The airport bus snakes through the traffic. The city is a balmy 33 C – 91 F and it is humid, but after Kolkata, this is a nice break.
Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, a bustling metropolis of made of Lego concrete. Its roads are full of scooters and mopeds. Honda is the big winner here in the transformation from bicycle to motorcycle. The mind-boggling, eye-crossing thousands of scooters are zoom-zooming and the only road rule is to not hit what is in front of you. Flashing past, zig-zagging through the traffic, most bikes end up driving on the sidewalk. Chaos as order only works when everyone is as skillful as these riders.
Pham Ngu Lao is the centre for backpackers. At night, bright neon signs beacon the US dollars from the the leather wallets. A grandma walks by carrying twenty pirated best-seller books which have been cleverly tied together. She would be happy to sell to have one less to carry. Beer at two for one. Happy hour is every hour! Most are here to relax and have a good time. Most are succeeding.
“You want a cyclo?” ask the man in the beige baseball cap. One chap hands us a flyer for the Taj Mahal Restaurant. No way, but thanks any way! We were just there there, at the real Taj Mahal!
Pizzas, hamburgers and steak are the popular dishes. But I just wanted some fresh spring rolls and some pho. Local food is easy to find with local restaurants and street food almost everywhere. It's cheap and tasty and healthy and a Saigon beer straight from the Alaska (brand) refrigerator to help the food down. Ice cold beer full of flavor washing away the heat! Awesome!
* * *
One day we wandered through the town to the War Remnants Museum for a peek at not-so-distant history.
Near the museum we saw a T-shirt with the slogan, “Vietnam is a country not a war.”
At the War Remnants Museum (formerly the Museum of American War Crimes) in downtown Saigon, it's easy to forget that.
It was a humbling place full of war pictures, statistics and weaponry. A memorial, I believe, is to act as a warning beacon to any and all who shall pass it by. The message should always be simple and clear-- “War is bad. Everyone suffers and many people die.” There is good and bad, but mostly it is just stories of pain from those who are touched by war.
Unfortunately, this got a little lost at this museum. A war memorial should not have for sale pirated copies of Dan Brown books and Lonely Planet:Thai Beaches guides, glossy picture postcards of the war, and placards of the cartoon character Tin Tin next to fake fallen soldier GI dog tags. Ironically, all the prices at the gift shop were listed not in the local currency, the dong, but in U.S Dollars.
We decided to skip the city's other war remnants, even the famous Chi Chi tunnels. We'd rather look at Vietnam today, and with that in mind we headed south, to the Mekong Delta's Can Tho.
* * *
Click here to see our photos of Ho Chi Minh City!