Friday, June 11, 2010

Vietnam: Sights in Saigon

This trip to Vietnam is the first time I ever got out of the country. So hell yes, I'm going all-touristy. What better way to do that but to walk around Saigon and see the city's history through its architecture, from communist to Roman gothic to French colonial.

Reunification Palace

Walking around Saigon to visit the more touristy sites is not that difficult. The only setback is the heat. The tropical sun can be unforgiving. So wear light clothes and comfortable shoes. Start at the center, at Ben Thanh Market, and go northeast. That will take you to three of Saigon's landmarks: the palace, the basilica and the post office.

Tank at the Reunification Palace

First stop, the communist palace. The Reunification Palace was the home and office of the President of South Vietnam during the war. The place is historically significant to say the least. On April 30, 1975, a North Vietnamese Army tank bulldozed through the palace's front gates, signaling the fall of Saigon and the end of the Vietnam War, almost twenty years after it started.

Saigon Notre Dame Basilica (Facade)

Next stop was Saigon's Roman gothic cathedral, the Saigon Notre Dame Basilica. From the Reunification Palace's front gates, you will see a glimpse of the church. Just cross the beautiful park separating the two and that's it. That is another thing to say about Saigon, by the way. Parks, they have lots of it. Well-maintained, too. And the trees in the parks, they use big tall ones.

Saigon Notre Dame Basilica (Facade)

Looking at the church would tell you that its design was very much European. Naturally so as it was built by the French during their colonial rule over much of Indochina. The church is beautiful inside and out. And the locals are fully aware of it. The morning we went there, there were at least three couples having their wedding pictorials in and around the cathedral.

Saigon Notre Dame Basilica

Saigon Notre Dame Basilica (Interiors)

Inside the cathedral, you will see little tombstones plastered on the wall. I am not really sure where the burial places are but the tombstones are there, surrounding the stained glass. The epitaphs on the tombstones were mostly in Vietnamese, some in French. Select ones would be in Portuguese and some other European language.

Saigon Notre Dame Basilica (Interiors)

Saigon Notre Dame Basilica (Stained Glass)

Right beside the Saigon Notre Dame Basilica is the very French colonial Saigon Central Post Office. The design was made by no other than Gustave Eiffel himself. This was my favorite of the three. The building had this old world, colonial charm which I very much appreciate.

Saigon Central Post Office

Saigon Central Post Office

When you go inside, it becomes easy to imagine how was it like back then, how alive it was when the French colonialists were still in Saigon. Messengers dropping and getting posts, journalists turning in the day's news. Many years have passed since the French has left Saigon. Yet, the post office felt very much alive.

Saigon Central Post Office

Saigon Central Post Office

There is much more to see in and around the city. Pity we only had half a day to go around. Their museums looks promising. With a history as colorful and as troubled as theirs, museum-hop would be a viable activity. I think we covered enough, though, as much as our time would allow us. I would definitely come back to see more.


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