Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Good Morning, Viet Nam!

Sunrise over Sai Gon. I never imagined that I would
ever be here! Love my hubby's wanderlust.
Some of us remember this statement from the movie. Others are too young, but need to know about what went on there so it won’t happen again. This posting is not a political statement in anyway. However, I am sure we will see things that will remind us of a terrible time in our history. I also wonder how Americans will be received in Viet Nam even though we have been told those from the South love us. We will see …

Bicycles and motorcycles are the main transportation modes.
You see everything carried on these vehicles and some even
serve as "shops." She was selling food items here.
Notice that I used two syllables for Viet Nam. In their language, they only use one syllable words. The rest of the world has joined them into Vietnam and Saigon, instead of Sai Gon. And now, of course, since the North “won” the Viet Nam war, Sai Gon is called Ho Chi Minh City after the leader of the North. Things happen! Apparently the city has had several names over many years, and today it is still referred to as Saigon. Even the tourism organization is called Saigon Tourism. Saigon is really what is known as District 1 of Ho Chi Minh City. But the rest of the world puts the syllables together now.

The children are darling.
Following a good flight, we were picked up at the Tan Son Nhat International Airport by a Haimark, Ltd. Representative after using a special visa service to expedite our visas at the airport. The representative and driver drove us to the InterContinental Asiana hotel in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City. Perfect location; wonderful hotel. We enjoyed a free day to explore the city on our own before our tour package began.

They like to dress in the traditional attire
and take photos at holiday time.

Other than trying to cross the streets in the crazy traffic, it is easy to find your way around there. There are many more motorcycles than cars and they move in packs not always paying attention to the crosswalk lights. You have to be brave and step off the curb and keep going. If you hesitate, you will get hit. At first, we would stand on the corner and wait for some locals to make a move across, then stick close to them. It was rather wild and the lights were not timed in favor of pedestrians.

And they wanted their picture taken with
Americans! What fun to see their outfits.

Or they just set up "shops" on the streets. Motorcyclists
buy food items from the "curb vendors" while they wait
for the lights to change and traffic to move. Wild!

Doesn't look "captured" to me!
While on our own, we had time to visit the War Remnants Museum, formerly known as the War Crimes Museum. It was quite disturbing! Our military men were up against a force beyond imagination. And what we did with Agent Orange and other chemicals is outrageous! There are still children being born with Agent Orange related defects. One of our tour books describes this museum as “grisly, horrifying, sobering and deeply disturbing.” It is all of that!

Even so, the museum is worth a visit if you are there. Outside there is a display of military weaponry they claim to have captured (or did we just leave it behind?). The exhibits and photos are slanted against us, but it is still shameful to see what went on there. As shameful as the way our country has treated the veterans from the Vietnam War! They didn’t stand a chance as it was not typical warfare. Both sides were guilty of much human cruelty. Still, the South Vietnamese are thankful that we tried to help them and hold nothing against Americans. In fact, they were happy to see people from the USA.  

Many rooms of exhibits show the horrors of war.
The Vietnamese are very enterprising. During the war, they turned discarded aluminum cans into hand grenades. Today they are still selling things made from aluminum cans, bomb shell casings, etc.  These items include helicopters, bicycle bells, tanks and jets. They even make jewelry from the same metals. The War Remnants Museum also hosts a very popular water puppetry show. Unfortunately, due to the holiday, it was not operating when we were there so I have no idea of what it is.

What is the most logical place to visit after this museum? The Rex Hotel Rooftop Bar! This was the hang out for American officers, ex-pats and wartime journalists. The weather in Saigon is hot and sunny with a lot of smog so this was the perfect place for a cool refreshment midday.
The bar overlooks a plaza which is dominated by a huge statue of Ho Chi Minh. We had a great photo taken of us in front of it, but somehow I have lost it in the transfer from the camera to the computer!
Reunification Palace
On our own, we visited the Reunification Palace or Independence Hall (it was referred to as both). As usual, those in power lived in posh surroundings. Opulence everywhere for the leaders’ and their wives. It is now a museum. The design is very contemporary early 1960’s and exudes a sterile atmosphere. Now it is used only for State functions.

Nice dining room for a few guests.
It was designed by Paris-trained architect, Ngo Viet Thu, who combined Western and Oriental architectural elements within a Chinese structural framework. The Palace was inaugurated as the Presidential Palace on October, 31 1966. On April 30, 1975, the NVA tanks smashed the gates and arrested the President General Duong Van Minh and his cabinet. Unfortunately, he had become head of state only two days prior. He was later allowed to immigrate to Paris while the NVA took over Saigon. Today the building is preserved as it had been on that fateful day. Even his Mercedes is still parked by the kitchen door!
The Cabinet Room
Nearby is the Saigon Opera House. Unfortunately, there was no performance due to the holiday so we could not go inside. There are still a few places to see with our guide in the next few days so we headed off to find a famous noodle restaurant. We were warned that it doesn’t look like a restaurant and the locals seemed surprised that we were asking about it.

Reception area. There were several: one for the President,
one for the Vice President and one for the President's wife.
Pho Hoa was our destination. According to 1000 Places to See Before You Die, this is one of the country’s best known noodle restaurants. There are thousands of noodle restaurants as noodles are eaten daily. “Pho” (pronounced “foa”) is a rice noodle soup eaten at breakfast and any other time of the day by the rich and the poor. Many people eat breakfast at pho restaurants, just sitting on little plastic stools on the sidewalk. Often the pho restaurants are some woman selling noodle soup out of her store front or stall.

At Pho Hoa, they boil the seasoned and flavorful broth for five hours before adding your noodles. It was really good – especially when we added fresh mint leaves to the hot broth. Eating it with chop sticks was a challenge! With some practice, I got the hang of it and managed without splattering my shirt!

Unfortunately, I lost a day and a half worth of photos from both cameras when I downloaded them to the computer so I do not have some really good views of the city. Hopefully, I accidently buried them somewhere in Dennis’ computer. Bummer!

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