A Cyclo tour of Saigon (Ho Chi Min City) before they band the age old form of transport.
Once upon a time, the town of Saigon (now Ho Chi Min City) was awash in cyclos (rickshaws). Today the town is drowning in scooters with an ever diminishing number of cyclos slowly moving among the young scooter throngs like tug boats amid jet skiing youths. While commenting on them to a local I found out that the cyclos were going the way of the dinosaur. They would be completely banned in the city of Saigon within two months and that the aging drivers would then be given the ‘opportunity’ to work as paperboys or soya sauce salesmen. As a result I felt that a cyclo tour of the city would be acceptable as an outdoor activity and perhaps even a sad tribute to another victim of progress.
The next morning, at breakfast, we were approached by an old man with a magazine. He showed us a photo of himself and a western passenger in his cyclo. The negotiation began. We agreed on a route that would include the Chinese quarter, two temples, the US Embassy (the historical site of helicopters evacuating the last Americans from Vietnam as Saigon fell), and a few other locations. The driver’s English was bad, but good enough for our purposes. We set a price, he smiled, then introduced his assistant (for the second cyclo), and then left us to finish our breakfast.
After breakfast the day was already hot, the sun was harsh, the streets were packed with scowling scooter and taxi drivers. We hopped into our respective cyclos and smiled while our guides competed to tell stories and point out sights. We visited the Chinese market, then two Chinese pagodas (where our guide regaled us in details), and then zigzagged our way to the other parts of the city. By 2 pm we were hungry and thirsty. We passed the fortified US Embassy compound (the outer wall since the historic interior had long ago been dismantled), passed the now opulent (and designer store ringed) Rex Hotel, that used to be the headquarters of the US Army brass, circled the many of the statue-centered roundabouts, then abruptly cut the tour short in front of a Kebab shop. We were hungry and cooked so we paid off our drivers and then stepped into the human flow of people, hustle, and enterprise.
Saigon is no longer the small capital of the south. It is now an economic powerhouse where cash is king.
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Cao Dai Temple, Rehab Craft Center, Chu Chi Tunnels & Vietnam War Museum
The next day I booked a $7 full-day trip to visit the main Cao Dai temple and the government preserved Chu Chi tunnels.
I felt that the Cao Dai temple deserved a peak because of its eclectic nature. It has a following of some 2 million people that worship various prophets (including Buddha, Lao-Tsu, Jesus, and Victor Hugo, to name a few). It was unified into a religion in the 1920’s by mystic Ngo Minh Chieu and was growing fast before the 1975 communist takeover. Today it still enjoys a respectable following in the south of Vietnam. Its central symbol is an all-seeing eye that reminds one of the symbols on the back of a US $1.
Cao Dai Temple Photos
The Chu Chi tunnels tour was very lame, but still worth the time. Back in the bad old days of the Vietnam War the communists of the north continuously infiltrated the south through a secret network of tunnels that stretched over 200 km. The network housed troops, hospitals, kitchens, fighting holes, and underground transport routes. It was especially effective during the surprise Ted Offensive that introduced NVA troops into the heart of the American backed city of Saigon. The historic footage of US troops fighting in front of the US Embassy were instrumental in changing US popular opinion against the war and leading to the eventual US pullout and fall of South Vietnam. Today a small section of the tunnels are preserved as a historical monument and well worth the pricy entrance fee.
Chu Chi Tunnels Photos
War Museum Photos
Rehab Craft Center
Craft Center Photos