(I’ll likely refer to it again, but I’ve written a great deal and have not complimented yet who was responsible for this wonderful experience we’ve been having. Hats off to G-Adventures for not only making arrangements for our travel guide (CEO) Minea but also, local guides in each of the places we visited. Our CEO went out of her way to make our trip very memorable. Impressed beyond words with the whole experience).
February 24/ day 8 of our tour, we flew from Da Nang to Saigon. The City of Saigon officially had its name changed to Ho Chi Minh City in 1975, and was named the capital at that time, taking that honor away from Hanoi. It was named after the North Vietnamese Leader, and most citizens still refer to the city as Saigon. We flew via Thai Air…and although it was only an hour long flight, it was clean, and great service . As we arrived relatively early in the day, we checked into our room at the Hong Hac Botique hotel, freshened up and met the group in the lobby for 15 minute walk to the War Remnants Museum. We only had about an 1.5 hours at the museum before we would meet up with our Cyclos and as it turned out, it was not enough time to see all that we wanted. We made tentative plans to return to see the rest. The Museum is definitely worth seeing. This is one of the most popular museums in Vietnam, with well over 1/2 a million people visiting each year. The yard is filled with military equipment, tanks, planes, and unexploded bombs, which have been defused and or charges removed. There are several buildings within the walled compound that house all the exhibits. One has to take much with a grain of salt, as it is very one sided, and the authenticity of some photos (and there are thousands) have been questioned. There are hundreds of Anti-American propaganda posters and newspaper clippings, and many more articles regarding protests against the Vietnam War from around the world. There was a great deal of reading to be done. Each and every photo had a caption, some long, some short. One photo, and caption we read were the exact words Gary had heard back in the late 70’s. We were in the Yukon at the time, and a pilot had come up to do a job, and was talking about some of the things he saw while in Vietnam. It was impossible to believe at the time. But there was a photo, and a caption telling the exact same story Gary had heard. Possibly the reason we were not able to see the whole Museum , there was just so much to take in. One building called the Tiger Cage was a replica of the prison where the South Vietnamese kept political prisoners. The cells were dark, they were small, and the prisoners were shackled to cement beds. They were tortured, dismembered, beaten and at times kept in cages lined with barbed wire. It was very gruesome, and again a vivid reminder that war is devastating and that the aftermath follows us for centuries. As I said earlier, what we saw was very one sided, and unfortunately as close as it was to our hotel, we didn’t get back to see the 3rd floor. Although I feel I saw enough to last a life time, I think it would have been important to see the “American” floor, and how it was portrayed. It is a very somber place to go, and one can not help but think about the photos and the exhibits in the days to come. We did not take many photos here, and none of any photographs that are displayed, however, there are literally thousands posted on the web.
As scheduled, we met our CEO at the gate to the museum and she escorted us across the street where we met up with our Cyclos. I wasn’t sure what a Cyclo tour was, but got a quick education. You ride in front of the bike, on a nice comfy seat, while the driver peddles you around the city. Again, the traffic was my main concern, and it was getting to be late afternoon, so the traffic was a bit chaotic, but…out we went to see the sights. All the vehicles seem to be cautious when traveling close to the Cyclo’s, and make way for them to maneuver through the busy streets, although I did seem to get a guy that liked to be in he lead weaving unnecessarily though the mass of vehicles and people! Each time we went passed a landmark, he would tap me on the shoulder, explain what the significance of the landmark was. I would acknowledge him, but that wasn’t good enough! He would slow down, and keep pointing, and explaining until I took my camera out and snapped a picture, then he would race up to the beginning of the line again! I learned quick to just keep my camera out, and snap a picture when he started talking to me! Made things much smoother!
Saigon is a very large city with over 8.4 million people. It continues to grow each year with new highways, beautiful buildings, sky scrappers, parks and of course people. But in the midst of it all, there are reminders of the wars, the suffering and how it effected the people of not only this city and country; but the world. Photographed by Hubert van Es, the black and white photo below was in newspapers around the world showing the helicopter evacuation of 22 Gia Long Street April 29th , 1975. The color photograph, a little different angle, but of the same building Photographed by Gary on February 24, 2017.
One other stop we made at the Cyclo tour was the Post office. It looks as though it were a train station, or something much “larger” than a post office, but what a spectacular building to have always been just a post office. A Catholic church was also reason for my driver to prompt me for yet another photo as well as the Opera House. A woman on the same tour ahead of us went to the Opera, and explained it was not as we see operas, but more or like a cirque du solei performance! Maybe next time we’ll partake in that as an activity outside the included ones.
The next stop on the Cyclo tour was at the corner of Cach Mang Thang Tam Blvd & Nguyen Dinh Chieu Street in central Saigon. There a beautiful monument sits surrounded by greenery, flowers and lights. It is here to honor the Monk, Thich Quang Duc who, on June 11th, 1963 burned himself to death at this intersection. For those who remember the 60’s, this is just one more reminder of sacrifices that were made in order to make a change in a troubled country. It was his way to protest the South Vietnamese Diem regime’s discriminating against the Buddhist Religion. The car that took the monk to that intersection, is now in Hanoi, and we did view it there. Malcolm Brown, the photographer that captured this iconic event on film did an interview with the Times. You can see this interview here .
The Cyclo tour was just about over for the evening. This city loves their lights, and as dusk approached the streets are light up with brilliant lights of all shapes and sizes, some moving, some stationary, but all spectacular, unfortunately my camera would not focus well at night. Still very busy on the streets, which of course added to the light shows.
We had a few blocks to go before saying good bye to the cyclo drivers, and head into dinner at the Street Food Market. Here we likely would not have gone on our own, but with our CEO, we found another wonderful place to eat. Was good ’till the last drop!
Cu Chi Tunnels tomorrow – I think I can do it!