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Vietnam – Ho Chi Minh City – 23rd/24th January

Upon arriving in HCMC we checked into our hostel, realsied that the tour operator was closed on a Sunday so would have to get up early the next day to book the tour we wanted to do in a few days and then headed out for food around the capital of Vietnam. We headed for Zen (a vegetarian restaurant listed in the LP). It was a good price and the food was very tasty, the red rice particularity. After a brief walk around the city we headed back to bed ready for an early start and hopefully the tour operator will be open tomorrow!

We had breakfast included with our accommodation at the Luan Vu Hotel in the form of eggs, bread, jam and coffee or tea, it did the trick to set us up for some sightseeing in the city. First thing we went over to Sinhbalo tours to book our cycling trip in the Mekong for the last few days of our stay in Vietnam and then we were free to explore. First on our list was The Independence Palace, also named The Reunification Palace, it’s an impressive building that has won architectural awards as well as playing part to historic moments in the Vietnamese War. The building itself has been left as it was when the Americans evacuated and the Viet Cong claimed Saigon and renamed it Ho Chi Minh City. The rooms are set up to be as they were when they were used in the 1970′s so you find an old snooker table, retro furniture, an American replica helicopter sits on the roof and we were able to imagine what it was like in full use back in the day. Some of the rooms were used for entertaining, others for meetings and conferences, the basement though is a great place to explore. We came across the rooms which were used by the South for communications during the war, old telephones, maps, secretarial like rooms and secret meeting rooms for the President of South Vietnam. We could have spent the whole day there photographing as the light was just beautiful inside. We were turfed out though at around midday as most attractions close during the lunch hour.

Following on from here we wandered the streets several times attempting to find The War Remnants museum, it was actually really close to the Independence Palace but the maps confused us and we were quite happy to explore the city anyway. We arrived there during the lunch break so we went to grab some pho (noodles)  at a great little spot around the corner from the War museum. The vegetarian option wasn’t so good but the beef pho was very good indeed.

We went back to the museum for opening at 1.30pm and ended up spending most of the afternoon in there. In the grounds of the museum are tanks, planes and helicopters which were captured during the war. Towards the rear of the museum is an exhibition on the prisons and torture that took place during the war time, which in our opinion was as you would expect particularly one sided as we are sure that both sides committed human atrocities and torture. But as the North Communists won then you can understand the biased opinions. The main thing that attracted us to the museum was the photo exhibition that was mentioned in the Lonely Planet called The Requiem Collection based on a series of images taken by over 100 photographers that died during the war along with a little background info. One telling and very harrowing part of the museum is ‘The Agent Orange Collection’; a vivid portrayal of the lives of many children and parents who have been affected by the use of chemical warfare, many are still suffering from the long term effects of its use by the Americans.

So after spending the bulk of the day there we made our way back to the hotel via other parts of the city and found ourselves picking up a fruit shake at Zen where we ate the night before. It’s a really good vegetarian restaurant down a back street – they’re recommended in the LP.

Later on we packed ready for our cycling tour and then we went out for some Thai food that wasn’t that good to be honest. We keep looking out for decent Thai food but really we should just wait until we get there!

(Leica M9, Summicron-M 50mm f2.0 & Olympus PEN, 17mm f2.8 & 100mm f2.8, processed in Lightroom 3)

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