Thanks for following the blogs this far. We are back to our 4 Nation ASEAN Road Trip covering Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. In last 3 posts, I wrote of Thailand and Laos. Here are links of my 3 Blogs if you missed them …
In this one i wish to write of drive through Vietnam. A nation that is making a fast pace progress in ASEAN region and the tourists are flowing in millions. An erstwhile French colony and intended to be bombed to extinction by US during war years of 60s & 70s. The resurgence of this resolute nation is rather impressive.
On Day 4, our caravan of 26 Toyota Reva cars, rolled into central Vietnam to a hill station called Dalat. This used to be a french retreat or hill station and the signature french influence is to be seen all over – cafes and buildings, roads and streets. The highlight is a beautiful man-made lake in centre of town and an exclusive Golf Course (which once could be played only by Royalty). These two occupy most of the centre space.
On Day 5, caravan moved south along the new coastal highway. We briefly stopped for a lunch and an off roading experience on a coastal sand dune. This was organised by the Ho Chi Minh off roading club. Good fun …
We then arrived at a beach side town of Mui Ne. As we moved in we could feel the vibes of bars, music and dance kind of a town by the seaside. Pretty laid back, tailor-made for a family or a romantic holiday, a definite Russian influence and full of sea side activity to add spice to your vacation. I would come back here for more …
Day 6 morning we were back on the newly constructed East Coast Highway – and by noon we rolled into the erstwhile capital of South Vietnam – Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) or famous ‘Saigon, the emerald of East’ in good old days. We were welcomed by a battery of Superbikers who piloted the Caravan to the city centre – our hotel was the famous Rex Hotel. From here you see very little of skyline, blocked by the skyscrapers.
We had most of the day at hand and quickly moved out for a city tour.
The first stop was the War Remnants Museum – earlier known as ‘Museum of War Crimes by Americans’ – diplomacy got the tone down. This one will bring tears to many eyes – my throat was choked. The ground floor is full of posters that supported the Vietnamese independence movement against the American Forces and the floors above narrate a gory tale of American arrogance in the hey days of the cold war. Imagine this …
I guess after dropping the Hiroshima bomb in Japan and wiping out a full city, they had many more military secret weapons of destruction to be tried out – and that they did in Vietnam. The Napalm bombing, Agent Orange, Carpet bombing, defoliant agents, guillotine, tiger cages, My Lai Massacre are some of the focus areas of exhibits.
The un-exploded ordinances and mines and the effects of Dioxin continue to cause deaths and deformities to the affected population.
Our next stop was the Saigon Central Post Office building, constructed when Vietnam was part of French Indo China in 1886-1891. As you enter you see two painted maps – one showing South Vietnam & Cambodia and another areas around Saigon. Architecturally it has gothic, french and renaissance influences. A bit touristy but worth a look around.
Then we had a brief look at the Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica – right next door. Though we did not go inside but i read that there used to be a Pagoda here which was replaced by a wooden church which got eaten by termites and then this one came up in 1880. Nice looking building – built of red bricks made in Marseilles.
The next in line was the Saigon Municipal Theatre or Opera House. This building, built in 1900, has usual flamboyance of the french architecture. It went through tumultuous times, playing many roles other than just being a opera house, which it did but for little time. After Saigon fell and the Americans left, in 1975, the building was restored to its original function as a theatre. In 1998, on the occasion of 300th anniversary of Saigon, the municipal government had the theatre façade restored. Pretty nice looking thing it is …
On Day 7, as our caravan rolled out of Vietnam to enter Cambodia, yet another erstwhile colony of the French – a lot of Vietnam history was moving in my mind – the French imperialism, the Vietnam War, images from War Remnant Museum, the struggle of Vietcongs in 100s of kms long tunnels and the Apocalypse now!
There are not much of those scars visible on the conscious of newer generations any more. They are as happy go lucky as the Gen-Y, anywhere else in the World is. Everyone has moved on, and Vietnam is really moving at a fast pace. Time is the biggest healer i guess …
I really loved the Vietnam drive and it is one place i wish to comeback and explore more. Well, will see you all again here – on the final leg of our drive – the world heritage sites of Cambodia, the Angkor Vat and more.
Until then, signing off .. Cheers!
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