We took a cyclo tour of Ho Chi Minh City. It is beautiful in the day or night. It was known as the Pearl of Asia.
Here is Rob with his driver.
Ho Chi Minh City is the largest city in Vietnam. This cosmopolitan city is located along the Saigon River. Saigon was the capital of the Republic of Vietnam (aka South Vietnam) from 1955-1975.
Large sums of money were invested here to help South Vietnam remain democratic. The Vietnam War has been the most expensive war to date for the US. America had 100 bases to protect. And even more checkpoints. This war was the most complicated.
Saigon was the last city to be “liberated” by the Communists and was renamed in 1976 in order for the young generation to know about Ho Chi Minh, and to let the world know that it was communist. The word Saigon now means the center city.
Not many original Saigonese remain here since many left before the war ended and directly after. Remember the Vietnamese Boat people? They tried to leave communist Vietnam fearing reprisals. Some were killed, but most soldiers were assigned to reeducation camps. Some died and some stayed for years.
Before 1995 Americans or Vietnamese who had left could not come to Vietnam. Clinton was the first US president to visit Vietnam and our relationship was normalized.
The economy grew rapidly. Nine million people live in the city (10% of the population of the country), 13 million if you count the outskirts.
Ho Chi Minh City is a leader in education and health care and is the center of culture.
Saigon used to be in the Land of Khmer Cambodia before the 17th century. Civil war annexed this area to Vietnam. The French changed the name to Saigon. Therefore, the city is only 300 years old.
Saigon had French and American influence. The airport is in the center of the city.
Bitexco Financial Tower in Ho Chi Minh City was built from 2007-2010.
Its design was inspired by the lotus flower. It has a helipad and heliport. One can go there to have a drink and watch the sunset. It is 861 feet tall and was the tallest building in Vietnam until Landmark 81 was built that measures 1,513 feet.
Ho Chi Minh City Hall or Saigon City Hall or Hôtel de Ville de Saïgon was built in 1902-1908 for the then city of Saigon. It was renamed after 1975 as Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee.
One is not allowed to go inside. As you can tell, it was built with French influence with the central tall tower on a pedestal which is common in Europe. It was not damaged in the war.
In 1887 the Notre Dame cathedral was built. This is Law’s church (our tour guide). It was built by the French and only foreign money was used. Each tower has six bronze bells. There is one nine-ton bell that is only rung when the pope dies.
Bricks for the cathedral are made here so that they are adapted to this area. At Easter and Christmas, the city center is packed.
The post office looks like a train station. On the outside, each column bears the name of an inventor.
We drive by the American Embassy where we are told not to take pictures. It is the site of the last US citizens to leave Vietnam.
We visited the busy intersection where the munk set himself on fire.
There is a memorial there.
We went to eat street food with our group. The fried rice was the best I had ever eaten.
We tried a hard-boiled duck egg with an embryo. Law said that this is how they get their calcium. It tasted like a smokey hard-boiled egg.
David went out in the middle of the street to take a picture.
Today there is a War Remnant Museum which tells the story from the Vietnamese Communist government. It is difficult for Americans, especially seeing the affects of Agent Orange.
There are many stories and photos from journalists. Some of them lost their lives. Photographers were dedicated – it started with still black and white photographs and ended with color videos.
War is ugly. An issue of Life magazine from January 25, 1963, was on display.
I want to learn more about what happened here. I think that the PBS American Experience is a good place to start.
The Vietnamese people did not know how to tell which side a person was on – enemy or not. Even within a family, support could be divided. If the Vietnamese can’t tell who the enemy was, how can Americans? This is something that can’t be controlled.
Here are some famous photos from the Vietnam War. Read the story behind the pictures in these links.
The last president of South Vietnam was assassiniated in a 1963 coup just 3 weeks before John F. Kennedy. Xien was a high ranking mandarin of the last king and a Roman Catholic who brutally imposed his religion on his people. The South was happy to see him go but nervous about the communists moving in. The US had supported him early on but reversed their stance when he abused his power.
The Presidential Palace had two tanks come into the building in 1975.
There is a conference room, cabinet room, a green room for relaxing and a golden room for luxury. There is a war room where the president of the south and Americans met. The living quarters are in the back. The third floor was used for entertainment: cinema, gambling, billiards, etc. The 4th floor was a ballroom. The basement was built to withstand bombing. Now it is a museum because it is considered unlucky since people were killed or lost here.
The longest and bloodiest battle in 1968 happened at Khe Sanh. It was 80% destroyed. One hundred tons of bombs were dropped.
The Ho Chi Minh Trail went through the mountains and the jungles of Laos and Cambodia to deliver supplies to those fighting in the south.
The city of Huế belonged to the South. The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) dividing North and South lay about 60 miles north of Huế. In 1968 the Huế Massacre took place at the beginning of the Tet offensive. The communist North tortured and killed men, woman, children, and infants of those who supported America and the Republic.
Mass graves were found with hands tied behind the backs and rags stuffed in the mouths. Some of the 8,000 were buried alive. This is unrecognized and not discussed by the Vietnamese government. No mention is made in the War Remnants Museum. The Huế Massacre has been labelled as the worst atrocity of the war.
Peoples’ tombs are more decorative in Huế due to royal influence. People who escaped Huế during the fighting weren’t there to pay respects when their parents were killed or died.
City of Ghosts near Huế is 3km of elaborate tombs built to honor parents who died while the children had fled. Millions are dollars were spent.
Huế was the first city “liberated” by the communists.
Read about the Tet offensive from the American side. Vietnam will not give an accurate account, if any. When one country “wins” the war, they get to write history.
Late in the Vietnam War, Haiphong was subjected to heavy bombing by US Navy and Air Force strike aircraft because it was North Vietnam’s only major port. Despite being targeted, the physical structure of the city was mostly unaffected by the war as the US had a self-imposed prohibition zone for the city.
There is a difference between Viet Cong and the North Vietnam Army. Viet Cong were communist fighters in the south also known as the National Liberation Front (NLF).
In the museum there was a large display about Senator Bob Kerrey and his brutal murder of women and children in Thanh Phong which he denies. Is it American lies and coverup or Vietnamese propaganda? God only knows.
The My Lai Massacre DID happen and is a dark mark on the war, and this type of activity may have been widespread. Read about Hugh Thompson’s intervention:
Our guide in Huế told us that there is no more Agent Orange as of four months ago. Two and a half million people were directly affected by Agent Orange.
Agent Orange was used as a defoliant for the thick jungles of Vietnam. It had been used in 1960 by the British in Malaysia, so a precedent had been set.
Vietnamese people were directly affected and their exposure caused birth defects in the future up to five generations. Vietnam Veterans were affected as well.
“I thought dying for your country was the worst thing that could happen to you, and I don’t think it is. I think killing for your country can be a lot worse. Because that’s the memory that haunts.” Bob Kerrey about his service in Vietnam.
“We all took a bullet for our country. Some while in Vietnam, others at home.” Paraphrase of Vietnam veteran dying of cancer related to Agent Orange.
“Why didn’t the others come to this memorial service? We want to forgive them.” Paraphrase from Survivor of My Lai Massacre speaking to the few brave American Vietnam Veterans attendees.
“We forgive, but we never forget.”