The next day we then drive to Ho Chi Min city and check into our smart hotel. Its a bit like being in London really, I was expecting it to be more like Han Noi.
That night we meet up with the Travel Indochina boys and have a lovely dinner at the Old Opium Refinery, now a smart restaurant.
We start with spring rolls with peanut dipping sauce and fresh chilli, well balanced and tasty. Next we had Pomello, squid and crab salad, wasn't too sure at the start, but it was well balanced, sharp and packed full of white crab meat. Quickly followed by another salad, this time green mango finely shredded with peanuts and chilli. Mains were again simple and straight to the point, grilled prawns, half de shelled, were grilled to perfection, eating the heads also was a nice touch. Fried fish with beetroot and chicken with a crunchy lemon grass topping. Accompanied by the obligatory soya bean sprouts with green shallots, rice and noodles. This was very good food and served by smiling and well informed staff. Off to bed as I was really looking forward to the next day.
Our next day we set off to the Cu Chi tunnels about 1 ½ hours out of Ho Chi Min. This area was famous during the Vietman war for the resistance put up by the local people to the American invasion. The area was seen by the Americans as perfect for all its operations, and was close to Saigon as it was known at the time. I remember watching the 6 o clock news in the early seventies, as a kid and seeing big white arrows heading towards Saigon, similar to the Dad's army opening credits you see today. For 15 years the locals lived in many tunnels underneath the forest out foxing the Americans. Eating, cooking, hospitals, all hidden underneath the ground. They even tunnelled underneath the American bases to listen in, all fascinating stuff.
We see the grisly man traps invented by the Viet Cong to maim soldiers and I try to get into a tunnel entrance, it was a tight fit. We explore a large tunnel made bigger for tourists even that was a bit claustrophobic, imagine this for 250km. At the end of the tour there is a firing range, so you can shoot a myriad of guns. I shot M16 carbine, M 30 and AK 47, all good fun, if not a little scary.
We head back to Ho Chi Min past rubber plantations and I quietly reflect on what must have gone on here for the best part of 20 years. I ask Hghia, what he thought of the war with the American's. His reply stops me in my tracks, 'Well, we have a saying here, work hard and enjoy life, we are very forgiving people' How true he is. I have never been anywhere where the people are so friendly, hospitable and polite. You would think they would be very angry people, but nothing seems to bother them.
We film the making and eating of another staple dish of Vietnam, Bahn Mi, a left over from the French occupation. The cafe is right under Ho Chi Min's famous landmark, the lotus leaf tower, complete with helicopter deck, its an amazing building. Its a large, slightly fatter baguette stuffed with mild chilli sauce, pork and vegetables, its truly delicious.
We film at the beautiful post office and then head to the war museum, where there are many pieces of captured American military equipment. Tanks to Hueys the iconic twin rotored helicopter depicted in all the footage and later such films as Platoon.
The museum is a stark and shocking reminder of the cold effects of this horrible war. There are many harrowing pictures of the horrors of war. There is a room dedicated to the continuing health problems associated with Agent Orange, the nerve and defoliant sprayed on huge areas of Vietnam. The bell rings and I leave feeling very low indeed.
We quietly head back to the hotel and pack our bags for the last time and set off to the airport. We check in and are allowed to get on the plan early to film a short piece to camera and that was our trip over.
Vietnam truly moved me, and is a place I will return too pretty quickly. The food, people and stunning countryside are breathtaking, I urge you to get here sharpish.
My personal thanks to the following people (sorry if I forgot anyone) who made this trip such a pleasure:
- Vietnam Airways
Book Online or Call 44-20-3286-3688
- All Phil's travel arrangements in Hanoi, Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and the Mekong Delta were arranged by Travel Indochina, the UK's leading specialist in escorted small group tours and tailor-made holidays to Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. From transfers to market visits to a stay at the Victoria Can Tho Resort, follow in Phil's footsteps and witness Vietnam's natural beauty, friendly locals and unforgettable cuisine.
- To experience a similar north to south itinerary through Vietnam with a focus on food, take a look at Travel Indochina's 11 day Vietnam Culinary Discovery and Vietnam Insight tours, or speak with one of their Asia experts to arrange a tailor-made itinerary to match your exact requirements.
- Let Travel Indochina share the real Asia with you.
Travel Indochina - www.travelindochina.co.uk
- Mason Rose - masonrose.com
- Tuong & Nghia, from Travel Indochina
- The Nahn Hi Hotel - www.thenamhai.com
- Restaurants and Bars, Hanoi, Vietnam: Highway4 traditional - www.highway4.com