Saigon - Ben Tre
Arrived in Saigon from Bangkok @ around 10pm – luckily booked hotel & airport transfer to eliminate the room/taxi hassles that time of night. The visa which I already had in passport from Bangkok worked just fine. The immigration official (who looked 16) looked up at me & 10secs later I was in Vietnam legally as a tourist. Found my driver with a sign Mr. Robert (Kim Hotel) and we were off. The traffic chaos of Saigon (in my mind anyways) was well upon us driving to Kim Hotel – motorbike mania. Transit system is non-existent so motor bikes are a way of life. Dropped off @ Kim’s by Pham Ngu Lao (travellers hub) shown my room up on the top floor; the penthouse – or so I called it. It was just a single room but on the top floor with the communal terrace two steps away with great views of the city. I tucked in for the night after a well-deserved cold beer to celebrate my arrival – Vietnam man.
Next day; my ritual city walk to get the bearings of a new place. One thing about Saigon is that almost all the main sights are accessible by foot, a short xe om (motor bike taxi) or metered taxi. Walking Saigon is an event all on its own, crossing the street - a rite of passage. Limited amount of traffic lights (mostly traffic circles) so must move into oncoming traffic - do not stop - breathe - focus on the other side. Found a back alley serving up Vietnamese Subs or should I say baguettes eaten in Vietnam - first 'real' baguette & was goooooood. Enter the Cho Benh Thanh Market - huge with anything & everything to buy - all same and constantly being asked @ every stall. I never did buy but think the trick is to pick one and haggle. Back to area and find a street side local food 'restaurant' with a welcoming lady ushering me to her small table & chairs. Menu in english with pics - sometimes a bonus. Still no clue what to eat so just picked one and ended up being very tastey; so good went back the following night.
Next day was tourist day and chose a couple places I wanted to visit. No lollygagging -get it done. I walked the long walk to the Jade Emperor Pagoda first. Built in it 1900, exquisite wood carvings. Then stopped off @ the War Remnants Museum. Everyone should visit - tear in eye. The American presence; agent orange and how it affected the Vietnamese people (as well as American soldiers) for several generations even after the war, the brutality inflicted - how war can change a man's soul. Hundreds of pictures from American war photographers depicting a war that should never have been. And just what the Vietnamese people endured for so many years - war, really, what is it good for. Felt drained as I always do after visiting these 'memorials' and headed back to sit on my terrace with a beer. Went out for supper; met French & American guy and we continued to a small nightspot down the street for beers and laughs. They continued after 1am, while I had a tour in morning and needed beauty rest.
Booked a trip out to My Tho & Ben Tre (Mekong Delta) for the day. Ended up being a big bus which I usually don't like (+30 people) but actually turned out okay - met some nice folk and the company had many activities for our day out. Bus to where traditional music was played & explained. Walk to canal boat area then off for short ride to area where they make & sell (of course) coconut candy, honey bee hives, and tea consumption. Then on big boat down the Mekong Delta River to where we had our lunch. Back to bus - a Pagoda - huge Buddha's statues ( past, present & future) and back to Saigon. All for $11 - good value.
Saigon's good for a couple of days though very busy and all tourist attractions can be done (mostly) in this time. Mekong Delta could be worth more time if you have it. Many 1-3 day trips are easily arranged @ many of the hotels. I bought an open bus ticket for Saigon - Nha Trang with a stop in Mui Ne. Beach towns - why not? Next morning, got picked up...but that's another story.