Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) – The Sights

15 Mar

XO XO

Having learnt from my time in Ha Noi, when I found the city difficult to penetrate, I decide to sign up for two half day tours in HCMC with XO tours (http://xotours.vn/).  XO Tours are a small company, whose tours usually include a lead tour guide, with detailed and in-depth knowledge, an assistant who rides alongside and the female bikers, who also have good local knowledge.  I sign up for “The Sights” tour in the morning, and “The Foodie” tour in the evening.

The Sights

I arrange to meet my driver at the Opera House.

The Opera House

The Opera House

After meeting her, I jump on the back of the bike with my heart in my mouth and set off for Notre Dame Cathedral and the Central Post Office.

My driver

My driver

Notre Dame is a catholic church built by the French in Saigon.  It has Sunday mass in English and Vietnamese.  Unusually for a church, its doors are not all open.  Our guide explains that as several generations of a family may live in a single house, young couples are always looking for a place to meet.  The side doors to the church are kept shut to avoid any untoward incidents.

Notre Dame

Notre Dame

Inside the Cathedral

Inside the Cathedral

The Old Post Office can be found opposite the Cathedral. The building was constructed in the early 20th Century and was designed by the French architect, Gustave Eiffel.

The Old Post Office

The Old Post Office

Inside the Post Office

Inside the Post Office

Reunification palace

The Reunification Palace was also known as the Independence Palace and was the home and workplace of the President of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. It was the site of the end of the Vietnam War during the Fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975, when a North Vietnamese Army tank crashed through its gates.

Reunification Palace

Reunification Palace

Reunification Palace

Reunification Palace

In 1954, after the French surrendered to the Việt Minh they withdrew their troops from Vietnam. According to the Geneva accords, to which France was a signatory, Vietnam would be divided for two years, until 1956. The 17th Parallel would act as the temporary border until a vote based on universal suffrage was held to establish a unified Vietnamese government. North Vietnam was under the control of the Việt Minh communists, while South Vietnam was under the anti-communist State of Vietnam.   Instead, in September of that year, the Palace was handed over to the prime minister of the State of Vietnam, Ngô Đình Diệm, by the French.

In 1955, Diệm declared himself president of the newly proclaimed Republic of Vietnam (after a fraudulent referendum) and renamed the building the Independence Palace.

Diem was widely hated and in February 1962, two pilots of Diệm’s Vietnam Air Force, rebelled and bombed the palace, instead of going on a raid against the Việt Cộng.  Diệm and his family escaped the assassination attempt. As it was almost impossible to restore the palace, he ordered it demolished and commissioned a new building in its place.

Diệm and his ruling family moved to what is now the Ho Chi Minh City Museum. However, he did not see the building completed as he and his brother (and chief adviser) were assassinated after a coup d’état led by General Dương Văn Minh in November 1963. Legend has it that they had negotiated their peaceful release but his brother was incapable of acting in a civil manner and began abusing Van Minh’s troops as he was being released.  One of the generals lost it and assassinated them both.

In April 1975, a tank of the North Vietnamese Army bulldozed through the main gate, ending the Vietnam War.  In November 1975, after the negotiation convention between the communist North Vietnam and their colleagues in South Vietnam was completed, the Provisional Revolutionary Government renamed the palace Reunification Hall.

Pittman Apartments

The famous picture, shown in the link below, was thought to have been of the final evacuation of the US Embassy at the fall of Saigon.  In fact, it was the last chopper leaving the “secret” CIA headquarters, the Pittman building.

http://mcgarnagle.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/saigon-helicopter-large.jpg

Clearly the long line of people waiting would not get on this helicopter.  They waited for hours but none returned.  They had worked for the Americans in Saigon and would be classed as traitors for doing so.  No-one really knows what happened to those people afterward.  If they managed to survive, they would not be admitting the work that they had done.

This is a picture of the Pittman Apartments today.  The building is very likely to be demolished to make way for a shiny new building of the new Saigon, like that shown across the road.

The roof at the Pittman Apartments

The roof at the Pittman Apartments

The link below is an article written by the Dutch photographer Hubert van Es about that day and the subsequent events.

http://www.mishalov.com/Vietnam_finalescape.html

Jade Emperor Pagoda

This is a Taoist Pagoda, built by the Chinese in .  It is also known as the Tortoise Pagoda.  People buy tortoises at the entrance to the pagoda and release them into the tortoise ponds, to signify the release of life.  Unfortunately baby tortoises are often eaten by any larger adult tortoises that may remain in the pond.

The Turtle Pagoda

The Turtle Pagoda

Tan Dinh Market

We went to the Tan Dinh Market in Saigon.  They were selling food items (frogs, clams, herbs, fish pork, dried shrimp), dry goods as well as clothes and souvenirs.  We stopped at a stall to have some yoghurt, which was delicious and slightly sweet and crème caramel, served the Vietnamese way with black coffee.

Creme Caramel with coffee

Creme Caramel with coffee and ice

Thich Quan Duc

At our last stop, we visit the statue of a monk, Thich Quang Duc, who burned himself to death at a busy Saigon road intersection on 11 June 1963.  The 6.3m bronze statue features Thich Quang Duc sitting in a flame and was built in 2007.  Quang Duc was protesting against the persecution of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government led by Ngo Dinh Diem. Photos of his self-immolation were circulated across the world and brought attention to the policies of the Diệm government. After his death, his body was re-cremated, but his heart remained intact.

Thich Quan Duc

Thich Quan Duc

Coffee!

Having survived my first day driving through Vietnamese traffic, I celebrated with a fabulous Vietnamese coffee at Trung Nguyen coffee shop near the corner of Le Loi and Pasteur.

Vietnamese style iced coffee

Vietnamese style iced coffee

One Response to “Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) – The Sights”

  1. Maureen Cashman March 18, 2013 at 7:55 pm #

    But…how WAS the coffee???? yes/no/yes??? These are also of the MOST important bits my child…. 🙂

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