Day 21: Tuesday, October 30, 2012
I woke up super early  to catch the sunrise as we sailed into the port of Phu My…

The bus ride to Ho Chi Minh took nearly two hours (despite only covering 80 kilometers) due to heavy traffic and speed limits, so our tour guide taught us a few interesting facts about Vietnam and Vietnamese culture in general. For example, Vietnam was a French colony for 96 years (thus the architecture) until independence in 1975. In 1975, Vietnam had only 39 million people and Saigon had only 1.8 million. Now, there are 90 million Vietnamese, 10 million of which are living in Ho Chi Minh City. So unlike places like Japan where there is an aging population (and various social and economic strains dealing with social security and such), Vietnam is a booming nation with a relatively highly educated population and a highly skilled but underpaid laborforce. (And you wonder why all of your clothes seem to be made in Vietnam now! According to our tour guide, countryside folk only make $950 a year while city dwellers make an average of 3k a year… yet gas costs $1.20/liter. a LITER.) Also supposedly, you’re only allowed to have up to two kids, otherwise you will get fired (unless you work for the government). Farmers, however, own land and therefore do not have to follow governmental rules — so they just multiply farm hands. Our bus driver was “Mr. 7” while his helper was “Mr. 11” — no joke.

Once we arrived in Ho Chi Minh (which the locals still refer to as Saigon), we visited the National History Museum where we watched a water puppet show — a uniquely Vietnamese art form.

Next, we hit up the Minh Phuong laquer factory to learn all about eggshell and mother of pearl laquerware — typical special occasion presents in Vietnam (e.g. for a wedding).

Photo op at the Reunification Palace! This is where the South Vietnamese President lived and worked before the infamous North Vietnamese army tank crashed through its gates and ended the Vietnam War.

Next up, the Notre-Dame Cathedral and Central Post Office, the latter of which was designed by Gustave Eiffel! The two are across the street from one another. Don’t you love Saigon?!

I love how the phonebooths are now ATM machines.

And then just a few blocks away, you’re at the gorgeous City Hall:

I love the old juxtaposing the new!

Adjacent to the City Hall is the Rex Hotel, whose rooftop bar was a popular hangout for American military officials and journalists.

After all the sightseeing, we had a buffet lunch at the Grand Hotel with not so traditional food paired with effortfully traditional dance and song:

Afterward, Ryan and I just wandered along Dong Khoi Street lined with clothing and curiosity shops. I snagged two formal dresses for $20 each while Ryan bought three 100% silk ties for $8 each!

We even stumbled onto the Opera House (which I later realized was really close to City Hall and the Rex):

I love Saigon! The place is romantic without the snobbery…and it tastes like home.