Last week I had the chance to spend a week in Vietnam. To be honest, a week was not enough and I wish I could stay longer. Vietnam has a lot of interesting places to go to, incredibly good food to try and amazing hospitality from the locals. For those who haven’t experienced Vietnam yet, please be advised that crossing the streets is a challenge. Sure they have the zebra crossing, pedestrian walkway and whatnot but in Vietnam especially the main cities, they are filled with humming and buzzing of traffic.
Why is Vietnam known as Land of The Dragon People? The Vietnamese believe themselves the descendants of a dragon. Dragon is one of the 4 holy animals and it has a very significant place in the Vietnamese culture. That’s all from what little knowledge I know about the history behind the symbolic animal.
My first stop was to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon). The name Saigon was given by the French, who took over in 1859. The name Saigon was a symbol of colonialism, but after the city lost its capital city status in 1975 (after being defeated by the North), it was officially renamed the year after for the deceased communist leader Ho Chi Minh and as a posthumous sign of respect to him.
Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) is the most vibrant and intoxicating city I have been to in many years. First impression; I shortened my lifespan to a day or two max judging by the traffic and streets I had to cross but the trick is (taught by a local), first you have to be brave then raise a hand (like a gesture to stop incoming motorists) while crossing the road, two hands for cars and cross slowly but the most important thing you need to remember, do not reverse your steps or walk back because incoming traffic will find their way to avoid you and they’re really good at it.
Vietnam is pretty limited to on-road vehicles. There is no intercity train, light rail or mass rapid transit but the taxi is cheap, provided you know which one to take. So which one is it? I have 2 recommendations:
Vinasun. This taxi is cheap and comfortable. Most of the drivers can understand English. I took this taxi from the airport to my hotel located in District 1 (around 15-20 minutes) and the charge was VND120,000 (around USD6).
Mai Linh. The green-coloured taxi can be easily spotted. Clean and comfortable. It goes by meter and I’ve taken it a few times, never been ripped off.
Accomodation is like growing mushrooms in HCMC, so it’s not a problem to find one that suits your budget. I chose Little Saigon Boutique Hotel as my humble abode this time. Paid USD30/night for a comfortable deluxe room with attached bathroom. Located in District 1, it’s 5 minutes away from the famous Bến Thành Market, there’s also the famous French inspired South Korean bakery, Tous Les Jours and the mouth-watering pretzel chain, Auntie Anne to appease your appetite.
The food is very fragrant and flavourful. They will excite and tickle your taste buds away. The ingredients used are so fresh and aromatic, you’ll feel full after each meal but you won’t have that post-meal exhaustion. I started off my culinary adventures with a bowl of Pho Bo (white rice noodle with soup and beef), my favourite of all Vietnamese food. Click here to read the rest of my culinary adventures in Vietnam.
Places of Interest
The places of interest in HCMC range from free attractions; Notre Dame Cathedral, Ben Thanh Market, Central Post Office to paid entrance to the War Remnants Museum, HCMC Fine Arts Museum, Museum of Vietnamese History, Chill Skybar and many more. Everything is almost within walking distance and most of these places I stumbled upon by accident while walking around the city aimlessly.
HCMC is still scarring from the Vietnam War. You can see from the physical shape of the city but by all measures, this city has grown into a more advanced state and although they’re still recovering from the damage, the efforts to revive the national economy are very apparent. Part of that dynamism is rooted in the city’s past; the sufferings are still felt by many up until today.
The War Remnants Museum
I didn’t know what to expect before entering this museum. I’ve watched movies about the Vietnam War but these movies only advertised heroism. Cliche. Recalling the days of the Vietnam war which began in 1955, the Viet Cong atrocities was terrible and scary. Vietnam War and United States involvement have affected the lives of millions of people for more than a decade, demanding millions of deaths and countless injuries; both physically and mentally. As I mentioned earlier, the scars remain until today.
There were also a lot of untold miseries, maltreatment and murders committed. The impact on the people of Vietnam was long term and the civilian population suffered appalling losses. Herbicide Orange or ‘Agent Orange’ left its mark remarkably with the great potential to damage the chromosomes of a foetus. There was no record of how many children were born with physical deformities after the war nor how many of these innocent lives suffered from the impact of ‘Agent Orange’.
HCMC Fine Arts Museum
To be honest, I’m not a big fan of art museum because I can never understand the artistic part of a painting but, I like viewing one. I had this one afternoon free so I slotted in this place to see what the hype is all about. Most buildings in HCMC are very French inspired and the intriguing part of it is of course the architecture.
This museum is a great spot for both art and architecture enthusiasts because it housed amazing paintings that are well-selected and wonderful sculptures.
So what to do during the night? There are few things you can do; visit the night market and have dinner in the market. Ben Thant Market closes at night but the night market comes alive after! Stretch of stalls that is fun to walk through.
If night market is not your thing, head down to Chill – Skybar, located on the rooftop of AB Tower with an endless 360 degree views of HCMC. It opens at 5.30pm and happy hour ends at 8pm with pretty cheap cocktails and other alcohols. The view is amazingly spectacular although the bar is located on the 27th floor. Because there are not many tall buildings in HCMC, the bar gives aerial view of the whole city, beautiful especially at night where lights perched through other buildings surrounding it.
This bar is pretty strict with the dress code; no shorts and slippers. If the weather is not at its best, the outside area of the bar will be closed until further notice. So just put on a nice shirt and dress, nice shoes and enjoy this cosmopolitan bar overlooking the aerial view of Ho Chi Minh City!
After spending just 2 nights in HCMC, I’ve fallen hard for this city. It’s a fun, creative and challenging city that offers tons of splendid treasures. This historic city is filled with love and warmth, something you will enjoy and remember for the rest of your life.
Follow my journey as I take you to Halong Bay, Hanoi! Click HERE to read more about it.