Our last stop in Vietnam was Ho Chi Minh City, and we’d also planned a 2-day homestay tour in the Mekong Delta (a couple of hours from HCMC). We stayed 3 nights in Ho Chi Minh, which really in hindsight probably wasn’t enough. One site I was really disappointed to miss was the Cu Chi Tunnels, but there are just some things you don’t get time for. The weather was so hot and sticky that the kids tired pretty easily and we couldn’t pack that much into a day. I think too after 3 weeks of full-on travel, they were just a bit tired and unwell. Here are some of the things we did:
The War Museum
This was an incredibly powerful and heart-wrenching experience. The War Museum does not pull any punches in detailing the graphic nature of the Vietnam War, the atrocities which occurred, and the devastating effects of Agent Orange. The first floor was OK for all the kids, but the second floor was quite disturbing. I didn’t allow Little Miss to go into any of the exhibitions – fortunately, there is a separate kids’ play area for just that reason. Picasso and Bookworm went into a couple of the exhibitions and looked at some of the photos, but were too upset to see much of it, and I made sure they didn’t see any of the really graphic images – pictures of deformed foetuses, for instance. I’m still not sure if we did the right thing in taking them – but I think we did. Outside the museum are big American tanks, a plane and guns – and when we first arrived, the boys thought they were the coolest things ever. After being inside the museum, I asked Bookworm if he wanted to walk by the tanks one last time before we left. He said, “Mum, I don’t even want to look at them, now that I’ve seen those war photos.” I think it’s important to understand the reality of war. I think it was a difficult, but necessary visit.
The Reunification Palace
More of a government house than a palace, but still quite interesting. It’s pretty much remained unchanged since the fall of Saigon in the 1960s and is quite impressive. Unfortunately we were a bit depressed after seeing the War Museum and didn’t stay too long because Bookworm was feeling sick as well that day. The kids liked the Guest of Honour seat in the President’s office, which had an enormous pair of buffalo horns extending out either side.
The Dam Sen Amusement and Water Park
I don’t think you can beat Asia for cheap, fantastic amusement parks. This was an absolutely enormous place – maybe 5 times the size of Lunar Park – for a fraction of the price. The kids’ tickets were just $6 each! There were stacks of rides, and a big water park inside as well. Unfortunately the day we went was a holiday in Vietnam and I swear every single person in Ho Chi Minh was there was well, so it was very packed. We only saw one other western family though, so if you’re travelling and picked a normal weekday, you’d probably have the place to yourself. The slides were kind of wild and Little Miss wasn’t allowed to go on many, but she really enjoyed the children’s section.
Saigon Opera House
A last-minute decision saw us buying tickets to the A O show at the Opera House, and we were so glad we did. It was amazing – the kids were transfixed. Created by a former member of Cirque de Soleil, A O tells the history of Vietnam through dance, music and acrobatics, with just bamboo baskets and poles as props. The feats they achieve are quite incredible – human pyramids, flying across the stage doing cartwheels in bamboo baskets, and somersaulting off swinging ropes, to name just a few. Mesmerising.
The Ben Than markets
A huge marketplace with everything your heart could possibly desire. You have to be prepared to haggle though – which personally I found exhausting. Bookworm excelled at it, so I made sure to keep him close by 🙂
The Mekong Delta
We booked a one-night/two-day homestay through Indochina tours and Cruiseabout Travel, and weren’t exactly sure what to expect – but we were absolutely blown away by how fabulous this turned out to be. We had a private guide – Vien – who was amazing. She taught us so much about Vietnamese life, and was so knowledgeable, and kept the kids amused with games in the car and taught them how to make bracelets and rings with coconut leaves.
We drove into the Mekong and then took a boat up the river where we stopped off to see how bricks are made from the river clay, how coconuts are processed into oil, sweets, mats and handcrafts, and we also saw bamboo mat weaving. We visited a gorgeous place right in the mangroves for lunch and stayed overnight in a beautiful French villa and learned how to make spring rolls. We were going to bike into town to see the markets but the kids were pretty exhausted by then so it was nice to just hang out at the villa and enjoy the gardens and the very cute puppy they had living there. We also met a lovely Australian family who were on the homestay as well, and we really hit if off. Travelling is so great for making new friends! All in all, a wonderful way to finish our Vietnam experience. In the way back into Ho Chi Minh, Vien and I talked for hours about the differences between Australia and Vietnam – it turns out the difficulty of balancing work/career and family/children is a universal experience felt by women everywhere 🙂