Saigon-ara, Vietnam!

After nearly 4 weeks we are saying good bye to Vietnam.  Its been a wild ride, and we have really loved being here.  Its also the first country we have visited on this trip where we both agree that 4 weeks is not enough to see it all.  Vietnam feels enormous, and has so much to offer – great food, beautiful landscapes, and really friendly people (as long as you’re not discussing money or haggling for something).  You could get lost here very easily.

We are finishing our trip in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), the largest city in the country.  It was heavily damaged during the Vietnam War, and this is evidenced today by many modern buildings and wide roads which were rebuilt after the North took over in 1975.  The feel of the city contrasts heavily with that of Hanoi.  Hanoi retained much of its “old world” charm and feel, whereas Saigon feels new. We also suspect that Saigon has the highest number of coffee shops per capita of any city in the world.

Bui Vien Street, the heart of the the tourist part of Saigon.  The majority of bars, restaurants, and hotels are either on this street, or very near by.

Someone should run an architecture tour of Saigon.  There is a great mixture of styles, especially French Colonial style buildings which somehow survived the war.

Old vs new: The French colonial=styled City Hall (1908) in the foreground, with the new Vincom Center looming behind.
Independence Palace, also known as Reunification Palance.  This palace was used by the South Vietnamese government until 1975, when the North Vietnamese Army took Saigon and famously drove a tank through the palace gates signaling the end of the war.  The Palace was built in the mid-60s, and is a great example of 60’s modernist architecture.
This is one of the meeting rooms inside the palace. The entire building has been left (or restored?) in its original configuration so it appears as it did when it fell in 1975.  Its like going back in time.
Saigon Central Post Office, French colonial architecture from 1891.
Inside the Post Office.  Its a working Post Office but also very much a tourist attraction for its great architecture.  Notice the old phone booths along the wall? Each now has an ATM inside.  We mailed a 2.25kg package home to Canada and it cost $39 CAD.
We like this church, tucked among the taller buildings.  Around 8% of Vietnam identifies as Christian.

We spent 4 days in Saigon, which was more than we original anticipated.  Unfortunately, we got hurried out of Mui Ne a little earlier than we would have liked, on Vietnam’s “Liberation Day” long weekend.  It was impossible to find a hotel room to extend our stay on the beach, as they were all booked up for the holiday. So, we headed to Saigon early.  It actually worked out nicely, as we could explore the city at a slower pace.  Besides, the intense heat and humidity makes it hard to explore quickly – afternoons are mostly a write off, as everyone heads into air conditioning in an attempt to maintain sanity.

We stumbled upon this restaurant which was apparently voted the best Canadian Lobster in Vietnam. Its a very specific award. Their staff found out we were Canadian and the manager asked that we take a picture with one of the waitresses.  They also had live Alaskan King Crab, which was very cool to see.The crab were $256 CAD per kg, and the lobster were $127 per kg,.


The War Remnants Museum, filled with captured US military equipment and information (and propaganda) about the war.
That’s one good looking Mountie.  We aren’t sure why this was at the War Remnants museum.
Modern propaganda is abundant throughout Vietnam, and especially in Saigon.
We aren’t the only Oilers fans in Vietnam!  We saw this note up on the wall of a coffee shop and added some support of our own. They need it after that Game 5.  Let’s go Oilers!

We also wanted to include with this post a few pictures from various Vietnam War historical sites we visited.  These pictures didn’t really fit into any other posts, but we think they’re worth sharing. Everywhere in Vietnam are reminders of the war, and we wondered if our “North American” accents might draw some ire (we are often mistaken for Americans) as we visited these sites.  But despite the constant reminders of a war which tore the country apart not that long ago, and still has lasting effects today, there does not seem to be any animosity towards the American people or peoples from other countries (Australia, Korea, etc) who participated in the war.  The only time it really seems to come up is in museums, which are perhaps unsurprisingly biased against the French colonization and the subsequent American actions during the 60’s and 70’s.  A lot of the displays in various museums would constitute straight-up propaganda, so you need to take everything with a grain of salt.

Captured US C-130 Hercules at Khe Sanh combat base, in the central highlands of Vietnam.  The base was one of the closest US military facilities to the demilitarized zone that separated South Vietnam from North Vietnam.  The base itself was used extensively by the Americans during the war until it ultimately fell to the North Vietnamese. Nowadays there isn’t much left of the original base. A museum has been built, and several captured US aircraft and tanks are on display.  Walking around the base, seeing the military equipment surrounded by the incredible scenery, was a very surreal experience.
Old US tank at Khe Sanh combat base.  Lands once used by the US military, and larger the North Vietnamese Arm, is now use as coffee and banana plantations by the locals.
CH-47 helicopter from the US army, on display at Khe Sanh.
We also visited the Vin Moc tunnels, located just north of the old demilitarized zone.  The local people built these tunnels to hide in during bombing campaigns. The Americans believed the locals were aiding the North Vietnamese army, so the area was targeted with heavy bombing.  The people of the area built tunnels down to 30m below grade.
Heading down to level 3, about 30 underground.  Its a tight fit and very dark.
When we were waiting to enter the tunnels we met a group of older Vietnamese men and women.  It turns out that some of the men used to be in the North Vietnamese Army.  They were wearing their old uniforms to visit the tunnels.  We asked their guide if Doug could take a picture with them, and they were extremely enthusiastic and happy to do so.  Even with their hats on, none of them came above Doug’s shoulders.  They wanted a copy of the photo, but unfortunately they didn’t seem to have Facebook or e-mail.  When we finished with the photos, they all wanted to shake our hands.  Then they found us again in the parking lot area and wanted to shake our hands again.  It was one of our most memorable experiences in Vietnam.

And now, on to Penang, Malaysia! Talk again soon!

  • Doug and Emily / May 3, 2017 / Saigon, Vietnam @ Madam Cuc 184 Hotel at 7:57 pm







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