In a city thumping with an insatiable thirst for life, I lost and found myself. I had arrived in Ho Chi Minh City aka Saigon just that morning. From the airport, I took a direct bus to Ben Thanh, one of the oldest and largest markets in Vietnam. The road looked like an unending sea of motorcycles. The cheapest and arguably, the most efficient means of public transport in Vietnam, is the bike taxi known as Xe Om. It means "hug the driver".
Ho Chi Minh is the city of the motorcycles, you'll see thousands of them on every place you go. I visited the War remnants museum, and took a daytrip to the Mekong river delta. Great experience to see how the people of the country lives, and to understand their reality.
Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon is the largest city in Vietnam. If you are visiting Vietnam you just cannot skip Saigon, for you get to see the harmony in the confusion. I encountered the high spirited living in District 1, the laid back lives and open spaces in District 7 and came face to face with Vietnamese culture in the District 5. Where to stay: I stayed in the Backpackers area in District 1, the place is chaotic and filled with tourists. The good part is that this is in the heart of the city so you can simply walk to the major places of interest. A dorm room would cost you around $ 7- $ 10 and a private room can cost anywhere between $ 10- $ 20. Pham Ngu Lao Street is a hub for hostels, with a new hostel coming up every month! It is the main street in the district, however the hostels are located in some extremely narrow alleys. Since all of these hostels promise same amenities and services you might have a hard time picking one out of the lot. My recommendation: Phan Anh Backpackers Hostel 373/6 Pham Ngu Lao, Ho Chi Minh City T: (08) 3920 9235 www.phananhbackpackershostel.com Things not to miss: 1. Visit the War remnant museum to get the insights of the war with both French and Americans. The museum displays exhibition rooms on history, statistics and the weaponry used during the war. You will be forced to think how in a short span of time this country has recovered from the horrors of the war. One can easily spend about 2 hours at the museum, is worth the entrance fee of 30000 d. 2. Gaze at the marvellous architectures of the Notre Dame Cathedral and Central Post Office. Built by Gustave Eiffel of the Eiffel tower fame, Saigon’s Central Post Office is one of the most acclaimed buildings of the country. Once you enter you are greeted by groups of other tourist praising the Gothic style architecture, French colonial maps and a portrait of Ho Chi Minh. Right across the post office stands the Notre Dame Cathedral basking the beauty of Romanesque architecture, apart from the usual tourist buses I was lucky enough to spot a number of newlyweds having a photo shoot outside the Cathedral. 3. A visit to the Mekong delta and the surrounding Islands is a must when in Saigon. There are a number of tour companies that take you to see places around Mekong Delta, you can take a day tour or a 1 night 2 days tour. The day tours range $ 10 - $ 15 and includes transport, English speaking guide and authentic Vietnamese meal. I recommend watching the floating market of Cai Be then taste some snake wine and visit the fruit market of Vin Long to indulge in the tropical treasure of the country. 4. Crawl through the Cu Chi tunnels, you can either book a tour or just take a city bus by yourself. It is located a bit on the outskirts of Saigon, these tunnels showcases the Viet Cong method of warfare and is very interesting to know how they survived during the American War. You can avoid the tour under the tunnels if you are claustrophobic. 5. Shopping can be a task in Saigon if you have not mastered the art of bargaining, chances are you will be a pro at it by the end of the shopping trip! There are a number of markets to choose- Ben Than being the most visited by the tourists, probably because of the close proximity from the backpackers area is a nice place to shop for souvenirs, eat Vietnamese street food and hone your haggling skills. If you want to escape the heat, you can visit the nigh market. Word of caution: Be careful with your belongings, the streets are filled with pickpockets. 6. Get carried away in the crazy Nightlife of Ho Chi Minh City, I would simply compare it to the Baga Beach area in Goa or the Khao San road of Bangkok. A number of Karaoke bars, uptown clubs or just bar the streets are filled with options. 7. Sip an Iced Coffee and watch the chaotic life of the city go by. This sure was one my favourite things to do during early evenings, the Vietnamese coffee took my heart away and was a sure way to battle the heat and humidity. More on the coffee culture of Vietnam will come in the next post. Those are just some of the things that I did during my 5 day stay in Saigon. There is so much one can see and explore in this high octane city and if not then just take book and sip some addictive Vietnamese Coffee.
