Friday, 4 January 2013

Vietnam - making it to the BIG smoke, HCMC, Saigon

First impressions: Ho Chi Minh City is noisy and busy. More cards, more bikes, more people, more highrise buildings, more billboards, more takeaway (KFC, BK, Subway), more international food...I am in a cosmopolitan city!

Women in hotpants and sleeveless tops, a world away from the conservative dress of the East and North. Building are being torn down. Shopping brands dominate billboards, and exclusive labels drap the malls.

Significatnly less street vendors line the streets and women balancing bowls are few and far between. this is a different Vietnam.

I realise at this moment the magic of grubby Hanoi. I yearn to relive that experience, draw the aromas of the streets, fear at the road cooked food.

I was relaxed, very much in holiday mode - taking in the streets, the people in my stride.

I was stopped by Kim, a Vietnamese kindergarten teacher, she pulled me aside for coffee to discuss her niece moving to London. I would never do this, but I went with the flow.

Visited Reunification Palace - ugly, irreverent to architectural design. The interiors were bland and faceless, the furniture unfortunate - it was a playboys mansion. It was the sign that Vietnam had won the war.

At this point I come near to the end of reading Michael Palin's New Europe, I look around and his resonate.... "We are the fun generation, Not interested in history"

It makes me think as I look around at HCMC having witnessed the traditions of the North, is this the way the rest of the country will go. Abandoning all? Will the past be lost?

The closest you can get to the past in HCMC is the War Museum. It seems as the war ruined all other historical features, so this is a good place to start. 15,000 VND for entry, you start at the top and work your way down through the halls (unfortunately I did it backwards). It's a difficult experience, and one to dwell on. Start in the dull history section; cry over the horrific physical disability imposed on people by Agent Orange; observe the destruction, hope that the children of the future will make the difference.

I left there shocked at a one-sided story of the war - but certainly a war supported by most of the world. Countryside was devastated, people's life's were ruined, livelihoods destroyed.