Thursday, April 21, 2016

Ho Chi Minh City

At nine million people and growing, Ho Chi Minh City, still referred to by many as Saigon, is the largest city in Vietnam. Katie and I spent only one day and two nights there. After our visit to Chiang Mai and Kuala Lumpur, we knew we did not want to spend too much time in another bustling city. But there were a few sights I wanted to see.
One was Independence Palace, which is now called The Reunification Palace. A brochure said it had been preserved the way it was when Nguyen Van Thieu, the former President of South Vietnam, lived and conducted business there in the '60s and '70s, frozen in time. The other site I wanted to see was The War Remnants museum.
1975 Saigon picture by Hubert Van Es

I was disappointed to find out that the American Embassy had been torn down in 1995. I wanted to see the place where in 1975, as the communists rolled into the city, thousands of Vietnamese scrambled into the compound and up onto the roof, attempting to board American helicopters and be flown to the safety of American ships waiting in the harbor. 

Katie and I arrived in the early evening, hungry.  The hotel desk clerk suggested an open air restaurant about a mile or so away. We had been traveling all day, it was around 6pm and still light out, so we decided to walk, which proved to be no easy matter. For the first half mile, there were no sidewalks. Vietnam does not handle garbage in the same way we handle it in the States. Trash and garbage is thrown into the street along the curb all day long and then sometime in the early morning, a street sweeper person pulling a large garbage pail comes along and sweeps most of it up. So in the evening the amount of garbage along the curb is sizable and right where we were forced to walk.

When we left the hotel I figured it must have been rush hour. Later we discovered that even during non-rush hour times, the sea of vehicles, mostly motor scooters, lessens only slightly. There seems to be two main rules of driving in Southeast Asia, never yield to anyone and toot your horn a lot. The noise was deafening and the streets were so crowded with motor scooters, trucks, buses and cars, that it reminded me of a stream in Ketchikan, Alaska where the salmon ran so thick we could have walked across on their backs.

When Katie and I worked our way to the main street and realized we needed to cross it,
it seemed like an impossibility. There were no street lights to stop the traffic and there was never even a slight break in the flow. We did spot a few crosswalks, but nobody paid the least bit of attention to them. As we stood on the corner, like a couple of dumbstruck possums, looking across the mass of honking swerving vehicles, a young woman motioned for us to follow her lead. Since the traffic was coming from the left, we stayed to her right. She stepped out onto the street, put her left hand up and began slowly to walk across, with us at her side. The traffic magically flowed around us.

We arrived safely on the other side and I yelled “cam ơn”, "thank you", in Vietnamese.
She smiled and went on her way and we continued on to the restaurant. The sidewalks on the main street were often blocked by parked scooters or street vendors, which forced us to step out into the street, taking care not to get sideswiped by passing vehicles.

We discovered the food is cheap, prepared with care, served graciously and is delicious. In my opinion, the best thing to emerge from the many years of French occupation, is the fusion of French and Vietnamese cuisine.

On our return trip to the hotel, the flow of traffic had not lessened in the slightest. When we arrived at the dreaded corner where we had to cross, I took a deep breath, grabbed Katie’s hand and in unison we stepped out into the oncoming traffic. Surprisingly, we were  not instantly killed, so we kept a slow and steady pace, just like the young woman showed us, arriving at the other side unharmed and were able to return to our hotel. In the morning, we would venture out into the vast, sprawling city.                                                                                         






  1. Thank you for your stories, Mike. I'm happy you survived Vietnam a second time.

  2. Sounds Like you had a good time

  3. You two should have grabbed a couple of scooters and mixed it up with the locals. Life is going to be pretty boring by comparison when you return to the NW. Lots of slow moving people who stop unnecessarily for pedestrians.