I have just sat down, and am waiting on my coffee order to be delivered at the La Viet in District 3 that my Grab driver unceremoniously dropped me off at moments ago. I found their cafe to be a good place in Da Lat to do a bit of writing, and as all the reviews on Google stated how great a place this Saigon location is to work from I thought I might go. There are a few other cafes in the vicinity that I can walk to as well whenever I decide to leave.
The Grab ride was a surprising and fascinating one, largely because Saigon is a huge city—one which I am completely unfamiliar with. I must correct myself though. The ride wasn’t surprising in any way, but my arrival at my destination was, as we simply stopped at the opening of an alley and my driver signaled for me to get off. I don’t know where I thought I was when we arrived, but I certainly did not think we were at my destination. I imagine if my interior world had a face, a visage to read, it would have looked similar to Harry’s after going for a bit of a tumble on Dumbledore’s arm. That ride, looking back, was fascinating because of the surprise—the sensation of time and distance passing while on our way was nil. It was just me flowing through the streets on the back of this motorbike driven by a guy in a green jacket and helmet.
Yesterday I was moved. On one occasion, possibly two. I visited the War Remnants Museum. That was one. And I guess I could say the espresso I had at Saigon Coffee Roasters was moving as well. It was certainly the best one I’d had in Saigon, and possibly all of Vietnam, so that would be the second occasion. But before all of that I visited the fine arts museum. The museum building, while a bit run down, is a fabulous old colonial villa constructed in the early 1930’s. A/C is only provided in select rooms—those with particularly important works—and the three story structure encloses an inner courtyard. The topmost floor is my favorite. It is full of artworks pre-1975, meaning they were created before the end of the war. To these eyes they seemed much more cultural than the later and more contemporary works which have a more personal, inward looking, and often abstract form to them, and seem to me less culturally Vietnamese and more global. Many of these earlier works were simply depictions of everyday life, similar to Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s paintings of Dutch/Flemish life and town scenes. But what moved me and interested me most about the works on the third floor was just how immediate they felt to the war—how they brought it forth into the present day—and how so many of them directly depicted the war’s influence on daily life.
The War Remnants Museum is really special though. I will start by saying that in my opinion it’s fair and objective, and isn’t anti-American, though I could certainly see why some particularly sensitive people might think it is as it is highly critical of America (I would say for good reason!). The combination of written testimony regarding the war by various political figures around the world, and the imagery in photographs and news articles is well arranged, and it’s those photographs and the testimonies of so many against the war, and also certain statistics relating to the supply and usage of munitions during the war that does such an admirable and convincing (if one for some reason needed convincing) job of the absurdity, the madness, the stupidity of war in general, and the Vietnam War in specific. In the two hours I was there I probably only covered three-quarters of the exhibition space, and at only 40k dong entry I am certain to go back. It is an absolute must-visit for any traveler who finds him/herself in Saigon.