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Sunday, August 13, 2017

Vietnam (Day 1) Saigon: City Sights

Good morning Vietnam!  With jet lag in hand, I welcomed my first sunrise in Vietnam, while the rest of my crew snored it away.

We headed out bright and early after using the ATM in the hotel.  We thought we got so much money with our 1,000,000 dong until we realized it was only $44.  

The breakfast in the hotel is very expensive (I hear that is is very good, but it just wasn't for us) and besides, we wanted get out and begin exploring this vibrant city starting with some street food.  Fairly quickly, we found the breakfast of champions!  Banh mi is how you start the day in Vietnam.

Today was a great introduction to Vietnam as we wandered to sights around our centrally-located hotel. Major sights that we walked to were the Saigon Opera House, Central Post Office, and Notre Dame Cathedral. Amazing preservation of buildings constructed during French colonial times around 1880s. 

Popular spot for brides-to-be

Central Post Office

Should have mailed some postcards, but too busy gawking.

Notre Dame Cathedral

We walked through a nice pedestrian street of shops getting a break from dodging the traffic.  It led us to a nice park and when we got to the end we found ourselves across from the Reunification Palace.  I initially thought we would just take a peek from the outside (it was getting close to lunchtime), but on a whim Rob got tickets to go inside and that was a good decision as the interior is really interesting. 

Pedestrian street, mostly book shops.

Ice cream treat.  Kids thought it had a weird taste.

Took a step back in time of Vietnam's political history. This is where the breaching of the gates by a North Vietnamese tank in 1975 marked the end of the Vietnam War.  I really enjoyed touring the inside and would highly recommend it.  A guide is not needed as there is very good signage throughout and it was nice to just wander about the different floors and rooms, including the underground bunker.

Replica of the tank that broke through the main gates of the palace signifying the end of the war.

April 8, 1975 Bombing raid carried out by spy who infiltrated the South Vietnamese military in an aircraft like this one. 

This is a UH-1 (Huey) launched by the U.S. firm Bell in 1959 and was used in Vietnam from 1962 onward. The two circles painted on the helipad mark the spot where a bomb load was dropped on the Palace by pilot Nguyen Than Trung on April 8th, 1975.

Losing steam after the Reunification Palace

After the full 1/2 day of walking Saigon, we found ourselves in the midst of a couple of hot, hungry, and very whiny kids.  Confused by our surroundings and bombardment of vendors/drivers, we aimlessly walked until we stumbled into this magical wonderland of yumminess!  As if the decor alone wasn't enough visual appeal, this restaurant has a great open kitchen concept where each "type" of food has its own station.  You can walk thru and see everything being cooked made-to-order.  We ate a ridiculous amount of food (I had a fabulous bowl of bun bo hue) even though we knew we had a food tour booked the same evening.  The name of the restaurant is Ngon 138 and I've since learned that my aunt goes to it when she is in Saigon and has taken my cousins there, too.  They recognized it from my Facebook post - small world!

After sightseeing and lunch, the kids insisted on some pool time.

View from our room!

Fancy girls and their fancy drinks!

Afterwards, we took a nap and nearly missed our 5:20 meet time for our OH.MY.GAWD.MOST.AWESOME food tour. Yes, we EACH (I know, crazy right) got on motorbikesūüŹć and spent 4 1/2 hours gallivanting about the city with XO Foodie Tour. Nervous for about the first 5 minutes and then totally energized with the thrills. Kids managed to stay on their bikes no problem and had a blast.  This entire operation is top-notch and we felt safe the whole time.  When I first heard the length of the tour, I was worried about going with the kids, but the tour is just so good that the time zipped by so quick.  My gosh, it was so exhilarating being on the motorbikes in the traffic - absolutely LOVED it!  Our tour was $335 ($75 each + $35 for the video).

It's only Day 1, but I don't know how anything is going to top this experience.

Up Next: Day 2 More Saigon Exploration!

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