After Nha Trang, I escaped the heat of the coast and went up into the fertile hills surrounding the city of Da Lat – a former French enclave and a top honeymoon destination for local people. As such, the bus was crammed with cooing couples and there were few single rooms in the hotels. Most activities revolved around newly-weds, and so I jumped on the next bus south and ended up in Ho Chi Minh City, which everyone still calls Saigon (the setting, as every guidebook, traveller and now blog will tell you, for Graham Greene’s The Quiet American). My time there kicked off with a pleasant dinner on a cafe balcony overlooking the street, marred slightly by a loud conversation at the next table where three British guys were bargaining with two local prostitutes.
Wilting in the intense heat and humidity, I found a fan-cooled gallery of propaganda art and spent some time perusing the thousands of reprints (sadly, no photographs were allowed). I then headed over to City Hall to pay my respects at the statue of Uncle Ho and carried on up to Independence Hall. This was once where all governmental goings-on happened, but is now a museum and conference venue and, unsurprisingly, has a bit of a 70s feel to it. There is an old cinema, complete with two ancient and fascinating projectors, a gambling room, a shooting gallery and all the old war rooms still stuffed with radio equipment left over from the war. The two tanks (or possibly identical models) that symbolically ended the war are parked outside, along with an aeroplane used to bomb the place (red circles on the roof mark where the bombs hit).
After this trip back in time, the War Remnants Museum (formerly the Exhibition House of American War Crimes) was next; a giant concrete block (still under construction apparently) with its own Gmail address. A fairly large collection of abandoned or defused American military equipment was scattered around the site (including a clunky seismic bomb), there was a fairly gruesome display of deformed foetuses (due to Agent Orange) and an excellent photographic exhibition on war reporters and their experiences. At this point the heat got too much for me and I retreated back to the air-conditioned hostel.
With time moving on, I caught a bus to Phnom Penh and bid Vietnam goodbye. Some buses I’d been on before had provided complimentary bottles of water, but this was the first one that provided a packet of cigarettes as well. I am now suitably equipped with bribes should any border disputes erupt. The journey was uneventful, save for me noticing a guy on his motorbike transporting two enormous pigs lashed upside-down to the back. I’m not sure if he was trying to save himself the trouble of killing them for food or wasn’t sure what he was doing. Anyway, tomorrow I set off to explore Cambodia!