I booked a tour through Urban Adventures, which does small group tours (12 max). Mine had 3 people, including me.
We started out by visiting the War Remnants Museum. Previously this was called the museum of American Atrocities. Some of the exhibits still showed this.
As an American, it's hard to reconcile my patriotism and beliefs with how the Americans acted during the Vietnam War. Clearly using biochemical agents such as Napalm and Agent Orange was a basic moral lapse on our part, but with the Viet Cong using guerrilla tactics did the means justify the ends. No. No they didn't. Because there was no ends we were fighting for. There was not final game plan. It's a difficult bit in American History, and a lesson we haven't learned from, as evidenced by our involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq. And the civilians who are caught in the crossfire are the ones who lose out. Fortunately, Vietnam has recovered greatly from almost 50 years of war, but there is still animosity amongst the older generation.
Also, I found it fascinating that the Vietnamese saw the Americans as invaders and colonists, but when Vietnam occupied Cambodia for 10 years after overthrowing the Khmer Rouge, they see themselves as liberators (the Cambodians see them somewhat as liberators, with the initial wave, but then staying past that they are seen as occupiers).
It was a difficult morning as I mulled over these things, but I'm glad I had the opportunity to confront these issues head on, first thing.
We then went to the Notre Dame cathedral. Prior to communist rule, many Vietnamese converted to Catholicism and this cathedral was built to reflect that. It is still an operating cathedral and has mass several times a day.
Across the street from the cathedral is the General Post Office, which was built during French rule.
|Those are actually phone booths where you can make international calls.|
|These used to be phone booths, but are now used for ATM's (which seemed like the perfect trade).|
|Prayer slips on the walls.|
|Every time someone put money in a box, this man would ring the gong three times.|
We then went to a market, which was underwhelming. Probably because I wasn't going to buy anything.
Lunch was delicious pho at Pho 2000, which is where former President Clinton went to get pho while visiting Vietnam. For some reason I didn't get pictures of this. Weird.
Finally, we went to the presidential palace.
Originally, the french Governor's mansion was built on this spot, but was replaced by the palace of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam). It is a clear example of 60's architecture mixed with Vietnamese sensibilities. Open hallways, Feng Shui, symmetrical design of the building. Overall, it was fascinating to see. Although built to host foreign dignitaries, it was also home to the presidential family, with a rooftop area for parties.
|The Soviet and Chinese tanks that rolled into the presidential palace.|
|The chair where the president sat to meet with dignitaries.|
|The vice president's meeting area.|
|These are meant to look like bamboo.|
After the presidential palace we headed back to our respective hotels to nap. Seriously.
What was amazing about our small group of tourists is that we all ended up being members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (you know, the Mormons). They were from New Zealand and, when I said I was from Utah, they guessed I might be Mormon too (it's a 70% possibility, although only about 40% if you're from Salt Lake).
I had done some research beforehand and found a Young Single Adult activity at the local church branch, so we all attended together.
The LDS church in Vietnam is growing rapidly, despite the governments ban on proselytizing and not allowing missionaries to wear name tags outside of the church building. It was a great night, we met lots of amazing people and it further ingrained in me the belief that we are all part of one bigger family.
The last morning in Ho Chi Minh, I decided to do a half day tour of the Cu Chi Tunnels before I got on the overnight train to Danang.
It was a morning filled with anti-american propaganda. Literally, we watched an anti-American propaganda film to start out the tour. The Cu Chi area was heavily bombed by American forces, to try and cut off the supply train from North Vietnam to the Viet Cong forces in the south.
The tunnels were built to house guerrilla forces.
It was disconcerting to be faced with traps used to kill American forces.
Also, it was odd to have a shooting range where you could fire guns from the Vietnam war. I didn't participate in that portion of the program. Instead, I shared a bench with a Brit and ate an ice cream cone.
After the tour, I went back to the hotel, took a shower and a nap and got ready to board a train for the next portion of the journey.