Tuesday 26th December
One of the must-do things in Saigon is the War Remnants Museum. It's ridiculously cheap to enter, and the main courtyard comprises a selection of captured tanks, guns (as in modern artillery, not rifles), a chinook helicopter, and even a jet. Close inspection of the chinook revealed quite extensive battle damage repairs, no doubt covering up multiple bullet strikes.
On the second floor there was a display called “Requiem” - a collection of hundreds of photographs taken by war correspondents at the time - most (if not all) of whom were killed during the war. The images are stunning. A lot were awarded to photography prizes, or adorned the front of the likes of Times magazine. Some of the images were developed posthumously, from the very last role of film the photographer was using when they were killed.
Saturated with images and information, I had to leave before I could complete my tour of the Requiem room, just to give my eyes and brain a rest.
Downstairs, I was stopped by Vietnamese war veteran with two stumps for arms, one eye, and an artificial leg. Thinking he was begging (something I had admittedly not witnessed at all up until this point), I tried to hand him some casg. He didn’t just want to be given money though - he wanted to earn his living by selling me a book. In fact, he wanted to sell me three books, each of which looked fascinating, but: I only had a little cash on me; and I couldn’t physically fit three books in my luggage home. I bought one, The Tunnels of Chu Chi. It left me very low in cash for the day.
There are references to, and reminders of the war everywhere in Vietnam. In one way, that’s hardly surprising - the war itself lasted 20 years, though the American involvement in it was only (at least physically) for the last eight. But then it did end in 1975. That’s 48 years ago. The Second World War is only 30 years older, and thought it’s far from forgotten, we don’t (generally) have daily reminders of it.
Close to the museum was the "Water Puppet" theatre. Water puppetry apparently dates back hundreds of years, and this too was mentioned as one of the "must do" activities in Saigon. Unfortunately they were sold out for 26th. I did, however, realise that I would have time to squeeze in a showing for the following day, followed by a quick dash to the airport to catch my flight home, so I bought some advanced tickets.
To clear my head, I made my way to Tao Dan Park, which apparently comprises 10 hectares. Like many parks located in the centre of huge cities, this was an absolute sanctuary of peace and beauty. The trees towered overhead, and there were a host of paths that meandered and criss-crossed through the lawns. There were a few people running around the park, but given the heat and humidity, it was unsurprising that they were all going very slowly.
The very centre was basically a food court, with a jumble of stalls and small shops selling a wide selection of food. I grabbed a Bánh Mì and a beer, and then set off to buy a few souvenirs as presents for the family.
If "fixed prices" that you can haggle over was not confusing enough, I found nearby "Walking Street" to be an even bigger oxymoron. Cars might be "banned", but every moped in Saigon still seems to pass through. Also, taxis don't apparently qualify as "cars". I think the closest I came to being run over in Vietnam was in walking street, a motorcyclist even saying “Even-ning” as he missed me by centimetres.
I was heading back to my apartment fairly early in the evening when I realised that tonight would be my last full night. I'd not had "a night out", and though I didn't venture out with that specific intention, I did decided to have another beer or two before going to bed. Some of the bars along this street cater to the real party-goer, and were only just beginning to warm up. Others were more aimed at the locals (and were hence half [or even less] the price for a beer). I tried a local place or two before I stopped at a place with a live band. They were on a break, so I didn't realise it was a rock band until they started up again. Connagh would have loved to have been there. The band wasn't fantastic, but live music is always a bit more fun.
Phantom of the Opera - rock-style
There were lots of traders doing business at night, selling lighters, fridge magnets, caps, as well as eating fire and other bizarre activities. Many of these traders had children, so they had little choice but to bring their kids with them whilst they worked. One little guy was round our table pretending to be a soldier (much like Vincent's boy, Roy, in Hoi An). I asked him to pose for a photo, and I paid him a few loose Dong (he was not at all slow to grab it and hand it to his mum). I turned the phone round and showed him how he looked, and after that he sat on my lap and spent five minutes flicking through the photos I'd taken whilst in his country.
During my entire trip, this was the only time anything "possibly" dodgy had occurred. Overall, I felt incredibly safe throughout my time in Vietnam. Maybe my years in the military taught me to be a bit over-suspicious (and I had been drinking!). I just know I was far more comfortable once I'd left and arrived back safely into the apartment.