The Jade Emperor Pagoda is a popular Taoist Temple in the heart of Saigon. Because of the Tet Holiday, It was extremely crowded and we were pushed quickly through the temple without really seeing much. Taoism is a Chinese religion/philosophy which is about living in harmony with "the way" and not devoted to worship of deity. It espouses "Yin and Yang": opposite but complimentary forces that are part of a necessary oneness; as well as "Wu-Wei; action without action". I found the temple to be very dark, uninviting and confusing. For some reason, birds and turtles are often purchased and donated to the temple as part of their worship. I was glad to leave this place.
We joined the hoards of Vietnamese on holiday at Thao Cam Vien Park. This huge central park is half botanical gardens and half zoo.
Lunch was devoured at a quaint Vietnamese restaurant where our guide told us they make the very best famous noodle soups in Saigon. Bob ordered the Pho Bo, which is a beef noodle soup and I ordered Pho Ga, the chicken noodle soup. The soups were amazingly delicious - much better than what we had ordered in Nha Trang. There is something about adding that squirt of fresh lime that makes the flavor of the broth delectable!
We made a quick stop at a lacquer facility to see how they create their traditional lacquer "paintings" and artwork. A picture is carved out of a black board and then filled with with mother of pearl or with tiny pieces of a variety of colors of crushed eggshells. After the picture is formed. ten or more layers of lacquer are painted on top and and finely polished to bring out the desired colors.
Bob and I learned more about the Vietnam War at the War Remnants Museum in Saigon. While filled with anti-American sentiment, it was a stark look at the horrible affects of the war. Use of "Agent Orange" for herbicidal warfare was graphically portrayed as causing all kinds of health and birth defects. It's use was requested by the south to clear the forests and hiding places of the insurgents. The war was very controversial among Americans, with little support or appreciation given to those who fought to free the republic south from communist rule. It was heart-wrenching to have a discussion with an American Vietnam war veteran, who was visiting Saigon for the first time since his return from the war. He recalled being boo-ed and shamed for his service and he still suffers from the physical and emotional toll the war had upon him. I was in 8th grade when the war ended, and am sorry to say that all I remember about the war was that it was shamefully left unfinished.
The Saigon Central Post Office in Saigon is said to have been built by Gustave Eiffel in 1886. It is a beautiful building and was full of souvenir shops. It is next to the Notre Dam Cathedral in a lovely part of the city.
We went to the city center where we saw street food, Tet street decorations, the Opera House, a couple of famous hotels, the new Bitexco Tower and City Hall.
My favorite part of our tour to Saigon was appropriately the grand finale for the day. We were treated to a "Water Puppet Show", a uniquely Vietnamese cultural performance. It is said that this form of entertainment originated in the rice fields, where workers often found ways to provide comic relief from their chores. The stage is a pool of water, and the puppeteers stand behind the backdrop where they maneuver wooden puppets on log sticks that extend beneath the water.
What a magical ending to our highlights of Saigon!