The Heat is on in Saigon

I first encountered Saigon when I was in eighth grade. I went to see the musical Miss Saigon and fell in love with the story. As we made our way down the coast of Vietnam towards Saigon, I couldn’t help but burst out into songs from the musical. (The title of this post is based on one of the songs from the musical… my feet are tapping as I write this post!) Though I loved the idea of Saigon, I wasn’t really that interested in the city itself. Word on the backpacker street was that Saigon was like any other major city – okay, but nothing really special. I went into the city with low (or no) expectations.

We ended up spending more time in Saigon (now officially called Ho Chi Min City or HCMC) than we had anticipated, but that was mostly because I ended up getting sick!

Ho Chi Min’s bust and a Vietnam flag found
in the Reunification Palace.

Once the sickness had subsided, we decided to head out and explore the two main tourist sites in HCMC. We started off at the Reunification Palace. This palace was built in 1966 and served as the presidential palace. The building is probably most famous for the role that it played in the Vietnam War. On April 30, 1975 a North Vietnamese tank drove through the gates of the palace and the war was declared over.

In the basement of the palace are the war
rooms. They reminded me a lot of Winston
Churchill’s war rooms
in London.

“Don’t touch the object!” Oops…
I just couldn’t help myself…

The tanks moving into the yard of the
Reunification Palace on April 30, 1975.

In addition to the Reunification Palace we also visited the War Remnants Museum. This museum aims to collect and display artifacts from the Vietnam War. It was certainly an interesting museum with a very pro-Vietnam stance. While there was lots of propaganda to surf through (not more than what you might find in an American equivalent though), the museum also provided lots of moments for contemplation about what had happened to Vietnam during the war. The Agent Orange that was used destroyed many lives and continues to affect the population today. The information that was displayed about the use of this pesticide during the war was heart-breaking.

In addition to spending time at the more touristy places (we checked out a local market and just wandered around the city), we discovered a lovely little café in downtown Saigon. Sozo serves delicious baked goods, something that can be hard to come by in Asia. We were delighted to stumble upon this little oasis in the big city. Sozo was set up with the aim of providing people with low (or no) income with the skills necessary for them to find work. Sozo’s vision statement is “Restoring hope, Changing lives”.

During our second visit to Sozo we ended up participating in an English exchange program. Every Tuesday night (I believe….) foreigners and Vietnamese people come together to build community, with the aim of providing a place for Vietnamese people to come and practice their English with native speakers. We ended up chatting with a bunch of locals for the evening. I think that this was definitely one of the highlights of our time in Saigon. It was nice to just spend time talking to people, and to learn more about Vietnam.

Our new friends. What a great night!

Though we never had the opportunity to completely devote ourselves to volunteering during our travels, it was nice to be a part of such a neat vision. I’d certainly recommend others to stop by the café if you’re in the area.


~ by dawseng on November 21, 2009.

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