Continuing our pattern of only visiting Vietnamese cities that begin with the letter "H", we made our way down to Ho Chi Minh City by plane. The busride would have been 20 hours and Patrick was not ready to snuggle another Vietnamese man. Plus the flight cost only $10 more.
Ho Chi Minh City is filled with reminders of the Vietnam War. We visited Reunification Palace, famous as the site where Northern tanks broke through the front gates in 1975 to mark the end of the war. The building is now something of a shrine; everything has been left just as it was that day. The War Remnants Museum tells a very powerful, if primarily one-sided narrative that presents the war as an American genocide against the Vietnamese. It's filled with emotional, disturbing images--from pictures of Agent Orange victims to models of "tiger cages" used by Americans to contain prisoners. To learn more about the Viet Cong side of things we took a day trip to visit the Cu Chi Tunnels. During the war this was the site of a extensive network of underground tunnels used by the Viet Cong. Now, there are models of the guerrilla traps they used, secret holes in which they hid, and a firing range where visitors can shoot an original Viet Cong gun. The highlight was getting to crawl through 120 meters of the preserved tunnels. This was a hot, claustrophobic, and intense experience that left us sweating buckets and undoubtedly would never be allowed at a US tourist attraction without signing dozens of liability waivers.
We made time for a little relaxation while in town, too. Katrina got a blind massage at the Vietnamese Traditional Medicine Institute, which as the name implies was set up more like a hospital ward than a spa. There was one large room with curtained cubicles, with masseuses' chattering and skin being pummelled all around creating the soundtrack. The massage was serious business--Katrina was squirming on the table as her masseuse attacked with precision and gusto. But her rejuvenated muscles thanked her in the end.
We were delighted when we discovered that the circus was in town just a few blocks from our hotel. We joined a quarter-full tent of spectators to take in the show of acrobats, jumping dogs, and magic tricks. While it didn't score high in terms of impressive feats, it was one of the more amusing things we've seen so far. Particularly because the main dance/gymnast group (who we nicknamed the Backstreet Boys) had significant trouble sticking their landings, possibly due to their tight leather pants. Warning: don't try this at home.
Our stay in Ho Chi Minh City coincided with American Thanksgiving and were craving turkey bad (OK, any comfort western food). Thankfully, we located a Thanksgiving dinner buffet at the Legend Hotel. We tried to go in with low expectations, just hoping that the turkey wasn't basted with soy sauce and stuffed with rice noodles. But the spread that greeted us made us swoon. Heart-warming staples of mashed potatoes, roast pumpkin, and apple pie were displayed alongside elegant additions of raw oysters, a foie gras station, and chocolate fountain. None of this, though, distracted us from the turkey. It surprised us that it was a little hard to find, small and hidden among other meats at a chef carving station. What surprised us even more was that after two of these miniature turkeys were carved and consumed by ravenous American diners like us in the first half hour, the kitchen substituted an odd-looking chicken roll on the turkey's cutting board. Apparently the Vietnamese do not understand just how integral turkey is to Thanksgiving dinner. We're just glad we got there early...by the time we left it appeared there might be an angry American mob uprising.
View more pictures from Ho Chi Minh City here.