For comfort's sake, I decided early this morning that I would be staying in a hostel. A shower of my own, my own(ish) bed - sounded like just what the doctor ordered.
So I set out on my own to explore the city, keeping my eyes peeled for good eats and the Reunification Palace, another colonial French-era building appropriated, rebuilt, and currently a symbol of the unification of North and South Vietnam.
First things first, I hit up a Japanese restaurant. I wanted ramen and I wanted it then! Of course the first place I checked out was really a Korean restaurant in Japanese clothing. They were selling bibimbap and had a couple pages of their menu dedicated to samgyeopsal. So I went next door. No ramen, but the lunch specials were well-priced and they had udon, which will only suffice when you have the thirst for ramen and you're in a ramen desert. I got a crab roll and udon and this weird mushroom custard. All delicious, of course, textures and surprises included.
After, I set out looking for the Reunification Palace only to realize my map had me going in precisely the wrong direction. No big, since I ended up at the Saigon River. Man, that thing is dirty. Floating cesspool aside, it was definitely on the list of places to see.
Finally, having seen the river, I was appropriately oriented to find the palace, so I headed off in the right direction after some truly terrifying experiences crossing the street, but more on that in another post.
So, here's the thing about this adventure. When I set off, I conveniently left my highly informative book about Vietnam at home. All I had was a photo of my google maps walking map and the name "Reunification Palace." So I didn't know what I was really looking for.
So I get on my way and the map is taking me past some very familiar sights from my explorations yesterday. And I get to thinking - maybe I already saw this palace and just didn't KNOW it was the palace. But I keep plugging anyway. Finally, I see an orange colonial French-era building, with a couple gettingarried on one of the balconies. Could this be it? I went through all of this and the Vietnamese symbol for freedom from oppression is closed for a wedding???
I decide it is high time for more food. I plunk myself down in some wood-slatted chairs down from a rowdy group of men enjoying a mid-afternoon beer (a change of pace from the mid-afternoon nap that appears to be the country's pastimes if its parks full of dozers are any indication). I get mixed rice and a coffee, perhaps the best coffee I've ever had in my life. I linger. I enjoy the shade.
An hour later, I'm ready to check out more sights, so I head in what feels like a good direction. That Vietnam book would have come in handy to be sure. But I walk, dodging the large groups of people congregated on the sidewalks selling or enjoying food. And what do I happen to see? The REAL Reunification Palace. For $1.50, you can enter, and for another 50 cents, you get a brochure. That's my kind of deal!
The palace was amazing. It definitely touted itself as a fully-functioning government building while also being steeped in Vietnamese history. I learned a lot, through the slightly slanted (anti-American) accounts of the "American War" and the events that occurred. Its difficult for me to truly know what happened in this war, to believe everything from one side or the other, because I have yet to hear, read or see something that doesn't exploit the events and propagandize for one country or the other. However, with that being said, it is certainly nice to hear what the other side has to say. I saw how the building really is a symbol of the long-sought and hard-won freedom of the Vietnamese.
Afterward, I made my way to the cathedral, which was worth taking a few photos, especially of the Virgin Mary, whom locals say they have seen shed tears, even though she is made of stone. Afterward, I wandered back to home base and packed my things to go to the backpackers area.
After another mile-long jaunt and several stops at some overpriced hotels, I found a room, with air-conditioning (woot) and then promptly realized I left my coat and my charger at my former location. It's not that I couldn't have easily gotten there an back via moto, but the real problem is I know the names of literally nothing and to correctly pronounce the names, you need approximately three tongues (at least that's how it sounds). So I did all this on my poor feet.
Needless to say, once I finally returned back to my hotel, I crashed haaaaaard.