A military tank on the grounds of the war museum
Today we set off on our city tour of Ho Chi Minh City or as it was formally known Saigon. The 2 names are interchangeable and a lot of locals call the city both. From what I could figure out on official addresses and signs it was called Ho Chi Minh City but people weren't upset if you called it Saigon. The area around it was called Saigon from what I could find out, so people said they were from Ho Chi Minh City in Saigon. Anyway, history isn't my strongest point so I better stop when I'm behind!!
Our city tour started at 8am so it was an early start again.
Another egg breakfast before we were picked up by the bus. When the coach arrived the tourist agent signaled for us all to get on the bus so off we went. We weren't 5 minutes on the bus when our guide asked who was from Ireland. We thought this a bit strange as this was the first conversation he had with the group but we promptly lifted our hands anyway! We were on the wrong bus! We were on the bus for the half day tour of the Cu Chi Tunnels. Well what could we do, the guide went back up the front of the bus and we weren't sure if we were just going to end up at the Cu Chi Tunnels for the half-day or going to get off or what. Thankfully the guide stopped outside another tourist agent and we got off to wait on the city tour bus!.
A jet fighter with bomb cargo stacked underneath .. and machine guns in the nose!
After 20 minutes a small transit bus pulled up, it was our city tour.
We got on and set off. Our guide Sam introduced himself and we were on a bus with an Australian woman and 4 Swiss people, 2 from the north of Switzerland who spoke mainly German and 2 from the south who spoke Italian. Never confuse the 2 as they are quite different people as you'll find out later.
A Gun on display in the grounds of the War museum
We arrived at the first sight on the tour, the war museum. The war museum is a collection of artifacts, photos, weaponry and other things from the Vietnamese war. The fist building is an introduction to the photographers of the war and some of the images that they took. The pictures really are graphic lifelike pictures of what war was like… a very real reflection of the horrors of the Vietnam War as well as any other war.
After the war museum we headed off to the Reunification Palace.
This was the government buildings during the war before they transferred to Hanoi in peaceful times. The Reunification Palace as it is now known was more or less totally open to the public. The tour took us to see the cabinet room where the elected officials met around the cabinet table. We then went through a range of reception rooms for the president, vice-president and first lady to meet dignified guests. From there we went to see some of the Presidents own living quarters that included a casino room, a movie room and general living quarters. We then proceeded to the top floor which was an entertainment floor overlooking the Palace gardens The entertainment floor had a ballroom floor, bar and several landscaped gardens outside to entertain guests. From there we went down to the basement floor which housed the secure area for the president during war times.
An American bomb from a B52 ..... can you imagine the damage this would do!
It had a full command centre with communications equipment and map rooms where the battles would of been planned out during the war. There is also a tunnel complex that links the palace to a part of Chinatown that would of been used to evacuate the president and important staff away from the Palace should the palace be conquered. Of course these tunnels no longer exist after the war as they were partially destroyed and also some parts have caved in since due to all the construction in the surrounding areas.
A tank with long gun used during the war
After the palace we made our way to a government sponsored craft
village. Here we found an array of very skilled crafts people who were all
disabled, mainly due to the 'orange' chemical the Americans used during the
These people were either directly affected by it or were born with
deformities because of it. This didn't take anything away from their abilities
though as the work they were producing was outstanding. They mainly focused
their work on wood carvings or creating faboulous veneer, egg shell and mother
of pearl designed pictures. The pictures were on a piece of coated and laquered
timber, with either layers of egg shell or mother of pearl and further laquer,
all sanded and polished to give a fabulous shiny smooth picture. The pictures
themselves ranged in size from about 6 x 4 inches all the way up to 6 x 4 feet
made out of several pieces to reduce overall weight. We got to see the many
steps involved in making these pictures with a tour through the workshop and I
really admired the patience, acuracy and overall skill that these disabled crafts
people had. I only found out in the shop itself that we were allowed to take
pictures in the workshop, maybe if I see another one of these craft villages before
I leave I'll take the tour again just for the photos.
Some of the bombs used during the war
I did get some of their
finished work in photograph and just for reference the large fish scape one
made up of 4 pieces takes almost a year to complete!
Some of the photographs in the War Museum in Saigon
The next port of call on the tour was the Notre dam Cathedral and main post office of Ho Chi Minh City. The Notre Damn Cathedral isn't as impressive as the original one in Paris but it still is an impressive building. The post office itself is another beautiful looking French inspired building and the inside of it is still used as the main post office to send international parcels and mail.
