First Glimpses of Saigon

Although we’ve only been in Saigon for 1.5 days, it feels like its been so much longer. We’ve seen, experienced, and ate so much.

Checking in was another adventure. The front desk was pleasant, but no where in the world have I ever been asked to leave my passport with them for the duration of my stay. This posed serious potential security risks, so we adamantly refused. Apparently, the hotel must report a list of its guests to the government every night, and those lists are then cross-checked to insure there are no illegal aliens or people overstaying their visas. After some deliberation, they made copies and allowed us to keep our passports. Phew!

Then, it was time to explore the city. Traffic was crazy. With scooters, bikes, trucks, fast cars, and everything in between, the crosswalk was virtually ignored. Just crossing the street was an adventure, although it got increasingly easier for us to weave between traffic. The city pulsed with an energy distinctly different from that of Bangkok or Hong Kong, with its fusion of Communist propaganda, name brand stores, and streetside vendors.

We visited the outdoor night market of Ben Thanh, and ate our first authentic Vietnamese dinner. Very interesting, with strong ethnic flavor. Most Vietnamese speak very little, or extremely accented English, so we relied heavily on Vincent as our interpreter and communicator.

We headed to Diamond Bar after dinner, only to realize that we hadn’t adjusted to the Vietnam time zone and that it was only 8 30. Therefore, we decided to roam the streets of Saigon. We strolled into Vincom Center and explored the mall. At Delightful Chocolates, the clerk asked me where I was from. I said Hong Kong, and out of nowhere he launched into a whirlwind of fluent Cantonese. Busted!!! K the real Hong Kong-er came to my rescue. Apparently, the guy was full Viet, but had somehow managed to pick up some really good Cantonese. I was totally blushing in shame.

Next, we headed to the Rooftop Garden Bar of Rex Hotel for some drinks and live music…after a lovely bout of food poisoning. Apparently the water is not clean, so ice cubes, non-bottled liquids and raw veggies should all be consumed with caution.

The rooftop bar was lovely and I had a jolly time sipping my Saigon Beauty cocktail and listening to the talented live band crooning Hotel California. Beautiful views of the city, delicious peanuts, and exotic ambience. Then we all went home and knocked out.

Today was packed with action. The gigantic Ben Thanh Market with its overwhelming stalls and pushy vendors. An exhausting search for Sim cards and tour group deals. An encounter with a nice Scottish tourist who gave us his map. A long walk taking in the rawness of Saigon. Watching a blind man make his way through the intensely crowded streets.

At 2pm, we taxied to the Vietnam War Remnants Museum, which I would say was the highlight of my day. It was gory, haunting, and downright disturbing, but it was extremely eye-opening and shed light on a different side of truth. The pictures of war and crime, the mutilated and deformed bodies of innocent victims from Agent Orange, the Vietnamese people’s side of the story: almost none of this had made it to the polished pages of our history textbooks in America. It’s true, history is written by the victor, and every country is guilty of framing itself in a better light. But its not about the politics. Its about what to say and how to take care of those innocent children born with no hands, eyes, or arms before they even had a fair shot in this world. What I saw today in that museum sent shivers down my back and made me feel intense outrage and sorrow. I highly recommend anyone who gets a chance to go.

Tomorrow, I will continue my chronicles on the rest our experiences today at the Reunification Palace, Saigon Square, Banh Xeo, and the Strata Bar in the Bitexco Financial Tower. I have a plane to catch to Hanoi in 6 hours. Time for some shut-eye.

M

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