Wandering the streets of Saigon
Jason, Alison and I are here in Vietnam now, sorry it’s taken me a few days to post! Jason had a different travel schedule than Alison and I for a few days but now we’re all here at the Saigon Sheraton in Ho Chi Minh City. It’s strange how the westerners refer to it as Saigon while the Vietnamese refer to it as Ho Chi Minh City – or maybe it’s just the Americans calling it Saigon. Hmm.
In any case, Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) is much more modern than Phnom Penh. The hotel we’re staying at is pretty wonderful, and right in the midst of everything. They picked us up from the airport in a luxury Mercedes, and have kept us stocked up on bottled water and fruit for the duration of our stay. The hotel is only four or five blocks to the central market, and many restaurants and bars are quite close by.
The chief currency here is the dong, but it’s used in a similar way as in Cambodia: you can pay for anything in either dong or US dollars, and you receive change in dong. The conversion rate is locked at 16000 dong per dollar (in Cambodia it was 4000 riel per dollar). Seeing so many zeroes was a bit mind-boggling, but lopping off three zeroes and dividing by 16 is not too terrible (thankfully that division isn’t too bad for us compuer people since it’s a power of two!)
One of the first things I really noticed on the drive in was the crazy traffic. Not quite Cairo-style crazy, but nuts still. Most of the vehicles on the road are mopeds or scooters, and there’s an incredible number of them!
The view from our hotel room gives you some idea of the city. It’s a bit of old and a bit of new, all jumbled together in a strange urban cacophony. Chaos is the rule, not the exception.
Pedestrians in this city really have a challenging time. You can cross whenever, wherever you like, and people do. However, you MUST keep moving at a constant speed, and DON’T walk in front of mopeds or cars directly. Blend in with the traffic and don’t be frightened of it whipping past you quickly and close. It’s scary as hell at first, but after the first few times it becomes like a fun little game of Frogger.
Our first full day here, Jason and I visited the “War Remnants Museum”. Or was it the “War Crimes Museum”? Whatever it is called now (it’s changed its name recently), it was quite an experience. Of course, it was a museum about what we in the US call the “Vietnam War”. It contained pictures of “war crimes”, leftover military equipment, pictures of deformed babies from the effects of Agent Orange, and plenty of amazing, amazing photos.
There was a lot of opportunity here for a very one-sided, abusive treatment of the war and the US’s role in it. But it was more restrained than I had expected. Don’t get me wrong – if you’re an American and you go to this museum, you will be embarrassed. And you will wonder how much of this is true and how much is propaganda, because it does get a bit extreme in places. But I don’t think you will feel like the museum is a load of propaganda with the direct intent of making the Vietnamese people hate Americans. And for that, I was thankful.
Hmmm. Maybe that’s why they changed its name from “War Crimes Museum”
More from me soon on the central market (Cho Ben Thanh), which is pretty incredible!