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Ho Chi Minh City - 4 Busy Days

VIETNAM | Wednesday, 11 March 2009 | Views [511]

Most travelers we talked to on our way through Vietnam or prior to our trip told us they prefered Hanoi over Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon, as far as large cities were concerned.  This had me a bit nervous about HCMC since we had found Hanoi difficult to navigate and less pleasurable than our other stops in Vietnam.  I was prepared for the worst.

However, Pete and I were both surprised by how quickly we were able to figure out the city's orientation (at least the main centers we visisted) and just enjoy exploring the streets.  And while the traffic continued to amaze us day after day, there are sidewalks and plenty of other pedestrians to cross scary streets with, so even massive intersections became accessible.

It also helped to have Perry, a family acquaintance, there to give us some advice.  He is an Oregonian but is living and teaching English in HCMC... and though I liked the city, I could never see myself relocating... I think I'd be exhausted.  But Perry met us for drinks a couple of nights and breakfast one morning and helped us plan our days in the city.

Some things we saw -

Ben Thanh Market Thank goodness Perry gave us a warning about this place.  He explained that in this market, a maze of stalls and skinny walkways, salespeople will grab or touch shoppers.  And did they!  On first entering the market not one but several women were suddenly crowding around either grabbing my arms or throwing jeans and t-shirst at me.  Looking at what they had to sell was hopeless, so I escaped their grasps and rushed along through the aisles.  Luckily the grabbing stops a little ways inside the market and people were less aggressive, many were even sleeping under their tables of product.  Pete bought a belt.

Reunification Palace This was the presidential palace where a communist tank broke through the front gates leading to Saigon's surrender.  We went on a cloudy, grey day, and thunder rumbling in the distance made for a threatening atmosphere in this place that has been through so much.  As part of our admission price, an English speaking tour guide took us through the palace, highlighting the bottom-level bunkers and upper-level heli pad that stills shows signs of damage caused by a bomb.  In between were living quarters, an industrial kitchen, conference and meeting rooms.  We could hear thunder all afternoon, but the rain never came.

War Remnants Museum Pete took a museum studies course in college and he says this museum ranks well among museums he's visited because of its well-organized layout.  I didn't take the class but could still recognize that the exhibits are clearly organized in such a way that many aspects of war are considered.  The tour through the musuem begins with a chronological history of the war in Vietnam, which is followed by a very interesting gallery of war photos that also tell the background stories of war photographers from all over the world.   The most startling and heartbreaking exhibits are the section on war crimes, including a photo gallery showing the devestating consequences of Agent Orange and the VC tiger cages.  The museum's final exhibit displays the art of children today and how they understand war and peace in the world.  Some parts were hard to see, and others seemed a bit biased (but I had to remind myself that we are in Vietnam and the point of view here will be different from any I've experienced before). In general it was an informative museum, but I think the most important part is how people feel when leaving.  It makes us wonder how wars can continue when there has already been so much suffering.

Some things we didn't see -

Cu Chi Tunnels These are the famous tunnels that the Viet Cong used for hospitals, kitchens, and shelter.  In researching this sight, we felt that maybe it had become too much of a tourist attraction instead of the real deal. Apparently a network of tunnels has been replicated on a larger scale for Westerners to fit into.  And since I know I'd be too claustrophobic to spend much time in the still-tiny tunnels, we decided to read about the history instead of going and competing with the crowds.

Mekong Delta Tour This came highly recommended by most everyone, but when it came down to it, taking a 3-day tour would mean one less day in Vietnam and one less day in Cambodia.  We were also getting tired of tour groups at this point, and decided to do an independent day in the city instead of a 3-day trip with dozens of other travelers.  We regret missing this, but maybe we'll catch it next time!

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