Vietnam – Day 1 – Ho Chi Minh City

After some much-needed sleep I woke up at around 5:00am. The hotel I was staying at provided a complimentary set breakfast, which started at 7:00am. I hung out in the hotel room until it was time for breakfast. For breakfast I had some Pho. After breakfast I started my adventure around the city.

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The first stop was Ben Thanh Market, a massive market that’s been around since the early 17th century. The market was destroyed by fire in 1870 and was rebuilt to become Saigon’s largest market. The market was moved in 1912 and renamed to it’s current name, and the building was renovated in 1985.

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The second stop was the Ho Chi Minh City Museum, also known as Gia Long Palace. This building has a very rich history dating back to 1885.Construction of Gia Long Palace was constructed between 1885 and 1890. Gia Long Palace was designed by the French architect Alfred Foulhoux. The palace spans two floors and was building using classical Baroque architecture with a blend of European and Oriental influences. The building was essentially symmetrical with a winding staircase in the middle of the building. Interestingly the building was built with three deep underground tunnels which lead from the palace to other parts of the city so that government officials could escape in the event of a coup. The building was intended to house the Museum of Commercial Trade, which showcased products and goods of Southern Vietnam, but it was not used as intended and was instead used as the residence of the Governor of Cochinchina. In 1945, control of the palace changed hands many times. It started on March 9th when French governor Ernest Hoeffel was arrested, and the Japanese took over the palace and used it for the residence of Japanese Governor Yoshio Minoda. On August 14th the Japanese handed over the palace to its puppet Empire of Vietnam government to be used as a residence. A mere 11 days later on August 25th the Viet Minh seized the property. The building then became the headquarters of the Provisional Administrative Committee of Southern Vietnam, which was later renamed the “People’s Committee of Southern Vietnam”. On September 10th the British occupied the palace and made it the Allied Mission headquarters, thus evicting the “People’s Committee”. About a month later on October 5th the building was then again occupied by the French; first as a temporary headquarters of the High Commission for the French Republic in Indochina, then as the official headquarters of the Commissioner of the French Republic in Southern Vietnam.

On June 2nd 1948 the French handed control of the building to the Provisional Government of the State of Vietnam, which established its headquarters there. It was later on used as the Palace of the Premier. On January 9th 1950 a massive protest with over 6000 students and teachers demanding the release of students arrested for advocating Vietnamese independence occurred in front of the building. Over 150 people were arrested, 30 injured, and 1 killed. From 1954 to 1966 the palace was used as a residence for numerous government officials, and was renamed to Gia Long Palace by Bao Dai. The Supreme Court of the Republic of Vietnam utilized the palace from October 31st 1966 to April 30th 1975, when the Fall of Saigon occurred, ending the Vietnam War. On August 12th 1978 the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee ordered that the building be used as the Ho Chi Minh City Revolutionary Museum, a propaganda museum, later being renamed on December 13th 1999 to its current name of Ho Chi Minh City Museum.

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The third stop was the People’s Committee Building, also known as Ho Chi Minh City Hall. The building was built between 1902 and 1908 in a French colonial style. It was renamed in 1975 to Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee. While I was there a group a graduating school children were getting their group photo taken.

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The fourth stop was the City Opera House. I just took a photo of the outside, as the inside was being used for graduating children. The building was opened in 1900 and shaped very similar to the Opera Garnier in Paris, with 800 seats to entertain the French. The Opera House was damaged during World War 2, and because of the criticism of the fascade and high costs of organizing performances the government tried to turn the theatre into a concert hall. Decorations, engravings, and statues were removed, and the building wasn’t restored until 1955. After the Fall of Saigon in 1975, the building was restored again to its original function as a theatre, and the façade wasn’t restored until 1998, on the 300th anniversary of the founding of Saigon.

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I then stopped by the Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre to purchase a ticket for the 5:00pm showing; more on that later. The cost of the ticket was 200000 dong ($11.40 CDN).

After purchasing my ticket, I went to the War Remnants Museum. On my way to the museum I met a couple that was also from Canada and we chatted on the way to the museum. The girl had just had her phone stolen out of her hands while she was sitting for dinner the previous evening, so she warned me to be a bit vigilant. The War Remnants museum was built in 1975 and contains exhibits related to the Vietnam War and the first Indochina War involving the French. Just a word of warning that some of the following images may be disturbing to some viewers.

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I was starting to get hungry so I searched out some food on Google Maps. I settled for Saigon Sakura Japanese Restaurant. On my way to the restaurant I snapped a few quick photographs of Independence Palace. Independence Palace, also known as Reunification Place, was built between 1962 and 1966. It was built on the site of the former Norodom Palace. It was the site of the end of the Vietnam War during the Fall of Saigon on April 30th 1975, when a North Vietnamese army tank crashed through the gates.

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For lunch I had some sushi rolls, but not too many as they were phenomenally expensive; even more expensive than at home. After enjoying the delicious lunch, I walked to the Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon and the Saigon Central Post Office. Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon was built between 1863 and 1880 by the French in a Romanesque style. The Saigon Central Post Office was built between 1886 and 1891 in Gothic, Renaissance and French style. Inside the Saigon Central Post office there are two painted maps that were created just after the post office was built. One is a map of Southern Vietnam and Cambodia titled “Lignes telegraphiques du Sud Vietnam et Cambodge 1892”, which roughly translates to “Telegraphic lines of Southern Vietnam and Cambodia 1892”. The second map of greater Saigon is titled “Saigon et ses environs 1892”, which roughly translates to “Saigon and its surroundings 1892”.

