Swarming Saigon

Originally published on 7 January 2016.

Yes, SWARMING! That is the best word I can think of to describe the traffic in downtown Ho Chi Minh City most hours of the day. After a bit of pool time on Wednesday afternoon, Steve and I decided to venture out to the Museum of Ho Chi Minh City Museum and the Independence Palace (also called the Reunification Palace), both just a few blocks from our hotel. But getting there proved to be the challenge of the day…

So, first stop, Museum of Ho Chi Minh City. It was in a beautiful building—truly a palace at one time. Unfortunately, it’s been very poorly maintained, which made me a little bit sad. One day, someone’s going to be very upset that no one preserved such a beautiful, ornate building! But back to the matter at hand. There were several types of artifacts and glimpses of the city in the museum. Before it was dubbed Ho Chi Minh City in the 1970’s, it was Saigon, and before that, it was a French Colony. Even before that, it was just a village on the river. There were several items from the Vietnam War, as well as maps of Vietnam through its history (I love maps!). They even had old fishing boats on display that divers have found in the river over the years, as well as furniture from the 19th and early 20th centuries, some with ivory or mother of pearl inlays.

All that stuff is cool, but the thing that intrigued me most was the money.

Maybe it’s because I grew up in America and our money has stayed largely the same throughout my life, but seeing other countries’ money is really fascinating to me! It’s usually colorful or different sizes, and they usually have lots more coins than the US does. Since the Vietnamese dong is so weak, we only saw and used the bills in our cash transactions, but like most other countries, they used to have lots of coins. I like bills because they’re lighter and easier to fold and put away discreetly, but to each country its own money! Oh, and just as a matter of interest, the cost to get into this museum was just 70 US cents. Yes, CENTS.

Next up, the Independence/Reunification Palace. This is quite the tourist attraction. It seems like the more I try to understand the Vietnam War, the more questions I have. It was a very complicated thing politically, economically, internationally, etc. But this one was pretty straightforward. The “puppet government” was overthrown by the North Vietnamese, and this palace is where that all went down in April 1975. Sorry I didn’t get a picture (I was trying to cross the street with my body parts still intact, so I guess you could say I was distracted!), but if you’ve ever seen the famous picture of the Fall of Saigon with a tank plowing down a lovely white gate, you’ve seen the situation I’m writing about. It was a pretty violent reunification.

Anyway, the rooms were all set up as they would have been the last time they were used for their intended purposes, for large formal dinners, meetings, etc. The space is still used for weddings and ceremonies sometimes, which I think is pretty cool (kind of like getting married at the Capitol or the White House, perhaps).

By the time we got through, we were just that—through! We decided to get an early supper (around 4:30) and call it a night. So we tried our luck walking through town and crossing the streets again! I’m glad we were in an area where there were several tourists and Vietnamese pedestrians. It was hard to avoid the motorbikes on the sidewalk, and even more challenging on the roads! But we found that when you walk in a larger group, you’re more likely to avoid getting hit. Or at least you’re increasing the likeliness that motorists will slow down and go around you! We scurried here and there, and finally made it back to the shops and restaurants around our hotel. And we found a place that served sushi!

Yes indeed folks, I can do sushi for breakfast, sushi for supper, and if permitted, I could have done sushi for lunch as well! I realize sushi is a Japanese dish, but the Vietnamese do it very well, too! Steve got a sandwich, and we both got chilled drinks as well—a frozen latte of sorts for Steve, and a “beauty juice” for me! Complete with green orange garnish.

So then it was sleepy time for Steve and Whit. We got a couple of refreshing showers and hit the hay!

…And we were up at 2:00am! That’s actually the best part of traveling to Asia is that waking up early is easy! We tried to stay in bed longer, but we wound up getting up and going to the gym around 3:30. Another benefit of getting up early is that there was no one else at the gym!

After showers and a stop into the best breakfast buffet ever, we set out with big plans—walking over a mile to the War Remnants Museum! Yes, we were taking our lives into our own hands, but traveling is about getting outside your comfort zone. And sometimes risking your life!

Yes, they’re using the sidewalk ramp as an “on ramp.”

Slowly and carefully, we made it! It was not easy, especially the part where we had to dodge motorbikes on the sidewalks! We stopped by a Pagoda on the way, seeing as we were in Asia:

We couldn’t go in because Steve was wearing shorts, and I didn’t want to take off my shoes (I know, lazy), but it was a pretty open pagoda, and we could see the Buddha from the outside.

So, on to the War Remnants Museum! It is also sometimes called the Propaganda Museum. It’s true what they say that the winners write the history! There are several well-organized sections of this museum. It wasn’t exactly a light-hearted experience, and we didn’t look through every exhibit. Many of the pictures were disturbing, as you could imagine.

When we finished up there, we thought it might be nice to go to the pool for a little sunshine and light-hearted fun. The heat and intense walking through traffic situation was exhausting! And we had to catch the sun through the skyscrapers while we could!

Pool time was nice—we rarely get to relax on these quick trips, so when the opportunity arose, we took it! The rest of the day was pretty relaxing. In the afternoon we went shopping (well, as much as two people who don’t like to shop can stand to shop!). I got some post cards and Steve got a t-shirt for his brother Jeff, the two things we always get when we travel.

After our shopping spree, we found a restaurant for some authentic Vietnamese food—hooray! It was too hot for the traditional Pho (hot soup with noodles and bean sprouts and lemongrass and protein like chicken, beef, or tripe), so Steve got a seafood soup with rice and I got pork Bun (vermicelli noodles, pork, spring roll, veggies, and some delicious sauce that I love). I usually get Bun when I go to Vietnamese places in the States, and as it turns out, the American version is very similar to the authentic stuff! Sorry I didn’t get a picture of our food this time around. We were too hungry to think about pausing for a picture!

The rest of the trip was pretty dull—back to the room, took another shower, slept till 2:00am, went to the airport, and spent all of New Year’s Day flying home! It was the longest New Year’s Day on record for us—36 hours!

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