Sinh in Saigon
By Sean Landon

While we here at the AT prefer to do Asia alone or in pairs, and we do not usually recommend local tours, we did have a rather good experience with a tour company in Saigon. After spending about a month in Thailand, we grabbed a flight from Bangkok to Saigon. When you’re in Bangkok, we suggest you check out the Khao San road area for some good deals on trips to Vietnam. There are several competing travel companies all wanting your Thai Baht. Upon arriving at the airport in Saigon, we were greeted by a bus plastered with signs for Pepsi-cola. Once we got out of the airport, we weren’t really sure which way to go. So we grabbed a van with about 10 other backpackers and headed to Pham Ngu Lao St. in district 1. This is an area with lots of cheap hotels and restaurants. A lot of the hotels in the area are homes that have been remodeled. We grabbed a room at Hotel TiTi. Every time we left the hotel we ended up going through the family’s living room! Hotel TiTi’s prices ranged from about US$8.00 to US$12.00 per day and it’s very clean. We recommend it.

Our next objective was to check out the city. We wandered around the area and checked out several tour companies. They all seemed to be in the business of renting expensive cars with drivers. Needless to say, The AT simply does not have the kind of budget that will allow it’s writers such niceties! Therefore, we had to find a tour that would fit into our rather limited budget. Fortunately we found Sinh Cafe. Sinh Cafe is a hustling bustling operation that boasts a hotel, two restaurants, and a tour service. The best thing about Sinh Cafe is the price of the tours – they are more than reasonable and some of them are downright cheap. For example, one other tour company in the area wanted to charge us about $25.00 per person to visit the Cu Chi tunnels. Sinh Cafe’s tour to Cu Chi and Cao Dai costs about $4.00 per person. The whole tour takes about one day, leaves Saigon at 9am and returns at 7pm.

Cao Dai Temple

We all got on a beat up old bus for what turned out to be a rather bumpy ride. Our tour guide had worked for the US army as a guide and he spoke English rather well. Due to government policies, this was his first job in over 20 years! What won’t governments do to their own people?

Our first stop was the Cao Dai temple, which is about 100km from Saigon, near Tay Ninh in the village of Long Hoa. The religion of Cao Dai is probably one of the most interesting religions in the world. It is a fascinating combination of Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, and Vietnamese spiritism. Books on the philosophy of Cao Dai are available all over Saigon.The tour includes a viewing of the daily mass by the followers of Cao Dai. We had rather mixed feelings about this. Visitors weren’t supposed to take pictures, yet flashbulbs were going off like there was no tomorrow. We felt that their privacy had been invaded. The mass itself was very interesting and very colorful. Americans will be pleased to know that the eye of the con which is on their one dollar bills, is also on the Cao Dai temple.

On the wayback from Cao Dai the tour stops at the tunnels of Cu Chi. Cu Chi is just outside of Saigon. The area once had a vast network of tunnels that were several stories deep. Deep inside the tunnels the Viet cong built kitchens , hospitals, war rooms, and layed the groundwork for future attacks on Saigon. It was from the tunnels at Cu Chi that the VC would launch surprise attacks against the allies and then just disappear. Several of the tunnels have been preserved for the sake of tourism. Many of these tunnels have been enlarged to allow Western tourists to fit inside them. Your guide around the area will show you the tunnels, as well as some of the booby traps. Booby traps apparently were quite common in the area. A wandering soldier would step into one and find himself pierced by bamboo buried in the bottom of a pit. The whole area caused such a problem to the Americans that B-52s were allowed to drop bombs there without asking for permission.Cu Chi is perhaps the most bombed area ever in the history of the world. At the end of the tour you will come upon an outdoor souvenir stall. We were hot and sweaty from crawling in the tunnels and wanted nothing more than a cold drink. Fortunately, a young Vietnamese man dressed in a VC uniform was there to sell the tourists a coke. The price? One US dollar. The war had indeed come to an end. The area around the airbase has been turned into an agricultural zone and there are rubber plantations as well as sugarcane and peanut farms. Though there are not many signs of the war left, there are still some B-52 bomb craters around.

As far as other tours go, Sinh Cafe has about twelve other options, as well as private tours. Some of these other tours include: Vung Tau beach, the Mekong Delta, Vinh Long, Sadec, Dalat, and Hue. You can also catch express buses to Dalat and Nha trang. All of their prices are reasonable. As a bonus, if you take some of the longer tours, they will give you a free t-shirt! Sinh Cafe’s address is:179 Pham Ngu Lao St., District 1, Saigon, Vietnam. Fax: 84-8-357-722. - TAT -