Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Ho Chi Minh City Eats and Drinks

Our last couple nights in Vietnam were in Ho Chi Minh City, and Mr. Ben was able to join us for dinner and drinks both nights.  And drink we did.

Delicious, delicious pho at Pho Le, where we were definitely the only non-Vietnamese diners:

The detritus of our meal, below...  We had a little bit of confusion over the number of beers we wanted... it didn't help that the beer name is "333" and we wanted three 333 beers.  First only two came out (I think they assumed I didn't want to drink), then 5 came out for our second round.  We drank them all.

The hard working pho ladies at Pho Le... a well-oiled pho making machine, these three:

After pho, we went on a somewhat misguided search for bia hoi (literally "fresh beer," from what I understand)- light and sweet beer brewed on a daily basis without preservatives, usually served at little streetside cafes for about 15-30 cents a glass.  Tim said he saw large groups of Vietnamese men drinking it on basically every street corner in Hanoi, but we were having trouble finding it in Ho Chi Minh City for some reason.  Ultimately we ended up finding it in the backpacker district...  Afterwards I did some googling and I determined that perhaps bia hoi is more of a northern Vietnam specialty, which is why we had trouble finding it down south.  But find it and drink it we did, all while sitting on butt-stranglingly small plastic chairs, of course:

While drinking our bia hoi, I saw this lady hawking dried squid from the back of her bike with an "Old Propaganda Posters" sign behind her:

During our bia hoi session, it started to rain.  When the patrons of the streetside cafe in which we were sitting noticed that the rain was preventing their customers from enjoying their bia hoi, they jumped up and pulled a plastic tarp over us.  But the best part is what they were wearing while they did so... the woman was wearing the typical pajama-esque outfit, while the guy was shirtless, wearing boxers and had a cigarette dangling out of his mouth:

Tim and Ben moved on from the bia hoi to Saigon beers... alcohol content insufficient for their taste?

(The lady behind them was selling spicy crabs to drunken backpackers.  It's no Jumbo Slice, but hey.)

Ben bought the world's biggest sesame-covered rice cracker from a street vendor:

And fin.

Ho Chi Minh City: Out and About

Other random stuff from around town in Ho Chi Minh City:

A store selling the bamboo high chairs that people put on their motorbikes to seat their babies (as I mentioned previously):

Impossibly tangled and extremely dangerous looking bunches of wires (can you see the guy up on a bamboo ladder working on said tangled mess?).  These tangled wires are even immortalized in a t-shirt:

Lots and lots of big Ho Chi Minh posters and propaganda (and ladies carrying lots of stuff in shoulder baskets):

Chickens, this one in front of the War Remnants Museum:

This sh*t is bananas... B-A-N-A-N-A-S:

Cyclos, all in a row:

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Ho Chi Minh City: Architecture and Museums

Ho Chi Minh City is chock full of beautiful colonial architecture and
interesting museums, many of which I got the chance to see while wandering around town.

We stayed right by the opera house (Municipal Theater is its official name, but doesn't opera house sound better?), which is the counterpart to the Hanoi opera house Tim stayed near a few months ago... built in 1897:

While Tim was in meetings, I went to check out some of Ho Chi Minh City's sites and museums, starting with the Reunification Palace (formerly known as Independence Palace):

Reunification Palace is stuck in time in the mid-'70s when it was last used as a government building...  the rooms are preserved as they were when it was the home, office and reception locale of the South Vietnamese President Thieu.  The decor is straight out of the late '60s- a very Austin Powers-esque feel to it in certain rooms such as the card-playing room and nightclub.  

The palace also housed, in the basement, the communications and planning center for the South Vietnamese government during the American/Vietnam War: a telecommunications center, a map/war room, and a series of tunnels.

I don't know if you can read the red writing here on the rooftop helipad at the Palace, but it says "At 8:30 am April 8th 1975 First Lieutenant Pilot Nguyen Thanh Trung flew F5E and threw down two bombs at the right target here":  

On April 30, 1975, North Vietnamese Army tanks rolled into Saigon and through the fences at Independence Palace.  A soldier dramatically ran into the building and up the stairs to unfurl a massive VC flag on the balcony.  

