My last post described my first trip to Vietnam, in the middle of May. After my week in the office, I had Saturday free to be a tourist in Ho Chi Minh City, before heading to the airport for a midnight flight headed for home.
My first stop was the War Remnants Museum, focused on what the Vietnamese call the “American War.” As an American, visiting this museum was a sobering and humbling experience. Although I was never a staunch defender of the American military’s overall record in fighting the war, it was eye-opening to see the war depicted from the perspective of the Vietnamese. Particularly disturbing were the exhibits highlighting the effects of napalm, Agent Orange, and other chemical attacks. The exhibit demonstrates the impact of these both during the war (destroying countless square miles of vegetation and killing thousands of civilians) and afterward (leading to horrific birth defects and other suffering). The most impressive other exhibit in the museum focused on war photography and highlights the courage of the photographers and journalists who reported on the war.
The rest of the day provided much more uplifting highlights. I spent several hours walking through the streets of Ho Chi Minh City. In several places, my timing was poor – I arrived at both the Reunification Palace and Notre Dame Cathedral as they were closed for lunch and returned after 4:00 pm, to find that they had closed for the day.
I visited the Bitexco Financial Tower, taking the elevator to the observation deck on the 49th floor and then enjoying a beer in the bar on the 50th floor. The 861 foot tall building is the tallest in the city and is also notable for its helipad at the 52nd floor.
Throughout my time in Vietnam, I thought frequently of the unique experience (at least for Americans of my generation) of visiting (and being welcome in) a country that I grew up knowing as “the country where we are at war.” I suppose my parents’ generation had similar views of Germany, Italy, and Japan through the 1970s and 1980s. It’s possible that my children’s generation will view Iraq and Afghanistan through similar eyes twenty or thirty years from now.
For now…I’ll leave you with this thought:
Being a tourist for the first time in Vietnam was a wonderful (and sometimes thought provoking) experience. I look forward to exploring more on future trips.