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Day One – Ho Chi Minh City

Posted on Monday, October 7th, 2013

Dave!Not wanting to arrive the minute my tour was starting, I decided to book an extra day in advance so I could rest up before my vacation begins. Which, of course, proved impossible. Lounging around a hotel when I'm in a city I've never been to before is crazy talk. And so I set out into Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Sài Gòn (or "Saigon" as Westerners know it).

The only "must see" item on my wish-list of things to visit was the monument to Thích Quảng Đức, the monk who protested the persecution of Buddhists by first South Vietnamese President Diem by burning himself to death in 1963...

Thích Quảng Đức Memorial Park

Thích Quảng Đức Memorial Park

You probably know of him even though you may not recognize his name. The horrific event that took place almost exactly 50 years ago was immortalized in a famous photo that's known around the world...

Thích Quảng Đức Self-Immolation Photo by Malcolm Browne
Photo by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Malcolm Browne for Associated Press, colorized by MyGrapefruit

His final words...

"Before closing my eyes and moving towards the vision of the Buddha, I respectfully plead to President Ngo Dinh Diem to take a mind of compassion towards the people of the nation and implement religious equality to maintain the strength of the homeland eternally. I call the venerables, reverends, members of the sangha and the lay Buddhists to organise in solidarity to make sacrifices to protect Buddhism."

Throughout the entire ordeal, Thích Quảng Đức did not move or cry out. His remains were cremated, but his heart survived as his body turned to ask and is now a holy relic.

The monument itself is spectacular... easily one of the best I have ever seen. Behind the statue of Thích Quảng Đức is a relief carving of his final moments, and it's beautifully rendered...

Thích Quảng Đức Monument

Thích Quảng Đức Monument

Across from the park is a memorial pagoda in his honor...

Thích Quảng Đức Pagoda

Mission accomplished. Anything else I did today would be gravy.

And so I decided to visit Reunification Palace (Dinh Thống Nhất), the former offices of the president of South Vietnam. The taking of this "palace" signified the end of the Vietnam War during the Fall of Saigon...

Reunification Palace, Saigon

It's pretty much just a big building filled with dozens of beautifully-appointed rooms, all just a little different from one another, but basically the same...

Reunification Palace, Saigon

Reunification Palace, Saigon

Then I was off to take a look at Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Saïgon, a basilica established by the French after they conquered the region and wanted a place of worship for their colonists. Remarkably, all the building materials used in construction were imported from France...

Notre Dame Basilica Saigon

And... that was about as much sightseeing as I could endure today.

The thing about Vietnam is that it's hot here. When I left my hotel at 10:00am, it was a breezy 82 degrees with overcast skies. Then, as you can see, the sun came out. At which time the temperature soared to roughly 270 degrees. Eventually I had to cut short my wanderings and head back to the hotel at 2:00pm because I was melting and close to death.

The other thing about Vietnam is that it's not the least bit friendly for walking in the big cities. This is much like my trip to China where everybody is driving, and walkers just have to get out of their way. But at least Vietnam drivers slow down a little bit when people are in the crosswalks... unlike in China where all drivers are actively trying to kill pedestrians for sport, and will speed up if they see you crossing the road. Being in a country where pedestrians DON'T have the right of way is always a challenge, and going out for a pizza can get you run down in the street. Give me the good ol' USA where all I have to worry about is getting shot when I go out for pizza. USA! USA! USA!

But the cars and billions of motorcycles is only part of the problem. The bigger issue for pedestrians is that the sidewalks are almost always obstructed. People are selling, buying, cooking, eating, sleeping, and parking on them, and getting through can be tricky...

Ho Chin Minh City Sidewalk

Look closely...

Sleeping kitty looks like Spanky the Cat...

Ho Chin Minh City Sidewalk

Half the time, there's not even a path for you to get through it all, meaning you often have to venture out on the street to get anywhere, which is about as dangerous as it gets...

Saigon Sidewalk

Saigon Sidewalk
Oh? You want to get through? Well, fuck you! Fuck you, stupid pedestrian!

And these photos are relatively mild examples. I've tried to navigate through seas of scooters and motorcycles that seem to park wherever the hell they want. Oh... and when you do happen to find a sidewalk that's not obstructed? That's when you REALLY have to be careful, because that just means motorcycles will come driving down the sidewalk any minute now... guaranteed.

After wishing I had more dong yesterday, I stopped by an ATM on my way back to the hotel so I could pick some up. Don't look now, but I'm a millionaire, bitches! I've got more dong than you can handle...

ONE MILLION DONG!
Um, yeah... one million dong is about $45 in US dollars...

The last thing I saw before escaping the afternoon heat was a little girl walking down the sidewalk with a box on her head. Probably just playing around, but she could have been trying to escape the unrelenting sun. In any event, it's the cutest thing you'll see all day...

Girl in a Box

After taking my second shower of the day, I hung out in my hotel room until the sun went down and things cooled down enough that I could venture out without melting. In other words, I hid indoors until dinner-time. At which point I came back and took my third shower of the day, because it was still hot out.

And there you have it, my first full day in Vietnam.

Oh... and did I mention that I visited my 152nd Hard Rock for lunch today? Because I did...

Hard Rock Cafe Ho Chi Minh City

There's a newer section upstairs that's decorated in the awful "hipster lounge" aesthetic of the modern properties, but the beautiful original section downstairs is a bit more traditional...

Hard Rock Cafe Saigon

The bar is one of the best I've seen yet...

Hard Rock Cafe Bar

Absolutely worth a visit... even though they didn't have a veggie burger on the menu. Instead I had a pesto pasta, which was fantastic. Better than I've had in some fine Italian restaurants, believe it or not.

Xin chào! Mai mốt gặp lại! Good bye until tomorrow!

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Categories: Travel 2013Click To It: Permalink
   

Comments

  1. I think I’ll start calling you “Much Dave Dong.” Has a nice ring to it.

  2. Wade says:

    Your stories and photos are wonderful. Thank you for sharing another adventure.

  3. Sarah says:

    Wow, it seems like a beautiful city. That monument is gorgeous. And yay for visiting another Hard Rock!

  4. kilax says:

    Wow, thanks for sharing that part of history with me. It must have been amazing to see the memorial.

  5. Omaha Carl says:

    I echo Wade’s comments. A beautiful start to what looks to be a fantastic journey.

  6. Annette says:

    Wow, I’m impressed! All the way to Vietnam!! Your comment about hot and showers reminded me of the 14 months I lived in SE Asia. Oh yeah, cut my long hair, took three showers a day… there were three seasons… rainy, hot, and cool dry. The latter meant that it got down to 70 degrees and we wore sweaters. Enjoy!

  7. martymankins says:

    I never knew the complete story of that 1963 photo until now. Thank you for posting it here. But I do admit to always thinking of the first Rage Against The Machine album cover when I see that photo.

    And congrats on HRC #152.

  8. Poppy says:

    Ohhhh, that makes so much more sense. When I first saw the “war” looking monument piece on Facebook I was confused. Now I get it in context. Thanks for sharing that!

    That cat is adorable, just like Spanky!

    And that Hard Rock is gorgeous.

  9. Loved looking through all these posts (in reverse chronological order)!

  10. Frank Hajcak says:

    Great eye! Dave thanks for sharing. You helped make the trip extra special for Trish & me. Frank

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