This can't be for real?
03.02.2012 - 05.02.2012 33 °C
Ho Chi Minh City AKA Saigon. Population: 5.4 million. HCM or Uncle Ho (or the other 11 names he used at different times during his life) didn’t want a city named after himself. But it happened. He really didn’t want to be canonized. But he ended up on every bank note in the country. Well he did lead the North to victories over the French and the US and united his country. I wonder now what he would make of this city. Just as I wonder what Mao would make of Beijing. Communism my behind. This country has its foot on the pedal and loves capitalism.
Last time I was here I was 18 years old and everyone we spoke to said it was changing and would be unrecognizable in 10 years. Well 13 years later and the same backpacker road is still here. The odd same café too but everything else is shiny and modern and screaming capitalist. It’s more Hong Kong than Bangkok. Amazing skyscrapers tower above with new ones under construction. What surprises me the most perhaps is the lack of shanty towns and poverty, has it been moved outside the city or are the poor not as poor in communist/capitalist Vietnam? We buy fresh ice coffee in swanky coffee shops and are slightly taken aback at the western prices but even more taken aback to be surrounded by school children on their lunch break. The middle class is clearly massive and enjoying its buying power.
Our first full day saw us sort out our train tickets for the 1,700km trip to Hanoi via Danang and Hue. Paying the 3.5 million dong price in 50,000 Dong notes was a bit surreal. After this we spent the morning at the Reunification Palace. This was built as the palace for the president of South Vietnam and we got an official tour. And very pro-north it was too.
In the afternoon we went to the War Memorial Museum. Much shinier and with air con now its anti-war and anti-western subject matter are as disturbing as ever. The atrocities of the Vietnam War and the use of Agent Orange in operation Ranch hand (and its birth defect affects) are as horrible as ever. A new addition is a brilliant photography exhibition arranged by Tim Page the photojournalist. It adds a much needed unbiased exhibit, showcasing the work of photographers who captured the war from both sides and lost their lives during the conflict. The eight others exhibits can begin to loose their message a little as too many anti-western slogans wear the reader down. A must see though.
The evening took us to the 23rd floor of the Sheraton and some 2 for 1 cocktail during happy hour. Unfortunately they were 2 for 1 on your next round and so we had two very strong cocktails as the sun set and the lights started twinkling. The talking followed as so often does with alcohol and we had a great time. And again as so often occurs with alcohol we went for a curry!
Our final day in Saigon and we took it easy. Ate some great Vietnamese food at a social enterprise that offers hospitality training to young people living on the streets. By 7pm we were rolling out on the sleeper train for a 16 hour journey to Danang. While not as clean as perhaps hoped (and some very grumpy French people for it) I was just very thankful for a soft bed, A/C and no bouncing bus journey.