Monday, January 14, 2013

Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam

Vietnam Historical Overview

Vietnam has quite a turbulent history. Humans have inhabited northern Vietnam about 500,000 years ago, but it took until about 7000 BC for the practice of basic agriculture to take hold, and during the Dong Son era during the third century, huge advances were made in rice production and the Red River Delta emerged 
In the second century BC, the Chinese captured this area and held it in dominance for a 1,000 years. It wasn't until 938 AD that the Chinese were kicked out. In 1010, the City of the Roaring Dragon (aka Hanoi) was founded by the emperor Ly Thai To and becMe the country's new capital.

In the 1500's, Portuguese traders landed at Danang, and sparked the start of the European interest in Vietnam.  In the mid 1800's, the French took a keen military and strategic interest in the country and essentially embarked on 70 years of colonial control, until 1945. However, during this time, there were many small uprisings by anti-colonial enthusiasts, with the rise of Communism on the horizon, fueled in large part by a man named Ho Chi Minh. When France fell to Nazi Germany during WW2, the Japanese took control of the country for a time. Uncle Ho, as the people of Vietnam affectionately refer to him, led North Vietnam from 1954 until his death in 1969. He never lived to see the North's victory over the South.

That's a quick and dirty history of Vietnam. Lots of details left out. 


Our port of call today was Saigon.  The city is about 90 kilometers from the port where we docked so once again we were in for a 2 hour ride, one way. The itinerary included a visit to an old (circa 1909) pagoda called the Jade Emperor Pagoda, a visit to the War Museum, Independence Palace ( also referred to as the Reunification Palace), Red Cathedral, Post Office, lunch at a noodle restaurant, and a little shopping at an outdoor market. 

There are about 90 million people in the whole of Vietnam, and 9 million of them are in Saigon. 70% are farmers, either rice or rubber farmers, and these two products are the country's largest exports. For people who do not go to college, they either work in factories or farm. Their average monthly salary is about $200 per month. Almost none of them will ever be able to buy a house or apartment. For those that do go to college, they can expect much better jobs, and they make 2 to 3 times the monthly income of those that don't go to college, on average. 

The Jade Emperor Pagoda reflects the Buddhism and Taoist beliefs in four spiritual animals - the dragon, which represents power, the unicorn which represents wisdom, the Phoenix, for peace, and the turtle, for long life. inside the pagoda, the Jade Emperor presides over the main sanctuary. There is also a famous room off the sanctuary which contains the Hall of the Ten Hells, depicting what happens after you die if you have done bad things. They illustrate the ten torments awaiting evil people. Note to self - don't be bad or evil. 

Saigon is 70% Buddhist, 20% Catholic, and 10% the ubiquitous "other".  You know, it's those famous and oft-referred to "they" that are probably the "other" group, don't you think? I think. Oopsie, I digress.  

Our next stop was the War Museum. Virtually the entire museum was filled with photos and commentary about the Vietnam war with the United States, from the North Vietnamese point of view. While I don't wish to tread down that slippery slope of political opinion, let me just say that I found it extraordinarily interesting to view a very graphic photograph and read the caption beneath explaining what was taking place in that photo. The way I looked at it, there could actually be several different interpretations of the same photo, yet every caption underneath every photo in that museum was 100% anti-American.  I left there feeling pretty disturbed. 

The first Communist tanks that rolled through Saigon on April 30, 1975 arrived at the Reunification Palace, a government building built originally as the Norodom Palace for the French governor general in 1868. When the French left it became home to the wildly unpopular South Vietnamese president NGo Dinh Diem.  His own air force bombed the place in 1962, and although a new building was built, he did not get to see it completed, as he was assassinated by his own troops in 1963.  The place was renamed Independence Palace and is a fantastic example of 1960's architecture.  I felt like I should be catching a glimpse of Don Draper from Mad Men around every corner.  The place is totally groovy, man!  I took a bunch of photos, which I shall post up to my public Facebook album for your viewing pleasure.

The Red Cathedral, also known as the Notre Dame Cathedral, was built under the French influence in 1877. Out front is a statue of Mary holding an orb. Across the street is the Central Post Office, a beautiful building designed by Gustave Eiffel (ring any bells?) and built in the late 1800's. There are a number of historic maps of South Vietnam painted on the walls as well as a beautiful mosaic of Ho Chi Minh, inside. The building had a great aura about it and I really liked it. 

Winding up our tour of Saigon, we stopped in at a local noodle house across the street from the large street market and had a great lunch of seafood noodle soup, vegetable spring rolls and beer. Lip-smacking delish!

A little wandering through the market being hounded by hundreds of vendors to come into their stalls to buy their wares, and I joined my group for the two hour ride back to the Dam ship.  I just love sailing on Holland America because we can always say "dam".  Hot Dam!
Tee hee hee. 

Tomorrow we visit Nga Tran.

No comments:

Post a Comment