Day 7 – Ho Chi Minh City

Reflection / Day 7 of 64 / 16 May

First day in beautiful Ho Chi Minh City. Leapt out of bed to turn off our alarms in our tiny beds hoping not to disturb the other patrons in our tiny hostel. We were hoping to make new friends by booking these hostels, meeting other backpackers and like-minded strangers. Unfortunately for us, the individuals in our room, they were an uptight bunch and we barely saw any of their faces before they drew their curtains to shut us out. Regardless, we did our own thing and departed the hostel by 9am.

We had a list of things we wanted to accomplish today:

1. Get working internet

2. Take a look at Ben Thanh Market

3. Check out Ho Chi Minh Square/Nguyen Hue Street

4. Visit the War Remnants Museum

5. Drop by Bui Vien Street

To start things off, we had to find a shop that sold SIM cards to get us back online. Being in a city filled with convenience stores around every corner you would think that finding a SIM card would be easy. Unfortunately for us, we spent almost an hour and a half trying to find one and eventually we found one at an old electronics shop that sold used karaoke machines and AC units, talk about weird. We sat down for some breakfast at a stall by the street and had our second Banh Mi in Saigon. Two for two.

Across the street, we could see the Stark Tower, officially known as the Bitexco Financial Tower [Tháp Tài chính Bitexco], and we told ourselves that we definitely had to get a closer look inside.

We headed into the building after breakfast but soon realised, much to our disappointment, it was just like any other office building. Not exactly sure what we were expecting.

We dropped by the Ben Thanh Market [Chợ Bến Thành] to have a look inside. A vibrant marketplace with similar goods from the countries we’ve passed through. The only thing that was remarkably different was the wide array of food offered here. I got a Vietnamese Chendol while Ryan got a can of Cola.

By the time we reached Ho Chi Minh Square/Nguyen Hue Street [Phố đi bộ Nguyễn Huệ] it was just before 12pm and the sun was almost at its peak. The square was beautiful, a massive courtyard in the middle of the biggest city in Vietnam with a statue of Ho Chi Minh and Town Hall at its ends.

Yet, as well as these pictures turned out, secretly we were both dripping with sweat. We ducked out of the heat as soon as we could and called a Grab to get to our next destination, the War Remnants Museum.

One interesting thing we realised in Vietnam was the frequency of honking on the roads. In other parts of the world, the horn is used to signal impending danger, or at best, some sort of rude gesture. In Vietnam it was more of a greeting, like a “how do you do, I’m on your left”, or an “excuse me, coming through”. Here on the roads around the square, the traffic lights were positioned such that the first row of drivers couldn’t see the lights for the junction. When the lights turned green, the cars behind who could see the change simply honked to let the first row know when it was time to move. A very peculiar system if I had to say so myself.

At 1pm we arrived at the War Remnants Museum [Bảo tàng chứng tích chiến tranh] where we each paid 40000 VND/2 SGD to enter. Similar to yesterday, I was not mentally prepared for the dark truths and heavy content I was about to delve into.

As someone who is simply a witness to the aftermath of the war and had no part to play in it, I have no right to pass judgement as to who was right or wrong. The War Remnants Museum painted things one way and I’m sure the Americans saw things another. The US attempted to liberate Vietnam from Communism whereas Vietnam fought for their freedom. Wars are only fought when both parties believe they are right. More than trying to argue who was right, I would much rather talk about the aftermath of the war that crippled the country for generations.

The deaths of soldiers are inevitable as it is what they signed up for in the first place. Having been one myself, you are trained to make the enemy die for their country and similarly, you are prepared to do the same for your own. However, it was the deaths of the innocents that was the real tragedy. Many thousands were caught up in the crossfire as the Americans swept through villages. They dropped bombs across the country, more bombs than they did fighting in WWII. Innocent farmers in the countryside were killed to prevent them from aiding the Viet Cong. Neither the young, the elderly nor the pregnant were spared as they mowed down farms and burnt crops to wipe out any possible threat. Recounts of the war photographers were heart-wrenching as all they could do were stall for brief moments to capture one last picture before soldiers opened fire. To top it all off was the use of Agent Orange by the US all over South Vietnam that caused genetic mutations for up to three generations. An estimated four million people in Vietnam had been affected by its use, with problems ranging from mental disabilities, extra limbs, cancers, and deformed offspring. You would think the war ended in 1975 when the fighting stopped, but it hasn’t ended for many people and their children who are still affected by the effects of Agent Orange.

It baffles me to think that everyone here above the age of 45 had been through the war and endured so much suffering at some point in their lives. And with that final thought, we left the War Remnants Museum at 3.30pm in the afternoon.

We decided to stop somewhere close by to grab lunch and pen down our thoughts. A coffee shop by the side of a random intersection was what we settled on. We grabbed a couple of rice dishes and got to writing. Before long, the sun crept up and we started sweating all over again in this open-aired street corner, so we decided to relocate to the Diamond Shopping Centre to finish up. By the time we finished writing, it was already 7pm and we decided to get a move on and head back to Ho Chi Minh Square.

The evening crowd was much more significant, with families sitting down on mats having meals, couples on dates, and many people taking pictures of the square. An overall pleasant mood to round off the evening.

Time-lapse of us walking down the lengthy Ho Chi Minh Square. It’s really really long.

Feeling slightly peckish we searched the area for good food places. After half an hour of fruitless searching, Ryan decided to Google his way to good food while I tried asking people on the street who looked as if they could speak English. Lo and behold, the only fluent pair that we stumbled across were Singaporeans who had just got there themselves. Before we could find anyone else, Ryan found a recommended Pho spot five minutes from the square and so we headed there.

The Pho was delicious, or at least before I chucked a handful of mint leaves in mine. They handed out a plate of what I assumed were veggies and I am a man that eats whatever is presented, so I tossed half the plate in, only to turn my soup into Colgate.

Following dinner, we got a Grab and headed to Bui Vien Street [Phố đi bộ Bùi Viện], also known as the ‘Backpackers Area’. The streets are lined with bars that offer seats which face the roads for a nice view of the busy city life. This was something pretty unique and we decided to try it out for ourselves. We got a jug of Long Island Tea and shared it as we had a long chat about life. All the while food vendors moved up and down the street offering a variety of snacks and street performers entertained. With that, we walked back to our accommodation and ended our day.

– Sam

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