Yesterday we found ourselves enjoying the international and cosmopolitan nature of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) through some great restaurants and also through being in the old part of town, District 1, located near the Saigon River and in an area known for its food.
This post is about our one day history lesson, through the eyes of our Vietnam guide, as we visited the tunnels from the American War (as it is known here), complete with the sound of AK-47s being fired at the shooting range. It certainly made you visualize what it would have sounded like as we walked around a portion of the some 200km of tunnels constructed by the Viet Cong as part of their attempt to liberate South Vietnam. We crawled through the tunnels, saw the smokeless kitchen designed to dissipate smoke from cooking as though it was early morning fog, and learned more about the war from the Vietnamese perspective as compared to what we often hear in North America.
We then visited the Reunification Palace where the President lived (South Vietnam). Our guide referred to it as the White House of Vietnam. The palace was used to host foreign dignitaries, cabinet meetings and other state functions. It was built to replace the French residence that was on the same site before being bombed in 1962. In 1975 it was no longer used as the war ended and Vietnam became a single country with the capital of the unified country being Hanoi (in the north).
Although the day ended at the largest market (bargains to be had) in town, we first completed our war history with a visit to the War Remnants Museum. It was a moving exhibit of photos, commentary on the Geneva Accord, the after effects of the use of Agent Orange, the treatment of prisoners, and the general horror of war. We were only able to manage a short time in some of the displays, and although we could have spent more than an hour at the museum, the time spent was adequate to gain an appreciation of the war and the ongoing impact on this beautiful country. Certainly a day that left us reeling.
Dinner at the Racha Room was a nice ending on the day – another great meal in Vietnam. The restaurant is one of five (with a sixth opening soon) operated by a fellow who said he had lived for quite some time in New Zealand. Always interesting to learn someone’s story – even if only a brief introduction … who knows – we may even find our way to his gourmet burger restaurant for our last meal in Ho Chi Minh tomorrow night!