We flew into Ho Chi Minh otherwise known as Saigon City today! This is the place where motorcycles rule the streets and we saw that right away as our driver picked us up from the airport and drove us through the busy city to check into our hotel.
We freshened up and then walked down the street to a restaurant we had read was very good. We told the hotel to let our guide know where we would be eating. At the restaurant, we climbed the winding stairs to the top and saw a table for two calling our names. We sat down and there were a few set tasting menus to choose from…we ordered the seafood theme. Our first few tastes in this city were good ones…first they brought out a coconut used as a serving dish for the huge prawns flopped over the side. Then they brought out shrimp finger foods…like shrimp spring rolls and shrimp salad spread over shrimp chips. Then they brought out a seafood stir fry cooked in a clay pot as well as a strange purple soup. We really enjoyed lunch and were just finishing as the new tour guide greeted us.
We followed our guide down the street and right by two motorbikes with baskets full of fruit…one had durian and the other was mangosteen. We walked over to the Reunification Palace which was the home and workplace of the President of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. It is also the place where the Vietnam War ended…a north Vietnam tank crashed through its gates. The fact that there was a lot of history here made this stop important, but as we were touring the inside it was a bit boring…going room to room…this was the office, this was the kitchen, this was the living room etc. etc. The bottom floor however was interesting as it had all kinds of pictures and historic information to read about times during the Vietnam War.
After the Reunification Palace, we drove to the War Museum…which is one of the most powerful museums in the world. There is a heaviness within the museum walls as people go from room to room looking at the pictures of destruction during the Vietnam War. The photographers of that time are honored for taking pictures of things no one would want to see, and for being in a place during a time where no one wanted to be. The weapons used during the war were on display, pictures of soldiers in gas masks, people on fire, bombs blowing up and one of the rooms highlighted the chemical warfare used by the USA…agent orange. 12 million gallons of concentrated herbicides, mainly agent orange were sprayed over 6 million acres of crops and forest in South Vietnam. This chemical warfare was approved by President John F Kennedy and it not only got onto the current crops, but it seeped into the water which was then eaten/drunk by the women…who then passed it onto their fetuses. The children were born with all kinds of defects such as missing limbs and diseases, and even their kids are still being born today with defects from those chemicals. The walls in the museum were covered with pictures of these kids severely impacted by the actions of our government.
After the war museum, the guide took us to a tourist “factory” where locals were making Vietnamese lacquerware. They had things like platters, cups, bowls and artwork each hand dipped in lacquer numerous times, and then little pieces of egg-shell or mother-of-pearl or paint carefully placed by hand in a pattern. We could see there was a lot of hard work done on each piece. It wasn’t exactly our style but we were impressed at the workmanship. We were only in the factory briefly before our guide stopped by the main church and old post office in town just so we could take a quick picture.
Back at our hotel, we changed and went back out to find dinner…one of our favorite time’s of the day! We found an outdoor restaurant which had water spraying us on the patio since it was so hot outside. We chatted with a local couple next to us who recommended some things on the menu. I started with a fresh coconut and Giff with a beer…we shared a seafood soup and then a large grilled marinated fish which was fresh and healthy.
After our leisurely dinner…we took a taxi back to our hotel so we could get our things packed up…tomorrow we go to Siem Reap!