Yet it was striking to me that I saw no Vietnamese visitors at the War Remnants Museum, the Cu Chi tunnels, or Hoa Lo prison—everyone there was a foreigner like me. It was a different story at the imposing Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi, where the bulk of the visitors were Vietnamese coming to gawk at Ho’s embalmed corpse (or possibly a wax dummy). The mausoleum lies next to the modest house on stilts where Ho lived and worked as North Vietnam’s president. Admittedly, many of the Vietnamese were school children on compulsory tours, but there is little doubt that there is a deep well of affection for “Uncle Ho,” who was, by the standards of the world’s dictators, uncommonly modest and self-effacing. (He would have hated the Lenin-style mausoleum built and maintained with Russian help—he had requested to have a simple cremation.)
By contrast, there appears to be relatively little interest among the population in the two Vietnam wars—hardly surprising since the median age in Vietnam is 28, meaning that the bulk of the population regards the conflicts as ancient history.
The same day that I visited the Cu Chi tunnels and the War Remnants Museum, I also stopped to get an iced coffee in Saigon, as many Vietnamese still refer to the country’s biggest city. My coffee (and a good one it was) came from a place called NYDC, short for “New York Desert Café.” It was decorated with pictures of the Statue of Liberty and other American icons. A TV showed Ice Age with Vietnamese subtitles, while hordes of trendy young people huddled around their iPads and cheesecakes. Next-door The Coffee Bean, an American franchise, was just as mobbed.