We had an early flight from Da Nang to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) this morning. This was our 5th flight of the trip and flying has now become quite routine. After a short flight we arrived in Ho Chi Minh City which was not dissimilar to Hanoi. It has an official population of around 10 million with 6 million motorbikes/mopeds (which did seem to be all on the roads at once!). Once again you could see the propaganda posters on billboards along the roads and at intersections. Both the Vietnamese flag and the Soviet-era, hammer and sickle flag (a symbol for communism) were seen lining every major roadway. It was another reminder of the differences that exist between our country (firmly in the western world) and that of Vietnam.
Lunch was the first item on the itinerary with our choice of location being the famous Pho 2000 (Pho being noodle soup). It is famous as it is where Bill Clinton ate when he visited HCMC. There were an array of photos showing Bill with the staff from Pho 2000 and even a plaque locating where he sat. Opted for chicken noodle soup as had beef last time and it was delicious. Though I tried a chilli (only let it touch my lips) and it burnt!
Ben Thanh Market was where we went next whilst we were awaiting the arrival of our bus. It assaulted your senses – all of them! People were constantly shouting at you to buy: “you look for free, you buy from me!” My advice is if you’re not going to buy then don’t stay in there too long as it can all get a little much. We got out after 10 minutes but felt like we’d been trapped for around half an hour!!
The War Remnants Museum was our first real stop where we saw a range of planes and tanks used in the American war, many of which had been captured. Inside we were exposed to graphic images from the war including the use of Agent Orange – a form of chemical warfare used by the Americans on the Vietnamese people. Some of the images showed the damage that had been done at the time but there were just as many images of the damage that was still occurring from exposure such as deformities in children being born even today. Also in the museum were examples of the weapons used in the war and a photographic story in an exhibition called ‘Requiem’ which was for all the press that had been out during the war. It was a very moving, graphic but informative museum although I found it a little less black and white than when I had been to Berlin/Poland and learnt about World War II. [PHOTO_ID_L=tiger-cages.jpg] Surely no one deserves to be treated like this and yet such atrocities (of war) are still occurring in the world today. Leaving the main building we entered a side exhibit on tiger cages. Such cages were made of metal and not much larger than an adult in size. They were surrounded by barbed wire and prisoners were kept in here as a form of punishment. We saw more examples of cells like those at Hanoi prison too.
The Reunification Palace was originally the presidential palace for Southern Vietnam and the location of the official surrender to North Vietnam on 30 April 1975. Although its design is Vietnamese the architect studied in France and therefore there are European qualities to it. We visited a range of different rooms which began quite mundane like those used for day to day living and meetings but then became more interesting such as the private cinema and underground bunker. On top there was even a private helicopter and the location marked of where bombs had been dropped during the war. Inside the bunker it was similar to the war rooms we saw in Malta (see Malta blog) with maps lining the walls, communication systems in place and even some basic living quarters. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to work down there whilst a war raged above your head.
Moving away from the war themed tourist spots we headed towards our hotel via Notre Dame – a twin towered cathedral with some similarities in design to that in Paris (see Paris blog). It was closed for a service when we arrived but we were able to get some impressive photos from the outside including that of the Virgin Mary statue which stood in front of it. Hopefully we will be able to pop inside tomorrow.
Crossing the road we went into HCMC Central Post Office. Now this might not seem like a tourist spot other than for sending postcards home and yet it was. Designed by the French architect Gustav Eiffel (as in the Eiffel Tower, Paris) it is an impressive building inside although still very much a working post office. As the rain clouds began to grow we got back on the bus, past the Opera house and were shortly at our hotel were we checked in and retired to our rooms to freshen up.
We decided to go out with half the group to Restaurant 19 where we had the set menu as recommended by our tour leader – “it’s very yummy!” Once again he was right and we were able to try non deep fried spring rolls with shrimp as well as Vietnamese pancake with prawns. For main we had a pork dish with lemongrass and coconut beef. Not ready to go back to our rooms just yet we headed for the hotel’s roof top bar. Looking out over the HCMC skyline it was strange to see the juxtaposition of new and old with such a close proximity of traditional buildings to newly built sky scrapers. It seems development is happening in Vietnam but there is still some way to go.