Saigon Area


When we arrived in Saigon, were were met by our tour guide "Dung" (pronounced Yung) at the airport gate and immediately driven to the Reunification Palace in the downtown area.  This palace is notable for its symbolic role in the fall of Saigon in 1975 when the North Vietnamese drove tanks through its gates and placed a victor's flag on the balcony.

Dung took us on a tour of the palace meeting rooms and former president's living quarters.  All the furnishings were from the 1970's and everything seemed trapped in time.  The most interesting part of the tour was viewing the war command room in the basement.  Massive maps hung on the walls and outlined in great detail where the Americans and Viet Cong troops held their defense positions.

The following day, we visited the Cu Chi tunnels, the complex underground villages that the Viet Cong soldiers lived in during the war.  We actually crawled through a few of the tunnels (made 20% bigger for tourists) and looked at the rudimentary, yet effective, booby-trap systems the Viet Cong employed against the Americans.  The entire tunnel experience was claustrophobic and surreal.  Chris found it profoundly sad.

The only way to describe the city streets in Saigon would be to say they are chaotic.  Crossing the street by foot is a major challenge.  There are very few street lights and NO stop signs.  Basically you walk out in the middle of the road in front of cars, trucks and hundreds of motorbikes that are all speeding in your direction.  If you stop walking, you're likely to get mowed over.

We found ourselves mesmerized by the millions of motorbikes/scooters streaming down Saigon's streets.  But they are extremely dangerous.  Our guide told us that 25 people per day are killed in motorbike accidents throughout Vietnam.  Also, many look like terrorists on wheels because they cover their faces with masks to protect their skin from the sunshine.

To see more of Saigon and our crawl through the tunnels, click on the links below:

 Saigon scene
Cu Chi Tunnels


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           copyright chris & hugh hempel 2004                                                      last modified on Monday, 12. January 2004