A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about war

Ho Chi Minh City


Well, we’ve made it to our final stop in Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City. This city, which used to be named Saigon, was the capital of Vietnam from 1949-1975. However, once the Vietnam War ended, Hanoi was given the title and became the capital of a reunified Vietnam. We didn’t spend a ton of time in the city itself, but from the time spent walking the streets, we quickly realized that this city has a great energy about it. It reminded us strongly of Bangkok - and as many of you know, we LOVE Bangkok, so we knew we were in for a treat.

Trying to find our way around the city streets brought us back to our “pre-beach town” days spent in Hanoi; the motorbikes were back (8 million to be exact) along with the constant honking and people-packed walkways. We did however notice that there was much more structure here; less motorbikes driving on the sidewalks (they often had dedicated lanes), streets with real lines, large boulevards and even a traffic light or two dotted throughout the city where the drivers actually paid attention! Aaahhhhh ;) Even though the sidewalks have bikes and food stalls all along them, there is still room to walk which was nice. The city is still crazy, busy and loud BUT, there just seemed to be a bit more order and respect for pedestrians here. We were staying in “District 1” though, and didn’t venture too far from there, so who knows, maybe the rest of the city was like the Hunger Games everywhere else!

Our first stop in Saigon brought us along the Mekong River for some sunset pictures. Unfortunately, it was pretty underwhelming. Dirty and brown, with garbage and weeds floating in the current and a pretty lackluster river front. Well, at least we saw it. Our walk home was much more interesting, with traditional dancers performing in the middle of a square and seeing all the neon signs and bars light up for the long night ahead. Finally, some night life!


We ended up heading to Bui Vien Street where we initially sat down for "just 1 beer" - famous last words. We found this small roadside stall that had multiple plastic tables and chairs packed in the stall itself and also flowing onto the sidewalk. As the sun started to set the street got busier and busier and busier. By 10pm the street was so packed you could barely drive down it anymore and all of the roadside stalls and pubs were exploding with people. We ended up sitting with a couple of guys who have been living in Vietnam for some time, one a teacher and one works oil and gas. Both men have extraordinary stories to tell from their work and their life experiences living in HCMC. The hours went by (as did the beers), and before the end of the night we were eating quail eggs dipped in salt and pepper - actually quite delicious.


The next day we spent sobering up wandering the streets in the heat, trying to find as much shade and air-con breaks (air conditioning) as we could. The day started with us finding the Notre Dame Cathedral and the famous Saigon Central Post Office right beside it. Though the French influence was extremely noticeable in HCMC, the post office had its own Vietnamese feel - even though it was also designed by a French architect. The rumor is that Gustav Eiffel (yes, THAT Eiffel) was the famous architect behind this beautiful design, however, fact states that Villedieu was the true vision behind this building. Unfortunately for him, everyone still believes it’s Eiffel.


From there, we walked, and walked, and walked to our next destination – the Independence Palace or the “Reunification Palace” as it is now known. This place was like a blast from the past; imagine Austin Powers in the 1970’s and you’ve got it. The architecture was clearly from the 70’s era and as we explored the inside, we experienced first-hand what that time must have been like. Big, round faux leather chairs sitting on lime green or rusty orange carpets, massive oval wooden tables with pastel coloured dial up telephones sitting on top, red velvet staircases and thick yellow curtains from floor to ceiling... we could keep going! It was an experience for sure.






On a serious note though, this was the place the President lived and worked before and during the Vietnam War as well as where the war ended in 1975 when the North Vietnamese Army crashed through the front gates. It has also seen its fair share of suffrage as it was bombed in 1962 by rebel pilots who were supposed to fly north to bomb the Viet Cong. It was rebuilt by 1966 and continued to be a functional facility, however today it is basically a museum filled with tourists, vying for a chance to see the 2 red markers on the roof where the bombs were dropped. Definitely a site to see in HCMC.


Our last stop on this sweaty day was the War Remnants Museum. This is the first place Sean and I truly felt the propaganda in this country. This is a museum that has kept artifacts and pictures from mainly the Vietnamese War - or for the Vietnamese, the “American War”. Floors upon floors are showered with photographs throughout the war, old bombshells and guns, and stories from local people. The challenging part for us was, that everything seemed to explain how horrible the American’s were and how the country was settled and peaceful before they arrived and just started “bombing for no reason”. There was never any mention of the communist dictator and murderer Ho Chi Minh, other than to say he was an amazing leader trying to liberate the south from the American’s. Now, we’re not trying to say that the American’s were in the right and should have done what they did, but it was difficult to know that only one side of the Vietnam War story was being told.




We had heard from a few people that HCMC was a city that could be missed and was a bit "scammy", as in tourists are constantly being scammed or ending up in bad positions, however our experience here was the complete opposite. Please keep in mind that we both love the hustle and bustle of big cities with great nightlife scenes, but we thought HCMC had a great feel to it, with lots of energy, great people, great sights and air that isn't completely riddled with exhaust. Even if you only have a day or two, give HCMC a chance, because we think you'll love it.

