Friday, January 15, 2016

Vietnam - Saigon

15th - 18th January 2016

A first long haul trip for a while, and a trip to the far east for a short eight day break in Vietnam split between two destinations, Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and Hoi An on the South China Sea coast.

Travelling on Vietnam Airlines, the Dreamliners took us firstly to Hanoi and then connected us southbound to Saigon. 

Always a massive culture shock when arriving in this part of the world, the humidity mixed in with the toxicity of the city air, streets full of noise and colour with relentless waves of motorbikes roaring past, each individual focused on their small piece of road as they go about their daily routines.

Cho Ben Thanh was a five minute walk from our hotel, crossing the busy Pham Ngu Lao road and oppoiste a busy interchange was a hive of activity of stall holders selling their wears which were mostly clothing items and accessories

The War Remnants Museum was a sobering visit.  On one hand it was fascinating to experience the Vietnamese perspective of the America War fought over twenty bloody years, but the images exhibited was a hard-hitting reminder of the impacts of war, the ruthlessness of human combat, and the cumulative destruction of military intervention.

The forecourt was cluttered with American military tanks and planes used in the Viet Cong offensive but the main interest was most certainly within the indoor galleries with plenty of images captured by the brave photographers that accompanied the platoons on their combat missions.

On display were stills of gruesome remains of army casualties being dragged across the warzone, the most awful affects that the chemical agents (Orange etc) had on children, indiscriminately used to destroy agriculture and the country's ecology, and the iconic photo of the Napalm Girl that won the Pulitzer prize.

The mood there was sombre, and extremely humbling.

Ho Chi Minh City Hall

The city however is a place of vibrancy, of busy streets with plenty of great architecture.  The (Ho Chi Minh) Square stretches from the City Hall up to the Song Sai Gon River overlooked by a statue of Ho Chi Minh himself.

An example of former French colonialism is the Notre-Dame Basilica impressive in it's gallic architecture as much as it's incongruity positioned in downtown Saigon not far from the Square.

Bui Vien road is alive with bars and restaurants, similar to the Kho San Road in Bangkok, the centre for all the backpackers to congregate for some cheap food and beer, to catch up on some sport, or to dive in for a cheeky massage.

We treated ourselves to a drink on the top floor of the Bitexco Financial Tower.  Like most cities in this region, here the lives of ordinary Vietnamese reside juxtaposed alongside a burgeoning economy where corporate businesses operate from impressive office blocks.

The Skybar offered great views over the smog shrouded city and having arrived at just after sunset, the sky glowed under the fading light. 

A couple of days, and that was all the time we spent here.  A shame really because another day at least would have done it justice.  Saigon is a fantastic city, full of atmosphere and character, continuing its upward trajectory after the grim events of the war.

Next stop - Hoi An.

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