I jumped out of the bed as I scrolled through my mail and got one from a Saigon Hotpot volunteer regarding the free tour I booked for that morning. I came across Saigon Hotpot when I was looking for things to do in Ho Chi Minh. They are a group of university student volunteers who offer free tours – by free, meaning you just pay for their transportation and entrance fees. 😛 Van had a bit of a hard time looking for the apartment as well and it was a fortunate coincidence that we bumped into each other while she was asking the neighbors for directions (I went outside so I can look for her hehe).
We took the bus to our first stop! It was like a tour bus as well since the bus we rode took the scenic route and Van pointed out all the interesting sites such as Jollibee and popular coffee shops.
We got off around the corner from the Post Office. Again, the architecture is heavily inspired by the French and as most government buildings in Vietnam, it is in the same shade of yellow and green. What’s notable though is the number of prenuptial photo shoots happening when we were there. In the photo below, you can see a traditionally dressed couple and a modern wedding couple.
The Saigon Central Post Office is still functioning and very well maintained.
Different clocks for different time zones, and phone booths (EDIT: phone booths not photo booths what was I thinking haha) for international calls.
The man in white that you can see in this photo lives 2 kilometers away from the post office. Aside from Vietnamese, he is fluent in French and English and has helped so many people with their letters while he was working there. He has retired but still spends every day in the post office, and usually, helps parents with letters/application forms/etc who has sent their children to study abroad.
Across the post office is Saigon Notre-Dame Cathedral. All the materials used to build this church came from France. I actually even searched for a photo of the one in Paris to compare lol.
So many wedding photos going on (and Van’s hand).
Next up is the Reunification Palace. It is where previous presidents lived, but it is only used today as a tourist spot or for official conferences. It has been renovated a few times prior to this day due to the conflict with the Viet Cong. During that time, Vietnam is not yet unified and the war between North and South is ongoing.
The conference hall.
According to Van, this painting is of the emperor with the Vietnamese on one side and the Mandarins on the other.
The Green Room – where yes, everything is green, and all items were imported from France.
The President’s table. Behind him is a painting of his hometown where he had a bridge constructed since he used to swim to go to school when he was a kid. 🙂 Also, one of the doors nearby leads directly to the safe room where all the control panels, radios and a bunk for the President.
The ivory horns are made out of elephant tusks which came from two different elephants. There is a village that owned the elephants, but the villagers wouldn’t give them away, so they killed the entire village for it. Damn. So much bloodshed for elephants.
They actually killed two elephants (and a lot of people) for their tusks.. which is unfortunate and I kind of see the point why vegans hate meat (still won’t turn vegan but killing animals for decoration??)..
The place is aptly called a ‘palace’ and it suits the name, as every room is opulent. The living quarters much so, especially if you take into consideration the era it was built in.
The bamboo design plays a significant role in this building, especially in the Vietnamese culture where bamboo trees represent resilience and bravery. It is also present in their daily life and culture as bamboo trees can be found almost everywhere, and it is used for instruments, furniture, and so much more. This design along with the high ceiling creates a nice flow of light and lets the air in during hot days.
Looking out the balcony, you see an unusual sight in an otherwise urban city – so many trees (and of course tourist buses, such as in the photo below haha). The symmetry of parks and lack of concrete establishments along the length of this street is as designed to maintain this view.
Nguyễn Văn Thiệu, elected president in 1967, likes to hunt and has accumulated body parts from the animals he has managed to kill. It really bothers me (I’m the type of person who cried when they killed the horse in the pilot episode of Walking Dead).
An elephant family died for this. 😦
And of course, can’t miss out on an indoor garden for some zen.
To further complete the luxurious presidential lifestyle, the palace had a velvet lined cinema, a library, a game room (photo below), a dancing room (complete with a grand piano and bar) and even a helipad on the rooftop.
After touring, Van and I headed to the park outside the cathedral and hanged out like the locals do. We sat on the pavement, bought mango and passion fruit juice from the street peddlers, who in turn handed as a couple of old newspaper we can sit on and place the salt in. Have I mentioned how much I love the salt here? I even asked Van where I could buy the salt to bring home (and her mom gave me a whole tub – I still have some as of writing). She told me about working with tourists and about her internship (which she was running late for because I only scheduled a half day morning tour), I told her about my life in Manila and about getting scammed by a taxi driver, she taught me how to politely decline when someone approaches you and how to cross the street like a Vietnamese.
Afterward, Van brought me back to the apartment (and broke her sandals on the way) and we have stayed in touch ever since I even talked to her while I was writing this. I had such an informative tour that I wish I could remember everything (I didn’t write anything down until now boo) so I can pass it on. So for anyone planning to tour Ho Chi Minh, I highly suggest Saigon Hotpot. 🙂 After the tour, I napped for an hour before heading out again to walk around. I have no photos from that walk though because I went window shopping (it would have been actual shopping if the dresses I wanted to buy fit me, damn petite Asian sized clothes) and bought tickets for day tours for the following days. I did meet two guys, both solo backpackers (one was Finnish, and the other, Thai) who decided to hang out. I had the address for the tour agency and two maps with conflicting information. Hence, the confused look on my face beckoned them so the three of us ended up searching for it, and they went on their way after dropping me off at the door. We bumped into each other again that same day and exchanged our plans for the rest of our stay in Ho Chi Minh. That was the last time I saw them, though. 😛