Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Ho Chi Minh City - The Mother of all the H’s

We had had a great holiday from our holiday in Mui Ne and we were ready to move on to different things on January 1.  We arranged for a van and driver to take us as well as our friends from Denmark to our next destination, Ho Chi Minh City.  It was an easy drive and it was a treat to have a private driver rather than being on a bus or a train.  As we approached HCMC the traffic started to pick up and things got busier and busier.  The van dropped our friends off at a lovely riverside apartment in a very quiet area.  Once we left them and made our way to the center of the city things got harrier and harrier in terms of the traffic.   Our hotel was in the midst of the action of HCMC.  The energy around us was something else and we all got excited.

Across from our hotel was one of the largest parks in the city.  It did not come close to anything that would really be considered a park by Canadian standards but never the less it was really nice to look out our window and see at least a little green.  There was a large festival being held in the park to celebrate Christmas and New Years.  Things were rocking, music was blaring, performances were underway and there were food stands, people and motorbikes everywhere.  We had a quick hotel check in and with the help of the hotel doorman made it across the street to wander the park with the masses and to get some dinner. It was super cool to be in the midst of New Years celebrations in Ho Chi Ming City.

Overlooking the street and the park made for interesting sight seeing from our window but it also made for a very noisy stay.  We thought that things would quiet down after the festival was over but we soon found out that things never really quiet down in the middle of HCMC.  It was fabulous to walk outside and be so close to the action but we had to admit we got tired of honking horns and other street noise 24/7.  It seemed that as soon as the night crowds left the early morning fitness crowds came.  When Rob and I ran in the park in the mornings we were glad to have company of all ages sweating away with us doing all sorts of physical activity.  We were especially impressed with the skills and fitness ability of many of the older folks.

The War Remnants Museum

After a very broken sleep because of the noisy night we headed out to see some of the sites.  The first stop was the War Remnants Museum.  At the entrance were some tanks and planes used during the Vietnam War.  The kids thought these were pretty cool.  The museum is filled with pictures that were taken during the war and with information on how devastating it was.  There was also a lot of information about the terrible impact that the use of chemical warfare had and continues to have and there were a lot pictures demonstrating the after effects of agent orange.   It was all a very sobering reminder of how horrific war is.  The museum was very one sided and there was no question as to which side that was.  I’ll just say that it would be doubly hard to be an American and go through the museum. 

The picture above is of one of the sign boards that provided information on the United State's use of chemical warfare.  The affects of this warfare are still very visible all over Vietnam.  Just about every time we went out we saw people who had been born disfigured as a result of agent orange.  The combination of the education provided at the museum and seeing these people, many of whom were begging on the streets, provided a powerful lesson on the long lasting impact of such atrocities.

Although Fearon is smiling in the pictures, there were not too many smiles as we made our way through the exhibits of the museum.  Exhibit after exhibit provided us with a brief glimpse of how horrific war is.

After the museum we made our way to the Reunification Palace which was the home of the president of South Vietnam during the war with the U.S. It was at this site that the war ended in 1975 when the North Vietnamese Army invaded the palace and forced the president to resign.  It was very cool to think of the history that was made here but it was pretty strange as it did not really seem to us to be the least bit palatial. It was more like a very large house with most of the worst of the 70’s incorporated.  The gardens were dubbed as being the most beautiful in HCMC and Eric was again quick to comment, wondering what they would say about the beauty of parks in Victoria, which in all of our minds far surpasses what we saw at the Reunification Palace.

After the Palace we meandered back to our hotel and stopped to take in many of the sites along the way.

Notre Dame Cathedral, another beautiful example of the French influence.  

The Opera House was gorgeous.

Just a typical street in HCMC.....

I had not really been looking forward to HCMC as I had heard that it was “just another crazy big Asian city”.  I was once again, very pleasantly surprised.  The traffic in Saigon (HCMC), although intense did not seem quite as wild as I had expected.  There was tons of it but the streets were wider than in Hanoi and there were sidewalks…sidewalks in a major city, we never thought that we would consider this a luxury before Hanoi!  Many of the boulevards were lined with lovely green trees and many areas had a very upscale feel to them with beautiful architecture all around.  Ho Chi Minh is definitely a city on the move to make its mark in the international arena.  Yes, there were motorbikes everywhere, so many that you can not possibly fathom it but in the main downtown area the traffic seems to move rather sanely.  You still take your life in your hand and feet each time you cross the street but for some reason it seemed easier than it was in Hanoi.  There is a fantastic mix of old and new, a great selection of places to eat on the street or in restaurants of every caliber and good shopping in the markets, boutiques or shopping “malls” with all of the glitter.

The picture below could easily have been taken in Victoria.  We couldn't imagine why anyone would pay premium prices for things at the GAP in HCMC but obviously people do.


On Day 2 Rob and I decided to take a trip to see the Chinatown of HCMC and it was quite the experience.  This place was pretty far removed from the sleek tree lined boulevards and flashy lights of the main tourist area. The traffic here was even crazier than in Hanoi and the sites, sounds and smells definitely made for sensory overload.   We went to the largest wholesale market in the city and boy was it something.  It was filled with narrow isles that were completely packed with goods squished into every possible square inch of space and more and more being delivered and removed on the backs of workers by the minute.  We were actually pretty concerned that we would get trampled and we didn’t even get the camera out!  We had thought that we might do some shopping but we could barely move in the place.  It was super neat to see but we were happy to get out.  Rob commented afterwards that he would gladly pay 10 times as much for an item if that meant shopping at the well oiled MEC or Ocean River Sports rather than at the market here.

We didn't get any shots inside the market but we managed to get a few pictures of things being delivered.....not many large trucks in these narrow streets.  As you can see, motor bikes again serve the purpose.

While we were in China town we also went to the top of the Windsor Plaza, a landmark 5 star hotel that provides great views of the city.  The view gave us yet another take on the massive metropolis of this vast city. 

Sunset at the Saigon Saigon

We wanted to see the sunset over the city and we heard that one of the best spots to do so was at the hip bar, Saigon Saigon at the top of the very fancy Caravelle Hotel.  We had met a great couple from Vernon when we were in Nha Trang and we had been in touch with them and knew they were in HCMC . We arranged to meet them for sunset drinks.  We enjoyed he most expensive beverages we have had on the trip so far and laughed at the fact that although we were spending twice as much on a drink as we have been spending on a whole dinner it was still less than we would pay at such a spot in Canada.

The sunset view, as you can see, was not spectacular but once the sun went down the city lights made up for it.

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