The night life city package we got includes a Vietnamese water puppet show, transportation (car and cyclo ride), and cruise dinner. The Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre, a red velvet covered auditorium, runs a 50-minute show featuring marionette puppets in water reenacting the ancient origins of Vietnam and its rural upbringings. The unique cyclo brought us from the theater to the cruise ship docked in Saigon river. This is where we had a sumptuous Vietnamese dinner while cruising the river and watching the city lights glow.
We’ve spent a lot of our time in HCM city just walking around and visiting the markets. It’s most definitely the most westernised place in Vietnam, and despite the very heavy traffic, there is actually less beeping than in Hanoi (where it really started to get to me. We headed out for some food on the backpacker strip behind our actual hotel. It reminded us a lot of the Khao San Road in Bangkok – lots of tour operators, restaurants and bars for travelers coupled with a variety of street food sellers. The street food of choice here is Bahn Mi – a white crusty baguette stuffed with Vietnamese herb salad, marinated pork and some kind of pate (I don’t want to know).They go for about 15,000 dong on average, which is about 45p. Bargain!
Saigon, or officially, Ho Chi Minh City, is a bustling city. It is also a city of contrasts, old and new, rich and poor, modern and ancient, for better or for worse. It kind of sums up the essence of Vietnam. Our first stop was the Notre Dame Cathedral. With its twin 40 m. Square spires dominating the central skyline, it was built in the late 1800's. A cool, quiet place to visit. We noticed that some of the stained glass windows have now been replaced, as all were damaged during the war. Walking the shady tree-lined boulevards it is hard to imagine that following over a century of French colonialism, Saigon was the scene of many battles during the American War. Ancient Buddhist pagodas filled with praying monks and wafting incense. Across the street from Notre Dame is the largest post office in Vietnam; architecturally exquisite, this grand building constructed in 1868 oozes with history. Ho Chi Minh, or 'Uncle Ho' gazes down from the far wall, watching that the mail is sorted correctly or that proper change is given.
The locals still refer to it as Saigon. It’s a lot more westernized than Hanoi and, for me, didn’t hold quite the same level of cultural interest, so I felt two days and one night was enough. I would recommend going straight to the Cu Chi tunnels, flight times permitting.
Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon, is like a septuagenarian on steroids. Frenzied, surprising, and amusing. It's a Vietnam packaged in modern dreams, but a minor unwrapping will expose the soul of a city juggling with a million stories. Saigon represents the Vietnam that doesn't mind shedding its old-world tag for new, flashy dreams. The city is a mix-match of opulent French architecture--best seen in the cathedrals and public buildings--and the haphazard pre-colonization neighborhoods bursting at their seams with a chaotic overdose of rickety buildings and constricted lanes. A Saigon must visit is the War Remnants Museum on 28 Võ Văn Tần, phường 6, Quận 3. The museum highlights the atrocities of the Vietnam War with a particularly graphic section on Agent Orange and its aftereffects to this date. Also, try bargaining with the shop owners at the iconic Bến Thành Market. They'll rip you off and make you feel happy about it!
Named after the popular Communist leader, Ho Chi Minh is the largest city in Vietnam. Capital of South Vietnam before the unification, this place played a major role in the war. Also called as Saigaon, this was also the capital of the French during their colonial rule here. Thus, most streets and buildings display French architecture. Around 70% of the tourists who come to Vietnam don't give this city a miss. Here we visit Cu Chi Tunnels, an amazing complex of the underground tunnels used during the Vietnam War. From there we go to visit War Remnants Museum, former Presidential Palace and quick photo stops at Notre Dame Church, and Central Post Office. This brings us to the end of the tour.