men with inadequacy issues can pay 300,000 dong to fire 10 bullets from an AK43. Insensitive if you ask me, and unnecessarily loud.

Then we separated the wheat from the chaff when we got the chance to crawl through one of the 100m tunnels. They have widened it slightly to accommodate fat Europeans, and ironically Americans, and there are ‘get out’ hatches every 20 meters as apparently most people freak. There are sections where it’s so slim you have to slide down feet first and it’s obviously baking hot down there too. Only 4 /26 of us (yeah that includes me, did you expect anything less!) were good little Vietcong and finished the job. It’s a tiny glimps of the horrific claustapobia and ventilation issues that women and children had to suffer, sometimes up to 10 meters deep. But without taking anything away from the tourist trap it is today, after Potosi mines in Bolivia with its dangerously illegal digging and the small dynamite factor, Cu Chi is Disneyland.

Reunification Palace & War Remnants Museum, HCMC, Vietnam

I always wanted to come to HCMC (Ho Chi Minh City) after skipping it last time. Now I’m here, I have to say; I prefer Hanoi! It’s ok here, but Hanoi has the lake. You can’t beat a city built around a nice lake. And the water park, you definitely can’t beat a water park.

So, I know I have been a total War junkie this month, but today I visited one of the most interesting sights ever. The Reunification Palace stands between Pham Ngu Lao & Dong Khoi in the centre of the city. It is famous for the iconic moment when Communist North Vietnam tanks smashed through the iron gates in 1975, ending the war. The place is frozen in time to that very day, with everything inside remaining untouched. How fascinating is that! I mean obviously they have pimped it for the tourists, but the decor is pure 70’s, and the whole place is like a huge, creepy, Bond villain’s layer. You are free to wander the four floors of preserved books, huge boardroom tables where world leaders once met. They had huge desks with military plans and old-fashioned telephones (black ones and special green ones that intrigue me.) Best of all a was a control panel with a huge RED button that was just aching to be pushed (and possibly a  WMD imminently launched.) There was a helipad on the roof and secret underground tunnels, the lot. I could have spent all day here.

(I took some nice black and white photos as the light was really cool, which are a good effort, even if I do say so myself. And since this blog has been starved of pics for so long, i’ve gona a bit David Bailey.)

Then we have the War Remnants Museum.  Everyone says it’s the better of the two so I saved it for last. And predictably it was terrible. Hundreds of tourists gauping at pics of Agent Orange victims, I don’t know, it just felt wrong. Hiroshima was similar in tone/context but because it was peaceful and quiet it somehow didn’t feel so voyeuristic? The only good bit was a stunning photography exhibition on the top floor; Requiem, showcasing the work and stories of famous war photojournalists.


I’ve thought about this, and it’s hard to do my normal like/dislike list. Everything you HATE about China is kind of what makes it China. I’ll have a go though.


1)      Traffic/crowds – I’ve been to Vietnam. I can cross roads like the best of them. Or so I thought.  This is off the scale however. Green mean go, red means go, one way means both ways, pavements mean scooters and so on and so on. Not good for the nerves. And this is all above ground. The subway is carnage. Surely it makes sense to let people off the underground before you burst through the doors. China thinks not.

2)      Bad month for vegetarianism – Andi’s theory was that you have a 30% success rate with any one meal. As in there’s just something odd/wrong about the other 70%. Namely meat is in pretty much everything here. And if you think it’s not, you’re wrong, it still is. That said, i’m loving the work of all street sellers on the sesame seed/crab fried things.

3)      Neon metropolis v’s bleak/barren wilderness  – The cities redefine what smog and over populating is, stars are a distant memory. The countryside just makes you thank you’re lucky stars that you live in the city. Some of the farm hamlets I passed through on the trains look like the most remote places on earth. Ox’s still plough the fields?! It’s not really easy on the eyes like some countries.

4)      Being gauped at/photographed 24/7. Here is an extract from a conversation that Charlotte that I met in Chengdu had with her students (she’s a teacher). Charlotte: (Out of interest) Why do you stare so much at foreigners, surely you see lots of people that are non-Chinese on TV, in film or magazines? (referring to the reception that anyone white/black/brown/remotely western receive throughout China.) Children: “Just because it’s different. If we came to England we would be laughed/stared at?” No you bloody wouldn’t coz it’s RUDE! Honestly, I can do without people waving camera phones in my face for a while. I’m really not that fascinating.

5)      The Terracotta Warriors.

6)      Scale! An inch on a map is a 30 min walk, the subways run only North to South, never across. To walk even a fraction of Shanghai/Beijing is on par with an Iron Man race. But I guess that’s the deal with a population of over a billion.

7)      You know you are living in a communist state gone mad when you cannot even control your own central heating. Get this. The whole country gets their heating turned on, on 15th November, and it’s turned off, on mass, on some day in spring. Too hot. Tough. To cold? Tough!

8)      Sales tactics – Even when I bought the converse trainers the girl actually threw them at me and snatched her $100 yuan bill. The customer is not only wrong, but risks getting their head kicked in here too. Shopping is not fun. We all play the game, but trying to sell me knock of Diesel Jeans for a starting price of £80, is laughable. I got them for £7.50.


1)      It’s cheap  – Can of coke (30p) metro ride (20p) hostels (£3 and nice) and so on and so on. Dad/Kris: yes your xmas present probably cost 20p from the 2 yen shop. It’s the thought that counts!

2)      Facebook –   It is possible, although it doesn’t work 100% properly – Slow/no photos/vids, ( Pass it on. However try Wikipedia-ing ‘Tianinman Square protests’ and it’s another story. Dislike; supreme censorship.

3)      It’s surprisingly safe (taxi’s are so well-behaved, schooled in the art of honesty & not tuk tuk)

4)      The giant panda. They have the whole world and they only live here. That must mean something.

5)      Crab/sesame seed fried street food things. At least I think it was crab meat. I know I mentioned them already but I’m obsessed.

6)      It’s a funny night out/always a bit mad. If it’s not grown men walking down the road in PJ’s, it’s the annoying pop music and the silly panda hats. Not a lot makes sense.

None of this matters. I’m forgetting of course the ULTIMATE dislike: The banning of wordpress for nearly three weeks. Hence the mass posting!

Where I stayed: Blue Mountain Bund Hostel Shanghai, Hangzhou Hafang Backpackers, Lazybone Backpackers Chengdu, Hangtang Inn Xian, Happy Dragon Hostel Beijing, Sanlitin Hostel Beijing.

Previous Older Entries : The Anantasin is the name of a shipwreck just of the coast of the Sensi Parasise, Mae Haad Bay, Koh Tao, Thailand. It’s one of my many favorite places.

Lit.tle: Just because it’s cute.

Blasts From The Past…

November 2011

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