A city marked by war: Ho Chi Minh
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And here I am in the capital of Vietnam, the last destination of this beautiful country: Ho Chi Minh.
I reach Ho Chi Minh from Da Lat on a night bus, paying 210,000 dong (€ 7.50); but I arrive in the middle of the night, at 4 am, which is not the best. I, therefore, would recommend taking a bus in the late afternoon so as to arrive at least for midnight in the city (it takes 5 hours).
Fortunately, in the hostel, there is the security guy who let me sleep on the couch.
I stay for one night at Suite Backpackers Inn for a price of 140,000 dong or € 5 with breakfast included and another 2 nights at Long Hostel for the same price. Both hostels are in "District 1", which is where nightlife usually takes place and where most hostels are located. However, I prefer the latter because it is easier to meet people since every night they offer 2 Saigon beers per person and this means that people are in the lobby chatting with each other. The staff in both hostels is super helpful and friendly and the cleanliness is very good.
To visit the city, 3 days are more than enough, including a day for visiting the Cu Chi Tunnels. I recommend staying one more day in case you want to do the excursion on the "Mekong Delta". I cannot visit this last place because I don't have enough time but I must also say that it is not my priority since I met the Mekong River in Thailand and since then I have not left since it also crosses the Laos and Cambodia.
When you arrive in South Vietnam you find yourself a bit confused, with half the population calling the main city "Ho Chi Minh City" and the other half referring to it as "Saigon". The airport code itself is also SGN, but when you enter the city you will find signs with the welcome to Ho Chi Minh City. So, what is the real name?
Officially, the name of the southern metropolis is Ho Chi Minh City, and it has been for many years, but there are still a number of locals and visitors who call it Saigon. The importance of these two different titles dates back to the Vietnam War, which ended not so long ago in 1975.
The Vietnam war was actually between the north and south of Vietnam. The Communist allies, like China and the Soviet Union, supported the first, while anti-Communist troops, such as America and Australia, helped the latter. In 1975, the North of Vietnam won the war and changed the name of Saigon to Ho Chi Minh City, in honour of the prime minister, a revolutionary leader of the communist party.
The name change was not voluntary by those who lived in the South; it was a declaration of the success of the North. As you can imagine, the move was radical at the time and many Saigon residents fled the country. However, nowadays, the two names are not used to make any kind of political declaration; they are simply alternative ways of referring to the city.
What to visit in Ho Chi Minh:
- Oprah Theatre: it was built in 1897 by the French architect Eugène Ferret as Opéra de Saigon. The 800-seat building was used as the seat of the Lower House of Southern Vietnam assembly until 1975 when it was re-used as a theatre and restored in 1995.
- City Hall / Reunification Palace: Minh Town Hall or Saigon City Hall or Hôtel de Ville de Saïgon (home of the Ho Chi Minh City People's Committee) was built in 1902-1908 in French colonial style for the city of Saigon. It was renamed after 1975 as a popular committee of Ho Chi Minh City.
Although this elegant colonial building is not open to the public, the town hall of Saigon is still really nice even from outside. Tourists can take pictures outdoors especially at night when the building is illuminated.
- Post Office : located opposite the cathedral and dates back to the classical French period. It was built by Gustavo Eiffel between 1886 and 1891.
- The Notre Dame Cathedral: built between 1877 and 1883 in neo-Romanesque style. Unfortunately, you cannot enter because there are currently works in progress.
- The Independence Palace: is an important place in Vietnamese history and is located in a beautiful park. Right here the first communist tanks of North Vietnam arrived on 30 April 1975: this is the date when Vietnam celebrates its independence. Before that date, the palace was the residence of the South Vietnamese president, Nguyen Van Thieu, and was designed by a Vietnamese architect. It is a typical example of the 60s style, especially for the furnishings, the colours of the walls and the floors.
In the basement, there is a telecommunications centre, a headquarters and a vast system of tunnels.
- The museum of the remains of the war: this more than a museum is a stab in the stomach.
It is a multi-story collection of photos related to the war, a historical bracket so recent to make me shiver. The emotional impact of some photographs is strong, excruciating, sometimes even unsustainable (especially when you go to visit the room with pictures of children with deformations due to the chemicals used during the war).
A naked and raw story, totally devoid of filters. Certainly interesting and informative. Admission costs 40,000 dong ~ € 1.50. Keep in mind that it takes at least 2 hours to visit all 3 floors.
If you want to deepen your knowledge of the war even further, I suggest you visit the Cu Chi Tunnels. I buy the tour for 110,000 dong ~ about 4 €, including 1 and a half hour transport and the guide in English. During the walk, we make a stop in a factory of handicraft paintings in which disabled people work. Once at the entrance to the tunnels, you have to pay the entrance fee of 110,000 dong.
It's really incredible if you think about the effort they put in building these very long tunnels to defend themselves from their enemies; they are indeed very tight and it's hard to get into them. There is just a path of a few meters opened to the public but it is not recommended for those who are claustrophobic. You can also see the various underground techniques that were used to kill enemies. The tour lasts around 2 hours, including an initial illustrative video, and we return to the city around 4 pm.
Now comes my favourite part: FOOD. If you are a food lover, do not miss the Sense Market and the Saigon Central Market (my favourite with low prices, e.g. 35,000 dong rice with vegetables and meat, 3 spring rolls for 25,000 dongs, stuffed rice ravioli 25,000 dong, etc. .), both are located in Le Lai street.
If you are in the mood for SHOPPING, then visit the Ben Thanh Market; here you will find from clothes to food packed to souvenirs, etc. Obviously, you should always bargain because the prices that sellers declare are usually much higher than the real value of the object.
It is also pleasant to walk along the beautiful Nguyen Hue, a wide street that starts from the statue of Ho Chi Minh and then filled with fountains, shops and cafes where to eat. It is always full of people, from couples to groups of friends, from families to street artists.
If you are in the "mood" of partying, you cannot miss Bui Vien Street. It is a street where all the clubs are concentrated as well as bars and pubs with speakers that pump music of all kinds and during all the days of the week. However, alcohol here is more expensive than usual: to give you the idea, a beer here costs 80,000 dongs or 3 €, while in any local place you find it for 18,000 dong.
So Ho Chi Minh seems to be a more modern city than Hanoi. Even though I'm not a big city lover, sometimes I like walking in a shopping mall or going to eat McDonald's chips, especially after having travelled for more than 4 months in Southeast Asia and in small and often little tourist. As for the traffic, I have had the impression that in Hanoi there were many more scooters in circulation with consequent difficulty in crossing the road. In Ho Chi Minh, however, the traffic is not as exhausting as I imagined it and I noticed a greater presence of cars compared to Hanoi.
Ps. To reach the airport there is the 109 bus for 20,000 dong ~ about 80 cents. It takes 45 min. Comfortable and efficient service. You can take the bus to the bus station in Le Lai street or to the various stops along this road.