The next stop was a temple.
The temple was full of the usual Buddhist imagery and the guide showed us the various symbols used in the building. He explained to us the difference in the temple and a pagoda, the main reason being that both Buddha and the Gods are
The Vietnamese declaration of independence
Worshipped in the temple where the Buddha is the only symbol worshipped in the Pagoda. It was here that we discovered the difference between the north and south Swiss people. The northern Swiss man had been generally giving out along the trip so far, about the fact that you couldn't travel to certain countries now because of the smoking ban (him being a pipe smoker of course), as well as the fact that the guide wasn't being specific about time for each site, general annoyances about anything. Seemingly he had done the Ho Chi Minh City tour about 6 weeks earlier and was only on this tour because his wife wasn't with him the first time.
The guide of course was trying to make the trip as relaxing and enjoyable as possible while still trying to let people have time in the various sites. The Swiss man was giving out that the guide would say that the group had to meet in a certain point in say 45 minutes. As the Swiss man wasn't taking in any of the sights he was continually giving out that if the guide would say we were to meet at 12:40 for example that he would be there at the exact time and that anybody who wasn't there at that time should be left behind. So when the group was normally a few minutes late at each location the Swiss man was getting more and more agitated.
A photo of the American choppers landing in Vietnam
After the temple we had covered all the city centre sites and we headed back to the tourist office again to get lunch and this was finally when the Swiss mans temper got out of control.
We were all asked to go across the street to a small restaurant and order what we wanted from the tour companies menu and then make our way back over to the tourist office to have lunch there. Well seemingly when the Swiss man was on the city tour previously he didn't have to go through this ordering and waiting thing, he just wanted his food and he would sit down at the restaurant and eat it away from the group. This time the guide wasn't too happy about the situation and after several times of him trying to explain to the Swiss man that he should remain in the group, the Swiss man started swearing and shouting he wasn't continuing on this 'shitty' tour and that he was getting a taxi himself to the remaining places on the tour and that he could afford to take a limo to the sights if he wanted. The mans wife was a little embarrassed but didn't really have much of a choice other than to follow her husband and off the two of them went, much to the reliaf of the rest of the group and the pour tour guide who had to endure so much.
A photograph of a mine exploding during the war
The rest of us sat down and had our rice based lunch, everyone a little relieved after the departure of the Swiss man and we got on the bus again.
A Map of Vietnam with some of the army divisions marked on it
The first stop after lunch was the Chinese market… the largest market in Ho Chi Minh City. The market itself was mainly a wholesale market and had a large number of people from the surrounding provinces coming to buy items in bulk for their own local markets. There seemed to be an endless supply of flip-flops/thongs being loaded off and onto motorbikes outside. I even managed to spot a fella loading his bike with slabs of Heineken cans ... Obviously a man on a beer run! I managed to spend about 20 minutes in total inside the market wandering the narrow corridors! The corridors aren't designed for larger European/western people especially ones with backpacks.
After taking a few photos of the market I headed outside to wait for the group and I spent the rest of the time watching the hustle and bustle of the market outside.
The weaponry used during the war
The next and last stop on the city tour was the Pagoda. This was the Buddha only worshipping temple. Again the guide took us through all the various symbols and imagery of all the statues and monuments in the building. Again we saw all the various people going about their own personal worship. I'm sorry I don't have any more info on the imagery and that within the temple but I'm only recently learning about Buddhism so I'd only get it all mixed up, I probably have already!
Once the tour was finished we were all given the chance to be dropped off in the main shopping centre area but everyone declined as it was quite a long day already and some other people had other plans, which we would just head back into the city centre.
We were all dropped off back at the tourist office again and we all made our separate ways back to our hotels.
Some of the small bombs used during the war
Later that evening we headed out to get something to eat in a nearby restaurant. This was where I tried my first 333 beer. It is one of the local brews and one of the tour groups earlier that day had suggested I try it. To be honest I don't think it was the best brew I’ve ever had. It wasn't as good as the other Vietnamese beer, Saigon, and it was nowhere as good a Beer Lao. After dinner we headed back to the hotel as tomorrow was another busy day as we had to go visit the Cao Dai Temple and the Cu Chi Tunnels.
The Reunification Palace once used as the home for the South Vietnamese Government