Rourke's Asia Trip 2012 travel blog


Saigon was a 2-day blur. Expected a little sightseeing and some relaxation before the onward journey to Thailand. And then along came Son Nguyen a.k.a. as Sonny our 29 year old dynamo Vietnamese Guide. Fluent in English and very knowledgeable about Vietnam she was clearly a cut above the River Guides.

Because of our living history of the Vietnam War - in Vietnam it is the American War - we chose to visit the Chu Chi Tunnels to see a replication of how the Viet Cong were able to live and fight a guerrilla war against the US so close to Saigon. Like a visit to Europe's concentration camps, the tunnels are absolutely mind-numbing. No words can describe how these people, 10,000 at a time were able to build and live in such a labyrinth of tunnels equipped with kitchens, living quarters and hospitals. B-52 bombs were only able to penetrate the first of three levels. The tunnels were also a museum of sorts and showed a lot of the booby traps that were so awful etc etc. Spent some time talking to a Viet Cong Vet - who often Guide American Vets who visit - pretty interesting.

Upon reflection and with a dose of hindsight, it is clear that this type of war could not be won against such a determined indigenous population. A lesson learned? Well, maybe not!

The current population which is very young has put the war behind and Vietnam is now one country and is booming.The vitality of Saigon is amazing and it is another Mumbai or Hong Kong. Organized chaos with a gazillion motor bikes whizzing around. The only way to cross the street is to choose a slight opening and then to face the oncoming traffic (of all sorts) and slowly walk in 1 direction but not to pause or speed-up. Somehow the chaos all melds and cars, pedestrians, trucks, buses weave around each other with no road rage , some horns but everyone pretty cool about it.

After the tunnels our destination was the century old Majestic Hotel - beautiful but alas Sonny was not done with us. We were convinced to go to a tailor shop where Glenn bought 3 made-to-measure shirts which were duly delivered 24 hours later to the hotel - perfectly done. Sylvia also bought 2 silk tops - great.

The next day (Sunday) was to be a down day BUT after some minor discussion, it started at 9 AM with Sonny and ended at 9 PM with a $200 meal at an exquisite French Restaurant from years gone by.

First stop and by no coincidence at the right time was to Notre Dame Cathedral where we heard beautiful choir music during and English Mass . The Cathedral was built by the French and maintained to perfection. Next stops included the National Palace - huge affluence when previously used by pre-war leaders, National War Museum, a Thai silk outlet, a Thai lacquer producer and finally lunch at a local Thai noodle soup Restaurant.Then a break and some traffic dodging to view the river and a final break before the French Dinner.

The War Museum was heart breaking. Tourists included many Americans and the mood was vey sombre and serious. Obviously a different twist from what we had learned in our media but most compelling.

Like many enterprising Vietnamese, Sonny was complimentary of her government but very focused on her own economic matters. Works 7 days a week for 10 or 11 months and is now preparing to buy her first rental property in Australia with her brother who lives there. Everyone is striving to make money and so Saigon is is 24/7 except for New Year which lasts a week or so. Fascinating to observe and we regretted only being in Saigon for such a short period.

Monday took us to Phuket via Bangkok and another major change of pace. In fact it was hard to gear down from the excitement of Saigon. Beautiful hotel about 1 hour north of the town of Phuket.

Endless beach beautiful ocean and blazing sun. Germans, Russians, Australians and two Canadians. 48 rooms with private pools, imagine paradise. Road bicycles into town today to get some local flavor, then massages and snoozes. Somebody has to do it!

Tomorrow it is off to the jungles to The Elephant Hills Resort to cavort with elephants and to trek/canoe in the Thai jungle. If we make it back there will be another Entry in a few days.

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