It’s refreshing to be out of China. Having spent 2 months there, it was time for a change, and Vietnam is just what the doctor ordered. Arriving in Ho Chi Minh City from the order that is Shanghai is like being hit with an awesome, unforgiving culture stick. I spent a few days in the city formerly known as Saigon, and this is what I think about it.
The first thing you’ll notice here is the people are friendly! I’m yet to encounter someone that isn’t willing to help you with directions, or point you to a good restaurant, etc. The next thing you’ll notice is that the emotions from the Vietnamese war with America aren’t too far away. Hell, the war only ended in the 70’s so it’s still fresh, especially for the older generation.
The third, and most insane thing you’ll notice here are the scooters. They are everywhere and it’s the best example of organised chaos I can think of! At first, crossing a street seems like an impossible task. In fact, you’ll try to convince yourself that you actually don’t need to go where you wanted to go because the fear of death is too great.
We’ve all heard those stories though… “Just walk, they will drive around you”. My immediate instinct was: Bullshit. But I really needed to cross the road! So I summoned up all my courage and tried it, and it works! I felt like Moses parting the Red Sea. Crossing a street in Vietnam should be a tourist experience in itself!
In terms of things to see in Ho Chi Minh City, there are a couple things you shouldn’t miss.
Cu Chi Tunnels: We know a little about these tunnels from school history – hideout tunnels for the Vietnamese, laced with boobie traps to keep the Americans out. The tunnels are fascinating. I crawled through a section (that was enlarged for tourists) and let me tell you, if that doesn’t make you claustrophobic, I don’t know what will! The traps the Vietnamese set up in the jungle, and within the tunnels are on display here and they’re hardcore!
Thai Binh Market: HCMC has a number of markets selling everything from clothes and accessories (like the Ben Thanh Market) through to more authentic food markets like the Thai Binh Market. I felt this market existed for the Vietnamese and not many tourists found themselves here as the Ben Thanh Market would have allured them there.
War Remnants Museum: This is effectively a museum full of photos about the war. The museum is very anti-American (as you would expect) and some of the photos are pretty gruesome, especially the section devoted to the usage of Agent Orange in the war. This museum really shouldn’t be missed if you’re in the city.
If you want to wander around the city without a clear destination in mind, make sure to walk past the Notre Dame Cathedral (yes, in HCMC…) as well as the Post Office (pretty cool architecture). Most importantly, enjoy the food and the spirit of the place.
If you want a few drinks at night, make sure to get to Pham Ngu Lao – it’s a lot of fun. For dinner, try the local dish – pho – really good and will only cost you $1 if you look around.
Any trip to Vietnam will either see you starting in the north and heading south, or the other way around. Whichever way you choose to go, HCMC is certainly worth a few days. It also serves as a fantastic gateway to the Mekong Delta which is a MUST see – I’ll be posting about that shortly.
Cheer for now.