Looking out from the palace towards where the tanks rolled in in 1975:

Replica tanks numbered like the 2 that rolled through the palace fences in 1975:

I also wandered down to the river on my way to the Ho Chi Minh Museum:

The Ho Chi Minh Museum, housed in the former customs house built by the French in 1863, has photos and artifacts all tracing Ho Chi Minh's life from his birth and early life, his travels to Europe, Russia and China (apparently this building was chosen for his museum because this is the site from which Ho Chi Minh embarked on these journeys on a French freighter back in 1911), his political awakening and his role as the leader in North Vietnam.

View of the Bitexco Financial Tower, the second tallest building in Vietnam, a super modern skyscraper sitting next to and contrasting with the pink French colonial building below it... the Lonely Planet describes the tower as looking like "a CD rack with a tambourine shoved into it."  Ha.

Ships at the port:

The People's Committee Building, the former Hotel de Ville built in the early 1900's, has a super ornate renaissance-inspired front.  It's closed to the public, unfortunately:

Saigon's Central Post Office was designed by Gustave Eiffel (of Eiffel tower fame) and built between 1886 and 1891... it's got a massive grand concourse with a portrait of Ho Chi Minh presiding over the sale of postage stamps.  There are also a couple mural maps of Saigon and South Vietnam on the walls, right above some cool looking wooden phone booth-cum-ATMs:

Right across from the central post office is the Notre Dame Cathedral, built entirely out of materials shipped in from France between 1877 and 1883:

I also hit up the heartbreaking (albeit pretty one-sided) War Remnants Museum. I understand from Lonely Planet that it was formerly called the Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes, and from Wikipedia that its name was The House for Displaying War Crimes of American Imperialism and the Puppet Government. The current name is much more subtle, no?

Outside the museum is a collection of military equipment and aircraft from the war as well as reproduction "tiger cages" in which the South Vietnamese held political prisoners:

The inside of the museum has several exhibits on the war, starting with one showing international opposition to the war, ranging from photos of rallies and protests to letters of support from various government officials.  Upstairs is decidedly more horrific, focused mainly on the atrocities like the My Lai massacre, the widespread use of chemicals like napalm and Agent Orange (and its continuing effect on future generations of Vietnamese), the use of experimental weapons, and the tragedy that unexploded ordnance has wreaked on Vietnamese since the war, among other things.  However, the museum neglects to address the North Vietnamese's actions during the war... it fails to mention the land mines that they planted, the massacres they conducted or the treatment of their war prisoners.  Frustrating, but worth a visit anyway if you can handle the disturbing images and heartbreaking stories of those affected by the war. I definitely made use of my bandana to wipe away tears and saw other people doing so also.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Ho Chi Minh City: Ben Thanh Market

In Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), one of the big markets is Ben Thanh market, built in 1912 on the site of a previous informal vendor market.  It's become a little bit touristy- lots of t-shirts and souvenirs- but it still has a food section, complete with produce, meats, fish and dry goods.


The tofu lady... how many types of soy product can you count?:

Chicken nut sacks:

Shellfish sorting:

I don't know if you can tell from these photos below, but this lady is engaged in an act you don't see everyday... first she beheads the frog, dropping the head in the yellow basket, then she skins the frog, dropped the skin into the green basket, then she drops the recently denuded frog body onto the ground to her left where it continues to jump and flop around for several minutes afterwards.  I wish I had video.  

Also, I love the woman crouched on the counter behind her... why is she standing on the counter while the other woman preps food on the floor? 


This lady, butchering fish, made me laugh because despite the fact that she is wearing essentially pajamas and rubber boots and is coated in fish guts, she has a full face of makeup on, pink lipstick and all:

I love the blue color of these crabs:

Veggies ahoy:

Piles o' fish:

Hanging meats:

Offal!!  Stomach in the front, various organs to the left, pig ears to the far left, brains to the right, and in the center in front of the vendor, dark cubes of congealed pig's blood (which Tim and I ate in a chicken and rice soup in Hue one night when we were feeling adventurous... at the time, we thought maybe it was liver, but in retrospect it was clearly blood jello):

Dried goods, including more dried shrimp and dried sea cucumber than you can shake a stick at:

Narrow aisles full of goodies:


Betel nut paraphernalia:

The coconut lady, with coconut in its various forms: