Vietnam: Wars and crazy bikes in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon)

The 3 hour flight west from Manila over the South China sea to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam arrived at about 1am which meant I didn’t arrive at my hotel until 3am becuase I had to get my visa sorted on arrival. Vietnam is one of the few countries (mostly communist) where flashing the claret and short message from HM about allowing the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance etc.. doesn’t get you straight through the door.  It also costs $35 :(.

The next day for breakfast I was to have my first of many bowls of noodle soup, known as Pho and then it was straight out to look around the city.

First stop was Ben Thanh market, which turned out to be brief stop as the sales techniques were too aggressive for my liking and it was a bit like being in the middle of a stock-exchange in the 1980s.

I stopped for a dragon fruit shake on the way to the market, bought from a street vendor in a Vietnamese sun hat:

So off I went to the War museum which is a collection of pictures, commentary and memorabilia from the war with France and subsequently the USA i.e. the Vietnam War. Quite soon after arriving you notice that some of the exhibits, mainly the older ones appear to be rather biased and I found myself having to take some of the more shocking stuff with a pinch of salt as its hard to trust its accuracy.

Some of the commentary has a propagandary feel to it, “completely smashed” seems like an inappropriate historical comment:

Some of the US war machinery left behind:

Thalidamide victims pictures:

Anyway I still came out of the museum fairly horrified and it made me think how pointless the whole thing was. Despite me ignoring the bias it still struck me how horrific some of the Yanks actions had been especially the carpet bombing of large portions of the rural north and indiscriminate use of Thalidamide.  This, after all, was supposed to be one of the most developed countries and perhaps a role model to others. It appeared to me their actions from the beginning were far from a good example to others and indeed, illegal and inhumane.

Leaving the museum it did strike me of what the people of Vietnam must think of westerners, afterall it was only 30-odd years ago, enough for most middle-aged adults to remember.

Following the museum I visited several other landmarks including: the Reunification Palace;  the Catholic Notre Dame cathedral; the Saigon Opera House; and the City Hall.  All of which are very pleasant and grand buildings in quite an attractively constructed city.

The Reunifictaion Palace was the old presidential palace of South Vietnam taken over by the North Vietnamese in 1975 following victory in the War.  The palace interior has been restored like a time warp to how it was at this date.

The Catholic Notre Dame cathedral. Only 7% of the Vietnamese population is believed to be Catholic which makes the cathedral feel a bit out of place!

Opera House in the background:

French colonial building City Hall with a statue of national hero Ho Chi Minh in front (you can just about make it out!):

The next day I spent walking through the city streets visiting a couple of cafes and restaurants, and generally taking in the city.  The main difficulty for a tourist in Ho Chi Minh is crossing the road becasue of the number of motorbikes and general chaos of the traffic.   Traffic rules don’t apply and neither do signals which means there is never a clear opportunity to cross the road.  Instead pedestrians do the ‘walk of faith’, a technique where you walk out slowly but surely without altering your speed in the hope that the motorbikes find a route around you.  After a bit of practice you start to find this actually works and it keeps the traffic flowing, buts it’s pretty unnerving.

Vietnamese traffic, motorbikes everywhere including the pavement which is often used as a short cut (as well as one-way streets):

Coffee is very popular in Vietnam but they take it in a very different way to the West.  Hot water is filtered through the top where coffee granules are placed and it collects in a glass below which (in better places) is kept warm by being kept in a bowl of hot water.  Meanwhile a bowl of condensed milk awaits by the side and the drinker chooses how much to use.  Once you add the condensed milk sugar is not needed.  The coffee itself is very strong.  I personally love the mix of the super strong coffee with the sweet creaminess of condensed milk:

Later in the afternoon I had to visit the train station where I had to wait an hour and a half to buy a ticket because of a numbered ticket system! It was quite bizarre. So anyway after buying my ticket it meant I had to be up at 5am the next morning for my 8 hour journey north to coastal city of Nha Tran; so I made my way to bed early doors.


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