Return To SaigonSunday, December 11, 2016
There was a certain feeling when my wife and I returned to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam a few months ago. This was the city where, in a year before, we stepped our foot for the very first time in this country.
Nothing had changed. The traffic was still busy and dominated by motorcycles, the weather was still hot, and the spirit of the French still existed through its beautiful parks, old buildings, and of course, the Baguette!
On this second trip to Vietnam, we stopped by in Saigon and stayed two nights before returning to Jakarta. We had planned to see places that we hadn’t seen in our first trip in previous year.
First, we came to Ben Thanh Market. We had captured the building from outside but never saw what was inside. It was a great place for tourists. Anything you wanted to bring home could be found there; souvenirs, many sorts of coffee, local fruits, and culinary.
It wouldn’t hurt to roam inside the market and make a survey to find shop with the best price. Yes, the price is very competitive.
In the evening, we went to downtown for taking night photos. And yeah, it’s the same place we had been to in previous year. It’s a vast open space like a plaza right across the old city hall of Saigon. The only difference we found then there was a musical colorful water fountain attraction.
The plaza was surrounded with modern upscale shopping centre and hotels. Not far from there, there was an ongoing construction project for subway train, with funds from Japan. It was obvious to me that this city became more modern, and Vietnam, became more open for capitals coming from well developed countries.
In February, where the winter came to the north hemisphere, Vietnam became a country with two different climates. In the north, like Hanoi and Hue, it’s winter and it’s rainy almost everyday. While in the south, like Saigon, Da Nang, and Hoi An, it remained hot!
But I took advantage of the climate in the south. The sky was always blue and bright in the morning. It’s a good time for taking pictures of interesting places like the Notre Dame Basilica, and the Central Post Office which was unbelievably open so early, even before eight in the morning.
It was Friday, and we had no idea where else to go. The only place in Saigon we hadn’t come to was the Unification Palace. All this time we had always thought that the place was not open for tourists. So I came up with an idea of finding a mosque to experience the Friday Prayer in Vietnam.
We had searched in google the night before, which mosque we could go. So we headed by cab to Jamiul Islamiyah Mosque. It was said that there was a small Muslim community we could find around the mosque.
Instead of finding Muslim families, we only found one Muslim house right behind the mosque. They told us that the prayer would start at twelve.
The sermon was conveyed in Vietnamese. Many of those coming for the prayers were from Malay ethnic group. There was also a small balcony at the back for women.
Soon as we met the receptionist, we asked her whether the Unification Palace was open for tourists. She said yes, and it was going to be closed within less than two hours. We were excited and frantic at the same time.
So we rushed to the palace. Since our hotel was located at District One, it was easy to reach all tourist spots in Saigon, by foot. We were glad that the palace was still open, and we had enough time to explore the place.
So basically, what they tried to tell us was that the palace was the residence of the presidents of the former capitalist South Vietnam which was backed up by US. At the end of the war, in 1975, the palace was taken over, by force, by the communist North Vietnamese Army.
We could learn about the last days of South Vietnam. It was a bit scary to figure how tense the situation back then in 1975 was when we walked through the long underground tunnel and found many rooms which was used by the president and the south government in case of emergency.
In the front yard of the palace, I captured a tank to picture what happened on April 30, 1975, when the North Vietnamese Army invaded the palace. It was the last day of South Vietnam and was later known as The Fall of Saigon.
In the following morning, we left Saigon for Jakarta. And without no doubt, I could say that today, Saigon has raised again!