Flying into Saigon, for the second time, but this time in daylight, it’s clear Saigon is a much larger, modern city than Hanoi. We grabbed our bags and left them in a baggage room (for an extortionate fee), and then attempted to get a taxi into town without being ripped off. The tip: avoid taxis at arrivals, go up stairs to departures and grab a taxi that’s just brought someone in.
The War Remnants museum please, formerly known as the museum of Chinese and American war crimes. We had lunch outside, at Nha Toi, very much a tourist restaurant with average but expensive food, but the Vietnamese iced coffee was nice.
The museum itself is cheap to get in, only a $1. Outside your heart races and the adrenaline kicks in as you explore old tanks, helicopters, jets and mounted guns. But once inside, you are numbed, and your heart breaks, as room after room, photo after photo, the museum exhibits the true atrocities and destruction of war. It’s sickening, and you just want to cry.
Exhibitions are spread across three floors. Windows filled with guns, explosives, rocket launchers, mines and other weapons are opposite photo galleries showing their harm; families escaping from burning villages, war dead with terrifying wounds, soldiers in action - from both sides; pictures of the Vietnamese soldiers seem so rare and alien. Individual galleries showcase the work of intrepid photographers, as they travelled with various forces, Vietnamese and American, risking their lives to document the war.
The opposition to the war is strongly conveyed, a whole section of the museum is dedicated to the news feeds and articles of the time. From the American peace rallies to dedications for the self immolating protestors that gave their lives in protest, both in the US and in Japan.
The most terrifying and depressing of all exhibits was the Agent Orange room. Large full coloured images showcase the continuing problems that use of Agent Orange (and other biological warfare) has caused in Vietnam; poisoned water supplies, poisoned food supplies and atrocious birth defects and deformities. I couldn’t take it, and left to sit outside, pondering the point of all this while waiting for Samantha.
Slightly numbed, but glad we visited this museum, we walked to the last item in our Saigon itinerary. It was pouring outside, but rather than get a taxi, we wanted to see more of the city, so we walked from the museum to Lam Son square and the Sheraton hotel, in our ponchos and sandals, buying some street-side waffles en-route.
We wandered into a lavish, luxurious hotel and immediately took the lift to the 23rd floor, slightly unsure if we were allowed, but willing to risk it. Up here, on the top floor, is an outdoor (but covered) rooftop bar, the highest of all Saigon bars and with fantastic views out across all of Ho Chi Minh City.
With buy one get one free cocktails and wasabi peas, we watched the sun set on our holiday. The end of a an eye-opening, incredible adventure through Vietnam and Cambodia. Sat amongst Saigon’s towering skyscrapers, traffic beeping below, lights turning on, neon red appearing, a yellow glow fading, it was time to go home, home home, that far away place we’d forgotten about, two flights and 23 hours back to Brighton via Dubai. We raised our glasses one last time, this was magical, we should do it again sometime.