I have to say that I am quite surprised at the economic progress that has taken place in Saigon in the seven years since I was last here. There has been a great deal of development with new high rise buildings, cleaner streets, and less beggars on the the corners. The infrastructure has been improved considerably. The parks look more green and there are new shopping centres. This contrasts heavily from when I was first here after the war in 1994. Then the city was run down, there were no souvenir shops and unemployed people everywhere. One of the newest buildings in Saigon is the 68 story Bitexacto tower which is designed to resemble a lotus plant. There is a sky deck lookout on the 49th level that provides a good view across the city area. I could even see from this tower that there is now a multi-lane road tunnel under the Saigon River.
Yesterday, we did the usual half day tour of the city which included a stop at the cathedral and the post office just across the road. There were quite a few couples having wedding photos taken there which seemed very strange for a Wednesday. It seems that the convention here is for photos to be taken before the wedding so that they can be shown to all the guests.
The post office still looks the same with a giant portrait of Ho Chi Minh and various counters for different types of postage and different destinations. I am not sure whether they still stick the stamps on with clag.
Our next stop was at the reunification palace (old Presidential Palace for the South Vietnamese President). With coups and political assassinations it has had more occupants than a three star hotel. It is now kept as a museum, but still used by the communist party for meetings and conferences. On those days it is closed to the public. The war rooms in the basement make it appear as if time has stood still – they are just the same as when the the last President (Minh) surrendered to the North Vietnamese.
The War Remnants Museum (once, the US War Crimes Museum) is obviously going to stay for some time. It used to be housed in an old building in a crowded yard that contained a mass of old military equipment. It now exists (on the same site) in a new three storey building. The displays are still the same and are obviously very one-sided in their point of view. They show all the atrocities of the Americans but none of those of the Viet Cong. As they always say, the winners write the history books.
With a short visit to a lacquer ware factory and then lunch, we had the afternoon free. That is when I wandered down to the Bitexacto Tower. However, once you get of the main street (Dong Koi Street, or Tu Do Street, as it was named by the French) the city looks much the same as it always did – little shops and restaurants, broken up footpaths and an enormous number of motor cycles that don’t always stop at traffic lights or recognise pedestrian crossings.