Citizen of the World
Our guide and driver picked us up early this morning at our hotel and managed to cram two or three days worth of tourism into about nine hours. We began by driving through the hustle and bustle of Saigon and out into the countryside where we spent the morning visiting the famous Viet Cong tunnels at Cu Chi (pronounced "koochie"). While there we viewed one of the propaganda films that Uncle Ho had his troops watch back in the day, watched rice paper being made, and saw lots of weapons and displays from the war. The area that we were in had been defoliated by the Americans with agent orange, but everything had been replanted after the war and it is now back in its natural state.
Our lunch was close to Cu Chi at a riverside restaurant called the Ben Nay. I had a large bowl of chicken noodle soup that looked wickedly healthy but tasted wonderful. We ate on the veranda overlooking the river where we watched large lumps of water lotus floating by. It was truly beautiful!
We were back in Saigon by early afternoon. Our first stop in the city was the enormous Chinese Market. If anyplace could be crazier that the motor scooter infested streets of Saigon, it has to be the Chinese Market. People where stumbling all over each other, throwing things, driving down the alleys and aisles on scooters loaded down with merchandise, playing, handling the food with dirty hands, and smoking. Loc said that one of his teachers once told him, "Where there's smoke, there's Chinese!" So true!
Next we visited the Thien Hau Buddhist Temple which was build in 1760. It was quite impressive - and packed with worshipers and tourists.
Much of the rest of the afternoon was spent at Independence Palace, the former home of the Presidents of South Vietnam. A nice young couple from New York City joined our little group so they could listen to Loc's excellent presentations on the history of the palace, the presidency, and his country. Murphy made the visit to the palace memorable when he leaned out of a window on the top (fourth) story to take a picture and his glasses fell off of his nose. They landed on a sealed-off ledge ten feet below. Loc, ever the hero, managed to get permission to go into the restricted area and retrieve them.
Our final two stops were at the Saigon main post office - a building designed by Mr. Eiffel of the Tower fame - and Notre Dame Cathedral. A bride and groom were posing for pictures outside of the cathedral, and a mass was being said inside. Two beautiful white doves were sitting on the head of the large statue of the Virgin Mary in front of the cathedral - and pooping! Loc said that the Protestants and Catholics both wanted to build a church on that site, and they finally resolved the issue by shooting craps. The Catholics won the right to build their church on the spot - proving that God works in mysterious ways, or maybe that they are just better with dice than Protestants!
The post office was decorated with a large ornate Christmas tree and a large ornate painting of Ho Chi Minh - communism with a commercial and religious bent!!
Some other things that I learned today: There are no McDonald's in Saigon. There were a few at one time, but they pulled out because the street food was so plentiful and good that it hurt the burger business. Horn-blowing is constant, but it does not mean that the drivers are angry - only that they are coming through - and they do! Wood from Vietnam's numerous rubber trees is used to make furniture. And AH1 (Asian Highway 1 which we were on part of the morning is 21,000 kilometers long and runs from Korea to Turkey!
Tomorrow we are up early catching a flight to Da Nang!