Ha Long Bay
Bac Ha
Hoi An

Dec 31 - New Years Eve.  We start early since we are going forty miles northwest of the city to visit the town of Cu Chi, made famous during the American War for its extensive network of underground tunnels spanning ~150 miles.  The tunnels, three levels deep, were first used by the Viet Minh against the French in the 1940s, then they were used as hideouts for the Viet Cong.

We visited the Ben Dinh site, the site of the famous picture of the little girl amid the napalm bombing.  Our tour at the tunnel area started at a visitors' center in which we watched a film about the area and its wartime use.  Models and diagrams of the tunnels were scattered throughout the building.  When we moved outside, we were shown a number of booby-traps built and used during the war.

Displays depicted life in the tunnels and the surrounding areas including cooking, sewing, weapon creation, hospital care, etc.  In the background, a firing range for use by the tourists provided realistic sound effects.

We had the opportunity to experience the claustrophobic experience of crawling in the tunnels.  Fortunately, these tunnels had been widened to accommodate the Westerns who are generally of a larger frame.  Nonetheless, it is difficult to comprehend that tens of thousands of people lived for long periods of time underground with little air and mobility.

We returned to Saigon and spent time exploring the city.  From our hotel, we are able to see the Saigon River, the famous Continental Hotel and the construction of a new Hyatt Hotel.

Across the plaza from our hotel is the Municipal Theater and the Continental Hotel. Here the city prepared for the New Year's Eve festivities where we would celebrate the beginning of 2004. The Continental Hotel, built in the French colonial days, was once a common lunch spot with an open terrace.  It later became a popular meeting place during the American War and later was filmed in Graham Greene's The Quiet American.

The Municipal Theater, built in 1899 by the French, was originally an opera house. It became the home of the National Assembly of South Vietnam until 1975 when South Vietnam ceased to exist and was turned into a theater. 

The Caravelle Hotel was made famous during the American War as most foreign correspondents stayed here.  During the 1968 Tet Offensive, several US marines were killed here; journalists filmed the battle from the rooftop. We celebrated New Years Eve in the Caravelle's Saigon Bar.

We walked to the Central Post Office, French colonial architecture, completed in 1891.  A huge map of old Indochina is on display inside.  From the exterior, it is reminiscent of a European train station.

Across the plaza is the Romanesque Notre Dame Cathedral, built in the 1880's on the site of an old fort.  The catholic population in Vietnam is very large ~ 9 million.

The US consulate stands of the site of the former American Embassy, which was attacked during the 1968 Tet Offensive and seized by the Vietnamese with the capture of Saigon in 1975.  The original building was demolished and the consulate was built in 1998.

After our lunch at Indochine, we visited the War Remnants Museum or "War Crimes Museum." This museum provides a very skewed presentation of the horrors of war caused by the US armed forces during the American War.  On display are American planes: Cessna-Fac and Douglas SkyRaider plus a Huey.  Photos of peace protesting, napalm bombing, deformed children and the aftermath of bombings line the walls of the museum.  The most even-handed display was the work of war correspondents from around the world who had died in the American War. 

Our next stop was the Reunification Palace, symbol of the South Vietnamese regime since it was the former Presidential Palace of Ngo Dinh Diem.  The site originally was the former French governor's residence but became occupied by Diem when he took over as the new president of South Vietnam.  Rebuilt in 1966, it remained occupied until early 1975 when communist tanks crashed through the gates and the South Vietnamese government was overthrown.

The interior furnishings are 1960s personified.  The main floor is the president's reception and living area.  The second floor is the president's wife's reception and living quarters.  There is a theater and helipad on the third floor while three floors below the building are massive bunkers and communication centers in which the president would retreat when attacked as in 1962.

We returned to the Hotel and said good-bye to Truan and our driver.  We returned to the area near the Reunification Palace for dinner at Ngong.  There were many people in the street all evening awaiting the arrival of the New Year.  The plaza in front of the Municipal Theater was packed with people watching ballet dancers and listening to singers and other entertainers throughout the evening. We stayed up to usher in 2004.

Jan 1 - New Years Day .  We spent a leisurely day walking around the city on our own. 

Along our way we passed the City Hall and the plaza with a statue of Ho Chi Minh in his role of uncle of all the children. We wandered down to the river area and then cruised over to the location of the former bar "Apocalypse Now." 

We lunched at Lemongrass, a well known tourist spot and spent a few hours reading and writing post cards in the Saigon Bar before departing to catch our night flight to Singapore and on to Perth.

On to Australia and 2004

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