Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Wonders of Saigon

Arriving in Saigon was interesting- it was handy that the bus dropped us off in the "tourist" area but the prices were outrageous for rooms. We managed to find something for $8 (US)/night in a dark, creepy alley though. Saigon (or Ho Chi Minh City) is the craziest city I've ever been to. I thought there were lots of motorcycles and traffic in Hanoi but it's a million times more in Saigon. We decided to see the Reunification Palace and the War Remnants Museum (formerly known as the Museum of American War Crimes... wonder why they changed it?).

The Reunification Palace is pretty interesting and the best part about it is that they provide you with a free guide. Matt and I were getting a bit jaded since you go to lots of places and someone asks you if you want a guide but then they want a lot of money for it. So when they asked us my first reaction was "NO". Matt wasn't as grumpy and found out it was free so we sat down and waited until enough people had gathered and then we had a free one hour tour of the palace.

The palace is huge and is still used for meetings so there are places that they don't allow you to access. You can see lots of the rooms which are ornately decorated and we were allowed to go to the top where they have a dance hall and a helicopter landing pad. They also took us into the basement (there are 2 of them) where they have their bomb shelters. I couldn't help but take a picture of the elephant feet "gifts". Poor elephants! I recommend checking out this place and the next place we went to- you can walk there easily and they are both in the same neighborhood. Be sure to buy water before you go since it's ridiculously overpriced around the palace and museum.

The War Remnants Museum is really intense and an excellent place to go if you want to understand the effects of the Vietnam War on the people (although in Vietnam they call it the American War). I would say that this museum is probably a bit biased but I think it's safe to say that everyone knows that war is horrible and ugly and both sides would have committed terrible atrocities. This museum is full of incredible pictures. Many are hard to look at but they are so important. I wish everyone could see the pictures and read the accounts of war that we saw in Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. Maybe it would help them rethink the wars we're fighting now.

One section of this museum is dedicated to the many journalists who braved war zones in order to report about the war. Many of them perished in the process. The most memorable section was the one about chemical warfare. Now that is truly scary shit. You hear about napalm and agent orange, but do you actually know what it does to a person? or a fetus? or an area of land? It's shocking and disgusting. The pictures of the people affected by these chemicals and the generations of people with birth defects were astounding. They even had some babies on display that had died when they were born because of their deformities.

They do try to end the museum on a bit of a hopeful note. They have a lot of art from Vietnamese children promoting peace and goodwill. There are also some statues and posters from other countries supporting Vietnam. It's a heavy place to visit but a must see. Go here to see the other pictures from the day.

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