Saigon and Hanoi
Tue 1 Sep 2015 - Fri 4 Sep 2015
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.." - Not really true, I stole all of that from Dickens, but I kinda had to with my title. If you would like to read more from him though please click on his name for assistance. Now on to what I have to say
Our first two days in Vietnam were spent in its two most iconic cities, Saigon (or Ho Chi Minh City) and Hanoi; South and North. The two cities bring many images to mind, thoughts of most Vietnam War movies, democracy versus communism and all that. This was a highly urban and almost political environment to start our vacation before proceeding to the more rural and picturesque locations we saw afterwards.
Both cities and surrounding regions had their own strong views on government and believed their city to be the better (in a positive way really, think Toronto vs Montreal). The south is not pro communism, they have no problem airing their thoughts on the poor state of the government and corruption that exists. I found the North to be much more circumspect and cautious in their talk of the government, but not necessarily different. One thing both regions had in common though was their fierce devotion to Ho Chi Minh. I never heard one poor thing said of the man from anyone within the country, only about those who followed him as leaders of Vietnam.
Of all my posts so far, this one will be the most political, but it is a tough issue to avoid when visiting these two cities. Ho Chi Minh grew up in a time when Vietnam was called Indochina and it was a colony of France. As a young man, Ho Chi Minh ended up travelling to France and became an ardent communist. He returned home and eventually lead resistance fighters during World War II. After the war he strived for an independent and unified Vietnam. This was not to be, as the French returned in 1946 to reclaim the land as a colony. It took until 1954, but the Vietnamese eventually drove the French out. The country was supposed to be temporarily separated, with Communists moving North, and Democrats moving south. Following some coups in the South, the separation became permanent. Wide spread corruption allowed Ho Chi Minh to gather lots of support in the South. The Unites States, fuelled by a fear of spreading communism, began to support the south with aid, material and personnel. This slowly escalated into what we know today as the Vietnam War. It ended in 1975 with the reunification of Vietnam under Communist rule. Ho Chi Minh died before he could see his dream come true, passing away in 1971, but his ideals (or maybe a skewed version of them) have continued to present.
Most of the sites I saw in both cities revolved strongly around the war and its aftermath, from the War Remnants Museum in Saigon to Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum and Presidential Palace to the North. The War Remnants Museum is strongly one sided in condemning American and French atrocities committed during the wars, but even with a grain of salt, it cannot be denied that horrible things did occur (Agent Orange would be a great example). Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum is a perfect example of what communism meant during his life and afterwards. Ho Chi Minh was a strong proponent of an equal distribution, and did not believe in displays of wealth (his last house is a small two room building on stilts behind the Presidential Palace) believing the government should spend the money on improving society and the people in it. The mausoleum was built two years after his death, and is a massive structure made of granite and marble, costing a war torn country (built in 1973 at a time when the US had bombed out almost all of the country’s infrastructure and utilities) precious money that could have been better spent elsewhere. It is the difference between what Ho Chi Minh the man believed, and what is still done, in his name today, that seems to have many people I met there at odds.
Anyway, that’s enough of the politics, it was a tough time in the Country’s history and in many ways is still present. That being said, both cities were great places to visit, we didn’t have near enough time in either. There was no time to see the nightlife in Saigon, though I hear it is fun, but we did get a few evenings in Hanoi, and really enjoyed it! Such a lively and friendly atmosphere, I cannot remember the last vacation where everyone was always so happy and kind to us. The people (oh and the food, can’t forget the food!!) truly made the whole trip an amazing experience and has placed Vietnam at the top of my list for repeat destinations.
Unlike a lot of other posts I won’t bother with a play by play of our days spent in these two cities, but below are some photos with a word or three on where they were taken.
The Reunification Palace was the former residence of the President of South Vietnam. It was here that the President lived and ran the country. The rooftop has a Huey replica and two red circles indicating the entry points of bombs dropped by a South Vietnamese pilot dissatisfied with his leaders.
I mentioned the War Remnants Museum above in some detail. It initially had a name along the lines of the American War Crimes Museum. While the name of the museum has been toned down, the display's have not been substantially changed.
In front of the Notre-Dame Basilica built from 1863-1880.
Within a short walking distance, it is easy to see the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, the Presidential Palace, Ho Chi Minh's stilt house and the One Pillar Pagoda. Below is a shot of the Presidential Palace, followed by three of Ho Chi Minh's house.
The Temple of Literature is the oldest University in Vietnam, founded in 1010. If a student could graduate from the highest level their name was carved onto a stone tablet (they look like large tombstones sitting on top of a turtle). This was considered quite the achievement and very few could succeed.
I decided to add a bit more information on the Hanoi nightlife. It was a cool place. Our first full day there ended outdoors in the Old Quarter. Our guide took us on a tour, sampling many of the famous street food dishes to be had, before we settled in at an outdoor bar. There we sat on little stools on the roads edge and watched the hustle and bustle of the city. This was a really cool evening, and allowed us to really see the local culture as it hurried past us. It also provided me and Corey with a starting point for our few other evenings in town as it was a 10 minute walk from our hotel.
One of our evenings we met an American named Raymund at one of these little road side intersection bars. He was a nice fella who is spending a full year traveling Asia. I have been following him on Facebook and Instagram, seeing his amazing photos of his travels. He also has a blog detailing his trips, clicking on his name should bring you there if you care to read more (I would suggest it if you are thinking of a backpacking adventure through the area, as odds are he’s been there).
And here ends my Tale of Two Cities