After a couple of weeks in Vietnam, our trip came to a close in Ho Chi Minh City. We arrived in the city at around 9 am and after a quick shower we went out to see HCMC’s attractions. I wanted to start with a visit to Notre Dame Cathedral to see how it compared with Paris, but for some reason the cathedral was closed and wouldn’t be open until the evening. We weren’t impressed and whilst trying to decide what we were going to do next we stumbled upon HCMC’s post office. It was quite an interesting building architecturally, but at the end of the day it was just a post office… Nothing more, nothing less.
We then decided to have a coffee break until the War Remnants Museum and Independence Palace opened (all the museums seem to close for a 2 hour lunch break) and I’m ashamed to admit we actually went into a Dunkin’ Donuts. We hadn’t seen many fast food or coffee chains so far in our South East Asia trip and Kyle was desperate to have a strawberry frosted doughnut (Missing home much?). We got chatting to a young Vietnamese guy on the table next to us and he actually turned out to be the owner of the Dunkin’ Donuts’ brand in Vietnam. He asked us what on earth we were doing in HCMC and we explained that we were backpacking around SEA and that HCMC was our last stop in Vietnam. He told us we should have made Hoi An our last stop because there’s nothing really to do or see in HCMC. He actually said one of the most interesting things to see in HCMC was probably the post office next door (!). He told us that both the War Remnants Museum and Independence Palace were a waste of time. We were unsure whether he was being sarcastic or not, so we went on our way to the War Remnants Museum.
I was interested in visiting the War Remnants Museum to learn a bit more about the Vietnam War. I thought it would be an educational museum like London’s Imperial War Museum… how wrong I was. The outside exhibits of the War Remnants Museum consisted of US tanks, planes and artillery. There were many Vietnamese people proudly posing and taking pictures with the US tanks. We then went inside and it was the most confusing museum I’ve ever been to. There was no clear layout or commentary, the museum was basically a collection of photographs of dead children and rotting corpses accompanied by captions such as ‘Children killed by US soldiers’. There was absolutely no explanation of the war – the museum was just pure anti-American propaganda. If you had no knowledge of the Vietnam War and you went to this museum, you wouldn’t know that Southern Vietnam was actually anti-Communist and were fighting with the Americans against the Communist Northern Vietnamese.
The most horrific part of the museum was the ‘Agent Orange’ exhibit which consisted of a collection of photographs of deformed children and victims of Agent Orange. There was even a display of two dead foetuses in a jar with deformities as a result of the Agent Orange campaign. It was incredibly sad to see these pictures and I felt quite numb afterwards. Although the museum was sad, I was annoyed with the total lack of commentary in the museum. You forget that Vietnam is still a Communist country so the government of course is only going to show one side of the story.
Also, in the gift shop they sold fake dog tags bearing the names of U.S. soldiers who’d lost their lives in the Vietnam War!
We then went along to ‘Independence Palace’, which was the home and workplace of Southern Vietnam’s president during the Vietnam War. It was only really interesting from a historical point of view because it was on this site that the Vietnam War came to an end.