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While the museums and buildings are sparser than in destinations like Europe or America they have a quite bit of history that can give you a sense of how the country has come along. The sights don’t take long to see, as most aren’t very expository, but they are indeed worth a look.
Post Office – Oldest government building that is still in operation. Interesting colonial architecture.
Notre Dame – A much smaller clone to the one in Paris.
City Hall – Located at the end of the walking street Nguyen Hue Street is a magnificent building that gets better at night.
Cu Chi Tunnels – The location of an underground labyrinth the Viet Cong used to ambush Americans, be prepared for heavy propaganda.
War Remnant Memorial – An interesting collaborative effort to present the history of the Vietnam War and the effects it had on the people of Vietnam to this day.
Reunification Palace – Not much exposition given though it is historically important. Good for a picture.
Saigon Pool Party – This was on every tourist map I received and it is a fun pool party for pretty cheap.
Motorbikes – About 10 million people live in Saigon and there are 5 million motorbikes. It is allegedly the highest concentration of motorbikes in the world. Crossing the street is like playing a game of Frogger you literally take a leap of faith and start walking in front of traffic and they avoid you. Traffic itself is mind-blowing, but the freedom it allows the Vietnamese people for a small cost (you can easily buy a motorbike for $200) is invaluable. You will see whole families, refrigerators, suitcases and an assortment of items on the back of someone’s motorbike. It’s safe to say they have become a big part of the Vietnamese culture.
Pagoda’s – Buddhist altars are scattered around Vietnam in park like areas called pagodas. You will find people praying and relaxing in these green squares all over the city. Some are quite simple but others are insanely ornate and worth a visit to get a feel for the spiritual life of Vietnam.
Food – I’m not much of a foodie, but Vietnamese food is pretty popular in the States so I was curious about it in its home country. Its cheap and good. Full meals can be had for $1-$3 in restaurants, but also in the streets. Walking through the markets you are bound to happen upon a delicious meal of pho or some combination of meat and rice. Speaking of the markets…
Markets – A lot of countries especially developing countries have very large and very active markets, Latin America comes to mind. However, the scale and enthusiasm that Vietnamese put behind their markets is unmatched and the goods they sell aren’t just agriculture, artisan goods, and knockoffs like most markets. Since a lot of modern electronics and clothes are made in Vietnam they sell cheap name brand electronics, sporting goods, clothes etc. Ben Thanh is the main market located in an enormous complex that is open sunup to sundown. However, after sun down when the doors are closed, people set up tents and stands right outside for the daily night market that stays open as long as customers are buying goods. The only time you can’t find a market in Saigon is when people are sleeping. It’s a fascinating experience.
Thanh lives about 40 kilometers north of Ho Chi Minh where his wife stays home and keeps house while he and his children drive down into the city to work. He offers tours to tourists on the back of his motorbike using the English he learned with a large group of other motorbike taxis. He believes the big city can give his family the opportunities economically and educationally to thrive. He is undoubtedly poor, but he is a cheerful man. Vietnam is full of people like him.
Tim, whose Vietnamese name is difficult for tourists to pronounce is an educated young Vietnamese man who got his job because of the excellent English he learned in school. As a proud Southerner from Ho Chi Minh, who takes foreigners including Americans to the famous Cu Chi Tunnels, he slightly hints that the forthcoming propaganda is the influence of the communist government and although dissention is strongly discouraged he shares he doesn’t exactly agree. Nonetheless, the horror stories of communist oppression are largely unfounded. He enjoys his life, his job, his country and tells of other countries namely China and Japan who invest heavily in Vietnamese education and industry. He is excited about his city’s growth and it seems his optimism is well warranted.
Do went to school for pharmacology and has been working since graduation. Her dad is a veterinarian and her mother owns a shop 10 hours away from Ho Chi Minh and they have actively supported her transition to school to Ho Chi Minh, work, and now travel. She is engaged, but lives apart from her finance. She values her own independence and in fact was offered on of the few visas to the Vietnamese from New Zealand forcing her to postpone her engagement. Although she isn’t quite ready to settle she can’t imagine a life without her fiancé and lets all other suitors know its friends or nothing. She believes that Vietnam is more family oriented than the West and that no matter what age no child is expected to be completely emancipated from their family. She enjoys the aspect of support in her culture, although she is less enthusiastic about the invasiveness. She believes America is a better country especially to live and that if she lived in a community that had imported their Vietnamese values (which there are many) she would prefer to live in America. She is largely conservative with a bit of travel bug who loves her family, friends, and fiancé, this is the middle class of Vietnam.