Good Weekend Vietnam – Day 1

Two weeks ago Singapore had a holiday weekend to celebrate Hari Raya Puasa which marks the end of the month of Ramadan. As Carrie and I do not celebrate this holiday we decided to skip town and head to…

That’s right we went to Vietnam. It was a three day weekend in Ho Chi Minh City, known locally as Saigon. We boarded the plane early Friday morning and were off for a new and exciting adventure.

The first impression of Vietnam reminded me of the a city that is filled with people ready for their first day of school. You have the youthful energy and desire to try new things and really drive yourself forward, but you still have a lot to learn. The casual nature of the people (easy going), the way the traffic flowed, the food on the menus made you think of a time when life was slower, less hectic, less stressful….sort of felt like we had slipped back in time a few decades. The number of motorbikes was staggering and yet refreshing due to the relatively light traffic (especially after Jakarta and Bangkok traffic in the past few weeks). It was also nice to see cars and motorbikes somehow navigate the streets without an excessive amount of honking, despite the lack of lanes and street lights.

The modern motorbikes were shadowed by people carrying goods on poles, women wearing the stereotypical conical hats that people associate with Asia. I had a sense that this was Asia of 30 years ago and really Vietnam was Asia how you imagine it from afar. It had the smells, the quaint charms of people in traditional dress, the slowness of life seems to still persist, and yet Saigon is definitely moving rapidly into the 21st century. (I will talk more about this in my recap post)

After being dropped off at our guesthouse, we headed out to refuel ourselves and experience Saigon. I will post a second post just on the food of Saigon in order to keep this post to a manageable length.

After a quick refuel we headed to the Banh Thanh market where we were harassed to buy t-shirts, lanterns, food, and anything else that was not nailed down. We enjoyed all the chaos, all the new products that we had never seen before and did purchase some coconut candy. Otherwise we escaped the maddening crowds without too much pain and in fact would go back on Sunday to purchase some much needed touristy items.

The next stop on our trip was the very interesting and sobering War Remnants Museum that tells the Vietnamese side of the Vietnam-American War. The displays start out fairly historically with discussion of the French occupation and lead up to the war with America. The pictures and descriptions of the war including pictures of burned and carpet bombed cities, pictures and descriptions of disfigured people from mines and chemical warfare, and the re-creation of the POW camp were staggering.  It makes you really realize how bad war truly is and how much civilians are impacted despite the best efforts to protect them.

Picture of the Tank breaking the gate at the Reunification Palace, signaling the fall of Saigon in April 1975

Recreation of POW camp (called tiger cages)
Tiger Cage (barbed wire) up close

There was definitely an Anti-American vibe/propaganda to the entire experience, but despite this, as we discovered throughout our stay, the Vietnamese people we met are extremely warm and welcoming to Americans.

After getting a good intro to the Vietnamese perspective on the war, we headed to The Reunification Palace. This was the place where an original french colonial palace stood and then became where the Southern Vietnamese government had its seat of power during the Vietnam War. It became known as the Reunification Palace after the War because, as you see from the photo above of the tank crashing the gates, this was where the Northern Vietnamese Army ended the War and reunified the country.

The palace itself has been left as it was during the 1970s when the Southern Vietnam government operated there. There was still furniture in place as well as war rooms and maps that exhibit how the building was used during the war.

Wall Decorations in the Presidents living quarters in Palace

Helipad with replica Helicopter

 The day was winding up as the Palace closed and we had seen a lot since our flight into Saigon. So of course we headed down the street to partake in cocktail hour.

Not sure what “Live Beer” is but it was good and was around 50 cents and on special 

We had a wonderful time sitting on the street watching all the people go by. The restaurant/bar/street stall seemed to grow every few minutes with tables appearing magically to seat people on plastic stools. Saigon really had a fun night life with people out enjoying themselves and street bars springing up everywhere to cater to the revelers. We also saw a very inventive use for a motorbikes as seen below.

The delivery of beer was great and was the first of numerous times we saw people carrying impossibly large or awkward loads on their bikes. We even saw flat screen television and refrigerator deliveries all via motorbike.

Following our street bar experience we headed to dinner (wait for the food adventure post) and then back to our $20 guesthouse (Madam Cuc’s) for much needed sleep.

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