I’ve finished my 2 day stint in Ho Chi Minh City. We have our last night here, but we have to leave the hotel at 6:30 am to catch our bus to Mui Ne Beach in Phanh That for two nights, and then I’ll have one night left in Ho Chi Minh to shower, pack up, and get ready to fly out. Overall, I did enjoy Ho Chi Minh City more than Hanoi (the other large city). This is probably because it is more westernized, most concerning to me is the fact that this means that there are more stop lights (with a higher chance that people will actually follow them) and there are actually side walks here (sometimes, although people still ride their motorbikes on them from time to time).
Our first adventure of Saigon was going to Pho 2000, where they have “Pho the President” on the giant side out front. Bill Clinton is kind of like a national hero in Vietnam. The best part of Pho 2000 is that since Bill went there while president, pictures of him with the staff are the only decoration in the restaurant. And, the pho is pretty good as well. From there, Luu took us on a walking tour of the rest of the city. We went to the Reunification Palace, which was the White House of the American backed Vietnamese government. This is where Saigon “fell” when the Americans lost the war in Vietnam. The tanks that rolled over the fence are still parked in the grass and the “palace” has been turned into a museum. From there, we went to more historical sights that were built during one of France’s many occupations of Vietnam. The City Opera House was getting a face lift, so there wasn’t much to see there. The Notre Dame Cathedral was the same as every grand Catholic church with stained glass windows and beautiful statues. The Central Post Office built by Gustave Eiffel in 1891 (the same Eiffel who built the icon of France). It was an enormous gorgeous building with old maps painted on the wall and the requisite giant picture of Ho Chi Minh reigning down on his faithful subjects 39 years after his death. Our last stop of the day was the Remnants of war Museum. I had been to many disappointing war museums in Vietnam, mostly just because a few pictures and guns with no explanation or a sentence or two. This museum had tons of tanks, helicopters and bombs. There was a moving exhibit on war photography and the photographers from around the world that covered the Vietnam-American war. There was also a display of photographs of children affected by Agent Orange. Agent Orange is a herbicide and defoliant the was used by the American military to try to kill the jungle so that they could destroy the hiding spots of the Viet Cong in South Vietnam. This never occurred since the Viet Cong were hiding out in intricate tunnels underground. However, (from information found of Wikipedia) it did cause 400,000 deaths and disabilities and 500,000 children born with birth defects in Vietnam. Those numbers are not including the numbers of US and other soldiers from around the world who got cancer, diabetes, skin diseases and had children with birth defects all resulting from Agent Orange. There were many many people in Saigon who had physical disabilities, most likely from Agent Orange. Every where we went, there were people who were missing limbs (many riding bikes with hand wheels), with scars that looked like burns, or lying in the gutter, dragging their legs behind them (that looked like they had been dried out and then put on backwards). After the Agent Orange exhibit was an exhibit of art work created by children to promote peace. It was a beautiful way for the museum to end. After that, we went to try the food speciality of the south. It was a giant crepe like pancake filled with your choice of meats, seafood and vegetables. Mine was shrimp and mushrooms and it was delicious.
Unfortunately, the next day we went to the Cu Chi tunnels. This was supposed to be a museum documenting the side of the Viet Cong and showing you what it was like to live in a tunnel. In my opinion, it was an amusement park glorifying war. It has wax soldiers that you can take pictures with and tanks you can climb on. There was also a wax museum of the torture traps that were used on American and North Vietnamese soldiers. It has an area that demonstrates how to make rice wine and a shooting range where you can shoot your choice of gun for only $1 a bullet. You get to climb through a tunnel and can by the clothing that they where. Apparently they also have a restaurant and sometimes fun little festivals with balloons. All of this would have been bearable except for the fact that they make you sit through a 1968 era film (that they have in at least 6 languages) before you begin all the rest of the fun. My favorite phrase (that was repeated over and over) was: “the crazy American war devils.” I got learn all about the sweet little girl who only wanted to work the rice paddies for her family but when the Americans came, she had to become a soldier. But don’t worry, because she shot down X amounts of helicopters and blew up X amounts of tanks and killed X amounts of the American devils, so she was honored as an “American killer hero.” This little excursion kind of ruined things for me for awhile and I was oh so grateful when we got to leave.
I spent the afternoon walking around the Ben Thanh market. It is a closed market that has been around since 1912 with everything Vietnamese that you could want. It is filled with souvenirs, clothes, coffee, candy, dried fish, produce, jewelry and everything in between and all crammed in right next to each other.