We leave our AmaWaterways ship by 8:30 on route to Saigon. This is another in our series on AmaWaterways Riches of the Mekong river cruise. Our previous post, Last night on AmaDara, described our last night on the ship.
Chinese in Vietnam
After about an hours drive we stop at a Chinese temple for what is affectionately known as a “happy stop” (a bath room). The temple reeks of incense which is burning all over as worshipers come to pray. This is not a religion per ce, it’s a place for anyone to “make a wish” (good luck or for good grades or a safe trip).
We arrive at the hotel (Sofitel Saigon), have the included lunch and check into our rooms. The Sofitel was a bit late in clearing our rooms so many of us waited in the lobby. Then we’re off to three planned stops.
A White House in Saigon
First we went to “Reunification palace”. This is the residence of South Vietnam’s president prior to the fall of Saigon. It was interesting to see how a former leader lived. The residence is currently used only for the occasional rental for conferences.
The residence include war rooms, ambassador meeting rooms, living quarters for the president’s family and an extensive bunker system to protect in case of an attack. To learn more, you can click on this link.
The Vietnam war from the North Vietnamese perspective
Next we visited the War Remnants Museum in Saigon. The Museum had several exhibits including ones dedicated to the French occupation stemming from colonial times, the American involvement (including troops lost), the use of Agent Orange, photographer’s recordings of the horrors of war. Outside, the museum has a nice collection of US military hardware including tanks, large caliper guns and air craft.
Clearly the Vietnamese government (the victors, if you will) uses the museum as propaganda. Still, as one of my colleagues said. ‘they were not totally wrong. We did a lot of stupid things.’ I can’t say I walked through the museum with pride or patriotism, but it was simply a surreal feeling to be standing in an ostensibly communist country reviewing the Vietnamese war.
Marketing in Saigon
Finally we arrive at the Central market (the Ben Thanh Market). As is typical of many of the local markets just about everything was sold at this market. There’s over 2000 stalls selling everything from made to order suits, to scarves, food or kitchen wares.
After another hot, humid day, we arrive back at the hotel, shower and are ready for dinner.
There’s so many images in our head from today. This is a communist country politically but certainly not economically. The capitalists are booming in Saigon. But the images of the Vietnam War are what will stick with us longest.
Our second day in Saigon we decide to stay in town and not to go on the excursion to Cu Chi Tunnels. This is an extensive underground network of tunnels outside of Ho Chi Minh City that were constructed by the Vietnamese military and used throughout the war. This was a 25 year long effort and it enabled the Viet Cong to move around the countryside undetected. The tour included walking through the forest trails, through the tunnels discovering hidden entrances, booby traps and air vents.
Here’s an excellent description of the construction and use of the tunnels by the History Channel.
Above Ground Saigon
We took a couple of walks around Saigon to get a feel of the city. It’s much closer to Shanghai 20 years ago than to Hanoi today. Construction is all around and it’s impossible not to get caught up in all the investment going on. There’s a plethora of high end shops, malls and restaurants. The streets are wide and tree lined. There are many parks scattered around the city lending the feeling of relaxation to the city.
We have one more blog post in our Riches of the Mekong series – Impressions and Summary.