Rest Day in Vietnam: Ho Chi Minh City

We have just spent two nights in Ho Chi Minh City (a.k.a. Saigon) and its been a fascinating experience.

As we have flown progressively from west to east, we’ve seen the features of various countries blend and progressively evolve, and our two nights in Ho Chi Minh City have been no exception.

Here in Vietnam, the Tuk Tuk’s are gone – and the motor scooters are in huge evidence. Our guide today on a tour to various spots around the city said there are circa 9 million people in the city and surrounds, with around six million motor scooters – and its easy to believe!

Pete and I enjoyed the experience of crossing the road repeatedly, as we walked around the city this morning… watching the endless flow of bikes simply bend around us as we walked at an even pace across the roads. Quite interesting – and entirely unlike how the streets work in Adelaide!

We went on a tour in the afternoon, intended to provide a glimpse of the American (Vietnam war) influenced history of this city, and it was truly fascinating.

We visited the “Reunification Palace”, site of the definitive end of the Vietnam war, where tanks rolled into the grounds and the president of the South surrendered to the incoming Northern Vietnamese, following the withdrawal of American troops.

It was a real period piece, featuring meeting and reception areas, underground war rooms, and artefacts from the 1970’s era that has been such a defining aspect of the history of this country.

From there we visited the “War Remnants Museum”, a truly confronting place. It features various American military vehicles abandoned at the US withdrawal from this country, and an amazing (and challenging) exhibition of photographs and artefacts covering the whole gamut of the Vietnam war.

Various items of military weaponry were the expected things here. There were exhibits showing the torture and depravity inflicted upon the people of this country as well.

And what was deep and lasting was the impression created by the galleries of many photographs of the war – in all its ugly detail.

Especially so the gallery full of images of children and adults afflicted by birth defects caused by the huge deployment of “Agent Orange”, the defoliant rich in Dioxins that denuded the forests of Vietnam (as intended) and that caused generations of birth defects in the population as an unintended (or uncaring) long term consequence.

Another aspect of the place was the manner in which the war was depicted.  It was very eye-opening to see propaganda from the era, written from the Vietnamese side of this difficult period, and with its slant entirely different to that normally expressed and exposed in American depictions of the war.

This museum really is no a place for the faint hearted. But then again – neither is any war.

It is good that such places exist, to try to remind us all of the merits of not repeating these historical mistakes.

(Notwithstanding the self evident truth, that most of these mistakes documented there have indeed kept being made, people being people, in subsequent military engagements that have occurred in other places and in more recent times)

The afternoon tour ended with a visit to the house of Henry Cabot Lodge, the US Ambassador to Vietnam in the mid 1960’s, whose house was purchased by the owner of the tour company we used (in order to generate a unique aspect of their tours, as well as it being the home of said tour company owner!)

Finally, we had a beer at the roof garden of the Rex Hotel, a site frequented by many US and related people during the war years, before being taken back to our hotel.

It has been a short, but excellent, visit to Vietnam, and it has been eye opening to experience just a little of this amazing place with our own eyes. As always, no amount of remote imagery and observation can replace the experience of really being somewhere.

Tomorrow will be another day, and another long flight, mostly South, to Bali.

The day after, we’ll head onward to make landfall in Australia, in Broome.