Posted by BlondeandCurly 14:34 Archived in Vietnam Tagged tunnels palace museum saigon war mekong cu chi ho minh hcmc delta remnants reunification Comments (0)

Up, Up and Hue!

Arriving in Hue (spoken like HWAY) from Hanoi was a wonderful reprieve from the hustle and bustle of the capital city. There are still crazy drivers and honking motor bikes everywhere, but it is definitely more tranquil in comparison to Hanoi. Now that we have mastered our role as pedestrians in this motorized world and feel more comfortable wandering the streets, we decided to start exploring the city.

The main attraction in Hue is the Imperial Enclosure, which held the royal families from the Dynasty's that ruled for hundreds of years. Just like Ho Chi Minh's grounds in Hanoi, this citadel complex was massive. We're still astounded at how large these places are and after 5 hours of walking around, we only saw a fraction of what was offered! The outside of the citadel is surrounded by a large moat and a brick/cement wall that is 2m thick, 6m tall and 10km's long. The Flag Tower juts up from the centre of the wall, looming over the grounds with one of the largest Vietnamese flags we've seen. Once we crossed the moat, entered the citadel and passed through the walls, we found the Imperial Enclosure. More protective cement walls were now surrounding us, protecting all things important for the Dynasty's that once ruled.


We then passed through the Ngo Mon Gate, (which faces the Flag Tower) where each royal visitor would pass through to see the King. Once through the gate, you walk right into the Thai Hoa Palace, where the King would sit in his gold plated, elevated throne, waiting for those who entered. No photography was allowed inside, but it was truly ornate. When we finally made it through the Palace, we were greeted with the Enclosure grounds. Everything from temples, palaces and pagoda's, to beautiful and colourful gardens with golden dragon statues, shrines and urns of the deceased Dynasty rulers and the houses where they would reside. It was pretty awe inspiring to see the colours and intricate architecture that unfolded before us. Definitely worth the 5 hour wander!






The day after exploring the Imperial Enclosure, we headed to the DMZ (demilitarized zone). Both of us enjoy learning about war history and unfortunately the Vietnam war was a war that we really were in the dark about. Not knowing a lot about it, we thought this would be a great way to learn about it in an unbiased way. The DMZ was an area on either side of the Ben Hai River that was considered a "no man's land" during the war. From 1954-1975 it was supposed to act as a border between the North and South, however we found out that it eventually would have some of the worst bloodshed in the entire war - Khe Sanh, Hamburger Hill, Lang Vay, etc. and ended up being one of the most militarized zones on the planet. The tour took us to the 17th parallel, the Rock Pile, a section of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the American base of Khe Sanh and the Vinh Moc Tunnels. Although there was a lot of driving involved, this tour has been one of our favourites. We have also included some pictures from the war to give everyone an idea of what it looked like before.


I am not going to lie, if we were not on a tour, we would have driven right by this mountain on our way to the American base. However, its history is quite significant for the Americans. The mountain is 230m tall and was once a US Marine Corps lookout point as well as a base for long range artillery. The top of the mountain was most accessible by helicopter.


Dakrong Bridge

The current design of the Dakrong Bridge was built in 1975. Because this river crossing was a major artery for the north Vietnamese, and was considered the beginning of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, it was destroyed and rebuilt multiple times. Note: the Ho Chi Minh Trail is a concept, not a road. The trail was a vast network, spread across hundreds of miles of terrain extending far into the interior of Laos. According to our guide this network was a network of hundreds of kilometers of trails that brought supplies to the North Vietnamese troops, usually on the backs of porters or for the larger loads, strapped to the back of bicycles.


Khe Sanh American Combat Base

This was the site of the most famous seige of the American War where the north Vietnamese attacked the base from the peripheral mountains. The base was never overrun, but it ended up being one of the bloodiest battles entire War. The 75 day seige started on January 21, 1968 and according to our book, 500 American, 10,000 North Vietnamese troops and large numbers of civilians died in and around this base. Our guide told us that it is now well documented that this battle was only a diversion to draw US attention away from major southern Vietnamese cities in preparation for the Tet Offensive (one of the largest military campaigns of the entire war) which began 1 week after this battle began.


The base prior to the attacks


The base after the attacks


Truong Son National Cemetary

Here lies the bodies of 10,000 North Vietnamese Soldiers who died during the War. Each tombstone has the inscription "Martyr".


If you made it this far, thanks for reading. We are on our way over the Hai Van Pass to Danang for some much needed beach time. Till next time.

Posted by BlondeandCurly 03:39 Archived in Vietnam Tagged military vietnam pagoda war hue imperial dynasty citadel dmz vietcong Comments (2)

(Entries 1 - 2 of 2) Page [1]