Saigon, the old capital of South Vietnam, before Communist North Vietnam conquered / liberated the south. For Americans like myself, Vietnam holds a special place in my country’s history, so I had to go and see the country, experience the culture that somehow defeated the US military.
Ben Thanh Market: a giant market, aimed primarily at tourists. All items are twice the prices they should be, even after haggling. Nice lights display at night though!
During my time in Saigon, I went on a day trip tour, to the Cao Dai Temple and the Cu Chi Tunnels. It was horrible, and I resolved to never again go sightseeing with a tour group. Of the nine hours spent with the tour group (a full day tour to the Cao Dai Temple and Cu Chi Temples), half an hour was spent at Cao Dai, an hour was spent at Cu Chi, an hour was spent at lunch, and half an hour was spent at a lacquer shop “for Agent Orange victims”. The rest was spent on the bus.
Filled with cultists (seriously, Cao Dai is a cult).
Cu Chi Tunnels: supposedly, a set of tunnels used by the Vietcong during the Vietnam War to evade US and south Vietnamese troops. In reality, there are two sets of tunnels – Ben Duoc, a real part of the old tunnel network, but further away from Saigon and so rarely visited by tour groups, and Ben Dinh, a “fake” set of tunnels created just for tourists, frequently visited by tour groups. Still worth visiting, even if fake!
There’s a nice display of traps that the Vietcong set for American troops.
And then, there’s the actual tunnels – so small that you have to crawl through the packed dirt tunnel, hot and humid after having experienced a long line of tourists, slowly getting smaller and more claustrophobic. The possibility of a freak earthquake terrifies you.
Notre Dame Cathedral: It’s the Notre Dame of Saigon.
It’s a very nice place, very well designed, with lots of sunlight from large windows, a spacious feel, very zen.
It’s got a library, game room, cinema, and even a rooftop meditation space converted into a rooftop party room – and helicopter pad!
And it’s got an underground bunker, for planning the war effort!
It spoke for a bit on the variety of themes in Buddha construction in southeast Asia – the gentility of Buddha construction in China, the refinement of Thailand, the perfection of Japan, the meditation of Cambodia, and the affection of Vietnam.
War Remnants Museum: a really cool (though heavily biased) museum, it shows artifacts from the Vietnam War.
– Lots of tanks and helicopters used in the Vietnam conflict. (see what the horrible Americans unleashed against our peaceful farmers?)
– A whole ton of photographs, showing the beauty of Vietnam and the cruelty of US forces.
Bits and Bobs:
– During my stay in Vietnam, the first McDonalds to open in Vietnam, opened in Saigon. I’ve got mixed feelings. On one hand, this globalization is going to contribute towards the destruction of Vietnamese culture. At the same time, doesn’t Vietnam have the right to join the global market, increase its wealth?
– Bui Vien, the backpacker central bar street. I stayed away as much as possible. At night, instead of drinking in proper bars, random bars just open up on the street – plastic chairs are put out on the curb, where you just sit down and dream very cheap beers.