Our last full day in Vietnam was a free one in Ho Chi Minh City. Since our hotel is located in District 1—the very heart of the city—there were many options for spending the day within a few blocks.
I suggested folks check out the Pittman Building, site of the most iconic photograph of the Fall of Saigon in 1975. Back then, the building was home to the CIA Station Chief, who called in a helicopter to evacuate friendly South Vietnamese from the rooftop.
Still apartments, the Pittman Building stands next to Vincom, one of Vietnam’s largest shopping centers.
I visited the rooftop back in 2020. This year, I noticed there’s now a sign announcing the building’s historic significance.
Another must-see in District 1 is the Cao Ben Thanh or Ben Thanh Market, the central market of Saigon.
(Marco Verch Professional Photographer, Flickr)
The place is a sensory onslaught with vendors crammed as tightly as possible, each calling out to you to check out their wares. Haggling is expected.
I was in the market for tea towels. My wife has a penchant for them, as do my grown daughters. I had a fun time talking with vendors through Google Translate about the kind of towel I was hunting. Turns out, Vietnam doesn’t do tea towels. In fact, they aren’t really big on towels or any sort, or toilet paper, or napkins, for that matter.
So, I got some dried mango, kiwi, ginger, and durian candy instead.
Then, I took a walk. One of the best strolls in Saigon is down the immense Nguyen Hue Boulevard.
Start at the ornate French Renaissance Revival building that used to be called the Hotel de Ville. Now, it’s the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee Head Office. You can’t go inside (it’s a working office), but the grounds are beautiful. Then head southeast down the boulevard toward the Saigon River. You’ll pass an iconic statue of Ho Chi Minh. The Rex Hotel is on your right, the Union Square shopping mall on your left.
In addition to the stories, cafes, and restaurants on both sides of the boulevard, there’s also the activity taking place on broad median between the two lanes of traffic.
On this day, there was BridgeFest, a music festival with some kind of youth-oriented social mission. Vietnam’s Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism deemed it as:
bridging the gap toward human economy . . . to ignite inspiration among the public, particularly the younger generation and individuals across diverse sectors of society, as well as to foster collective efforts in shaping a future where people and the earth are positioned at the core of the development process.
Not sure if something was lost in translation or it’s just bad corporate writing. But even though I still don’t understand what BridgeFest was all about, I appreciated the young people’s energy and especially the groups of ethnic minorities—so-called Montagnards and others—singing in their native languages and talking about their cultures.
By mid-afternoon, I was back at our hotel to escort three of our Vietnam Veterans—Jerry, Bob, and Nick—to Doi Dep Café for an interview with Fox News host Harris Faulkner.
Left to right: Nick Edinger, Harris Faulkner, Bob Anckaitis, Jerry Augustine
Harris arrived in Vietnam yesterday to start production on a documentary about her father, Army Lt. Col. Bobby R. Harris, who served three tours in Vietnam. She’s traveling the country to speak with veterans, see key sights, and connect with her father’s memory and service.
Our veterans spoke on camera with Harris for over 90 minutes. Harris was engaging and full of insight as she talked with Jerry, Bob, and Nick about their service then and how they view it now. I was impressed by the whole experience, and our veterans felt honored to participate.
At our farewell dinner that night, we paid tribute to the veterans who accompanied us on our trip and also to our Vietnamese tour guide, who instructed us and also learned from us along the way.
The most moving moment at the dinner was Debbie Bussinger’s brief tribute. She reminded us that each of the three days of the Tet holiday are dedicated to specific Confucian-defined social roles. The first day to fathers. The second day to mothers. And the third day to teachers.
On the third day of Tet this year, said Debbie, I will pay tribute to you, our teacher.
That was about the highest compliment one could give in Vietnam and a fitting one for saying goodbye.