I wasn’t sure whether to call the large mass of land to the west of Thailand Burma or Myanmar. And here again I come to a dually-named place – Saigon, more recently renamed Ho Chi Minh City. This time, there’s no debate in which way I’m going. It’s Saigon, of course. It’s Saigon, because every Vietnamese person I’ve talked to has called it Saigon. It’s Saigon because every bus heading there says “Sai Gon.” It’s Saigon because that’s the name of the beer, the train station, the river, and countless hotels and restaurants. The only times I saw the words “Ho Chi Minh City” were on government maps, museums, and in Lonely Planet.
Saigon is the largest city in Vietnam, and it was by far the most cosmopolitan city I’ve seen since Bangkok. It’s a big city, filled with locals, expats, travelers, and most any sort of food you can imagine (almost – I’ll get to that in the pics). It seems to cry out for a subway system given its size, although traffic isn’t nearly as bad as other big Southeast Asian cities like Bangkok or Manila or Yangon because such a huge percentage of the traffic is motorcycles.
I spent my first night in town going to the movies. I still hadn’t seen Batman, and I happened to catch it on its very last showing in town. Movies in Saigon are awesome, by the way. Comfy seats, good screen, great sound, and tickets cost 3 dollars.
I hit the tourist sights hard on my first full day in town. It was one of the busiest sight seeing days I’ve had the whole trip. In order, I hit the main market, the Ho Chi Minh City Museum, the post office, Notre Dame Cathedral (not that one, dummy), The War Remnants Museum, Independence/Reunification Hall, the river, and the skydeck of Bitexco Tower, the tallest building in town. Then, I went out to the bars until 2:30 or so. All in all, a full day.
The War Remnants Museum was the main attraction museum-wise. One feature was an exhibit of pictures taken by photographers who were killed in action on the battlefield. The museum also had a lot on agent orange and the effects that it had on both its immediate victims and future generations. This was quite heartbreaking to see. Interestingly, I happened to be at the museum on August 10, which is agent orange day, as that was the day that American forces first started using it. Also of note was the fact that I’d read an article in the New York Times online just an hour before about how Washington had just committed to help clean up remaining agent orange. I presume I was the only tourist in the museum who was aware of this fact, as this news had literally just broken.
The War Remnants museum, as expected, is extremely one-sided in its views. I was a bit annoyed by this, but not a great deal. The only part that bothered me was the section on opposition to the war. They had large photos and posters from various rallies around the world protesting the U.S. involvement in the war. This is fine, but they didn’t include a single picture nor mention of opposition to the war in America itself. Unless everything I’ve ever learned about the 60s and 70s is wrong, I’m fairly certain that an enormous segment of Americans opposed the war. I don’t know why they didn’t include any anti-war protest pictures from the States.
On my second day in town, I intended to go to see some war tunnels, but the tours turned out to start really early in the morning. The tunnels are recreations anyway, so whatever. Instead, I went on another massive walk, to Saigon Station and on to the Phu Nhaun district. The internet lead me to believe that there was some sort of Koreatown there, but I never found it. I ended up just finding a nice cafe, and then taking a pretty exciting motorbike taxi ride back downtown.
I stayed at a place called Queen Homestay, which I fully recommend. The lady who ran it was really nice, and it cost $10 for a room with aircon, wifi, a flatscreen, cable, the works. It was in the Pham Ngu Lao area, the backpacker section of Saigon. The only problem is that it would be hard to give directions there, as it is well-hidden in the back alleys.
The Koreans are here, and they’re selling sub-par burgers! Chain restaurants include the aforementioned (and horrible) Lotteria, Jollibee from the Philippines, Pizza Hut, Dominos, KFC, Subway, and even the obscure Bud’s Ice Cream from San Francisco. Yet, they didn’t have what I wanted most – McDonald’s. The dreaded Mac doesn’t exist in Laos or Cambodia, so I was really craving their fries. Alas, it was not to be.
Bitexco Tower, Saigon’s tallest. I realized I hadn’t done a good old overpriced sky deck this whole trip, so I went for it here. 10 bucks to get to the top, but it comes with 20 cents worth of free water.
I walked by Saigon Station out of general nerdiness. This is the southern terminus for the Vietnamese rail line. More importantly, it’s also the southernmost train station on the largest intercontinental rail network in the world. You could take a series of trains from here to northern Scotland.