Saigon was renamed for Ho Chi Minh (the revolutionary that fought the French, then later the Americans) after the South fell. It’s still called both depending who you talk to. Based on experiences we heard from others while traveling south, we decided to make our stop in Saigon pretty short. We booked two nights at a hostel in the tourist district. When we arrived, we had lunch on the main tourist street. We ate at Bun Cha 145 to have the pork and noodle dish we had been chasing down for a few days.
Afterwards we started on a trek to cover the main landmarks of the city. The first stop was the War Remnants museum. This used to be called the American War Crimes museum until the US and Vietnam reestablished relations in 1995. The outside was filled with American military vehicles that were left behind from the Americans and claimed when Saigon fell from the southern government. Inside was three stories and had many photos on display from the photographers that were embedded in the War. A few of them actually ended up dying. The main focus was on the war's cruel effects on the citizens. Between bombings, agent orange, and simply massacres by soldiers, it was hard not to have empathy. It showed that it is extremely difficult to fight a war on other's soil, where civilians will inevitably die, and still win over the local people's trust. It also portrayed the war as a Vietnam war for independence, which is not the perspective we are taught. We only view it as a war against communism. Opinions aside, the Northern Vietnamese and Viet Cong were resilient fighters. They suffered many casualties and just refused to give up for many years. We enjoyed seeing the other side of a story that we learn so little about, and analyzing American actions and what we may or may not have done differently. We were also cognizant of the non-portrayed, equally terrible actions committed by the North Vietnamese during the war and in the years that followed. Still, we hoped that our currently military leaders are students of this history.
Later we walked past a cathedral and then to the famous post office, where there is a giant picture of Ho Chi Minh on display. The post office was built during French Rule so the architecture is very elaborate. We sent a few postcards to our friends and family back home. Then we went to a bar on the 52nd floor of a tower to watch the sun go down and the city light up. At the end of the night we had a Banh Mi taste test between two highly rated food stands. The really winner of the taste test was us cause both were delicious! We are going to miss them so much when we leave Vietnam!
Our only full day in Saigon was occupied by a trip to the Cao Dia Temple and the Cu Chi Tunnels a few hours from town. The temple was a from a newer religion that is a combination of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Christianity. Started in 1926, it now has over 4 million followers. It was a beautiful building and we watched a pretty strange worship service. But aren't all unfamiliar religious services a little strange?! We don't really know why this was a tourist attraction...
At the Cu Chi tunnels our guide showed us how the Vietnamese could crouch and walk through the tunnels. I could not replicate but Taylor somehow managed to do it! He also showed many of the booby traps they used, which looked and sounded quite painful by the way. We stopped for a short break where you could buy bullets and shoot AK-47s and other guns. It is the only place in Vietnam where citizens can shoot a gun with real bullets. It was quite a hit with the other tourists from countries that don't allow guns, but we chose to save our money and watch. Finally, we walked through a portion of the tunnels. It was extremely uncomfortable. I think they must have taken average measurements of 100 Americans and built the tunnels 1 inch smaller. Even at 5'-9" I just decided to crawl on all fours. We could see how frustrating it would have been to fight this war. It's amazing how the Vietnamese could survive and continue to fight while in the tunnels. Between their ambushes, booby traps, and the heat of the jungle, we were glad to be tourists and not soldiers.
Back in Saigon we completed our last night in Vietnam with some more Pho noodles. We will miss the delicious food in this country. If we stay we would double in size and not be able to fit in the tunnels so it was time to move on to Cambodia!
Chris & Taylor
Read our travel blog as we visit three continents in 2017.