March 25th ~ Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
We are hopping forward a few days, and I will need to fill in the blanks after we get home. Our first three days with Gate 1 covered much of the same sites we had already visited on our Intrepid tour, including additional visits to Angkor Wat as well as another Floating Village. I have a huge number of photos to sort through at a later time as well as I want to eventually do a wrap up post for Cambodia. But for now, continuing on with arriving in Vietnam.
Been waiting a long time to say, “GOOD MORNING VIETNAM!”
I usually do my research “after” visiting a city to make sure I have my facts straight and fill in the blanks where I have missed hearing some critical information. Knowing that our Internet service was going to be sketchy at times on this trip, I actually did some research on this city “before” we left home. This is what I thought I was going to be writing:
To many foreigners, Vietnam is synonymous with war. In reality, it’s a beautiful nation of kind, peaceful folks. Saigon and its nine million residents are at the heart of it all.
The communist Vietnamese won independence after the “Fall of Saigon” in 1975. Many attractions echo that era. The Reunification Palace (formerly the Presidential Palace) is an interesting landmark designed in the 1960s with the help of the Soviets. The tank that crashed through its gates on April 30, 1975, signifying “The Fall” still graces its front lawn.
Ho Chi Minh or Saigon as it is still also known combines the vibrant Orient with a historic colonial French feel. The cities’ many wide elegant boulevards are lined with distinctly European styled buildings yet the way of life is authentically Asian. As East meets West and Past meets present, Ho Chi Minh provides the perfect melting pot for a short city break.
HaHa, boy was I off base on what I “thought” my impressions were going to be. First of all, I am still not handling the high heat and humidity well, and in fact feeling a bit drained and grumpy.
Saigon, as it is still called by the locals is a big city. When arriving the previous evening by air, we could just have easily been approaching LAX with all the city lights below. On the ride to our hotel we immediately noticed the French influence, and a bit of reverse culture shock after 18 days in Cambodia – it is much cleaner here.
But it is the large number of motorbikes that grab our attention next. They are EVERYWHERE!
And going in all directions…
And driving on the sidewalks…
At least wearing helmets is a requirement here, and a max of two per bike is supposed to be enforced, but we still often saw three or four per motorbike, especially during commute times. Women in particular are seen fully covered wearing a jacket, gloves, long pants or skirt and a full-faced helmet to avoid exposure to the sun. The lighter skin tones are still admired and sought after.
Did have to laugh at seeing a few women riding motor scooters with high heels.
And carrying very young children on their laps was common. I even saw one man with a tiny cradle in front of him holding a very small infant!
There were two main parts to our itinerary today; a morning city tour and an optional afternoon trip to see the Cu Chi Tunnels (which I will write about in a separate post).
Here are a few pictures taken as we walked the streets of the city.
The architecture is modern and heavily French influenced:
Notre Dame Cathedral here in Saigon as well as another pink Catholic church that could have been taken straight out of a Disney theme park
And the post office was a stop. It was designed by the same man who designed the Eiffel Tower.
We also visited a lacquer and handicraft shop where we got to watch the process. I was most interested in seeing them make a mosaic using duck shells.
GRATITUDE MOMENT: Despite the harsh history between the USA and Vietnam that I witnessed as a teenager and young adult, it was good to see a community that has mostly healed and in some cases thrived. Yes, they are still a communist nation, but one in transition and moving closer to a democratic society.
P.S. Please forgive any typos or improper English today. Editing quickly as we have a flight to Hoi An to catch shortly…