Sunday, January 14, 2018

Cruising on a Motorbike in Saigon Traffic

After another full breakfast we got in a van for our half day tour of the Cu Chi tunnels. There were five of us on the tour; John, Cora and myself and a couple from Basel, Switzerland.

I quickly noticed that there were no seatbelts. While navigating the heavy traffic, an older man on a motor bike hit the side of our van with his hand. The motorbike driver and our driver started yelling at each other in Vietnamese. Our driver got out of the van and the motorbike driver started taking off his helmet. I honestly thought they were about to fight it out when a police officer broke it up and they each got back on their own vehicles and we drove away.

Ho Chi Minh City is the largest city in Vietnam with a population of 13 million and Vietnam has a population of 93 million. Most of them appear to drive motor bikes.

We drove about an hour passing small towns and rice fields before stopping at a government run factory where disabled people (many of the disabilities caused by agent orange) create beautiful art pieces from egg shells and mother of pearl.

We continued along our way to the Cu Chi Tunnels. These were tunnels created by the Viet-Cong guerillas during the war.

The Vietnamese do not call it the Vietnam War, they call it the American War. We saw the traps they made for the American soldiers, variously types of camouflaged holes laced with bamboo or metal spikes at the bottom. The Viet Công soldiers dug three layers of tunnels in the clay under the jungle floor with secret entrances to get into them. We went into the first layer of tunnels but I had to get out fairly quickly. Each layer of tunnels got narrower and shorter...very claustrophobic.

They built imitation termite hills to disguise the ventilation air holes. They only cooked hot food in the tunnels in the morning so the morning mist blended with the smoke from their fires.

We ended the tour with a snack of panda leaf tea and tapioca root dipped into ground peanuts with sugar. Yummy. We then watched a short movie about how the Viet Công survived and fought in the jungle and then we were on our way back to Saigon.

Once back we decided to walk to a market where I made a few purchases and then went for a full body massage at AAA Spa. It was wonderful and so inexpensive. A 45 minute deep muscle massage was only $11.00 plus tip. We will definitely be going again on this trip.

We booked a motorbike tour of street foods for the evening through XO Tours. 
The female bikers: Anna, Nhi and Yu met us in the lobby of our hotel, they gave us some quick pointers on being a passenger and we each hopped on a bike behind one of the drivers.

What a rush! We entered the chaos of Saigon traffic. We were actually part of it. At one point a car was going the wrong way down the street  blocking the other lane so Nhi skillfully slipped our bike between the cars. Sooooo much fun. Woo hoo!

One of the best parts of this tour is that they take you to the best restaurants that the locals frequent. They also took us to many districts throughout Saigon, not just touristy district 1.

Our first stop was to a place that served Bun Bo Hue which  is a type of beef broth soup with noodles.

We were soon on the bikes again zipping in and out of traffic, around lively Chinatown. Chinatown never sleeps. Their food market is open 24/7.
You can buy just about anything there, legal or otherwise. Lots of interesting characters.

I noticed that there were many motorbike Uber drivers.

Our next food stop was an awesome bbq place where we feasted on bbq goat (marinated in tofu sauce and Coca Cola), beef marinated in tofu sauce, okra (also marinated in tofu sauce), shrimp, all cooked at the table on a charcoal grill. The dips were fermented tofu sauce and rock salt with lime. The We also ate mini rice pancakes with shrimp and bbq frogs all washed down with local craft beer (Saigon Export) and “happy tea” ( banana rice wine). Totally delish !!!

Back on the bikes we zipped through district 7 passing the Viet version of lovers lane and the most expensive area to live in Saigon.

Our final stop was in district 4 where we were treated to lots of delicacies including quail dipped in tamarind sauce, Crab dipped in black pepper/ lime/ chilli sauce, Duck embryo with tamarind sauce, Clams in lemon grass sauce and 333 beer. We said goodbye to our charismatic tour leader, Tuan at the restaurant and we were off on the bikes one last time. 

The hours of our tour passed in a heartbeat and we were returned to our hotel.

Our night ended with a visit to the Duc Vuong Hotel’s happening rooftop bar.

What an awesome day.

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