The third day allowed us to get in contact with a different Vietnam around a district which became famous during the French era, this being the reason as to why the city's old nickname is siad to have been the "Paris of the Orient".
Set on well maintained grounds stood the Reunification Palace, a prominent symbol of the country's political history on the site of the Norodom Palace, former residence of the French Governor; Its rather stern looking façade is considered as one of the unique examples of 1960's Vietnamese architecture.
Not too far and facing the largest Church ever built in the French empire, the basilica-styled Notre Dame Cathedral stood the Metropolitan Building, home to HSBC's headquarters.
The Basilica's façade is made of red tiles brought over from Marseille and attached to granite walls. It looks imposing from a distance but once you get closer it looks rather simple though not less impressive, I must confess. In front of it stands a statue of the Virgin Mary made in Rome and said to have been brought to Vietnam in 1959.
Just across the road stood the 1886 French architect Gustave Eiffel designed building - the General Post office, considered one of the most attractive buildings in the city. Its coral coloured façade with a cream trim features carvings of the faces of famous philosophers and scientists but the most noteworthy part of it seems to be the interior, which is slightly evocative of a railway station hallway. It is vaultedd and supported by wrought iron pillars painted in green with gilded capitals. The floor tilework was equally impressive, but so were the chandeliers, the wooden phone booths and even the old maps on the walls, not to mention the Ho Chi Minh portrait overlooking the whole hallway.
We were then literally "dropped" at the main local market entrance by our local guide, so as to get a feeling of the overall atmosphere of Vienamese markets, as well as the prices and the negotiating techniques required but some of us (Ines, Candide, Liliane, Claude and myself) soon found our way out and decided not to start buying without getting to know the possible strategies so as to locally negotiate without being offensive to both sellers and street vendors, despite the fact that some of us have been acquainted with worldwide selling-buying approaches for a while.
We stood outside one of its main entrances just watching the bustling activities and the vendors' cries as they tried to sell exquisite fruits, some of which were still unknown to us.
As our remaining travel companions came out we headed towards the People's Comitee buildinbg via the Municipal Theatre still referred to nowadays as the Opera House. Its entrance flanked by two huge columns shaped like Greco-Roman Goddesses looked quite impressive from the distance, but tha's how close we got to the 1899 French-Colonial building once said to have been the concert hall for the French.
Being a revered figure Ho Chi Minh, who has been acclaimed as the leader and primary force behind Vietnam's struggle for independence though he died six years before the reunification, is still clearly honoured as a "living" character the Vietnamese will not easily let go of, given the part he still plays as an examplary figure to be followed by generations to come.
His anniversary was celebrated in an array of demonstrations and as we approached his statue proudly standing in the square in front of the hall of the People's Committee building a number of women dressed in silk ao dais who had undoubtedly come to honour the date were just walking down the red carpet which ran along the whole length of the square.
Traditional cuisine and music were to undoubtedly become an important part of the Vietnamese cultural approach we were fortunate enough to have been introduced to in various forms. Not only did we get "dependant" on the wide variety of flavours, which we sometimes "craved" for (as if we had unexpectedly become addicted) but also attracted by the mixed and pungent sounds from the traditional instruments. On the evening of the 20th of May I listened to the dan bau, a rather exquisite single stringed instrument, for the first time.