Guidebook There are reminders of war-time Saigon


There are reminders of war-time Saigon

“Ho Chi Minh City doesn't seem to have forgotten its past,” writes Traveller. “The hotels where war correspondents once caroused simply have a fresh lick of paint; the bars where GI soldiers once danced on R&R still belt out tunes to rowdy audiences; and the Vietcong tanks that surged into Saigon still lie facing the Reunification Palace.” The remnants of war, says Traveller, “have become drawcards for thousands of international visitors each year.”

“There is no frantic buzz of helicopter rotor blades above 22 Ly Tu Trong Street today,” explains The Independent, “no lengthy queue of frightened people, and definitely no hint of eras coming to violent ends.” Today this “unremarkable apartment block” gives no hint of its place as “the location of one of the 20th century's most dramatic moments … but its roof is unmistakably the one captured in that famous image taken by Dutch photographer Hubert van Es on 29 April 1975 -- when the address was 22 Gia Long Street in Saigon, the building was the headquarters of the United States Agency for International Development, and an American ‘Huey’ chopper was perched on its top deck, preparing to whisk US government employees and fearful citizens of South Vietnam to safety on the desperate life raft of Operation Frequent Wind.”

It became the “most remembered photograph of the fall of Saigon,” notes The New York Times, “capturing the last chaotic days of the Vietnam war.” And while most people believed that it showed “desperate Americans crowding on to the roof of the United States Embassy to board a helicopter,” the caption is wrong -- “the building is an apartment complex … the people fleeing are Vietnamese … the last helicopter left about 12 hours later,” explains the Times.

“When you delve deeper, there are actually quite a few buildings and locations associated with the war,” observes Kathmandu and Beyond, which has created a compelling gallary of before-and-after images and commentary. Most of them are in the city’s downtown area of District 1 and neighbouring District 3, “which means that seeing them all in a relatively short space of time on foot is quite feasible.” And here are some iconic Saigon war photo locations revisited at Nomadic Notes.

Among the more obscure and interesting locales of the war worth visiting:

The secret weapons cellar: “In 1967, Saigon resident Tran Van Lai began digging a hidden cellar beneath his home on Nguyen Dinh Chieu Street, in Saigon’s District 3. Lai was a secret operative for the Viet Cong and used the cellar to amass an arsenal of weapons and explosives in the lead up to the deadly Tet Offensive, a large-scale, finely coordinated surprise attack on US and South Vietnam forces that took place up and down Vietnam. Like several other historically significant sites like this, the cellar is now open to the public.” (Sapore de Cina)

Xa Loi Pagoda: In June 1963, Thich Quang Duc “travelled from Xa Loi Pagoda and self immolated at a busy Saigon intersection not far from Xa Loi Pagoda (corner of Cach Mang Thang 8 and Nguyen Dinh Chieu Sts). The image of the burning monk was transmitted around the world and came to encapsulate the dilemma the US faced with a despotic ally in its campaign against Ho Chi Minh's communists.” (Rusty Compass)

Pho Binh is “a modest noodle shop in one of Saigon’s working-class neighborhoods … back when the eatery was frequented by U.S. soldiers during the Vietnam War, there weren’t any plaques on the walls honoring Comrade Ngo Van Toai, the original owner, for his service. Other than that, Pho Binh, which ironically translates to ‘peace noodles,’ appears much as it did during the war … it was here, I learned, that while U.S. soldiers dined downstairs back in January 1968, a secret group of North Vietnamese, known as the City Rangers, planned one of the bloodiest attacks of the war: The Tet Offensive.” (Roads and Kingdoms)

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