22nd.February, Ho Chi Minh City – Saigon
Home to over 8 million inhabitants and 75 miles (120 km) long, Ho Chi Minh City is Vietnam’s largest city and still widely known by its former name Saigon. Situated in southern Vietnam it is famous for the pivotal role it played in the Vietnam War. It’s also known for its French colonial landmarks, including Notre-Dame Cathedral, made entirely of materials imported from France, the 19th-century Central Post Office and the Opera House. Food stalls line the city’s streets, especially around bustling Ben Thanh Market.
Our new guide in Saigon was somewhat younger (born 1976) than the others we had had and lived in Germany, Bremerhaven, from the age of 13 for 10 years. His very loud and clear Northern German sounded strange coming from him. He led our tour of the city taking in all the things listed in our programme:
- The Independence Palace is a prominent government centre which during the Vietnam war was the home and workplace of the President of South Vietnam. It is a historical building of that era, with government offices, reception rooms and artifacts preserved as they were.
- The Ho Chi Minh City Hall is a French colonial–style building from in the early 1900s, now the headquarters of the People’s Committee. It is situated at the head of a long pedestrian boulevard leading down to the Saigon river.
- The Jade Emperor Pagoda is a Taoist pagoda which was built by the Chinese community in 1909. It is also known as the Tortoise Pagoda. It was very colourful, bustling with worshippers and featuring a number of statues and stone carvings. Some of these are quite remarkable for western tastes.
- The Thien Hau Temple also in Chinese-style was built in 1760 and honours a sea goddess. It too features colourful, ornate Chinese architecture, but at least for me the burning of much incense created a more peaceful sacred atmosphere.
- The War Remnants Museum is a memorial museum exhibiting photographs, weapons and other military equipment from the Vietnam & Indochina wars. I could have done without this visit. It consisted mostly of photos which I did not want to look at, but it was crowded with people one or two of which may have been American veterans. However one of the other two in our group was very interested in it. He and his friend have known one another since their military service in the DDR many years ago.