Our last stop in Viet Nam* was the old Saigon: Ho Chi Minh City, renamed after the war. It was again a hot and humid day. Fortunately, the air conditioning in the bus worked well but the afternoon was bad because of the long stops for shopping built into the schedule.
After a drive of about 1.5 hours we were in the city center area and our first stop was a photo stop for several things. First was the French-built Notre Dame Cathedral. It was built in the style of the one in Paris but not with the complexity. The church is being repaired so we only got to see the outside.
The next part of the photo stop was across the street: the Colonial Post Office — also built when the French were in power. Before entering, however we got a look at the Pittman Building not far away. Our guide did not call it that; he called it the CIA headquarters as that’s what it was at the time of the war. If you recall the period photos, recall the photo of the last helicopter leaving from the top of the building. The top looks the same now but the building is now almost completely surrounded by high-rise buildings as you can see from the photo.
After visiting the post office, we got back on the bus for a photo stop at the old President’s Residence and then a longer stop at the National History Museum. Before going through the museum we were treated to a Vietnamese Water Puppet show. It involved a number of floating puppets interactive in a Punch and Judy manner on water. I have a video of most of the show and one of the characters is shown in the photo here.
After spending some time at the museum, we then went to visit the Minh Phuong Lacquer Factory where the method of making lacquer objects was described (a great deal of hand work is involved for the best products) and then we had an opportunity to buy.
After the factory visit it was time for lunch so we headed for a local 5-star hotel and a buffet of local foods. A performance of local musical and dance talent was put on for all the people converging on the hotel from the many tours in town.
After lunch we went to the Saigon Market for an hour of shopping. The market is a very large single-story building jam packed with people selling just about anything you might desire from food to gadgets. I walked around for a bit, got lost, found my way, and got tired of being asked over and over again to buy something and so made my way to an exit and the pickup point and found a slightly shaded spot with a small breeze now and again and just sweated and waited. That was one of the longest hours of my life so far.
Another photo stop followed for the Opera House and City Hall and then a 1.5 hour shopping stop by the city hall where a large number of high-end shops are located. A number of us rebelled and were given the opportunity to just rest at a local bar which we did. It turned out the bar was in the Rex Hotel and was the fifth floor garden bar where, during the war, the press briefing called the Friday Night Follies was always given. Loved the historical link and despite the fact that the bar was open air it was shaded with fans blowing and better than being down on the street in the full sun. Other people came in during our time at the bar indicating that other groups had rebelled against the heat and humidity as well.
That was the last stop in the city so we headed back toward the port. That 1.5 hour drive was quieter than the one coming into the city. We got back about 5pm a half hour before the mandatory return time for the ship to sail on time.
I managed to get the photos off the camera and have a small bite to eat but that was about all before going to bed for the night.
It’s Monday as I write this and we are in the first of two sea days heading for Manila next. We are playing tag with a typhoon which is supposed to go through the area tomorrow, the day before we get there. The seas are the roughest of the trip so far but not bad on the ship compared with some we had on the world cruise earlier this year.
For a number of reasons I’ve canceled the excursions for Manila and Guam so the next organized excursions will be in Hawaii. I plan to use the shuttle to town and just walk around at the next two ports.
*I asked and confirmed that they spell the country as two words instead of one as we often do in the US so I’m using their spelling.