02 Mar

Saigon Opera

Last day in Saigon. Great city and leaving it is done with sorrow. I left in the morning to see the two main sites related with the past. The Independence Palace was the seat of the South Vietnamese government, where the first North Vietnamese tanks went through the gates on 30 April 1975. It is a modern palace built in the same style as Palace Hall and the TV Station in Bucharest, the architectural style of the time, being built between 1962-1966 on the location of the old French colonial palace. Diem who ordered the construction did not live there being ungraciously shot in the church where he hide in 1963, so it was only the residence of President Thieu till his unflattering departure on April 18, 1975. He died in Boston in 2001 and the Viet Minh would have shot him on the spot if they have caught him. The palace is frozen in time, kept exactly how it was when the Viet Minh conquered the city, with the war maps, the bunkers, and the halls for receptions, bedrooms, etc. It is a little eerie but it is a great relic. Now is used as a museum and for some receptions but the new openness in Vietnam took all the propaganda away and is just history. Next stop of my visit was to the War Remnant Museum, a museum that has pictures of the atrocities from the American war. It used to be called the Museum for the Crimes of the Chinese and Americans but nowadays it blandly shows pictures from the American War skipping the atrocities the North Vietnamese did against the Southerns and reverse. It is impressive till the level of tears and makes well the point that war is senseless and it is just destruction for both the winners and the losers, if they are any definable. Actually it creates just losers. There are pictures of persons affected by Agent Orange, phosphorus bombs, killing and destruction in a stupid war. If the Americans would have figured out that Mao would die and China and Vietnam would change to the worst capitalism that exists on the planet they may not have sent their boys to die there. Because nowadays, Vietnam is growing on an unbelievable pace, with lots of investments from all over the world being poured here, US being one of the most desired investor. The country does not have any resemblance of the poor nation many people associates with. In any way, after you leave the museum you start question the soundness of the human mind, how can sentient humans can do this to their own kin, what can drive them so mad. And here are not described the atrocities committed by the Viet Minh to the southerners and reverse. In any way when you think at Iraq and senseless killings that happen there you realize that the humanity is as stupid as a doorknob, nobody freaking learn anything out of what was going on in the past.

I left from there to see the most beautiful pagoda in Saigon, (the city is called by everybody Saigon, except the official name changed to Ho Chi Minh City after the takeover), Jade Emperor, an astounding place even after the Cholon tour gave me a pretty good idea of the style. It is located somewhere in the northern part of the city and is quite of a walk or motorbike ride till there. I spent some time among incense sticks and fumigating sticks clearing my mind of the evil, admiring the superbly carved statues and decoration. The atmosphere in these temples is heavy with smoke hanging constantly in the air from these fumigating sticks, very eerie. From there I walked back to the Center, through the hi-rises of the new Saigon that eclipse the old French building, most of these investments being probably mainly Asians, HK Singapore etc. but also American, USA after the openness in 94 being one the best partner with Vietnam. The Commies courted the Americans a while before Clinton gave the green light in 1994, and surprisingly like anywhere in SE Asia being American is as cool as before the war. Go figure! These guys turned the other cheek in an amazing way! And not all of them are Catholic, not that Catholics do this, except on paper. People are so nice that sometimes is embarrassing especially when you figure out that they don’t want anything just to chat and help you. (One guy just brought me a coffee when I was writing this, for no reason….). We are freaking conceited and self-centered in an fake universe that we surround ourselves with, in our “civilization” of papers and money and no soul. I passed by the new American Embassy, the old one was razed and a brand new one opened on the same location and is surrounded by the typical anti bomb blockers, the only site in Saigon I could not take pictures of. There were guards in front, who when they saw me coming with my big camera started to freak out. Quite embarrassing! From there, I went to walk and take pictures in the center that is so clean and glitzy that is embarrassing to think about Bucharest. Huge new building sport on their facades, “Gucci opens soon”, Louis Vuiton and FCUK are there and all are coming to embrace the new opportunities. I stopped in a new cafe Coffee Jean’s, a type of Starbucks with atmosphere and good coffee, to get away of the sweltering heat, and the surprise was immense. The coffee was wonderful, ten times better that Starbucks, a place that I enjoy, (OK, everybody has its weakness!) and MORE expensive! In Saigon when a dinner with beer can cost 30-40000 dongs(16000=$1) a coffee was 70000. And the place was packed with several foreigners but mainly with cool Saigonese. But again the coffee was so good, because was not made with ice and mix, but with coffee ice cream and coffee. I really enjoyed the place and shot video inside and was able to cool off the close to 100F that were outside. I strolled through the center, on the river among the nice cafes and hotels all looking like being brand new or yesterday renovated and ended up for a beer on the terrace on top of the Rex, regretting that I have to leave such a great city, and quickly to Pham Ngu Lao to get my backpack and zip to the bus that was leaving at 5pm.

I bought a ticket to Hanoi on a Open bus system with Kim’s after I looked again to some other guys who sell it but they all pool together and commission other company to do it and they just skim on this. The open bus system gives you the opportunity to stop for how many days you want in the core destinations on the way between Saigon and Hanoi. There are about 5-6 spots to stop with variances and in any case you would not have times for more or anything else is secondary to be seen. The ticket is somewhere between $20-25, again prices in US$, for the entire route and you can see with it all Vietnam. My stops are Dalat, Nha Trang, Hoi An, Hue, Hanoi. There are day and night buses and you can customize the way how you want to go and you just have to tell them one day in advance that you want to book a particular bus, for them to come and pick you up from the hotel the next morning. Is is a great system. The bus ride was very good, comfortable and got asleep being in AC after the 100F and got in Dalat at 11:30 pm and in the hotel , they book it in Kim’s for me, at 12:00. The hotel is impeccably clean and nice, typical Chinese/Vietnamese hotels, no European frills but everything is there, with TV and fridge stashed with cooling drinks and snacks, free internet access, like the one I stayed in Saigon and all for $14/night. Now I have to go to book a tour in the city, I woke this morning at 5:30am and now is 7:10am.

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Posted by on March 2, 2007 in Blog, Vietnam


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