Ho Chi Minh City, Yangon, and Bagan
9.16.14 - 9.20.14 90 °F
I arrived in Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) late in the evening. To me, it seems like more of a Western city than Hanoi. I'm trying to limit my spending a little, so I stayed in a hostel for the two nights I was there. It was a fantastic deal for $7 per night and the walk wasn't too bad to the museums I wanted to visit. The first one I wanted to see was the War Remnants Museum.
It used to be called the Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes, and while the name has been changed, there is certainly a level of anger (that might not be right word) at the Chinese and Americans just under the surface. The first thing that caught my eye on the map was an exhibit about the photographers on all sides of the Vietnam War. This was the most objective exhibit at the museum and I spent the most time here. It's a large collection of famous and not so famous shots of the war. It takes a long time to see and read about all of them but if you're interested in historical photography like me, it's well worth the time. There is also a large exhibit about the use of Agent Orange and other defoliants during the war. The outdoor space is filled with mostly American military vehicles and weapons. There is also a display on the ground floor about peace between the US and Vietnam after the war.
About two hours into my visit at the musuem, they kicked everyone out from 12-1:30 for what I'm assuming was there lunch break. I decided to go to the Independence Palace (aka Reunification Palace) because it was nearby and my War Remnants museum ticket valid all day. Of course the palace was closed for lunch too, which was a bit more unusual than a museum closing. I figured that was a good time for me to go eat as well.
I returned to the Palace after lunch a walked around inside. It's not used as much anymore, so there are a lot of the original items still there. It's an interesting historical site.
I left the next day for Yangon, Myanmar. I had about a 4-5 hour layover in Bangkok so I didn't do much else that day. The next day I went to the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. The most accurate adjective for this place is: gold. Visitors have to remove their shoes and socks and shorts are not allowed. It had rained earlier that morning so stone seemed clean enough, but I've never had a problem walking barefoot anyway. I was approached by supposedly a teacher from a nearby monastery. He spoke English pretty well, so the teacher story was believable, but if there's one thing I've learned while I've been at these tourist sites, a large majority of people like this are looking for money. I let him show me some of the Buddha statues and I saw how to wash the Buddha on for my birth day of the week. Sure enough, after 20 minutes or so, he stuck his hand out expectantly.
I took an overnight bus from Yangon to Bagan last night. It was an adventure. I had read about the trains in Myanmar and the general consensus was that they are not too safe. The buses were similar, except for supposedly one company: JJ Express. This was the one I took and when I saw the bus, I was relieved. It was very clean, comfortable and looked well maintained. The only thing that gave me any doubts was that life insurance was included in my ticket. The bus left at 8 pm for a roughly 8-9 hour journey to Bagan. In case you don't want to do the math, that would put our arrival time at around 4-5 am, an awfully awkward time to arrive in a new city. Fortunately we stopped a highway restaurant with a bunch of other tourist buses at midnight. We stopped again a few hours later, and because it was pouring most of the time, we didn't arrive until the much more reasonable hour of 6 am. I took a taxi to my hotel and checked in at 7 am. The first thing I did was lay down and take a nap. I managed to extract myself a few hours later to go explore Bagan. My research told me the three popular modes of local transportation around Bagan are horse drawn cart, bicycle and electric scooter. My hotel had electric scooters to rent for roughly 4 dollars for 6 hours. It seemed like a good idea, so I went for it.
Of course the battery died when I was about as far as I could be from my hotel. I asked a local tourist police officer to call my hotel to ask them to bring another battery. 20 minutes later, I was back in business. I managed to see a lot but I have all of tomorrow morning and early afternoon to see some more.
I have another overnight bus from here back to Yangon from tomorrow night until Sunday morning (8pm-6am) and then a flight later that day back to Bangkok. My plan is to take the train the next day (Monday) up to Chiang Mai in north Thailand, for a few days.