This morning we met with our tour directors for a short introduction to Vietnam. The program directors would be with us for the rest of our trip. We were split into 3 groups: the A family, B family, and C family. We were in the C family with Tony!
The first photo below showed where we would be visiting in Cambodia and Vietnam. The second photo showed us how to greet and show respect in those countries.
We then began our city tour. We were constantly amazed by the number of motorbikes and how they drove them, even on the sidewalks!
Our first stop was the Reunification Palace or Independence Palace. It was the home and workplace of the president of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War and it also was the site of the official signing of power during the “Fall of Saigon” on April 30th, 1975.
The palace was considered a historical monument because it was the site of the end of the Vietnam War when a North Vietnamese Army tank crashed through its gates.
We went in the palace and saw the main hall and also the President’s office, conference rooms, and a banquet hall. The War Command room was used during the Vietnam War and has been left intact with telephones, radios, maps and plotting boards.
The basement was where the communication center was located and a bunker was built during the Vietnam war to protect the President. During the bombing in 1975 the President’s entire family took refuge in the bunker.
The rooftop featured a helicopter landing area which was used for evacuation of the last Americans from Saigon on April 30th, 1975.
From the palace we drove past the Notre Dame Cathedral which was built between 1863 and 1880. This cathedral was due to the French influence during that time period. Today is was under restoration so we couldn’t see much of its exterior.
Before going inside the Saigon Central Post Office Tony showed us the location for the famous photo of an American helicopter leaving Saigon! The picture we took was from the opposite side of the building.
The post office was built by renowned architect Gustave Eiffel, of the famed Eiffel Tower in Paris, in the late 1800’s. It was well preserved and the workers still hand stamp the mail and hand put the mail in the appropriate bin!
Our last stop this morning was a visit to a lacquer shop and the process was explained to us. There were four main steps in the lacquerware process. One, the base where a a substance, like glue, was applied to protect the wood. Two, natural lacquer was applied and repeated four times. Three, the lining was repeated about six times or until the artist felt the surface was smooth, then the color was applied and the design hand painted or inlaid with mother of pearls or egg shells. Four, the piece was wet-sanded carefully to flatten the surface. We were able to watch the artists at work. It was quite a process.
After lunch we drove through Chinatown and visited a Chinese temple, Thiên Hâu. It was the Vietnamese name from the Chinese name that meant “Empress of Heaven”. This temple was first uilt in 1760 and had been repaired and expanded at least five different times.
While there we lit a spiral incense that Tony filled out for our group for good luck and good health.
After the temple we visited the Ben Thanh Market. On the way we passed some statues, street vendors, and other sites.
The Ben Thanh Market was our last stop of the day. It was a famous shopping area in Ho Chi Minh City with over 1,500 booths!
We had time to explore it on our own. The stalls were close together and the sellers were persistent in trying to sell their wares. We did not shop very long because for us it was a little overwhelming.