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HCMC (Saigon)

April 28-30, 2006

April 30th was our last day in Vietnam.  It was somehow appropriate, I suppose, that we left Saigon exactly 31 years to the day after the city fell, or was liberated (depends on who you ask) to the communist Viet Cong.  The whole time we’d been traveling through Vietnam, we had the war hovering in the back of our minds, but it didn’t manifest itself very much until we got all the way here, to Saigon (renamed Ho Chi Minh City).   

Over breakfast at our guest house, we were chatting with the Vietnamese proprietor, and he told us an interesting story about his family.  He said his father was a captain in the South Vietnamese army working together with the USA to stave off the Viet Cong.  After Saigon was “liberated” his father was sent to a re-education camp for 3 years.  When he was released, he was a bit crazy from being brainwashed for so long.  Furthermore, he found it impossible to find employment because he was blacklisted and all the jobs were government jobs (there being no private enterprises at that time).  We asked what he did, and he just said he had to make some work for himself, so it was kind of vague.  His family is still blacklisted, he said, because although his sister graduated from university as a communications engineer, she can only find employment with a private company.  But things are better here now, because the economy is opening up to private businesses, so now many people can have their own family run businesses.

A woman walks in front of a sign commemorating the anniversary of the fall of Saigon.

The Communist flag flies over a shopping mall.

KFC now competes with street vendors.

We began our tour of Ho Chi Minh City by going to the reunification palace, the famous building where the Viet Cong tanks finally liberated Saigon on April 30, 1975.

Reunification Palace


 We also visited the War Remnants Museum, formerly called the Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes, and now toned down to not offend the tourists from those countries.  But I think the new title is appropriate.  Outside the museum there was an array of war remnants: captured American tanks, aircraft, and artillery pieces. The inside of the museum was also filled with photos showing the remains of the war: birth defects in children born to parents who were exposed to Agent Orange, extensive environmental damage, and although harder to portray in photos, the vast psychological and emotional damage inflicted on everyone involved in the war. 

 One part of the museum focused primarily on the atrocities committed by the Americans during the war, and it was gut wrenching.  I felt so depressed and sad, but perhaps the worst part was knowing that torture is still occurring under the auspices of our government and that this horror was not something belonging solely to the past.  But a little of my faith in humanity was restored in another exhibit, which showed the massive protests that erupted in the US and around the globe when these atrocities came to light.

The traffic in Ho Chi Minh City was amazing.  The streets were packed with motorbikes, but there seemed to be a method to the madness.

School girls wait to cross a street

A typical bathroom in a Vietnam guesthouse. Notice the shower is not separate from the rest of the room.

So our 12 day journey through Vietnam came to an end, and we were quite sad to leave.  At the same time, there was the unparallel thrill of knowing that a new country awaited us, that a country which currently only existed to us as a name and borders on the map would materialize before our very eyes that afternoon.

P.S. The border where we exited Vietnam was the craziest I’ve seen yet. I got to witness bribery first hand and when the guard was out of sight a lot of people in the Vietnamese line just started running through.  The foreigner line was very orderly and none of us were forking over any bribes though. 


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