Submitted by alvin on Tue, 2017-03-14 12:39 Opera House Having grown up with news of Vietnam War throughout my formative years, I had long desired to see Vietnam. My first impression of the country on landing in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly at Saigon) was that it is hot and humid and full of people. The red flag with golden star was omnipresent reminding one of the Communist rule. On the way to our hotel, we encountered chaotic traffic and felt we were in India! After refreshing ourselves, we went to see the most prominent landmark, the Reunification Palace, home of the President of South Vietnam during the war. Built in 1863 by the French to replace an old Wooden Palace, it covers an area of 18 hectares. In 1975, when a North Vietnamese army tank crashed through the main gate of this palace, it signalled the end of the war. The same tank is parked on the palace ground. The palace is a five-storeyed building whose basement has a number of tunnels. It has a war room, a telecom room, secret rooms, living rooms, command bunkers, beautiful halls etc. We were fascinated by the historical content of the palace. After an hour-long visit, we came to the iconic Opera House in the heart of the city. Originally known as the Municipal Theatre, this building, built in 1897 and renovated in 1995, has French colonial architecture. It is a 500-seat theatre and every evening there are two performances including ballet, music and dance. The next morning I had a very refreshing walk along the Saigon River. Surprisingly, the city had come to life by 6am! Roads were buzzing with mopeds, food vendors had opened their stalls on footpaths, and office-goers were having their traditional breakfast known as ‘pho’. Mekong river Notre Dame Basilica After breakfast, we proceeded to the War Remnants Museum, which has collections of various items related to the 30-year-long war. Outside the museum are tanks, planes, and canons used by Americans during the war. The museum contains photographs of the war and one can see the infamous ‘tiger cages’ in which enemies were imprisoned. A guillotine used by French is also kept on display. The exhibits are arranged thematically and reveal the horrors of the war and the destruction it caused. Bomb outside the museum Nearby the War Museum is the Central Post Office. This lovely French-style building was constructed in the late 19th century by the renowned architect Gustave Eiffel (who built Eiffel Tower). Inside the building are two painted maps, one of Southern Vietnam and Cambodia and the second of Saigon and surroundings. There are many souvenir shops inside this post office. Opposite the museum is the Notre Dame Cathedral, built in the late 1880s by the French. This 180-feet high, red brick cathedral has beautiful stained glass windows, two bell towers and a lovely garden. A statue of Virgin Mary is in front of the cathedral. There is a saying that this statue shed tears in October 2005 and hence people throng this area. Surrounding the palace square are beautiful modern buildings, the Diamond District being one of them. Chinese Pagoda Later, we walked to the City Centre, Ho Chi Minh Square, where a number of French colonial buildings have been converted into beautiful hotels. One part of the square includes the City hall. There is a boulevard from the City hall to the Saigon River. Near the river is the statue of Ho Chi Minh installed to mark his 100th birthday. The Ben Thanh Market is also quite close to the City Centre. This lively market is the most famous shopping destination for tourists and sells everything that one requires. However, one needs to bargain a lot. Our next stop was Thien Hau Pagoda, a Chinese temple dedicated to sea goddess. Erected in 1760, the temple is in a busy street in China town and has ornate carvings on its roof. Street Breakfast Globe shaped poori Reunification Palace The next day, we left for Mytho, 75kms away, for a cruise on the Mekong river and reached the tourist boat station. We boarded a speed boat, which took us to four islands namely, Dragon, Unicorn, Tortoise and Phoenix. We walked through the islands seeing orchards and enjoying the tropical fruits grown there. We witnessed a few cultural shows and took a rowing boat on a small canal and visited a honey bee farm. The last island, Phoenix, has the Coconut Monk temple, dedicated to a monk who ate only coconuts. People offer cigarettes in this temple. Phoenix also contains a crocodile farm. At a food outlet in this island, I was amused to see perfectly spherical pooris and coconut burfies similar to India. After the island visit, we returned to Mytho and drove back to Ho Chi Minh City. There are many more interesting places to see in the vibrant city of Ho Chi Minh, but for lack of time we had to bid goodbye. Vietnam is a very affordable tourist destination. One Indian Rupee buys 350 Vietnam Dong! Author: Dr. D V Guruprasad (Former DGP) is presently the Chief Executive of the Gokula Education Foundation (Medical) which works in the field of education and health care.