In a week that saw local news reporting that the Vietnamese Government had called in the military to oversee Ho Chi Minh City’s worsening Covid-19 caseload which, according to VN Express, has now reached a seven-day average of over 10,000 new daily cases, the international media dredged up memories of the past when the US military’s withdrawal from Kabul in Afghanistan this month drew comparisons with its withdrawal on the penultimate day of the Vietnam War on April 29, 1975.
Photos circulated online of a helicopter evacuating personnel from Kabul juxtaposed alongside iconic images of the US withdrawal before the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975, including Dutch photojournalist Hubert van Es’ enduring shot of evacuees scrambling for a spot on a waiting US military helicopter resting on top of the elevator shaft of the then-CIA building located at what is now 22 Ly Tu Trong Street in the heart of Saigon.
This renewed interest in Saigon’s (now Ho Chi Minh City) history, got the hosts of The Bureau Podcast – Matt, Mel and Andy – thinking about historic locations in Ho Chi Minh City and Vietnam they would recommend tourists to visit once international travel resumes.
In their latest episode recorded on Aug. 20, 2021, the trio are required to present one historical location each, preferably, what host Matt says, is “off the YouTube trail.”
Mel recommends Sa Dec
“I personally, like to visit places and recommend people who are into novels, short stories, movies about Vietnam, not necessarily just in Ho Chi Minh City, but Vietnam in general,” says Mel, who is a movie buff. “For example, books and movies like The Quiet American, The Scent of Green Papaya, even more recently the King Kong movie which was shot here in Vietnam…those are the kinds of places that I would recommend.”
“Well, you’re a huge movie buff, so that makes sense,” says Matt.
“A year ago,” Mel continues, “we finally got to go to Sa Dec, which is one of the locations mentioned in the autobiographical book and movie called The Lover by Marguerite Duras.”
“Yes,” responds Matt, “we actually went to the house (The Lover’s House)…Sa Dec is a must-visit. I thoroughly enjoyed that place.”
Andy recommends the Caravelle Hotel
“Once place that I recommend that probably adds that Aussie feel, is the Caravelle Hotel,” says Andy. “It was built, I think, back in 1959, it used to be the Australian and New Zealand embassies…I think it had a really cool famous Vietnamese architect that came in and built it…”
“Oh, I didn’t know that!” responds Matt.
“If you’re in Saigon, the Caravelle Hotel is really, really cool, so when things open up again…it’s also downtown, so if you’re on a romantic date, you can walk down around there…”
“Well, there’s a great bar on the rooftop there,” says Matt. “It’s on the rooftop of the original building and it’s got a roof but it’s kind of more open-air and you look all the way down to Notre Dame Cathedral and it’s where the war correspondents used to go.”
“It’s super-duper cool,” says Andy.
Matt recommends a church with a holy twist
“I’m going a little off-piste,” says Matt when introducing his must-visit location, the Thu Thiem Parish Church and Lovers of the Holy Cross Convent.
“Five years ago, I did a magazine piece about the church and its potential relocation,” explains Matt. “When I was there, I was snooping around before the nuns knew I was there and I came across a small dairy. There’s actually a small dairy to the side of the church!”
Matt suspects that it’s the world’s most urban dairy and adds to the long list of quirky things to discover in Vietnam’s most interesting city.
The Thu Thiem Congregation of the Lovers of the Holy Cross was established in 1840.
Listen to the full episode below.
Words by Matthew Cowan. Follow Matt on Instagram at @mattcowansaigon
Follow Melanie Casul on Instagram at @melaniecasul
Follow Andrew Tran on Instagram at @andrewtrandigital
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