A very brief stay in Saigon, expressed in numbers.
1 – Full day spent in Ho Chi Minh City, spread over two nights. We wished we’d given ourselves a bit more time here.
50/50 – Roughly the split of people who use the designation Ho Chi Minh City versus those who use Saigon. (Interestingly we found more Vietnamese people we met tended to use Saigon; Westerners tended to use HCMC.)
270 – Degree view from this rooftop in the Old Quarter. After our lazy stint on the beaches of Cambodia and Vietnam, it was oddly refreshing to be back in a bustling city. Anonymously joining the throngs as they walk under neon signs, the swerving of scooters webbing their way down busy streets, the food stalls the markets, the noises, the smells… As refreshing as this was, it was equally calming to escape to this perch above it all, looking down on all the giddiness at a slight remove.
09A78969 – Serial number on an armored tank in the walled yard at the War Remnants Museum. In this courtyard outside the main building: tanks, fighter jets, a Chinook helicopter, defused bombs — the remnants of war. Inside the building, displays become distinctly lopsided in their portrayal of events, but no less interesting or heartbreaking for it. (For example, originally opened as the ‘Exhibition House for US and Puppet Crimes’, the museum presents an array of photographs, propaganda posters, notes of apology from American soldiers, artefacts — including weapons of torture and such harrowing exhibits as jars of malformed human fetuses, alleged to be the unborn victims of defoliant sprays like Agent Orange. Throughout, it presents Vietnam as a unified force resisting American aggression, not a country divided by civil war — though where it becomes necessary in the telling of certain events to separate north and south, the south is invariably referred to as the Puppet Army of the USA.) There is no historical timeline in here, no explained buildup of events that led first to the civil war and then to America’s intervention and ignominious retreat — only a hodgepodge of remnants — but the museum remains well worth a visit.
6 (OK, maybe 12, tops) – In inches, the height of plastic stools people sit on to eat on the streets of Saigon. We loved this part of Vietnamese culture — there’s an instant sense of camaraderie, companionship, and togetherness that happens when people huddle together like this to enjoy food (or beer) together in such close quarters on busy city streets.
1 – Animal we saw being cooked that we’re unlikely ever to see being cooked where we’re from. It seemed odd that this man was making a fire on the sidewalk in the middle of the day, until we saw that inside his cage was a live rat. It scuttled and scurried around the cage, but eventually the flames from the newspaper underneath it became too much to bear, the rat was burned, dead, and would soon be eaten.
Thousands – People who take to the streets each night, no matter what night of the week, bringing this unforgettable city to life.