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It was getting quite hot out at this point in time and I was still a bit jet lagged, so I walked back to the hotel to rest for a few hours. On the way back to the hotel I stopped at a Circle K convenience store to get a few beers to enjoy in the hotel room later on. By the time I got back to the hotel it was about 2:30pm. I relaxed until roughly 4:30pm and then walked to the Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre. The show was extremely well done and in Vietnamese, but I didn’t need to understand Vietnamese to understand what was going on.

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After the show I walked to Nha Hang Dong Pho, and had a Hue style clear both with pork knuckle. It was honestly not very good, despite the good reviews online. I was getting tired so I walked back to the hotel. On the way back it started raining, but not too hard.

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Check back tomorrow when I explore more of Ho Chi Minh City, and explore the Cu Chi Tunnels, before jet setting off to Hoi An / Da Nang.

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August 31st 2016 – New Zealand Day 11

Today I woke up at 7:00am, and prepared an egg skillet for breakfast. I then went and explored Wellington.

First was the infamous Wellington sign, a quirky take on Hollywood.
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I then drove up Mount Victoria and had a beautiful view of the entire city, and watched planes take off from the airport for an hour or so. Wellington International Airport is pretty unique because it has over 5 million passengers a year, but is only services by a single short runway less than 7000 feet long. This combined with its very primitive terminal for its passenger volume limits its ability to really complete internationally. Overseas destinations are limited to the east coast of Australia and the South Pacific. Interestingly Singapore Airlines now flies to Wellington from Singapore with a Boeing 777-200 via Canberra because it can’t fly there directly due to the high takeoff weight associated with loading on that much fuel; therefore must load on a shorter amount of fuel to make the hop over to Canberra.
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After visiting Mount Victoria I walked around the central business district and visited the old government building, the second largest wooden structure in the world, behind Todai-ji in Japan. It was built to house New Zealand’s civil service, and now houses the law school of Victoria University of Wellington. The beautiful is bold and beautiful, as well as well-maintained. The building became the first building in the world to have a smoke-free policy over concerns about the threat of fire, due to the fact the building is entirely constructed of wood.
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Close-by the next stop was the beehive government building.
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After that I was walking towards the Wellington Cable Car when I smelled and saw delicious cookies being baked at Mrs Higgins Cookies, so I stopped and had a white macadamia nut cookie. I should have bought two!
The ride up on the Wellington Cable Car was great, and the price was right, only $7.50 return. I entered the free museum at the top and learned a lot about the cable cars history. The original cable car system opened in 1902 and ran until 1978 when it was replaced by the current system. The old system was built to imperial standards and had double track the entire way up. The new system was built to metric standards, was fully automated, and only has double track in the middle. There were and still are five stations equally space so that when the cable cars are stopped at one station, there will be a cable car at another station. It’s aim was to increase safety and passenger throughput. The original tram had over a million passengers per year in 1912, with its peak nearly two million passengers in one year, but I forget the year. The cable car averages about a million passengers per year now. I was actually lucky I was able to ride on the cable cars because the cable cars had been out of service for nearly three months until August 18th 2016 for upgrades.
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After taking the cable car back down to the central business district I decided to search out some food for lunch. I didn’t have anything in mind so I just walked along until a restaurant’s smell caught my attention; Fishermans Plate Seafood. It was an odd combination of meal choices, fish and chips, and Vietnamese. I had some sate beef soup, and it was the best I’ve ever had in my life. It’s a good thing because it was rated one of the best ten restaurants in Wellington this year.
After enjoying my delicious lunch I walked around for a few more hours enjoying the beautiful architecture, and making sure to visit the infamous Cuba street, before heading back to my camper.
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The next stop was Trucks and Trailers Ltd., located in Lower Hull, a subdivision of Wellington. I picked up two replacement parts for my camper for $26 to repair the damage from my accident a few days before. This way I don’t have to go through insurance.
I then browsed through my GPS for spots to visit around Waikanae, where I wanted to be for the night, because tomorrow I’m going to visit a car museum there I found a scenic outlook, up one of the most terrifying roads I’ve been on in my life. A sheer drop to your death on one side, and a steep vertical cliff on the other to scrap up the camper really good if you’re not careful. I annoyed a few people by driving slow and steady, but I made it. The scenic point was called Paekakariki Hill Lookout.
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After viewing at the lookout I input into the GPS Waikanae Beach to stay for the night. When I arrived I sat on the beach and enjoyed a sandwich while watching the sun set.
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When I went back to my camper a German couple with two children parked next to me. We ended up talking for about an hour and a half. During the middle of us talking a young cat came up to my camper and jumped inside. It ended up hanging out with my for most of the evening and then left on its own terms towards midnight.
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If you like the content that I produce and want to donate money towards my travel, or buy me a cup of coffee please feel free to contribute towards it. I really appreciate it.