Asian Wonders #8: Good Morning Vietnam and Highlights of Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City)

I, on my floating palace, glide into Vietnam, feeling like an ingrate, almost a traitor. Why? I think it is because of all that I remember, all of the Veterans of the Vietnam war that tell their stories, all of the tears, the lingering wounds, the loss of dignity for all mankind and the regeneration now that makes me feel these perplexing and mystifying emotions.

Here is what Good Morning Vietnam looks like:

Just yesterday some of us were complaining that the food was not too flavorful on the palace, that Wi-Fi is ninety-five cents a minute, that it was too windy, too hot, too cold, that the toilet paper is so cheap that when moistened, it sticks to your fingers, etc. and here I am on the palace balcony this Vietnam morning crying. I am crying for all that I do not know, do not understand, and for what secrets I might uncover about two countries at a time in history that I remember.

One thing I learned is that the Vietnamese call the war, The American War, whereas we call it the Vietnam War.  Another thing I earned is that all sides in times of war can be terribly atrocious.

Did you know that the official name for Vietnam is: The Socialist Republic of Vietnam?

There is a legend that tells of Ling Lac Long Quan, aka “The Dragon of the Sea who married Princess Au Xo a Chinese immortal from the High Mountains.  It is said that she bore him one hundred eggs and each egg hatched a son. Each took 50 sons. The Dragon of the Sea took his fifty to the south and the Princess took hers north into the high mountains.  This legend attempts to explain the importance of the uniting of the two main geographic and cultural areas of Viet and Nam.

Creating a unified Vietnam.

Of the population as a whole in Vietnam, sixty-five percent is under thirty years of age.  They think Gucci, Mercedes, electronics, they think of career, family and making money in that order. Think about where such a young thinking population will take their country.


The city of Saigon has its true exotic, eclectic wondrous sights full of motorcycles, mopeds and bicycles of all nature motorized and foot and leg powered. People, people and more people are everywhere. I don’t know how our driver did it, but he did a great job from morning until night two days in a row. Eight million people in Saigon have five million mopeds. Don’t even think of crossing the street. Just being surrounded on all sides, front and back by two wheeled vehicles crisscrossing your space and crowding you is like a theme park ride that does not end until you have come to your destination.


In Saigon, we enjoyed the Post Office an important site, The War Museum, the Rex Hotel, The Opera House, the Notre Dame Cathedral, Chinatown and a very special Temple there, the Ben Thanh Market, the night lights all over Saigon City making it reminiscent of Times Square in New York City and towards evening, the warm moist air sensitively and delicately embraces you.

I loved our visit in Saigon and found myself gasping because I could not get enough of it. I wanted to run out of the van and run up and down the streets touching and looking at everything. I wanted to say hello to everyone. How silly, but I felt so alive. As it is, we spent two days on the go without much rest.  When I got into the elevator on the ship, I took the last spot available, gushing with love and excitement and blabbing about how wonderful the sights and sounds of this city are; everyone just groaned and then looked at me with silent vacant stares.  I did not have a fellow gusher in the group. Oops. What did I see and feel that my elevator mates did not? They saw the poverty, the people sitting in their shacks all day long doing nothing much. They saw people struggling to survive.  They saw little children with no futures.  They saw crumbling buildings covered with black mold and masses of people huddled together in such small living spaces, crowed onto one street after another.  The traffic is abominable and the honking goes on every time you pass someone. The air is atrocious because everyone on the roads, riding in the streets, and walking are wearing facemasks. There is a serious air pollution problem here and probably because there are so many cars, trucks and two and three wheeled vehicles on the road. The industrial section of Saigon is a ways out of city central. Some of the hats have built in masks attached at one end with Velcro on the opposite end. Maybe my elevator mates heard about the wide spread corruption in Saigon. If you want to open a business here, you have to know how to work a permission payment and make continued payments. Perhaps t/hey saw the trash and perhaps I saw through it. There is an abundance of trash thrown hither and yon. I wanted to start a house-to-house campaign called “Clean Up Trash Day” and the whole city would do it together. Fat chance. It seems the trash is there to stay. As long as the trash is twenty steps from the living spaces, it seems fine for the people. What would it take to clean up the trash in and around Saigon? A miracle!

To learn this city would take along while, but we got a good head start. It was a complex, intricate involvement that enveloped I guess, me, to the fullest extent and like I stated left me gasping, breathless and looking to inhale more.

We toured the Cu Chi tunnels, which are an underground system of tunnels that is extremely complex and were constructed by the Vietnamese fighters.  By day the people worked on rubber plantations and other jobs in the city of Cu Chi, but at night the work carving out the tunnels went on unnoticed.  This underground system of tunnels has three floors, and looks like an ant colony has constructed it.  The Vietnamese soldiers had living quarters, cooking quarters, meeting spaces, and special secret entrances, plus hand constructed bamboo traps and other traps so that anyone looking for the tunnels, or innocently stepping in the wrong place would be stopped before they reached any knowledge of the tunnels. This tunnel system was also known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail and reached out to the Saigon River, which gave the Viet Cong easy access.  Below you will see photos of the secret entrances that were so small that American’s may not have been able to enter. Also this complex system had ventilation holes. The Vietnamese are proud to show you their accomplishment in their fight for independence.

Bamboo Trap

We visited a lacquer factory and listened to the presentation on how these products are made.



2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Steve
    Feb 06, 2012 @ 04:10:58

    Wow what a story.


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