Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Vietnam's War Remnants Museum

While in Saigon we visited the War Remnants Museum, which chronicles the atrocities of the American War, as it's called in Vietnam. The museum pulls no punches; graphic displays show just how horrible the war was for the Vietnamese, and continues to be, due to unexploded munitions and the lasting effects of Agent Orange. I'm glad we went, though.

And I really appreciated the exhibition of work by photojournalists who died in the war, including Robert Capa and Sean Flynn. The exhibit, called Requiem, was curated by Tim Page. You can see some of those photos here (click on the "next page" button to view the photos, which also appear in the book Requiem).

We don't have many memories of the war ourselves but left the museum feeling humbled and chastened. Which was the point, I think.

One thing we noticed during our visit was the youth of the population. The median age in Vietnam is 27.8 years (by comparison, it's 36.9 years in the U.S.). We saw very few old folks, and also very few with disabilities. This was in part because few places are handicapped-accessible, but also because of a post-war population boom (which Vietnam is now trying to control with a two-children-per-family rule). When I did see old folks, or people missing limbs, I wondered, uncomfortably, what their impressions of Americans might be, and what they thought of all these blithe tourists now invading their country.

Those people we did talk to about the war said they felt better about Americans once they learned that not all Americans supported the war, and that many had actively opposed it.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

On a roll in Ho Chi Minh City

Because the Sergeant loves cars, we started our first full day in Saigon touring the city in a 1954 Citroen Traction-Avant. One of our first stops was the Reunification Palace. It used to be the presidential palace, until North Vietnamese tanks crashed through the gate in 1975. It has since been preserved as a museum, and its meeting and banquet rooms are still used for ceremonial occasions.

The Sergeant had a great time chatting with the driver, who also has a war-era Jeep (and photos of it on his iPad) ...
... while I watched the traffic from the back seat. Never seen so many scooters in my life!
We drove all over Saigon, taking in the sights, and even stopped at a shop that sells old car parts, so the Sergeant could take photos. Our tour guide, a lovely young woman in a traditional ao dai, was a bit put out that we didn't want to stop and do some souvenir shopping, but you don't need an expensive antique vehicle to do that.

She did recommend a good pho place for lunch, not far from our hotel. Pho Quynh was also a great spot for people- and traffic-watching.
I was glad to slurp down noodles and a couple glasses of Vietnamese iced coffee. Boy, is it good.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Welcome to Saigon

When the Sergeant and I got married, we went to Telluride for a couple of days for our "placeholder honeymoon." After all the work that went into planning a wedding, we didn't want to deal with planning an elaborate trip, too.

And we really wanted to see Vietnam. Which we finally have.

It's quite a long trip, via San Francisco and Taipei. We flew China Airlines and lucked out on the primo two-across seats at the back of the 747 (more room to stash your stuff and stretch your legs). I took Dramamine for its knock-out effect and slept much of the way.

We landed in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) at 10 a.m. Sunday, after 26 hours of travel. Happily, a friend of a friend was there to meet us. Manisha had put us in touch with K, who took us to our hotel and then to lunch at a restaurant called Ngon or "Delicious." And was it ever.
This is a green papaya salad. In the background are spring roll fixings. We love love love Vietnamese food. It's one of the main reasons we wanted to go there.
K started us off right with Ngon, whose owner recruited some of the best street food vendors in the city and arranged them at stations around a central courtyard and hall. The menu is extensive, and you can wander around watching the food being prepared. Or just sit back and enjoy a beer, watermelon juice or iced coffee.
We went back there again because the menu was so diverse, and the prices were really affordable. So I'll post some more photos later.

After lunch we went back to our hotel intending to just nap a little. We slept until the next day.

Quan An Ngon
160 Pasteur St.
District 1
Ho Chi Minh City
Phone: 08-3827-7131.