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Saigon Sights

We woke up early in Saigon – mostly because our hotel room was still quite hot, poor air conditioning.  We were being rejoined by our friends who decided to spend a day/night in Hue. They would be meeting us around noon.  We got up and headed out, using the Frommer’s walking tour of Ho Chi Minh City as our guide.

The first thing we noticed was the Saigon was much faster than Hanoi. There were more cars and the motorbikes weren’t going a slow and steady pace, they were whizzing by. We would not be able to cross the street against the lights here – that would be a death sentence.

So many more cars and much higher speeds.

The modern Bitexco Financial Tower looms off in the distance. This 68 floor building was is currently the 124th tallest building in the world (263 meters). I dig this building – the first thing I thought when I saw it was that we don’t have enough helipads in the US. It also looks a bit like the Burj al Arab. At least to me.

Tallest building in Vietnam until 2011.

We worked our way over to the Ben Thanh market, just a few minutes from our hotel. This market opened to the public nearly a century ago and inside you can purchase everything from tourist trinkets to food, raw silk and fine Asian arts.  It was very hot and humid when we were in Saigon and the market was very stuffy and since we weren’t really in the mood for raw silk or Asian art we didn’t spend much time here.

Ben Thanh Market

View from Ben Thanh Market with the Bitexco Building Looming
Inside the market
Crowded and full of things we didn’t want to buy.
A fruit stand selling dragon fruit and durian.

We ventured out of the market continuing along the path Frommer’s recommended.  We saw a different type of market – this was just an open air street market with locals picking up their supplies for the day.

Much less crowded market.
Fresh meat – no need for refrigeration.
More red meat and white things in a liquid bath…
This gives the fish counter a Whole Foods a run for it’s money.

We eventually made our way to an old square, flanked by the Saigon Opera House, several Western (US and European chain) Hotels and a thriving high end shopping district. To quote David Puddy from Seinfeld: “What do you think The Gap in Rome has that’s not in The Gap on Broadway?”  Not a big fan of hitting the shops abroad that I can get on Michigan Avenue at home.

Quiet square and the Opera House.
Hotel Intercontinental
Beautiful Boulevard near the Opera House.
Quite refreshing to see this green space in a busy City like this.

We took a brief break to cool off (super sweaty by mid day) and have some water and mango juice but after that we moved on to see the Ho Chi Minh City Hall.  The guards didn’t like us taking too many pictures and there were signs indicating photography was prohibited.

Uncle Ho watching us take his pic.
Beautiful French Influenced City Hall
Mix of classic and modern

Our next major stop was the War Remnants Museum. This fascinating space displayed many of the items used in the American War (or as American’s call it, the Vietnam War). So many US tanks, jeeps, planes and helicopters were placed around the courtyard of this space.

Fighter planes
US Air Force prop planes

US Helicopter, with what seems like an angry Vietnamese lady in front.

Tank on display 
Army issued bulldozer
More artillery
My angry Vietnamese friend is back again

There was an actual museum here too which included lots of photography.  The most poignant part of this museum was the section about dioxins (a/k/a Agent Orange).  You have to remember that the “victors” right the history books and this museum was not an unbiased attempt to recap history. The descriptions under the photos were quite biased including language like: “imperialism” and the like.

Be that as it may, the photos of the impact dioxins had on the region speak for themselves. They (along with the other defoliants used by the US and Allies) severely burned the people who got in their way and for the others caused horrific birth defects.  There was even a section on how Agent Orange affected US soldiers. The most interesting tale was of a US Serviceman who after returning home from Vietnam fathered a very large family — with each child showing the effects of the dioxins. I did not take photos inside this exhibit, as I thought it to be distasteful. You can easily find more information and photos online — Google it.

War Remnants Museum

After the War Remnants Museum, we headed over to the Presidential Palace a/k/a Reunification Palace which was completed in 1966. This mid-century gem had many of the original design and color features – not something you see much of any more.

The palace with rain clouds coming in.
Palace grounds with rain getting closer.

Main conference area
Large lecture area – with several locals hanging out
Love this mid-century design
Aren’t these fun little guys…
I always have to take pictures of cats when I see them abroad.
Even if they are stuffed.
What Presidential Palace is complete without two stuffed cats?
Formal office space
I need a cat in my office
The building was very warm, so Ryan decided
to enjoy the fan while we looked around
Who do you get when you use the pink phone?
In addition to cats, I enjoy photographing
various safety signs around the world.
Love these rocking chairs and the big circular couch!

We worked our way over to the Cathedral de Notre Dame and the neighboring old post office.  There was a service beginning at he Cathedral when we arrived, so we just snapped some outside pix and moved onto the post offices.

Cathedral de Notre Dame (with the post office to the right).
I love the grand boulevards of Ho Chi Minh City
This post office was designed and built by Gustav Eiffel (yes, of Tower fame).  We entered and were floored. It was such a beautiful space. There were two paintings in the grand foyer – one showing the greater Saigon Area and the other showing the telegraph lines around Vietnam and Cambodia.  Such an interesting view of time gone by.
Grand Hall
Telegraph lines around Vietnam and Cambodia
Individual telephone booths

The final stop we had to make before heading back to the hotel was a quick (theoretically quick that is) cab ride to the Jade Emperor Pagoda.  The cab driver didn’t really know where it was, so he decided to drive us around to see if we could find it.  After a little bit of this nonsense we hopped out and walked.

The guide book built the Jade Emperor Pagoda up more than it should have been. Yes, it was nice to see the jade and watching the turtles swim was nice, but I could have probably skipped this stop.

We had to hurry back to the hotel as we had scheduled a night tour – on the back of motorbikes – which we were all excited to try.

What was your favorite tourist site in Saigon?  Did you think the Jade Emperor Pagoda was all it was cracked up to be?  Ignoring the brutality of it all, I do dig that Colonialism brought amazing architecture to certain parts of the world — does that make me a bad person?

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