Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

Tag: Destinations, Vietnam   Type:
July 14, 2011   No Comments

Formerly known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City is hectic, busy, and really alive. Swarms of scooters and motorcycles sweep through the city. Crossing the road is for the brave – closing your eyes and walking at a consistent pace seems to work well. icon smile Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

It was our first stop in Vietnam and we were apprehensive. We weren’t sure what to expect and had heard loads of things about the Vietnamese not being friendly, tourist scams, and travellers not being welcome on local transport. We arrived in a downpour and jumped through a doorway into a bar for a beer and noodles.

 Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

Colourful fruit on the streets of Saigon

Saigon is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you allow yourself to go with the flow it’s a fantastic place to hang out, shop and see some great sights. The shopping is a wonderful mixture of contemporary and traditional side-by-side – imagine pulsating markets that disorientate your senses opposite the swanky glass windows of designer shops.

Everyone is seemingly working or trying to sell you something. The Vietnamese are industrious and hard-working (it’s fair to say a contrast to the Cambodian’s of Phnom Penh) but that doesn’t stop them chilling on the pavements playing board games, drinking tea or beer, or wolfing down noodle soup. With common sense we avoided the scams. We found the people to be friendly.

 Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

One of the hectic busy streets of Saigon

Accommodation in HCMC

We stayed in the back-packer district at the Duc Vuong Hotel, which was like all buildings here – tall and thin. Apparently in Vietnam they get taxed on the width of properties. It was a good location, next to bars and restaurants and within walking distance of many of the attractions. Special mention about this hotel – they refreshingly have a very clear mission – to make you feel part of the family. Sounds dubious and potentially worrying…but when we left we actually felt like part of their family…well, sort of. So, how’d they do it?

  • Become Part of the Family at the Duc Vuong, Saigon

    They achieve this in two main ways – firstly, all the staff make a special effort to maintain excellent customer service levels (so good it stands out as some of the very best we had in the whole of SE Asia!) and secondly, by inviting you to a free dinner each night icon smile Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) The dinner is at a long table, with a set menu that’s shared with all the other guests, so it’s really sociable. They make a little welcome speech and introduce the food & the chef and every guest gets their name called out and gives a little wave. It’s a great touch and the food is decent enough.

    To top this generous hospitality off, once a week they throw a free party…which is a food buffet followed by a disco with the overly keen and energetic manager pulling the reluctant guests on to the dance floor (err…the breakfast room!). Then the karaoke starts – the Vietnamese are nuts about karaoke. It’s a little bit like a cringe-worthy school disco, but we appreciated the effort.

    Anyway, we checked out of the hotel feeling like part of the family and would definitely recommend it if you’re in HCMC.

 Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

View of HCMC skyline from our hotel

The History of HCMC

The capital city is steeped in history and stuffed full of museums. The most interesting to visit is the War Remnants Museum, which graphically documents the American War, as the Vietnamese call it.

 Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

A mural inside the palace portraying the end of the war

The atrocities committed by the US are shockingly portrayed with facts and photographs, which are difficult to stomach at times. It’s not objective at all, a totally one-sided story and you need to constantly remind yourself of that as you go through the museum but in the cold light of day you do wonder once again which upstanding Americans allowed these things to happen. There are stories of entire villages being murdered.

And then there’s the Agent Orange exhibition. The Agent Orange exhibition graphically showcases the impact of chemical warfare and the painful and crippling consequences that are felt for generations afterwards. Agent Orange was sprayed to remove the jungle that the North Vietnamese were hiding in and were better at fighting in. The rural communities of Vietnam are still producing offspring with sickening and heart-breaking deformities. Good news then that the US financial contribution to clearing up this legacy has been upped from $3m a year to $32m. But it’s barely a start. To put some context: in 2010 the US gave over $4 BILLION to Egypt and Israel in military aid.

There is a particularly interesting exhibition displaying a collection of photographs taken by photographers who died during the conflict – some of whom captured the most iconic and captivating images of the war. It really throws you into the midst and reality and also shows how the media can shape the popular perception of events.

 Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

Ben in front of various US army vehicles, outside the War Remnants Museum

The Reunification Palace

The Reunification Palace – well worth a visit – has remained as it was since 1975, when tanks entered the city and tore down the gates of the palace to oust the South Vietnamese government (see the photo of the mural above) . The kitsch 70’s decor is opulent and grand and some rooms are still used for meetings and receptions today.

 Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

The Reunification Palace, where north Vietnamese tanks broke through the front gates to bring an end to the civil war

 Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

The palace has been left exactly as it was in the 1970's

 Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

The decor in the Reunification Palace is kitsch and quirky

Beautiful Buildings of Saigon

The city contains many beautiful buildings, including the post office – a grand old French-style building – which stands next to a lookalike Notre Dame Cathedral, which is equally as impressive. The ornate Opera House stands in amongst some of the most regal and expensive hotels in the city – it’s a great area to wander around with an extremely Parisian feeling. The Ben Thanh Market is a bustling place packed to the rafters with everything you could imagine (Carly picked up a pair of “genuine” Levi jeans for $10 and Ben bought a nice set of chopsticks for $4!) – it’s lucky if anyone ever gets out without purchasing at least one thing!

 Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

The beautifully designed Opera House

 Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

Mini version of the Notre Dame Cathedral

 Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

The city hall with a statue of Ho Chi Minh in front

 Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

The Post Office

Summary of HCMC

There are so many markets, museums, buildings of interest, parks and pagodas, cafes and restaurants, that you would certainly never get bored spending a few days or longer around HCMC…as long as you can acclimatise to the pace of life. We loved it!

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