As a school boy I remember studying the Vietnam War and seeing the Presidential Palace and that famous photo of the North Vietnamese tanks breaking down the gate.
It gives you goosebumps standing in these places and realising that the march of history carries on. The Vietnamese are fiercely proud of what they refer to as a War of liberation and reunification, first from the French and then from the Americans.
The palace itself is an unremarkable building but the history of this place gives it a very special air. It’s the kind of air you would find at a war memorial or other holy place. The old Telephones and furniture still remain. You can almost see and feel the life that was once here. Old maps and war relics have been preserved. The Gardens are lovingly kept and old war machines still sit in the grounds while an American chopper still remains on the roof. The building has markings where bombs struck. Children play and climb on the tanks and tourists pose in the lobby.
It is my experience of this place and the War Remnants Museum that the Vietnamese treat these sites not as monuments to the glories of War, but with silent dignity and the satisfaction that comes with the triumph of their cause. Our guide seemed as much in awe of the place as we were as she showed us meeting rooms, offices, war rooms, the bunker and the living areas of the President.
The main reason for our trip though was to take supplies and donations to the Orphanage and so the Ben Thanh Market was the next stop on our itinerary. We wanted to source donations locally from small growers and sellers in an effort to support those most in need rather than going to large supermarket or department store.
The Ben Than Market was an obvious choice. Located within the city, it is on of the biggest markets I have ever seen, selling just about anything you can think of from fresh produce to rip off DVD’s and clothing. On our list of things to search for were Baby formula and bags of Rice.
The market is an assault on all 5 of the senses. The smell of roasted coffee mingles with the musty smell of cotton and the ripe smell of vegetables. Meat and seafood aromas waft gently on the breeze and mix with the smell of exhaust and cooking. Scorpions and snakes soak in brandy and the tongues of unseen unknown animals sit in shining packages.
The sound is like constant hum of industrious activity as stall owners spruik their wares. If you want an ego boost just head down to the clothing section. Vietnamese girls sit surrounded by shorts and t-shirts yelling “hey sexy man you want to buy a t-shirt”, “hey handsome try my sunglasses”, “buy this chain and all the girls will love you”, pft like I have ever had trouble getting girls!
There is something almost Medieval about markets like this. The sights and sounds, the smell and the feel of the place seem to fire the imagination and make you feel even more alive.
We didn’t manage to find what we were looking for, in fact to be honest we got so caught up in the wonder of the place that we forgot to look but it was an experience I will not soon forget.