Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh

Trip Start Oct 03, 2011
Trip End Dec 25, 2011

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What I did
Independence Palace, The War Remnants Museum, Lots of luscious cafes

Flag of Vietnam  ,
Saturday, November 12, 2011

We arrive into Ho Chi Minh City (formally known as Saigon) just as Vietnam have pummelled Brunei 8-0 at football in the South East Asia Games - our taxi driver politely informs us that the journey might take longer than usual due to the busyness of the streets as people pour past us on motorbikes, flags waving, faces painted, horns honking even more than usual. Amy is still on high alert after the scam at Hanoi, and when the driver says our street address (23/36 Ngu Lao) doesn't exist because that street only has uneven numbers, she practically self-combusts with anxiety! Dropped off on a street with the correct name, and pointed to the hotel by a friendly travel company, it turns out the lovely taxi driver has left us less than 50metres from the door... and that Amy had written the address down wrong. Dh! It's frustrating that our encounter with one numpty in Hanoi has left us so wary, as in actual fact, as the people of Ho Chi Minh are out to prove, the Vietnamese are a really lovely people.

Our attempt at a lie in the next day is thwarted by the building work going on next door, but we still manage to laze about enough to emerge into the boiling heat outside. After an omelette and some bread for breakfast not quite filling a hole, we decide to treat ourselves (or Amy) to a second breakfast - pancakes all round (or just pancakes for Amy)!

Next stop the beautiful Notre Dame cathedral - we melt our way across the city for a quick peak, then drop onto the nearest shady spot for a sit down - the heat is unbelieveable! We head on to Reunification Palace, the site of power for the South Vietnamese government that was in league with the Americans during the Vietnam War. The grounds contain models of 2 tanks that smashed down the entrance gates when the North Vietnamese army crashed through the gates and made the South Vietnamese government declare defeat.

We watch a long video on the topic which massively confuses Amy who has very little idea of the history to begin with, and even less idea after the bias given to everything (Communism isn't mentioned at all, I'm sure that had something to do with it) - and falling asleep for half of it doesn't much increase her understanding. What is clear, is that there is a lot that isn't being mentioned, like what happened to all the Vietnamese who sided with the Americans (for whatever reason) as 'The Vietnamese' is the label consistently given to the resistance fighters and the North. With over 1,000,000 South Vietnamese fighting on the side of the Americans, it clearly isn't as simplistic as presented, especially given their 're-education' after the war has ended. Hmmm.

The basement of the palace hasn't been touched since the invasion, so the sophisticated communication equipment is still in place exactly as it was during the war - so that'll be 2 telephones and a radio then! The maps seem incredibly undetailed and unsophisticated for managing a war - but to say the Viet Cong's war rooms were probably in the middle of a jungle, perhaps we shouldn't be so quick to be surprised.

We move on to the War Remnants Museum, which reveals some of the horrifying torture that the Viet Cong and civilians were subjected to under the direction of the Americans. Again, it is hard to construct a truly accurate picture, but the photographs and documentary evidence clearly prove some horrendous crimes took place. Even more shocking is the information on the widespread use of Agent Orange and it's long lasting effects. This chemical was sprayed mostly in North Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and partially in South Vietnam, essentially to kill lots of jungle vegetation to make fighting on the ground easier. What it actually did was get into the water systems and crops and has caused birth defects ever since. Four generations on, babies are being born with massive deformities. The photographs are shocking, with children born as recently as 2009 with no legs and serious mental health problems - and of course, as yet no responsibility has yet been accepted by the American government, despite American troops who sprayed the chemical already receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of compensation. It's a very tough museum to visit.

We spend the evening people watching (or people/goods on motorbikes to be more precise) and are continually amazed at just how much stuff you can get on a normal motorbike. We love watching the little kids nonchalantly balance on whatever bit of bike their parents have plonked them on!

The next day is a mish mash of wandering round the city, frequently stopping in cafes to escape the crushing heat and sudden showers, and just generally soaking up the atmosphere of mobile kitchens sitting on street corners, exotic fruit sellers, various meats stalls festering in the sunshine and a whole host of street hawkers, barbers, mechanics, coconut sellers that make up this frenetic city.

Love Amy & Michael, xxx
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