Dan and Lu's Travels
We decided to follow a walking tour of the city mentioned in the LP (Lonely Planet). Only got as far as the market when I felt really light-headed and sick, I'd just taken a malaria tablet and you're not supposed to go out in the direct sunlight, oops. I was sick but then had lunch and felt better (sorry for the details...). We walked up to Reunification Palace first. This is the place where the Vietnamese government were based. It had been bombed in the middle of last century and was rebuilt in the 60s. It looks very dated, kind of like an English polytechnic building! We had a tour of the building, which was very interesting. But our guide was hard to understand so think we missed quite a bit. The rooms are still used for government and state occasions which is nice as it feels more real, not just like a museum. They were preparing for a 200 delegate coference at the time. One of the rooms is used for receiving other ambassadors/politicians, this is the room that General Minh (not Ho Chi Minh) waited to recive the VC officer at the end of the war in April 1975. He had only been in power 43 hours. Our guide told us that when the VC officer arrived the General said "We've been waiting for you since early this morning to hand over power to you" The officer replied, "You cannot hand over something you do not have." We were shown the private quarters of the South Vietnamese leader, there is a casino, bar and movie theatre which showed 16mm and 35mm films. On the roof there is a glass walled room with a bar and dance floor with doors to the outside, on a lower level roof was a helicopter which was for the S.Vietnamese leader during the war. The private quarters reminded me of something out of Columbo (the murderer's house!)!!! We also went down to the basement, which was quite eerie. a series of metal-walled tunnels which could survive the impact of a bomb. One of the underground rooms was the war room. It had maps all over the walls of Vietnam, showing where the most heavily bombed parts were and where different troops were positioned. It felt like the army had just left the room, not like a museum. We left and walked to the War Remnant Museum. This place could be amazing. Apparantly its one of the city's most visited museums. The exhibits are mostly photographs. One section shows images taken by photojournalists from many countries who were killed, or went missing during conflict, along with their biographies. Another section showed photos of the effects of 'Agent Orange' an napalm that was dropped by the US army. This was horrific. Although one positive photo was like a follow up to one of the two most famous photographs taken during the war. There's the one with the officer shooting another soldier in the head, where you can see the bullet entering his skull. The other is the one of the children running towards the camera and away from the napalm bomb that has just been dropped. I think they both won Purlitzers. In the second one there is a girl in the middle who is naked and screaming. Next to this was a recent image of the same girl, now a grown woman. You can see severe burns all over her body, but she is holding her new born baby. Its the only positive thing in the museum. The museum's separate sections were all powerful, the photographs were indisputable fact and along with them often captions or quotes, from both American and Vietnamese . But I felt it could have been better curated. We realised that we'd probably gone round the wrong way (the numbers and maps don't correspond). The last thing I saw should, without a doubt, from the tone they were obviously meaning to set, have been much more prominent, and the first thing you saw. It was a section from the US Declaration of Independence.... "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal..."..... If I'd have seen that, then gone on to see the 'evidence', photographs of GIs carrying dragging corpses from the back of their trucks and the image of the GI holding half a corpse, literally the head was hanging down and part of the body was attached and part was on the floor. Hardly recogniseable as human. If I'd have seen the quote first, I think it could have been even more powerful. The whole thing was very anti-American, but what else could it be? After we left we got on our first cyclos! This is truly the only way to travel. Going through the madness that is Saigon on such a sedate vehicle is amazing. We got off at Ben Thang market and had a wander. This place sells everything. Everything piled high and hunderds of people browsing, selling, buying, bartering. You can't go anywhere without a girl shoving something into your hand and bartering. Stalls sold fabric, clothes, bags, shoes, fruit, fish, meat, jewellery. I bought a handbag (suprisingly enough). We then walked down to the Rex Hotel and had a drink on the rooftop bar, which was relatively expensive but very cool. Went for a few drinks that night, found ourselves in a seedy bar at one point which I'm convinced was a brothel.... Met up with the Irish and Swedish again at Eden. Patrick was leaving for Ireland in 48 hours and wasn't happy (but very drunk). Ended up talking about roast beef and yorkshire pudding, which made me hungry!