Our destination was the Reunification Palace and Park/Museum. This museum is in the famous Presidential Palace built in 1962-1964 by the "government of South Vietnam" with US assistance. It was, truly, a fort to protect the unpopular government leaders appointed for the Vietnamese by their American sponsors. You will remember the building as the one from which we saw famous photos of the US Marines fleeing in disarray onto Huey Helicopters on the top of the building and the people who had assisted the US gathering and cajoling at the gates of the grounds asking the Americans to take them out of the country, too. The palace and museum are beautiful 1960s/Asian fusion architecture. Rather than get destroyed by liberation, the building was carefully protected by the liberation troops and then restored by the People's Socialist Republic of Vietnam for use as part museum showing the bunker/military operations of the failed South Vietnamese President AND for use now by the government for greeting foreign diplomats, conducting special public events, etc. So the formal and beautiful rooms for meetings, entertaining, etc. are now in use. Visitors (it was free) included more Vietnamese than foreigners -- and it was crowded! An incredible combination of history of the war (photos of concentration camps USA called strategic hamlets, photos of liberation of HCMC, etc.) with beautiful architecture now used by the Vietnamese. See photo of the palace/museum further below.
1st Photo with this narrative is a picture of the Ton Duc Thang Museum. Mr. Ton was the first President of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and a leader for years and years of the Communists and the people of the nation. Ton was a close friend and ally of Ho Chi Minh. This museum does not get many foreign visitors and our little crowd was the only group when we went (also free). Again, inspiring combination of history, personal story of TDT and great art exhibit with many types of art celebrating TDT. Especially moving was the exhibit about the notorious French prison where so many Vietnamese freedom fighters died and that became for TDT and many other Vietnamese a place for literacy, political study and development of strong Communist Party leaders and members. In both museums we had great conversations with the students.
Our student friends and Vinh sit with us having tea, sodas, and Vietnamese coffee while seated on small stools on the sidewalk in District 1 north and east of the centre of downtown HCMC. This was really FUN! A kid (maybe 10-12 years old with older women relatives) was running the operation out of a van packed with everything he needed for drinks and even some food. He had 2 menus and a great sense of humor. You can see our motorbikes amongst the bikes parked in the background. Students, workers and even more middle-class types (and, we're told the police and traffic officers -- there ain't many of them to be seen!) prefer these sidewalk cafes unless they need wireless or are having a more formal business meeting. The sidewalk cafes are EVERYWHERE. More wonderful conversation with the students (practicing their English) about their studies, work goals, etc. Not a pretty picture watching Leanna clamour on and off the motorbike and short plastic stools. But such FUN and so much learning for us!!
The above building is the Re-unification Palace and Park area and our student friends with Leanna.
Leanna and Hue, the driver, on the First Motor Bike tour!
Hue is Vinh's best friend, is from Dak Lak Province in Highlands of Vietnam, famous for coffee and elephants. Dak Lak is also the area where Hmong traditionally live. Hue is getting married in September, so we had interesting conversation about wedding and marriage customs, how she and Vinh think about personal relationships, differences in cultures and attitudes in various areas of Vietnam. Hue is a musician, her man friend does "lights and sound for events". We hope to visit Hue at the HCMC community Music Center where she works.