Saigon: April 2016
Downtown Saigon is surprisingly compact for such a big city. A few blocks' walk from the hotel, quick glance at the rather modest Notre Dame Cathedral across from the French-colonial building holding the Saigon Central Post Office, and an even quicker walk across Cong vien 30-4 (a public park) to the front entrance of the Reunification Palace.
Detoured a slightly longer distance to the War Remnants Museum instead, which was a surprisingly comprehensive look at the ugliness of the Vietnam War, including the effects of Agent Orange. As expected, the very pro-Communist view pervades throughly, but much of the fundamental messages on the cost of war still made it through.
A decent amount of captured military hardware is on display, from cluster submunitions to aircraft and tanks, plus a bit of a French prison replica outside, complete with guillotine.
The Reunification Palace (Independence Palace) is a tribute to 1960s architecture, from the bunker in the basement to the dining rooms, cinema, and presidents' bedroom throughout. Lots of yellows and reds with very square high-backed chairs, which explains a lot of our grandparents' taste in decoration!
Lunch at Nha hang Ngon, housed in another old French villa (and yes, lots of yellow paint!). Very good pho and pork meatballs (nem nuong), although it was sweaty as heck as the whole building is open air. Definitely worth a visit for anyone in Saigon. Coffee somewhere in there at one of the many Highlands Coffee locations. Thought Vietnamese coffee was strong at Vietnamese coffee shops in Westminster or Garden Grove? Here it's at least twice as strong! And a stop at Vinacom Center B mall, seemed relatively representative-- and tiny compared to the massive contraptions in the rest of Asia-- clearly a sign that Vietnam hasn't caught up with many of their neighbors in terms of consumption.