Ho Chi Minh City Day 1

Wed, 28 May 2008 04:20:52 +0000

To Vietnam Index Ho Chi Minh City Day 2

Not a very intense day's activities today, since as soon as I stepped outside the door I wound up soaked in sweat. This was particularly noticeable at breakfast. I ordered some pho, naturally, since that's apparently a typical Vietnamese breakfast. It came with a bunch of bean sprouts and exactly three slices of chili. Those three slices of chili easily tipped me over the border into sweating-like-a-pig territory. I swear I was fine until I ate those.

The big sight to see today was the "reunification palace", which has gone under a bunch of other names since it was originally built by the French as their colonial headquarters. I took a motorcycle taxi to this, my first experience with such transport. Wikitravel says that that sort of journey shouldn't cost more than 10000 dong: I only managed to negotiate him down to 15000 before getting sick of the process and agreeing. As you can expect, I clung pretty tightly to the guy at first, given the terrifying Ho Chi Minh City traffic. But eventually I worked up the courage to let go and let myself just sit on the back, like everyone else does.

After the palace was bombed during the war, the South Vietnamese government had it rebuilt as the rather 60s-looking edifice which stands there today. As always with 60s architecture, I can see the significance of it, but I'm not sure I really enjoy looking at it. I can't help wondering if maybe it isn't just me, that it's really just an ugly pile of concrete. I certainly can't see all the chinese characters that are supposed to be embedded in the lines of the facade, even after seeing them superimposed on a picture of the facade in red during the explanatory video.

It was kinda cool to look at the interior, which has been immaculately preserved from the time when the tanks rolled through the front gate. It all looks kinda lame nowadays. I've stayed in more luxurious hotel rooms than the President's bedroom, for example. The games room is kinda fab, though.

The basement is rather reminiscent of the cabinet war rooms in London, with its maps and its old telephones. It's a bit bare though. One side or the other seems to have thoroughly cleaned things out before it got thrown open to the public.

I did sit through the (rather long) propaganda film they had playing on the ground floor. It was full of the "imperialist aggressors" language that you would expect, but as a rabid propaganda piece it perhaps wasn't too bad. I was surprised to the extent that they focused on one of North Vietnam's spies in the South, including recent interviews. It's odd because spying is a little bit... deceptive. You expect governments to be more bashful about it than that, even though we all know that they all do it.

I had a bit of a wander around nearby, saw the town hall (or hall of the people or whatever the Vietnamese call it) and a couple of other landmarks, but quickly decided that it was too hot and I was too sweaty to hang around much longer. I did stop for a baguette for lunch, which was much softer than other examples I've had recently, and therefore pretty nice. It was stuffed with teriyaki chicken though, so perhaps not particularly Vietnamese.

That was pretty much the extent of my touristing. I spent some time relaxing in my hotel room, drinking beer in the hotel's restaurant, or drinking coffee in a rather decent place down the road which has free wifi. Three days in Ho Chi Minh City, remember, so no need to rush. This was especially true since there was a pretty torrential downpour mid-afternoon. I was going to see if I could buy some stamps, but that put paid to that idea. We'll see what I can accomplish tomorrow.

To Vietnam Index Ho Chi Minh City Day 2