So the past week we spent most of our time in the beautiful city of Saigon. The city itself was huge, a bustling metropolis with thousands and thousands of motorbikes and loads of things to do. We traveled around the city trying to fit as much in as we could during our short stay. Every day we rushed from site to site, checking out the Vietnamese past, present and future. There were temples, malls, and huge markets filled with all kinds of oddities. Despite everything we did, I still feel that we lacked to see a good portion of what is really Saigon. But aw well, we saw enough for me to write this post! The following top six list is my favorite six things we did in Saigon as we tore it up the Andrus family way. The list is, as usual, in no particular order.
1. Diamond Shopping Center – This place is huge. It’s basically a vast department store with a monstrous entertainment center and food court. This place has everything a family could need. There are clothing and make up departments on the first three floors but we didn’t care to check any of them out. Instead we spent most of our time on the fourth floor playing games. The center has a wide variety of games, ranging from a Korean DDR rip off to bowling to pool. We spent countless hours throwing balls, playing drums, shooting cue balls, and scarfing some good old fashioned KFC. There was also a food court downstairs, but the entire thing was overpriced foreign food, so most of us skipped out on it. Another attraction, and the main reason we came to Diamond, was the English language movie theatre, but the only movies currently playing were Monster in Law and World Trade Center, neither of which we wanted to see. Overall this is a good place to go and have fun.
2. The Markets- The markets in Saigon are vast and full of assorted clothes and oddities. From knock off Diesel T-shirts to pig sphincter, you’ll find it here. Our family bought a couple shirts and the like and had some fun talking to all the shopkeepers. We weren’t really going to buy anything in one market until we heard a strange voice saying, “Come on, buddy! Buy some postcards!” We couldn’t tell who had said this until a small, old Vietnamese man called out again. We talked to him for quite some time about his experiences. We found out he had fought with American and Australian G.I.s in the war and had learned his excellent 1970′s-era English from them. He explained that he couldn’t get a better job than selling postcards or driving a motorbike since the current government looks down on people with his previous occupation. We bought some postcards from him and left the market to shouts of “You take care, buddy.” Markets are always a good place to see what the locals really buy and a good chance to meet some new people.
3. Eating – Saigon has a fairly good supply of restaurants. Most serve you decent food and are quite cheap if you eat alone. Our family constantly runs into the problem of having to order a lot, and when we do order, it’s either way too much, or not enough. Aside from that the food here was pretty good. We sampled some Vietnamese food, which was not my favorite (for a country that prides itself on their cuisine they really need to get their act together). The main appeal was the foreign food. All the foreign food that we had was better than the Vietnamese food. There are a wide array of backpacker oriented restaurants that serve Western food that is very delicious, 333 cafe being far and alone the best of them all. The Vietnamese, as McKane, Kieran and Asher will tell you, have gotten the art of making pizza and pasta down. Now if they could just work on their beef steak. But if you want a fast Vietnamese favorite, you should try Pho 24. This restaurant is the best fast food Pho (noodle) shop we went to, and aside from the time when mom got tripe in her beef soup, our family always had a good time. There is always the old reliable KFC. We ate many a meal here and found out it wasn’t that bad. We devoured countless cones of ice cream and ate pounds of chicken.
4. The parks – The huge parks that dominates many different portions of Saigon are a good place to relax after a walk. You will undoubtedly meet some Vietnamese and get to know a few. If you have kids, there are lots of grassy patches for them to play on. The Vietnamese children are generally running around playing soccer and will gladly kick the ball with your kids. Asher and Kieran were too shy so they huddled close to our parents and shrunk back when the ball came their way. The park is also a fun place at night. Here is where all the Vietnamese couples come on dates. They park a motorbike, sit on it, and talk or cuddle. At night you can play a hacky sack like game with your friends. The Vietnamese, being the ever friendly people they are, will invite you to play or come and join you, and they will destroy you. Our family had a good time at the parks. Even though we didn’t stay long, we got a feel of how important the parks are for the countless Vietnamese who are stuck in the city all day.
5. Mekong Delta Tour – Even if the tour company cheated our family out of a few dollars, it was still a good experience. It showed us what the Vietnamese countryside was like (poor and underdeveloped, but trying to change). We toured rice paper/noodle factories, checked out some pigs, rode on ridiculously long boats and busses, and learned a few card tricks from our guide, John Wayne. This tour was fun, but if you do take it, DON’T EAT WITH THE GROUP! I don’t think that last statement needs any further description. The Vietnamese loved that we were a family and gave Kieran and Asher free things regularly, but when you give a six year old boy a dying fish, it creates quite the trauma.
6. Heavily Propagandized Museums – We checked out a few of these bad boys. We started in the Reunification Palace. Here we viewed what the South Vietnamese president lived like during the war. We watched some propaganda films that told us that we were evil colonialists trying to deprive the world of freedom, and saw some wartime ‘artifacts’. Ha, more like fake replicas. The real ones were hidden in the back of the museum somewhere by the communist leaders ages ago. They even try to tell you that the two tanks outside are the North Vietnamese tanks that broke through the gate and stormed the palace. Odd then that the tanks are quite new and that the crew had time to stop and get a photo shoot before they nonchalantly stormed the palace of their greatest enemy, or so the photos would tell us. Moving on we went to the War Remnants Museum. This was also a propaganda palace with pictures of Americans dragging dead bodies around and shooting little children. Odd there are no traces of Vietnamese crimes… hmmmm, maybe they should look into that… There was also very nice exhibit hosting the photos of journalists who were killed during the war. This section was lacking in the usual propaganda and we were surprised. We soon found out that this was an exhibit created and funded by the State of Kentucky, and then it all made sense. The museum also hosts old American tanks, planes and artillery pieces from the war, which we thought might also be replicas. These may not sound like the best museums to visit but they are worthwhile. They give you a look into what it was like during the war, even if the view is distorted.
Well there’s my list. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay in Saigon and if you are thinking about coming to Vietnam, this would be the first place I would tell you to go.