Archive for October, 2011
After the Reunification Palace (previous post), it was walking distance to the War Remnants Museum, which was opened a mere 5 months after the end of the war. It was originally called the “The House for Displaying War Crimes of American Imperialism and the Puppet Government”, later changed to the “Museum of American War Crimes”, then renamed the “War Crimes Museum”, but today is called the War Remnants Museum.
After buying a very nice copy of Lonely Planet Vietnam (for $3), we headed straight to the
Reunification Palace (called ‘Independence Palace’ during the American occupation and as ‘Norodom Palace’ during the French), which is said to have remained largely untouched since the PAVN tank bulldozed the gates outside on April 30, 1975, marking the very end of the American/Vietnam war. I don’t know how truthful that statement is, but the interior decorating does scream 1960′s!
Completed in 1873, the French built the palace after their successful colonial conquest of Cochinchina, with building materials mostly imported from France. It served as the home and workplace of the President of South Vietnam during the American war, and was even under Japanese control for several months at the end of World War II after defeating the French in a successful coup. It was then bombed in 1962 by two rebel Southern Vietnamese Air Force pilots and destroyed. President Diệm ordered it rebuilt, but was arrested and assassinated after yet another coup d’état in 1963. A couple more coups later (both failed and successful), the palace was inaugurated in 1966 by Nguyễn Văn Thiệu (who’s name should ring a bell!).
(If you aren’t familiar with Vietnamese history (and this sort of thing interests you), check out some history books, as I did prior to my visit, and although I am somewhat of a history nut already, Vietnam has a very interesting and colorful heritage full of upheaval… worth checking out).
The basement had an interesting layout of old military command centers and bomb shelters, as well as a massive kitchen and shooting range… among other things. If you get the chance to visit, make sure to watch the hilariously propagandist and not-at-all biased films as you exit.
The vespertine photography adventures continue… Saigon-style.
Notre-Dame Basilica > Motorbikes! > Rex Hotel
Saigon AKA Ho Chi Minh City (locals still refer to the city center as ‘Saigon’, while using ‘HCMC’ for the larger metropolitan area… I just use Saigon because it sounds cooler), boasts a population around 10 million and served as the capital of South Vietnam leading up until the end of the war… so, lot’s of history. Although I wasn’t alive at the time, I have the images of the helicopter evacuations from the roof of the US Embassy branded into my brain… as well as the VPA tank crashing through the gates of the Freedom Palace, which pretty much marked the end of the American occupation of southern Vietnam.
At first glance the traffic is BONKERS. Saigon has 6 million registered vehicles… of which 5 million are motorbikes. Thank god they pay attention to traffic lights… mayhem [somewhat] averted. I’ve traveled my fair share and had prepared for the worst (from everything I’ve heard/read), but the Vietnamese people definitely have some common sense and general understanding of efficiency when it comes to dealing with traffic situations (very much unlike the people I’m currently surrounded by, who are utterly clueless in these regards). The relentless convoy of bikers does offer a challenge to those new to the game, but I found that as long as you went with the flow (which there certainly was, and everyone followed), it wasn’t as bad as I’ve heard others complain about. That being said, I rented my very own motorbike to cruise them mean streets of Saigon! (more on that later)
Day 1 saw the first excursion to get a grasp of the city, walking from my hotel located a good 30min from the city center, getting my first proper Vietnamese meal (a mean bowl of pho… oddly enough at the very same restaurant Bill Clinton visited some 10 years earlier), then visiting the Ben Thanh market and eventually finding myself at the Saigon Notre Dame next to the amazing Central Post Office designed by Gustave Eiffel, where I sent a postcard to Mom.