March 15, 2012 – Saigon, Vietnam
Our port of call today is Phu My, Vietnam. Phu My is the port location to visit Saigon, which is about 60 miles up the Saigon River.
While the official name was been changed to Ho Chi Minh City following the war, no one that we heard called it anything but Saigon. I don’t know if this due to long term habit or is some sort of statement from those in the south of Vietnam.
This is our second stop in Vietnam and is quite a contrast from scenic Nha Trang. We docked at a container port and following clearance by the Army again, we boarded buses for a two hour ride into Saigon. There were some guided tours available but we opted for the bus transfer which took us to the center of the city and left us on our own for about 4 hours of sightseeing and shopping.
As the bus headed into the center city we passed mile after mile of small shops selling either food, motorbikes, or motorbike repair – I have never seen so many motorbikes as we have seen in Asia. The number of small shops once again made me wonder about private ownership in a communist country.
We were dropped at the Rex Hotel, in downtown Saigon, which is very new 5 star hotel which is also our designated pick up spot. The guide, who was on the bus, was kind enough to tell us how to handle the tour vendors and taxi solicitors and to advise us of the one taxi company which had accurate meters and did not overcharge – Vinasun Taxi if you are ever here, is the one to use. We headed to the market (naturally) which was about a ten minute walk, but it was so hot inside we just stayed for a short while.
After leaving the market we caught a cab to the War Museum, which is the former U.S. Information Agency Building. The museum was closing for lunch, so we were only able to see a few things and get a few pictures. What we did see made me a little uncomfortable – a wall full of anti-war quotes from U.S. politicians & entertainers, photos of draft card burning, support posters from Cuba & the USSR, and other “pro North Vietnamese” information was understandable from their perspective, but not something I enjoyed seeing.
After the museum we caught a taxi to Notre Dame Cathedral and to the Saigon Post Office next door, built in 1886 by the French.
From the post office we grabbed a taxi and gave him the address of the former U.S. Embassy. He took us there – but there was nothing there but small shops and no sign of anything which could have been the Embassy. I would be interested to learn if we were in the wrong spot, or if they tore it down and put up the shops.
Failing in that venture, we had the driver take us back to the Rex Hotel where we arrived in time to have a nice lunch and board the bus for the trip back to Phu My.
I commented earlier on the number of motorbikes and it is hard to describe how many there are and to describe the driving habits – it would drive an American crazy to deal with them, but we saw not one single accident. I don’t know how they do it. Also, in Vietnam, unlike Indonesia or Hong Kong, most of the bike riders wear face masks. When we asked the driver about it, he said it was to protect their “complexion” but I suspect it is more for smog and road fumes.
On the return trip I took a few shots (of less than great quality) of the new factories and the new, and as yet unused, container ship facility. These people are gearing up to compete in the manufacturing and distribution industries “big time”. The pictures do not adequately show the size and magnitude of their preparations. Look out China, here they come!