This weekend, I hopped on a 25 minute plane ride to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon), Vietnam. The American-Vietnam War defines many of the traditional tourist places here. It was interesting to see historical events from a different perspective.
I started off at the Reunification Palace (also known as Independence Palace), made popular by this photo, showing a North Vietnamese tank crashing through its gates during the fall of Saigon:
More, including the War Remnants Museum, Cu Chi Tunnels, a puppet show, and the Saigon Opera House, after the link.
Next it was off to the War Remnants Museum, which used to be called the “Exhibition House for US and Puppet Crimes” and later the “Exhibition House for Crimes of War and Aggression.” Following the restoration of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Vietnam, the name was changed to the War Remnants Museum.
After all that seriousness, I needed a break, so I headed to a water puppet show. This was a lot of fun. The show is in a small theater. The stage is actually a large pool of water. Puppeteers control the puppets using wooden sticks under the water. The stories were pretty funny, often involving the relationship between humans and animal life, with the latter (fish and birds, in particular) getting the upper hand.
Next I headed back to my hotel, a new Starwood property, Le Meridien. It was beautiful and modern, plus I got SPG points!
The next day, I took a speed boat to the Cu Chi tunnels, which were a vast network of underground tunnels used by the Viet Cong. As with the War Remnants Museum, the story was told decidedly from a certain perspective. Indeed, the visit started with a mandatory, 15-minute propaganda film (in English) from 1965.
One of the most disturbing aspects of the site was that there was a shooting range where tourists could fire machine guns and rifles from the time of the Vietnam-American War. Throughout the morning in Cu Chi, our tour guide was frequently interrupted by the sound of machine gunfire from the range. Still, I indulged my curiosity and fired off 10 rounds of an M16, which was enough. My ears are still ringing even with the ear muffs.
Fully “warred out,” I opted to experience Saigon’s art scene, taking in a performance at the Saigon Opera House, which was built in 1897. They offered a tour ahead of time, and my seating area included a free drink! I saw a show called “Mist,” a dance performance about life in rural South Vietnam. We were given large chopsticks with which to make noise when directed. The performance was very well done, and the venue was terrific.
Back to Phnom Penh tomorrow for a full week of teaching.