Sai Gon (aka Ho Chi Minh City)

When last we visited with you we were on our way here. I regret I left out a picture that was key to OMB 

They sell Buddhas in many shapes and sizes. Genders too. This one was bought by Cullum. He is keeping it in his pocket. 

We flew into Sai Gon (as the locals call it. Officially it is HCMC but nobody uses that).  Phong took us to 

This is where President Clinton dined in 2000. We had an delicious lunch (I’ve run out of superlatives, I know) 

Then hopped into cyclecabs for a tour of the old city. We would get out at different attractions such as the post office that looks like a railroad station

A very tall building 

A memorial to a Buddhist monk who immolated himself to protest the South Vietnamese government in 1963. 

We also just had fun being pushed around 

In case you were curious, the traffic here is not like that in the other H cities. There it is organized chaos. Here, you can remove the adjective. Nothing organized about it here!  Still fun though. It is especially easy to be a pedestrian if you are in a block and only make right turns. The next day, for variety, you can make left turns. Just don’t step into the street (oh, and keep an eye out for errant scooters)

I must get a bit serious here. Our last stop on the bike cabs was the War Remnants Museum. There is a large outside area where there is a static display of mostly American military equipment. A fighter jet, tank, artillery pieces etc. 

Inside, there are a lot of exhibits about the war. I absolutely broke down in one room dedicated to war photographers. Many of these journalists did not go home. Their photos are heartbreaking. 

I think what affected me here was a combination of it being my country that caused all this destruction, the short amount of time that has passed, the whole nonsensical reasoning for the US to be in Vietnam, the absolute beauty of the people and country here, the veterans I know who came over here as young men and the damage they came home with.  Please don’t think I am being critical of our grunts on the ground who were sent here or what they had to do to win. I respect the hell out of them all. 

In the bus on Friday to the Cu Chi tunnel complex our local guide said something that resonated with me. He said neither country won. The only winners were the various defense contractors who sold both sides the weapons from AK47s & M16s to A4 & MiG fighter jets and tanks +++. Vietnam was a good testing ground for the US and USSR arsenals. 

I have never been affected like that at any other museum, memorial or battle site (the US cemetery in Normandy came close though) I had to leave the exhibit and sit out in the lovely coffee shop and try to stop crying.  Fortunately a couple of our group members, Amanda and DJ were there and held my hand – thanks ladies for being so empathetic, I will always remember your kindness!

Ok, back to travelogue. Six of us attended a show in the19th century opera house. This was built by the French while they occupied Indochine (Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos). The show is called Ooh & Ahh (for good reason). Nancy and I would love it to come to ECA (we might be willing to sponsor it, hint, hint). 

It is a beautiful theater and the show was acrobatic with the only props big bamboo poles, bamboo boats and other stuff made from the biggest grass in the world. After the show (which included dancing and music) the performers came out to the lobby. 

I do not know who the lady in the front is. A photo bomber I guess (who am I to complain & I am sure my sister can photoshop her out!).

Dinner afterwards was a walk to the Saigon Street Food Market. OMB, what a terrific place. 40 different food stalls making everything from local to Italian, Indian, Chinese, and even a fish taco guy!  He is from Orange County, CA. I told him I would love to sample his wares but I couldn’t bring myself to doing so in Vietnam. Of course we had an amazing dinner. 

To jump ahead, we had lunch there Friday after the tunnel trip. In addition to my spring rolls, marinated pork skewers, I did succumb to the fish taco

Ok, the tunnels. What an incredible feat of engineering these tunnels are. The HCM trail was working for 5 years before the VC started the war. They brought materiel south and built the tunnel complex so they could pop up, and hit and run. 

Here is a video of how one of the entrances worked. I am happy to state that the size of the opening was NOT changed for westerners. Also happy to report that Vietnamese food is obviously NOT fattening. 

This is an air vent used to get fresh air down there. 

On Friday night we say goodbye to 8 of the 15 in our Phong Phamily. They were just doing the 10 days of Vietnam. We will meet their 8 replacements and be with them through Cambodia and into Thailand. Hope they are as terrific as the 1st team. 

(Saturday morning now)

We had a lovely going away / welcome dinner last night. It was bittersweet to see some new friends go but we met the new gang coming in from Ireland, Scotland, England and Canada. Once again, Nancy and I are the sole standard bearers for the USA. 

As an aside, being the only Americans (& now the eldest members of the Phong Phamily now) we know we are not only ambassadors to our host country but to our fellow travelers. We have done a lot splaining of US history and current events (especially current political events – as best we can, anyway. ) With the age of our friends mainly in their 20s and 30s, most of them had only a slight understanding of the Vietnam War. Phong has taught a lot of the history as did our guide to the tunnels yesterday. Nancy and I have filled in what we know as well. (Glad we have read up on it.) 

Not only are we the only Yanks in our group but we hear very few US accents amongst the other tourists. 
Another note – I believe I mentioned in an earlier chapter that I would be putting Nikon pics in the posts and not iPhone- well that has not worked. Two reasons, the time involved in getting imaged from the big camera onto to the phone to see at a proper size. And, the phone is a very good camera. If it was better at zooming in on far subjects I would not need the Nikon maybe. 

Alrighty, we are in the bus coming from our Mekong Delta outing. It is about 90 minutes from Saigon to My Tho. We met a local tour guide Hung who took us hither, thither and yon. We boated to a honey farm, tropical fruit tasting, rock python petting place (named Banana not Monty), coconut candy and brandy sampling a tuk tuk ride, small stern rowed boat then lunch. I’m worn out just remembering it all.  At the honey place we held the hive and poked our fingers into the honeycomb to taste the sweetness. 

Tomorrow we will be on the road to Phnom Penh (pronounced Fenom Pen according to Pong). It is a seven hour ride in a comfy but public bus. Hmmmm, wonder if I should buy a couple live chickens and a goat for the journey.  

Until next time… from Cambodia most likely. 

I’ll go into our impressions of Vietnam soon. Let me sum it up with “you must come here!”

All the best

Nancy and Chris 

2 thoughts on “Sai Gon (aka Ho Chi Minh City)”

  1. Hey Mate
    Alana, my daughter, was doing some missionary work in Cambodia (at an orphanage) and was bitten on the hand by a kitten. It turned out she had to do the full series of rabies shots due to the prevalence of Rabies in the country. Highest in the world with more people dying of Rabies than Malaria. Big tip is to carry a stick and not be friendly to the animals.
    Loving your work and enjoying the travel tales. Looking forward to the next installment.


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