Getting There - Aneel's Travelogue

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Saigon, Day 2 Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, Friday, 16 March 2007 9:07pm

Today we tried the walking tour from the Lonely Planet, but decided to drop a bunch of the sites because they focused on the American War, which neither of us is particularly interested in.

It turned out that we'd accidentally seen quite a few of the sites yesterday when we were shopping for Jessica's Ao Dai. We started by walking through the Ben Thanh market, which is right across the street from our hotel, then proceeding across a ridiculous roundabout with lots of buses to see the statue of Tran Nguyen Hai in the center of it. His horse is rather frightening. Then it was across the other side of that roundabout (right in front of the main bus station) to get over to the Museum of Fine Art.

A lot of the Museum was uninteresting. The contemporary section had lots of transparently political art, most of which didn't succeed at being aesthetically interesting. There was one standout piece, a painting in yellow and blue of some soldiers crossing a river. The composition was excellent, and the figures were really well done. The older art was more to my taste. I liked a bunch of the bronze censers with mythical beasts. The best piece in the museum was an early 20th century ceramic unicorn. Apparently, unicorns here are screaming dogs with giant ears and eyebrows, moustaches with flowers braided in, tree branches for tails, and little stubby horns. I was sorely tempted to sneak my camera in (they'd made me leave it in a locker near the entrance) to take a picture of it. I bought a book with a similar piece, but it doesn't have the great expression of the one on display.

We passed through an open air market with giant stalls full of liquor as well as the usual vegetables and clothes. I stopped for another soda, but was given a plastic cup instead of a bag. Slightly disappointing.

We stopped for pastries near the Municipal Theatre, and then decided to head back to the area with our hotel for a lunch break. I stopped by one of the many eyeglass shops on the same street as the hotel and ordered a pair of sunglasses with my new prescription.

Lunch was in a restaurant called Nam Giao, set back from the street at the end of a little enclosed alley. Good food, and a nice break from the constant traffic.

After lunch, we headed over to the Reunification Palace, which was the President's residence during the last few years of the American War. It's... amazingly 60s. It reminds me of an airport (perhaps because "the airport" in my mind is JFK).

Next was the Cathedral, which was unexpectedly brick. There's no stained glass (it was destroyed in WW2), so the rose windows look like they're cut stone.

We decided to pass on the history museum, so we wound up the walk at the Pagoda of the Jade Emperor. I wasn't expecting the temple to be quite so packed with statues. Apparently the Jade Emperor needs a lot of protectors.

By this point, we were tired and thirsty, so we ducked in to Vietnam's first Czech-style brewery/beergarden, Hoaviên Bräuhaus. It was a pretty strange experience. To add to the cognitive dissonance, there was a big TV near us, showing a Pool Trick Shot competition at a casino in Connecticut.

We cabbed back to the hotel, and stopped to pick up my new sunglasses. They seem pretty good, though they're dark enough that wearing them around at night is a little hazardous. I'll have to give them a more thorough test tomorrow.