Our first stop was Reunification Hall, the former presidential palace. This is the palace where south vietnam fell to the communists when a north vietnamese tank crashed thru the front gates on April 30, 1975. This is exactly what they are celebrating tomorrow. There were a lot of veterans (that is, vietnamese veterans) visiting Reunification Hall and who will be a part of the ceremonies tomorrow. It wasn't until around 1991 that Vietnam started opening its doors to tourism. Kind of like Cuba. Both coincide w/ the collapse of the USSR. It was a nice place, but w/ only fans and no a/c, it was hard to think about anything but finding a fan and leaving.
Our tour guide is my age. He told us that b/w approximately 1979 and 1985 a lot of folks tried to flee the country. Some of his family settled in San Diego. At age 12 his mom paid money for a spot for him in a fishing boat heading to Thailand. He was cramped in w/ 24 other people. When he woke up, he was in prison. Apparently the fisherman didn't really know how to get to thailand and ended up back in Vietnam. He never made it to the US. Luckily, our guide was only in prison 3 weeks. His mom paid a fine and agreed to re-educate him in the communist way.
I later had a chance to speak w/ our guide as I was waiting for the group to finish up at one of our stops. He's married and his parents live with him, which is traditional in Vietnam for the parents to live with the son. However, his wife is living w/ her mom b/c she is not doing well. They see each other only 1-2 times a month for 3-4 days at a time.
We then stopped off at Notre Dame Cathedral and the General Post Office. The post office is one of the most beautiful buildings in the City. We also made a point to go by City Hall and the Opera House, but did not go in.
We also went to the War Remnants Museum, which documented many of the atrocities from the war. The pictures of families and children were hard to see. No matter which side you are on, war is devastating. What I found most interesting was a section on agent orange. There were pictures and documentation re: the effects of agent orange on both the veterans (US and Vietnam) and the communities. Apparently there was an international tribunal on agent orange and the us and in 2009 they charged the US and the companies responsible for the production of dioxin and agent orange for crimes using toxic chemicals. The companies and the US were ordered to pay billions of dollars in reparation and for remediation. Very interesting. I wonder if the US will pay it any mind since they don't always pay any mind to international tribunal.
For lunch, we went to a noodle shop called Pho 2000. There's a bunch of them around Saigon, but the one we went to is the same one that Bill and Chelsea Clinton ate at when they visited Vietnam in 2000. They had a table cloth on the table Clinton sat at along with what he and Chelsea ate. Food was good and cheap as you can see from the pictures. I had a "small" soup w/ chicken, spring rolls and soda for only $5.
After lunch we went to the Ben Than Market and then the Binh Tay Market. Both were overwhelming b/c there was so much stuff and the aisles b/w stalls were barely wide enough for one person to walk through. The first market had more variety, whereas the second market, which was in Chinatown, was more of a wholesale market. A few of us went back to the Ben Than Market after the city tour and picked up a bunch of North Face bags for $5-10! That's also where we saw a North Face knock-off gone bad as you can see from the picture. We saw that and panicked that our bags were like that, but the lettering is all the same.
Before meeting the group at the Rex Hotel, we stopped at a department store across the street from the hotel. Aside from your typical dept store goods and prices, there was a bin of knock-off Prada bags at the front and a DVD stall where you could get DVDs for about $0.75 each. Not sure if they will all work, but for that price, who cares.
Finally, we met at the Rex Hotel for drinks at the Rooftop Garden. The Rex is where all the foreign journalists hung out in Saigon during the Vietnam War. It was the focus of social and military activities of the American soldiers as well.