Link to pictures!
In just 4 short days here in HCMC, Zac and I have both had quite a history lesson. Vietnam has a very interesting past, and what’s more interesting is how the people try so hard to forget it, but the government tries so hard to glorify it.
A lot of people say they don’t find much of interest in the city, but I really like it. The food is good, and relatively inexpensive. The traffic is epic. Imagine a 4-lane road covered in motorbikes about 30 deep and that’s a typical afternoon in HCMC. You have to just walk into the street at the right moment, and trust that the bikes will navigate around you. It’s a little scary, but I just never look at the traffic head on. Apparently we got quite good at it though, because one morning an older woman grabbed on to my arm and followed me across the street because she was so terrified of the traffic.
It’s a little hot and crazy here, and we weathered quite the storm yesterday. Apparently there was a typhoon, so we stayed in almost the entire day.
Ben Thanh Market
The largest and most plentiful market in the area, the Ben Thanh market was just a short walk from our hostel, so we went there for a little souvenir haggling and cheap eating. The market goes up at 7:30 pm, so it’s really weird to walk down the empty street during the day. They somehow put up 100-person “restaurants” complete with tables, chairs, grills, refrigerators, and tents in a 30-minute period. Then they have to take it all down at the end of the night. Either way, we found a great little place with cheap & filling food that I highly recommend…though I couldn’t tell you what it’s called.
War Remnants Museum
I’ve read that some people are disappointed in bias found at the War Remnants Museum, but considering it was previously given names such as, “Museum of American War Crimes,” I didn’t expect it to be fair and balanced.
Nonetheless, it was very interesting, and tells a side of the war that Americans rarely hear. An entire room is dedicated to the effects and third-generation devastation of Agent Orange. Pretty depressing to see those pictures. There is also an entire room dedication to protests against the war by countries all over the world, including images of the Kent State Massacre.
If you’re able to go in with a curious attitude, and understand that it’s run by the communist government of Vietnam, it’s definitely worth a look.
Notre Dame Cathedral
It’s still a church! For some reason I didn’t expect this to be an actual church any longer, since I assumed a lot of catholicism fell by the wayside when France lost control of Vietnam. It was a really cool building, and the stations of the cross carvings were really beautiful. You couldn’t go beyond the foyer unless it was to pray, so I didn’t get too many pictures.
Central Post Office
Extravagant is an understatement. This post office is known for it’s architecture and design, and looks more like a grandiose train station than a post office. It’s right across the street from the cathedral, and we saw it as we were trying to find it, and I said, “Zac, what do you think that building is?” Him, “no clue, so how far away is the post office again?” Yep, true story.
Lonely Planet let me know that the Sheraton Saigon has an apazing view of the city from it’s rooftop bar. We went to check it out, and it was pretty cool, but HCMC’s skyview isn’t nearly as impressive as many others we’ve seen. We made it just in time for happy hour to start – buy one get one free! But, only the same person gets the free one. So if there are two of you, you have to buy two, and then you get two free. Stupid and dumb. NO THANKS!
We opted to add on the Cao Dai Temple to our Cu Chi Tunnels tour, since it was just a dollar. I don’t recommend it because it’s a lot further away than they tell you, and we spent an additional 3 hours on the bus because of it. It was pretty cool, and the tour bus dropped us off there just before a procession of the priests. Cao Dai is a monotheistic religion composed of Buddhism, Taoism, and a third that I can’t remember.
Cu Chi Tunnels
The Cu Chi Tunnels came highly recommended, and would have been much more enjoyable if we hadn’t been so sleepy from the long, long, long bus ride. For your history lesson: some people say that the Cu Chi Tunnels are the main reason why the north one the Vietnam war. The tunnels were build by the Cu Chi people (communists). The series of underground tunnels had three levels, bunkers, kitchens, and more, all completely underground and hidden. Messages, supplies, and weapons were transferred with the help of the tunnels. They expanded the tunnels when the government turned them into a tourist attraction, so when we crawled through the tunnels, they were about twice the size than originally.
Our tour guide grew up in south vietnam during the war, and fought for the south alongside Americans. He was a very content man, about 60-70 years old, and spent the entire tour subtly bashing the communist regime and the current government. He told us about the propaganda everywhere, and warned us before we arrived that the video they show at the beginning is “communist propaganda” so don’t pay too much attention. He also said that when he went through the tunnels was the one and only time he had flashbacks of the war, and he hasn’t gone through them since.
On our last morning, we headed up to see the Reunification Palace, since we kept missing the operating hours. This is the official place of south Vietnam’s surrender during the war, and the estate takes up over two blocks. We paid the $1.50 each to check it out, and were immediately disappointed. The first floor is the only part that’s accessible to tourists, and the entire building is basically just a government building. There was nothing to see, so we just walked around the grounds and left. We were BAMBOOZLED! Ah well.
Also, I took a picture of the Pho restaurant where Bill Clinton ate when he visited Vietnam.
Now it’s off to Siem Reap, Cambodia for two days to check out Angkor Wat! Wish us luck on another 12-hours bus ride…eek!