Love, War and Coffee in Saigon

25 Mar

I thought I should try and finish at least one hurried blog entry before our first week in South East Asia comes to an end, and I begin to forget all the wonderful and interesting things I have seen and learned so far.

A potted summary of the trip so far: We arrived in Ho Chi Minh City late on Saturday night after flying for 9 hours and spending two hours in Darwin Airport’s International Departure lounge. We spent the next few days exploring the City, getting around on the back of motorbikes (so much fun!) and eating Pho and Bun Bo Hue on the street (not sick yet!). Couchsurfing was great and I will write about it in another post soon. On Tuesday morning we left Saigon on a bus bound for Phnom Penh. I will also have to write about Cambodia in a separate post to give this Country the attention it deserves.

Love

Love is all around. The secret teenage groping-in-the-park sort of love is the first thing you notice on the short trip from Ho Chi Minh City’s international airport to Phamn Ngu Lao, the backpacker district where we spent our first night in Vietnam. The parks that line the City’s wide boulevards are full of young people and not so young people making out on park benches, or while sitting on or close to the motorbikes that are ubiquitous in Saigon. Perhaps it is the tropical weather that brings love outside into the public realm?

The ugly old white man exploiting young local women kind of love is the second we encountered in Vietnam. Prostitution is apparently rampant in Pham Ngu Lao. I expect that every city on the backpacker trail has its share of red light bars and clubs, but it was much less subtle in Saigon than I imagined it would be. We’re not sure about the laws regulating prostitution in Vietnam. The Government seems to be responding to all this romance by erecting huge billboards around the City drawing citizens and traveler’s attention to the risk of HIV.

On our Sunday afternoon visit to the Ho Chi Minh City Museum we were also lucky to see at least five couples taking wedding photos against the backdrop of this French colonial building’s grand spiral staircases and beautiful gardens. Most brides wore big white western-style dresses, with the exception of one who wore traditional Vietnamese wedding costume. I sneaked a couple of photos..

War

Like love, memories of war seem everywhere in Vietnam. Most of the tourist attractions in Ho Chi Minh City are inspired by the American war and the Vietnamese people’s previous struggle for independence against the French.

The War Remnants Museum has an impressive display of American bombers and fighter planes that bombed Vietnam back to the stone age. Alex is pretty impressed by these. I think once I have seen a tank, I have seen every tank. A highlight of the Museum for both of us was a war photography exhibition focusing on the work of those journalists who tragically died in the conflict.

After visiting the War Remants Museum we discovered that the two tanks that ran down the gates of Saigon’s Independence Palace in 1979 to end the American War are appropriately housed in the grounds of this building. Surprisingly war remnants can also be found where they don’t seem to belong. For example, the Ho Chi Minh City Museum which is largely dedicated to the development of local industry in the region (yes, equipped with giant graphs showing growth in production and exports) boasts a few fighter jets in its beautiful gardens. The rusted bodies of US helicopters can be seen on the grounds of some Government buildings dotted around the City, for no apparent reason.

Coffee

The coffee in Saigon is served strong and black, in large glasses filled with ice. I may go so far as saying that it’s the best coffee I have ever had.

We’ve already enjoyed several amazing meals here that deserve more attention. Maybe a top-five meals post will come shortly.

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3 Responses to “Love, War and Coffee in Saigon”

  1. huon March 25, 2010 at 12:00 pm #

    it’s Ho Chi Minh City! not Saigon!

  2. drew March 26, 2010 at 1:40 pm #

    love it! tell me more…

  3. Berenice March 28, 2010 at 8:24 am #

    Are PDAs frowned upon by adults in Vietnam?

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