“American War” Museums in Ho Chi Minh City

Reunification Palace ~ Victims of My Lai Massacre ~ North Vietnam's Side of the Story

A United States citizen in Ho Chi Minh City cannot escape the Vietnam War, or the “American War” as it is known locally.  Saigon was the capital of the Republic of South Vietnam, the city where hordes of US special agents and advisors and GI’s invariably journeyed through during the war years.

Painful ghosts from past abound and confronting these fraught-filled years is unavoidable in Saigon.  There are two Vietnam War must-see’s in the city itself: the Presidential Palace (now known as Reunification or Independence Palace) and the War Remnants Museum, a propagandist and somber North Vietnamese account of the war.

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Dispatch from Paul: Mr Toad’s Wild Ride… Vietnamese style.

Pit stop along the harrowing road to Dalat

If you are seeking that adrenaline rush which traditionally is only available at a theme park there is now another alternative. No need to hand over thousands of dollars to Mr Disney for an amusement park getaway… now you can just take an 18 hour flight over to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and then take a bus ride up into the mountains. It would probably be cheaper in the long run given that one could easily subsist on $50 a day in Vietnam and that modest sum would be almost impossible to spend in one day there whereas in the theme park one would hardly be able to even purchase lunch.

Our particular bus ride was an eight hour journey from Ho Chi Minh City up into the Central Highlands to a town called Da Lat, a charming alpine town catering mostly to Vietnamese tourists looking to escape the heat of the city. The driver seemed at first glance a nice enough fellow although he did run over someone’s motorbike whilst pulling into the boarding area… red flag missed!

Funnily my mother being a bit nervous about my travels to Vietnam continually warned me about the undetonated land mines still scattered about the countryside here. What she didn’t warn me about however was the much bigger threat for tourists: the bus rides in Vietnam. That would have been much more useful information to me. Just to share a statistic with you it seems that approximately thirty people die from vehicular accidents in Vietnam everyday. After boarding the bus I did a rough count of the passengers as I walked down the aisle looking for my seat. I came up with about thirty or so of us. Just wonderful I thought. So after our bus careens off the side of a cliff we will fill the quota on accident fatalities for today.

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Ho Chi Minh City (née Saigon) – Metropolis of Market Socialism

Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) is a metropolis on the move

Crossing into Vietnam airspace from the South China Sea with the infamous Mekong Delta below us, our flight from Hong Kong landed easily in sizzling Saigon. After waiting an hour for our visas to be issued, we breezed through customs and immigration and soon were afoot in Vietnam.  Still it was hard to believe:  Vietnam… VIETNAM!

This country, looming so large on my childhood and all of America in the 1960’s and 70’s, this city Saigon (renamed Ho Chi Minh City after the Viet Cong’s successful capture of the South Vietnamese capital).  Unreal.  Yet here I was, extracting Dong bills from the ATM, purchasing an iced tea, freely walking outside of the airport.

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Sunlight and Shadows on a Vietnam Beach

My first dip in the South China Sea in Nha Trang, Vietnam

So, we’ve been in Vietnam for just over a week and what an incredible journey this has been so far.  But before I start posting the typical here’s what I did in this-or-that city, I’ll begin with a simple picture of Vietnam from yesterday evening:

Booming waves crash against the golden sand as I run barefoot and slowly along Nha Trang beach on the South China Sea.  I am getting some exercise to try and put my cough and congestion to bed after a long cold that has dogged me almost since I arrived in Asia.  What begins as a simple mission to stretch my lungs soon turns into a contemplative encounter with the lovely Vietnamese people on a 20-minute stretch of sand…

I pass a young father with his daughter at the end of a wooden pier, holding hands.  She is wearing her primary school uniform and smiling towards the sea, her communist red bandana and silken black hair blowing in the strong ocean breeze.

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A Hong Kong Visual Feast

City of Contrasts: A striking city of calm and chaos, emerald mountains and soaring towers of steel, families picnicking on soft green grasses just steps away from packed tramways and bustling walkways, neighborhood markets with tiny family shops just around the corner from luxurious shopping galleries with haute couture fashion.  In our two days in Hong Kong we saw the many beautiful faces of Hong Kong.

Fine and Fun Moments: We found surprises and delights every step along our way through Hong Kong.

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iPad Fever Hits Hong Kong

iPad 3 Debuts in Hong Kong

Our first morning in Hong Kong was greeted with unusual excitement as Apple unveiled its new iPad 3.  After crossing to Hong Kong Island on the Star Ferry, we happened upon an Apple store teeming with frenzied employees and consumers craving the hot new product.

We fought the crowds to enter the store and finally got our hands on the new iPad.  Frankly it is a nice device featuring a slim design, wicked performance and an exceptional display.  2-3 times per minute or less the blue-shirted employees would cheer as a new purchaser would run upstairs to receive the coveted iPad.  There was more energy in the store than at most sporting events.

We were amazed by the near hysteria, the consumer deluge bolstered by the many mainland Chinese who came to Hong Kong specifically to get the new iPad and waited in long queues before the store’s doors opened.  Ironic really, considering the iPad is manufactured in China but is not yet available there for purchase.  And it costs twice as much in Hong Kong as it does in the US.

Impressive debut, once again.  Kudos to Apple for inspiring such zeal among consumers, an amazing feat and rare indeed for a company today.  The wondrous wizardry of Steve Jobs lives on…

Hong Kong Gateway – Our Arrival in Asia

Crossing to Hong Kong Island from Kowloon

Seventeen hours on an airplane. Ugh.  Fortunately our non-stop trip from New York went very smoothly and it was easier logistically to reach Asia with no connections, but we were ever so glad to arrive in Hong Kong.  Following the advice of Mark and Amy who greatly enjoyed their stopover in Hong Kong, we decided it would be an excellent opportunity to begin to recover from jet lag while exploring this city with such a fascinating past and future.

Paul atop Victory Peak above Hong Kong Island

We stayed in Tsim Sha Tsui on the mainland, just at the tip of Kowloon peninsula.  It is an interesting neighborhood, full of high-end fashion and jewelery shops, sparkling shopping malls and luxury hotels.  Our accommodation was less luxurious but perfectly fine, we stayed in one of the many guest houses sprinkled throughout the highrise “mansions” along Nathan Road.  Here the rooms are basic but comfortable and clean, with lightning-fast wi-fi and tiny “all-in-one” bathrooms that provide a sink, toilet and shower in a single square meter.

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