Typical. The ONE time I want my train to be late, it gets in an hour early.
That’s right, roll into Saigon Station at 3:30 in the morning. I’d been getting up more or less every hour so sleeping through it certainly wasn’t an issue, even without the conductor banging on the doors.
Needless to say, I’m not going to my hostel at 4 in the morning. Relatively certain they’d kill me, or at the very least give me a really bad bed. So with several hours to kill, I curl up on a chair in the waiting room, sign into the station WiFi, and hop on Facebook. Its perfect time to catch up with a few friends online, and when they’re not replying, I’m having fun reading things on Etiquettehell. Great to actually spend a few hours talking to people again.
Around 8, I decide I’ve waited long enough and head out the station to a motor taxi. I’d originally chosen to stay at Budget Hostel in Ho Chi Minh, but there had been some safety issues with that one, and while trying to cancel it had been a nightmare to contact them, so had no intention of staying there. Instead, I booked into the same hostel my buddies in Nha Trang had picked. The Vietnam Inn Saigon.
Certainly looks promising. More like a hotel in design, but I’m already approving of the wall windows and the rooftop bar. Still can’t check in for almost 2 hours, so hop onto the computers and look at the tours the hostel offers. Have to get a bus ticket to Cambodia at some point, and the Mekong Delta day trip looks good.
Eventually, I’m checked in, fed, washed and ready to hit the streets. After looking at the options, and ticking off the things I don’t have time/money to do, I’ve decided to hit the War Remnants museum first, then walk around to see the Reunification Palace and the Notre-Dame Basilica. Of course, this plan immediately hits a snag when I get to the museum and find it’s closed. Apparently it shuts for about an hour around lunchtime, and wont be open until 13:30. However, I’m not the only English speaker caught out – an Italian by the name of Laurence has also come to have a look, and we end up heading a little ways down the street for lunch/coffee. One it does finally open, we head around together.
This is by far the must see attraction in Saigon. In the grounds hosts several American military vehicles ranging from tanks to bomber planes, but the main meat of the museum is in the building’s 3 floors. The exhibits include ‘Historical Truths’, ‘Aggressive War Crimes’, an Agent Orange exhibition and 2 photo documentary exhibits including photos donated by the journalists and photographers who were there.
Its a very painful place to look around – the Agent Orange exhibition is especially hard to take in. And many of the photos are gory enough to make you turn your head. However, something I’ve heard people say, which I have to agree with – is that the museum is solely devoted to the crimes of the Americans. There is nothing about what the Vietnamese did in retaliation. Admittedly, this is Vietnam, and the war here was unjustified, but the Vietnamese did some pretty vicious things too – where is that displayed? Considering the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ exhibit at the prison in Hanoi, its becoming pretty clear that Vietnam – at the least the government – is still bitter enough to keep a strong bias even in its education and memorials.
But to their credit, there IS some positive American portrayal here. News articles and photographs of young men burning their draft cards and some army men being arrested for refusing to go, as well as dozens of photos of protests including those in America for anti-war sentiment. The photojournalist exhibit also portrays some of the suffering and lives of the American soldiers who clearly didn’t want to be there any more than the Vietnamese wanted them to be.
When we finally left, I wanted to hit the 2 other places on my list, and Laurence, who had been there before, showed me the way. The first stop was the Reunification Palace, although mostly to just take a photograph. You can enter the grounds, but not the actual building, so we never bothered. The next stop was the Notre-Dame Basilica, just a stones throw away. When I first heard about this, for some reason I assumed they had built a replica of Notre-Dame, which is ridiculous considering I’ve been there and it looks nothing like it. You could go in here, however only until 4pm, and by the time we arrived we’d long since missed the cutoff and everyone was preparing for an actual service. Backpackers weren’t getting in.
Instead, the two of us headed back towards the city centre in the search for food. Laurence had eaten on the the streets the day before and highly recommended a street corner for dinner. I was game, and we ended up picking a few dishes to satiate my curiousity. No clue what the first one was – some kind of root vegetable with fried egg, honestly can’t place the main ingredient, but it was unbelievably good. The next dish was Pho Ba, and it was finally finished off with a strange biscuit that tasted very similar to shortbread.
We end up wandering around this market area for a while before I decide to call it a night. However, I like Laurence, and we both agree to meet at the street meets tomorrow at 19:00. Gives me time to get back from the Mekong Delta and have a shower.
Yes, booked the tour. Seems like an awful hassle to do alone, so we’ll see how it goes.