Out and About Saigon / Ho Chi Minh City

While the city was officially renamed Ho Chi Minh after the communist victory in the Vietnam War, since the city is in the South (where the capitalists who opposed the communists were headquartered), many Vietnamese still refer to the city by its original name, Saigon (also because “Saigon” takes less time to say than “Ho Chi Minh City). In addition, the river, airport and many hotels and landmarks were not renamed with the city, so for simplicity, I’m just going to call the city Saigon.

Moving on, after exploring the Cu Chi Tunnels, we decided to take a tour around the city, leading us to the Reunification Palace, which housed the leaders of South Vietnam during the country’s separation. While the palace is full of boss meeting rooms and a pimpin private movie theatre, bar, casino and discotheque (it was used in the 70s, okay?), South Vietnam’s rulers were all huge targets for assassination, so the palace also houses an underground bunker. Even this didn’t keep the palace safe from a bombing in the 1960s from rebel army men stationed as helicopter pilots at the palace. Since the communists eventually gained full control of the country, one of the bombers moved on to fly passenger planes across the country until his eventual retirement.

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The Wednesday meeting room, used for important government meetings held on Wednesdays

Location of the bombing, off the roof of the palace

Location of the bombing, off the roof of the palace

After the palace, we quickly stopped by the Notre Dame Cathedral (built by the French, even though Buddism is much more widely practised) and the post office.

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Then, it was on to a water puppet show at the Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre. The show was only 7USD, and while it was in Vietnamese, you didn’t need to speak the language to be able to understand that the puppeteering was expertly done. The show featured dopey fishermen reeling in each other more often than any fish, phoenixes (who I think had a sex scene which consisted of them bobbing their heading up and down, then producing an egg) and dragons who, in a surprise grand finale, shot fireworks out of their mouths!

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While the characters were hilarious, even trying to figure out how the puppets worked was amusing enough. At first I thought it would make sense to control them using a stick from below, but then, how would the puppeteers breath if they were underwater? Through a tube disguised in the puppet? Wait, that boat is moving far too fast for someone swimming underwater to be controlling it! Finally, after the performance (and some delicious pho), I flew online to find the answer and put my unstoppable curiosity to rest. As it turned out, the puppets are controlled from behind the background building, with the puppeteers running back and forth! Check it out:  

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