Our last stop in Vietnam was Ho Chi Minh City, still sometimes called by its old name of Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City is a lot of syllables). HCMC is modern, stylish, urban, and also full of history.
Andreas had a list of costume pieces he needed for the school musical he is directing. When we returned to HCMC after our Mekong delta tour we went out in search of the night market. The city lights up at night and is teeming with people until very late. I was too busy making sure Andreas didn’t pay too much for his fedoras to take any photos of the market though.
The next day we got an early start in an attempt to pack the rest of our Saigon sightseeing into one day. Vietnam takes food seriously and our hotel offered a wide breakfast selection. Andreas was happy to have another opportunity to start the day with a bowl of pho.
HCMC is a very walkable city, and the sunny weather was perfect for getting around on foot.
Our first stop was a building that was home and office to the president of South Vietnam from 1962 to 1975. The war ended in 1975 when North Vietnamese tanks broke through the palace gates. The two countries became one, and the Presidential Palace became Independence (also called Unification) Palace. The palace is a museum now, set up as it was during the war. The self guided walking tour takes you through all the private and public areas including the basement bunker. I thought this would be a short visit but it turned out to be quite interesting and Andreas and I were the last visitors shooed out when the museum closed for lunch at 11.
Just a few blocks away from Independence Palace is the War Remnants Museum. This museum opened just after the war as the Exhibition House for US and Puppet Crimes, which was amended to the Exhibition House for Crimes of War and Aggression in 1990. The current name was assigned in 1995 after relations with the US were normalized. This history was clearly written by the victors. Reading TripAdvisor reviews of the museum it seems that a lot of Americans are offended by that, but I was glad for the chance to see the war through the eyes of the other side. An exhibit about international photojournalists who covered the war was well done, as was the section about the international anti-war movement. With whole rooms devoted to American atrocities and agent orange, it’s pretty horrific, but why should a war museum be otherwise.
We had made plans to meet my friend Amy and her husband in another part of the city for dinner. It had been a sobering museum visit and we needed a good walk afterwards.
We stopped by the Jade Emperor pagoda along the way
We met our friends for dinner at Cậu Ba Quán, a popular Vietnamese-Cajun fusion restaurant that was featured (I am told) on the Netflix show Somebody Feed Phil. I am sure Phil didn’t leave this place hungry… our “happy salad” and a huge platter of prawns left us very satisfied (but not so stuffed we couldn’t go out for beers afterwards…)
At midnight we were winging our way back to Cairo via Dubai. To everyone who told us a week wouldn’t be enough time to see this beautiful country, you were right. But that just means we’ll have to come back. When we do, Sapa will certainly be on the itinerary.
Meanwhile, we brought a tasty little bit of Vietnam back with us.