The first Vietnam travel tip: shop at the local markets. The challenge for Vietnam visitors like us–Americans old enough to have lived through the war or at least to recall the nightly news [...]
You can call it the American War or the Vietnam War, but it's now the world’s war to look back at–as another in a long line of wars in this part of the world–to make sure it is still over.
Tourists/worshippers at the Temple of the Learned Doctors, Hanoi. December 2011.
A rare dash of color at a Hanoi Buddhist temple. February 2011.
Two little girls we met on the street flash the peace sign to the big American photographer. Whenever we met anyone in Vietnam and the question of the war came up, the answer [...]
We've been in Asia for three months now and it seems like wherever we go, the food keeps getting better. It was wonderful in Bali, better and spicier in Thailand (although I did get a bit of gastro distress from one street food experience) and subtler, yet perhaps even tastier in Vietnam. I've covered the former two, so let's recount Vietnam. Our first meal in Ho Chi Minh City was at a place called We near the War Remnants Museum. I'm of the opinion that a good way to pick restaurants, or street food for that matter, is to look for crowds of locals. That usually means good food and reasonable prices. Now a restaurant will never be as cheap as street food, but you do have to pay something for service and a table, and the tables at We were crowded with Vietnamese. In fact, when we sat down, we were the only foreigners in the place.
The next time I come to Vietnam I am going to skip all the war exhibits. They are everywhere there is an exhibit of any sort. In Hanoi's FIne Arts Muesum, there are rooms replete with extraordinary Vietnamese folk and religious art from as far back as 8000 BCE to the present. But even in this museum, you can't escape the wars. There are three rooms dedicated to art created during and after the French and American wars which feature sculpture and paintings depicting (in their words) "the heroic struggle" of the Vietnamese people's forces to throw off the oppressors. Not that the art is bad. In fact, there are many accomplished and moving pieces by artists of whom the world outside Vietnam knows almost nothing. Simple scenes of peasants toting their rifles over a hilltop, or squatting on their heels, exhausted in the post battle twilight are preeminent. However, some depictions, unfortunately, take on the composition of propaganda posters, with the didactic flag waving and weapon brandishing which, I suppose, are the privileges accorded the victors.
Flag flying war memorials litter the center of Ho Chi Minh City, which is what the Vietnamese renamed Saigon after the American War. Most of these memorials feature captured American war materiel, such as intact helicopters, jet fighters, tanks and artillery pieces. You'll run across them in parks, in the front yards of the aforementioned government buildings, and, of course, at the war museum sites. The most visited tourist site in the city is the War Remnants Museum. The Museum used to be called the Museum of American War Atrocities.
The Citadel, built by the Vietnamese emperors in the early 19th Century, was severely damaged in Vietnam's two wars of the 20th Century. In 1947 against the French, and again in 1968 against the Americans, the center of Hue was the site of ferocious battles. The citadel area once held over 140 buildings. Only about 20 remain after extensive restoration since the 1990s. Most buildings were completely destroyed in the fighting and cannot be restored.