Vietnam – Day 2

As a Westerner making his maiden trip to a non-Western country, the first thing I noticed when walking around Ho Chi Minh City was the palpable sense of danger that lurked at every intersection. Everyone in the city owns a motorbike, and at any given moment of the day or night I think that at least 50% of the population is riding theirs through the street. The street is too crowded, you say? No problem; just ride on the sidewalk. There’s a break in traffic in the opposite lane? Just move over and switch lanes—don’t worry if you’re going in the “wrong” direction. If there were traffic rules, I saw no one enforcing them.

View from our cab, starting the day.

This was near the main tourist area.

All this excitement made crossing intersections rather hairy, and I spent the first few days practically hugging Noah as I made my way across the city. Soon, however, I realized that it was no different than a game of frogger, with the one rule change being that you can only move forward. Just keep moving, stop only if necessary, and the motorbikes will swerve around you. The busses and cars were more intimidating, as they seemed to stop or slow down for no one.

The second thing to strike me was the remarkably cheap prices, especially for pho, which I consumed in great quantities over the course of the week. A bowl of beef noodle soup was never any more than 30-40,000 dong, or under $2. I greatly weakened my vegetarianism/pescetarianism during this whole trip, despite the ample supply of meatless options. Pho, I found, simply tastes much better with beef than anything else. Chicken pho seemed like a poor take on chicken noodle soup, seafood pho didn’t mesh well with the herbs, and vegetarian pho was missing a certain punch that the beef variety had.

Glorious Pho. Breakfast of champions.

The main post office. One is never far from the watchful eye of uncle Ho.

After eating, our first stop of the day was the war remnants museum, formerly named the more incendiary (and arguably more accurate) “Museum of American War Crimes.” This was very informative for an American whose knowledge of the war came mostly through the lens of other Americans. The exhibits exhibited various atrocities committed by American soldiers, including some graphic photos of children born with birth defects (supposedly from Agent Orange) and a particularly striking photo of a group of GI’s posing with dead North Vietnamese that they had proudly decapitated. I was a bit amused by the propagandistic descriptions of the photos. They were all “brave patriots” this and “colonialist Americans” that. Of course the entire museum was a piece of propaganda itself, as I saw no mention of atrocities that surely had to have been committed by North Vietnamese on the South. I guess it’s impossible to have any sort of government-sponsored interpretation of political events without it feeling like propaganda in some way.

Here I am in front of a Chinese tank.

Description of a re-creation of a South Vietnamese prison camp.

We then made our way over to the Ho Chi Minh City museum, which was much less impressive but still worth a visit if you’re in the area.

From the HCMC museum.

Reunification Palace.

By the end of the day I was completely exhausted. I guess 27 hours of travel followed by 6 hours of restless sleep on a strange couch will do that. I remember putting my head down on a table and falling asleep cold in a café while we visited with some of Noah’s English teacher friends. Not even the iced coffee could save me.

Not sure what this says.

uncle Ho, in front of a goverment building.




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