How To Spend A Day In Saigon: Elephant Feet Fetish and Other Bizzaro

August 15, 2010 § 1 Comment

Hotel De Ville / The People’s Committee Building on a Saturday night…. no you can’t go in there.

If you want to enjoy yourself in a hectic city with a heavy motorbike-esque culture like Hanoi or Saigon, the most important thing is not to do too much. Find little spaces around the city to sit, relax, drink, eat, read, write, and think.

Of course, go see the Notre Dame cathedral, walk along Dong Khoi (ex. Rue Catinat) during siesta time (12-2pm), drop into one of those chic fashion boutiques or dusty old bookstore. But you might find that it all becomes too much. The mid-day heat and the honking streets may test your mental well-being, and you find your knickers in a twist.

If so, seek out a little Franco-Vietnamese ice-cream cafe along Ton That Thiep street, order yourself a triple ( 38 flavors to choose from), sit back, enjoy, and watch the Saigonites, and “how the other side lives”.

Watch out for the pretty Vietnamese girls zoom by in their day-glo yellow Vespas, matching white helmets, red heels, and oh-so-short skirts.

A Day At Museums in Saigon

On my last day in Saigon, I wake up with the intention to do the following:

8:00 am: War Remnants Museum

9:30am: Visit Notre Dame Cathedral

10:30am: Reunification Palace  (aka Presidential Palace)


After some light breakfast ( Vietnamese street sandwich baguette), I pedal my way to the museum. Damn I love two wheels.  The war remnants museum is purportedly the most popular museum in Saigon, but I don’t understand why. Not that the museum isn’t any good. It actually is enlightening and shocking. Halfway through Tim Page’s Requiem Photographic Exhibition on the first floor, I thought I was lapsing into a migraine attack, and couldn’t see clearly what was in front of me. It might have been the leftover fatigue of cycling in the Mekong, but I’d like to think the photographs of the “American war” were some of the most extraordinary, revelatory, and rarely seen outside of  Vietnam.

Then I come across this:

Foreboding stuff. Graham Greene-esque. Can anyone verify it?


A few turns around Pasteur avenue (one of the few remaining French street names in Saigon), I find the famous Notre Dame cathedral, and the end of Sunday service. I park the bike, and wander into the cathedral, I realize Saigon has a sizeable Filipino population. A while later at a Pho restaurant I will be amazed at their mastery of the Vietnamese language. Impressive.

This place has some beautiful stained glass.


Church closes its doors early, so I two-wheel my way to the Presidential Palace. Now I have trouble finding this place because I keep circling around the back of it. Dammit I mistook it for a tennis club! The place has three tennis courts in its sprawling grounds. But I make my way into the bike parking anyways. A quick flip to my Lonely Planet: Vietnam and it says:


Time has stood still here since 30 April 1975, a slightly scary thought. The striking modern architecture and the slightly eerie feelign you get as you walk through its deserted halls make Reunifcation Palace one of the most fascinating sights in HCMC…

From the looks of it, it sure feels I’m in the 70’s all right.

It’s like a time warp now…

And of course the local girls had to take the obligatory group shot of the president’s bizzare collection of taxidermy and Elephant’s feet fetish.

But I went up to the fourth floor, and lo and behold, the highlight of the visit: the President’s swanky chic games room.

Complete with a Mahjong game they left unfinished yesterday?

How decadent were they in the 70’s? So very un-Vietnamese, but yet very Vietnamese. Probably would have been a great episode of MTV Cribs never made.


Here’s an interesting article about the Reunification Palace in the New York Times

Stay tuned for a detailed write up on my Mekong adventure…


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