At long last, I was finally able to take my much awaited summer vacation last week. That's right, summer vacation in the middle of December. I'd originally planned to take it in late September but, for a number of reasons (mostly involving anticipated work that never even actually materialized), it kept getting pushed back.
Yuki and I ended up spending the week traveling around Vietnam and Cambodia. I had originally planned to write all about everything we saw and did, but a week is a long time and I don't really feel like writing an epic post. The easiest way to do this is probably for me to split the trip up into chunks for each place we visited and just write a little bit about it. Also, I took over 700 pictures over the course of the week, so I'm only going to post the one's that I like best or are most illustrative. The rest will likely show up on flickr once I manage to work my way through them.
Right, so onto the story. We used Saigon as our central base of operations during the trip. I was told by a number of people before I went that "there's not much to do there, but the food is good". I was pretty skeptical about this at first, but now I have to say that it's not an entirely unfair assessment of the city.
Having been born a generation too late to have witnessed the Vietnam War unfold, the most interesting place for me was the War Remnants Museum, which had some old equipment around the building and a huuuuuge photo gallery inside. War is ugly business to begin with and the Vietnam War was certainly no exception. We also visited the Reunification Palace (formerly know as the Presidential Palace), where the war came to an end when North Vietnamese tanks crashed through the gates and seized power from the South Vietnamese government, but beyond being a historically significant site it wasn't particularly interesting. The half-day side trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels was worthwhile, if only to get an idea of how terrifying jungle warfare must have been.
Aside from that, there is a good bit of beautiful architecture from the country's time as a French colony, but not much else that really stands out. We checked out most of the places listed in our guidebook but weren't terribly impressed.
While I can't really rave about the sightseeing, I can't say enough about the food. From pho to banh xeo to street stalls, there is very little that we tried that wasn't delicious and dirt cheap. Most of our meals cost less than $5 for the two of us, including drinks. Though I found Vietnamese beer to be largely unenjoyable, we drank countless shakes made with fresh fruit and Vietnamese iced coffee will blow your mind. My only regret is not reading up more about Vietnamese food beforehand, as I think it would have made it much easier for us to try an even wider variety of food from street vendors.
One thing that you can't avoid in Saigon is the absolute flood of motor bikes. Forget looking at traffic lights, crossing the street is like a real life game of Frogger. Think you'll play it safe and stick to the sidewalk? Wrongo-pongo! Impatient drivers at the back of the line will often just hop out of the street and zoom up to the front of the line. I'm sure there are traffic laws in Vietnam, it's just that nobody really pays any attention to them.
Saigon was decent enough but it probably wouldn't make it onto my "Favorite Destinations" list. It's worth a couple of days if you're doing the backpack-around-SE Asia thing, but I'm not convinced it alone is a destination. Fortunately for us, we had plenty more on our agenda...