From the heavenly Chinese temples to the hell of the Vietnam war
Ho Chi Minh City Travel Blog› entry 2 of 15 › view all entries
We have to get up at 6.30 am, but after sleeping like a baby all night long this isnâ€™t too much of a problem. We go to the restaurant on the first floor to find out that breakfast in the Vien Dong Hotel is served in the restaurant on the 10th floor, so up we go again. The buffet looks pretty good and we order a pho (this is a clear bouillon with noodles, some vegetables and two or three small pieces of beef) which is cooked on the spot. After that we try some of the fresh fruit and some bread with something sweet on it.
At eight everybody is downstairs in the lobby and Michel has also done his homework, because the cyclos are already waiting outside.
On our way to Cholon we pass a colourful catholic church which stands on a fanciful location just on the side of the road.
Cholon lies in District 5 and is Saigonâ€™s Chinatown, it is occupied mostly by the Hoa, Vietnamese of Chinese origin.
Next is the Quan Am Pagoda (ChĂąa Quan Ă‚m), this temple is even more elaborately decorated and it is dedicated to Quan Ă‚m, the goddess of Purity and Motherhood. This pagoda is thought to be one of the oldest in the city, it was founded in 1816. Here even more people are burning incense and, together with the smoke from the burning incense coils hanging from the ceiling, and the sunlight coming through a glass part of the roof, an amazing, almost divine, atmosphere is created.
Soon we are in the cyclos again, the drivers are making a race of it, overtaking one another over and over again, they are having as much fun as we are. In no time at all we arrive at Cho Binh Tay, the main market of Cholon. At first I think of it as not very interesting, but at second glance when we are past the building with trashy fabrics and cheap plastic toys, the market shows its real face. One lane with stalls cramped with sweets in every thinkable colour, a couple of lanes with stalls with heaps of fresh vegetables, a lane with food stalls with freshly cooked delicacies to everyoneâ€™s liking, and last but certainly not least one which is not meant for the fainthearted. Meat boys and girls!! Livers, kidneys, intestines, hearts, pigs feet, brains and everything else I have failed to mention, all ready for the taking.
We now race to a street with shops that sell all kinds of Chinese medicinal specialties, things we normally do not find at the local chemistâ€™s, like dried frogs, dried sea horses, dried deer penisses and for people with a dry liver: snake wine.
Thereâ€™s one more pagoda on our list, but it isnâ€™t as beautiful as ChĂąa Quan Ă‚m. Worth mentioning though is a man burning huge incense sticks, I havenâ€™t got a clue what the reason for this is, but it sure is a remarkable sight.
Our last stop on the tour is a Chinese morgue. The very colourful hearses are standing at the ready in front of the building. Inside decoration is scarce except for paintings on the brick walls. On both sides of the corridor are open rooms where people can gather around the coffins of the deceased to say farewell.
Around eleven we are back at the hotel. This afternoon we want to go to the War Remnants Museum, but first Caroline, Trudy and I want to check out the local cuisine. On the terrace of a nearby restaurant we order PhĂł BĂł (pho with beef) and we get huge bowls filled with noodles meat and vegetables that taste delicious. Salesmen are constantly addressing us, trying to sell their books, postcards and whatever else they are carrying around. Today they will not succeed.
After lunch we take a taxi to the War Remnants Museum. Actually we wanted to go with the same cyclos as this morning, but the men donâ€™t show up, so we have to take the motorized alternative.
The entrance fee for the museum is 15,000 VND each and photography is included in that price. We follow the numbers that are shielded out and first enter some halls that contain pictures of battles, bombings, forests before and after defoliation with Agent Orange and of course weaponry. In the courtyard are tanks, a fighter plane, a helicopter, grenade launchers and several huge bombs. Every single item captured from the Americans or hauled from the battlefields when fighting was over.
In another hall we see the terrible consequences of the use of Agent Orange. Some deformed embryos on aqua fortis and lots of pictures of people that are born well after the war, missing limbs because of damage to the genetic material of their parents.
One picture that really draws my attention is that of an American soldier holding up the torso of a Vietnamese man, who has been blown in half by a bombshell, while the legs are in a pile on the floor.
Another display is about the torture techniques the Vietnamese used against their own people, against the ones that opposed the government that is. Tying up and water torture were one, the infamous Tiger cage was another. A cell of 10 by 9 by 5 feet in which up to fifteen people were held captive in the hot season. They had to take turns to sit next to the door where a tiny hatch provided some fresh air.
From the Tiger cage we go to the Guillotine, brought here by the French and used to kill those who had committed crimes against the government.
The last two halls show the demonstrations from all over the world against the Vietnam war and pictures of â€śVietnam Todayâ€ť.
Our hearts are heavy with the crimes against humanity weâ€™ve just seen, but the ride on the Xe Oms (scooters with driver) to the PhĆ°Ćˇc Hai TĆ° clears our minds a bit.
Inside the temple are some large wooden statues and some altars, but the whole is illuminated with tube lights, killing the atmosphere and making it all feel very cold and uninviting.
From here on we walk, now starting our search for the Hard Rock Cafe and a bar called Apocalypse Now.
We take a taxi back to the hotel and go for dinner in De Tham Street. The food is all right, but the meat is not as tender as I wouldâ€™ve liked.
We feel like a massage now, but since there are no decent looking parlours in the neighbourhood, we go back to our room for a shower and a good night sleep.