Scotsabroad's Weblog

January 13, 2013

HCM (Saigon) part 1

Filed under: Holidays — scotsabroad @ 12:26 pm

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The flight from Jakarta to Ho Chi Minh City took less than three hours. The wait for our visa on arrival took more than two hours. We joined a large queue at the tourist visa counter. We handed over our documents and letter that we had applied for online before leaving home and then waited for… whatever system (if any) the counter team had that evening.  Before paying $25 each for a big sticker in our passports we sat on the (clean) floor and waited for our names to be called. Welcome to Ho Chi Minh. However, this turned out to be our only experience of over-zealous bureaucracy while in Vietnam.

We headed for the Indochine Hotel ( ). Great, clean wee hotel round the corner from the Opera House. 2 rooms for 3 nights including breakfast for $195. Our first taste of the coffee. Individual filters on top of the cups release black coffee that tastes like… flavoured, milky coffee.

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Pavements. Traffic lights. No rubbish. No burning rubbish. No smells from the sewer. Difficult taxi drivers who don’t know where any of the major tourist sites are. A very attractive city centre. The next morning we headed out to walk round the city. A very cosmopolitan feel, a warm Glasgow with scooters – busy, noisy but exceptionally clean and ordered. We walked past the Opera House and the Continental Hotel (setting for much of Graham Greene’s novel, The Quiet American), heading towards Notre Dame cathedral. The fictional Phuong could be played in the film by any one of the stunningly beautiful young girls riding side-saddle on the scooters or working in HSBC. Brides and grooms being photographed in the sunshine outside designer label shops. Fantastic New Year decorations being assembled and hung all over town. The Vietnamese and communist flag flapping among the signs for the celebration sponsors, Burger King and Heineken. (The Saigon Times Daily headline on January 4 reads, Starbucks to open first store in Vietnam). Residents of Ho Chi Minh seem comfortable with all this, the young especially. In the city centre they gather to talk, snack, sing and dance in the wide tree-lined boulevards. The clusters of amazing overhead power cables add their own kind of all year-round decoration. One morning we were woken with a performance on the steps of the Opera House that stopped the traffic. This seems to be a city and a people not dwelling on the past but gearing up for the future.

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We discovered that many attractions close for lunch. On the way to the cathedral we crossed the road and visited the magnificent post office. The old individual telephone booths for making international calls remain, some converted to ATMs. The boys bought, wrote and posted some postcards. One of the oldest buildings in Ho Chi Minh designed by Gustave Eiffel. A gorgeous tiled floor – and is that Mr Duong Van Ngo, the last public letter writer in old Saigon?

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We were just in time to spend a few minutes in Notre Dame Cathedral before it closed for lunch. We headed for The Independence Palace but it was closed for lunch. We made for the War Remnants Museum but it was closed for lunch. We decided to have lunch. Just before heading away from the War Remnants Museum Lucas spotted something falling from the rotor blades of an old Chinook helicopter. He sticks the large washer in his pocket and we remind ourselves not to walk under this display when we come back.

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We returned to the War Remnants Museum in the afternoon. I worried about how the boys would cope with the very graphic photographs and the displays showing the horror of the Vietnam War. Chilling photographs, some of soldiers posing next to corpses and tormented prisoners. Nothing new. We see the effects of agent orange on both Vietnamese and US personnel. Very moving and the boys cope remarkably well. Being boys, they are interested in the weapons of war but they are obviously moved by the brutality war inevitably encourages. This should be a required visit for any country’s new head of state before taking office.

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Before heading back to our hotel we bought tickets for the Water Puppet Theatre later that evening. We watched the sun go down on top of the Sheraton Hotel. The water puppets appeared from below murky, milky- coffee coloured water. Dragons breathing real smoke, real fireworks, all accompanied by traditional music and songs. Didn’t quite understand the story and still don’t know how they worked. Just long enough at 50 minutes. The boys were exhausted. Great city.

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1 Comment »

  1. What a brilliant experience, well written and excellent photographs – Ian and Linda

    Comment by gordon — January 13, 2013 @ 2:50 pm | Reply

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