A city with two names

River views and war remnants

By Susan

We’ve only spent a few days in Ho Chi Minh City so haven’t seen a whole lot. The city seems to have a very different vibe to Hanoi. There are more big buildings, the roads are wider and people move faster I think. It certainly seems really busy.

We visited the War Remnants Museum which was grim and graphic, especially the victims of Agent Orange and other poisons and their attempts to get compensation and apologies from the United States government.

On our way to the museum we passed what is now called Reunification Palace. Before April 30 1975 it was known as the Presidential Palace. On that day a north Vietnamese tank crashed into the gate symbolising the victory of the north Vietnamese army. The place is still the same as it was on that day, they’ve just patched up the bits of railing broken by the tank.

We also visited the river in Ho Chi Minh City. It’s not very beautiful but it was quite interesting. We took a boat ride out amongst the cargo ships and the dredgers and had good views back to the city. We also traveled along a smaller tributary where the tide was really high. We saw some tin houses on stilts and people out in fishing boats.

This is our last destination in Vietnam. From here we head to Phnom Penh. I’ll miss Vietnam a lot. We’ve had an absolutely fantastic time here and I really hope to return one day.

”Here” in “the city”

By Pete

I don’t really know whether to call this place Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon. We were told by a taxi driver in Danang (near Hoi An) that as foreigners we should say Ho Chi Minh City. At the hotel we stayed in they said that we could say either but that locals prefer the word Saigon. Apparently in the past, Saigon only referred to the central district of the city and Ho Chi Minh City referred to the city in its entirety – but I’m not sure that’s right either. I reckon I might just call it “here” or “the city” for now…

We arrived here at around five in the morning and watched and listened as the city woke up. It woke up a lot quicker than I did. I’m pretty sure the sky changed from dark to light when I blinked. Very soon after that we heard a few motorbikes beeping manically as they made their way down the roads. People everywhere seemed to hear their call and before we knew it the place was humming – or buzzing might be a better word – try screaming, screeching, beeping and shouting – use all of the above and you’ll get the idea. It was too much for me – I had to go back to sleep.

Yesterday we went to the War Remnants Museum. It was sad and shameful to say the least. I’m sure there have been atrocities in every war and that it’s all been going on for a long long time now but that doesn’t excuse anything – it just makes it worse.

Our visit to the museum left me with a lot of big thoughts and wonderings but maybe it’s better to just describe what we saw there. We saw lots of journalists’ photos of the war and read about how the photographers died taking them. We read about agent orange and saw photos of its effects on the landscape, the victims and the victims’ children. We read about how the American soldiers who dropped the agent orange also suffered and have since received compensation from their government. Strangely, no compensation has been offered to the actual victims (something was ringing in the back of my mind about chemical warfare and the “axis of evil”). We read about various killing and torturing rampages that occurred during the war – one of which was led by a former senator of the United States when he was younger. We saw many different types of land mines and grenades, read about how they worked, what they were designed to do and how they were just left all over the place to be found by innocent farmers, now rendered crippled or worse. It all got a bit much for me so I went outside and sat down in the courtyard where I watched as tourists from all around the world had their photos taken in front of great big machines of war – tanks, helicopters, bombers and fighters. The whole experience left me feeling very sad.

After visiting the museum we didn’t really feel like doing too much else so we’ve just been taking it easy since then. It’s a bit of a shame to be finishing our time in Vietnam on a dark and sad note like this. We’ve had a really great time in Vietnam – it’s hard (for me as a tourist at least) to reconcile its tragic recent past with the little that we’ve seen of the country and the people that live here. I guess that’s encouraging.