I recently spent two weeks in Vietnam and it was an eye-opening experience to say the least. I started in Hanoi and gradually made my way south to Ho Chi Minh City. I only had a couple of days to spend in HCMC, but I truly enjoyed getting to know the city and her people.
I considered a group vacation, but ended up going for a tailor-made holiday to Vietnam. I’m very glad I did. I have no doubt I would have missed out on some of these amazing experiences had I been stuck to a set itinerary.
War Remnants Museum
I was slightly apprehensive about my first stop in Ho Chi Minh City. I’d heard a lot from other tourists about the War Remnants Museum. They usually split into two (rather opinionated) camps. They either hated that it was rather blatantly anti-American or they found value in in the information, even if it was biased. Seeing as the museum formerly operated under the name “the Exhibition House for US and Puppet Crimes”, I can see how it might raise some peoples’ ire.
I ended up falling firmly in the second group.
I have a bit of a thing for military machinery, so I was totally excited about the helicopter, tank and bombers displayed outside of the museum. I seemed to be in fairly good company with a few other tourists, so I didn’t end up scaring anyone away with my enthusiasm.
Inside was a different story entirely. The atmosphere was decidedly somber, and with good reason. There was a large exhibit of graphic, hard-hitting photography covering the effects of Agent Orange, the use of napalm, and the absolute barbarity of the My Lai massacre.
It was unequivocally one-sided, but in truth, what war museum isn’t? As an American, I am well aware that much of the history taught in our schools is white-washed to make the US look better. That doesn’t mean that we’re evil, but it doesn’t mean we’re always in the right, either.
I left the museum having learned a few things, and reinforcing the fact that war is never glorious and beautiful.
Thien Hau Temple
If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading. – Lao Tzu
While I made my way through busy city traffic on the way to Chùa Bà Thiên Hậu (Thiên Hậu Temple), I dwelled on Lao Tzu’s quote. As a spontaneous traveler, I’ve always been rather fond of it.
Arriving at the temple, I was immediately charmed by its vivid colors and stunning carvings. I made my way through the interior to the altar to Thien Hau, the Chinese goddess of the sea. I’m not sure how long I stood there taking in the beauty of the statues and carvings, but my clothes smelled of incense for the rest of the day.
Although the temple doesn’t offer a lot in the way of entertainment, I found that I wasn’t in any hurry to leave. It was incredibly peaceful. I used my phone to do a little research on Thiên Hậu, Guan Yu and other Taoist legends represented in statue around the temple. Knowing the stories made everything much more meaningful.
I confess freely to you, I could never look long upon a monkey, without very mortifying reflections. – William Congreve
I had a friend insist that I needed to visit “Monkey Island” while I was in Ho Chi Minh City. Cần Giờ isn’t technically in HCMC, it’s about 25 miles southeast, but it’s really quite nice to get away from the hustle and bustle of the busy city and see some of the jungle.
I spent half of a day exploring Can Gio. I walked through the mangrove forest, fed the crocodiles, enjoyed the antics of the monkeys and took a small picnic on the beach. I ended up having to share my food, but how often can you say you had lunch with a monkey?
The most interesting part of the trip was visiting the Viet Cong Guerilla Camp. It was destroyed by Agent Orange during the war, but has been reconstructed to show how the Viet Cong soldiers lived while fighting against the US troops. There was some great information provided and it was a perfect bookend to the War Remnant Museum.
I highly recommend visiting Vietnam and seeing some of what this striking country has to offer. My experiences there have given me memories that will last a lifetime.