Saigon and on and on

Posted by vietnamtravelblog on August 19, 2010 under Vietnam Destinations, Vietnam Travel Stories | 3 Comments to Read

After 6 months back in the UK, it was time to return to Saigon. It was quite a short time away really, but there are a few subtle differences since I was last here. I was walking from Ben Thanh Market to Sullivans Irish Bar, a route I had taken many times in the past. About halfway there I passed a rather large department store that I did not recognise. Confused, I started to think I had taken the wrong route. There was Parksons and Saigon Tourist as expected, but opposite an entire multi storey building I was sure had not been there before. It was as if the store had sprung up seemingly overnight. I carried on along the road and arrived at my destination. A few days later I was walking from Sullivans to Diamond Plaza. I got to the ‘new building’ and noticed Notre Dame Cathedral in the distance so decided to take this short cut. As I continued along the road I started to recognise other landmarks and it slowly dawned on me that the road I was taking, the road that I thought was a different route was in fact the same route I had always taken. I realised that the building that had appeared had previously been hidden behind advertising boards. Six months is a short time to be away, but for Saigon it might as well have been a lifetime.

Although I have written about some of my time in Saigon in earlier blogs, I thought it was time to talk a little more about this energetic city. Although I travel around as much of Asia and specifically Vietnam as I can, Saigon is my base; spending most of my time working there. To the newcomer it can be overwhelming, but once you get used to the eccentricities you soon settle in. The traffic is just to be expected, the scams can be avoided. What you have to remember is, people are doing what they have to in order to survive. It is still only a small percentage of the population that have good jobs, and despite being a communist government in name there are few state jobs and so it is left to the people to do what they can. Be it selling food, polishing shoes, repairing bikes on a street corner or unfortunately selling themselves there is a genuine feeling of ‘whatever it takes’.

Even if they have a low end job, it does not necessarily mean they are safe. With few government sanctions or health and safety standards, many people are performing dangerous jobs with equipment that is not suitable for the task. Again, this is just what they have to do to get by.

Saigon is still one of my favourite cities in Vietnam. It is the commercial heart of the nation and it is the ‘big city’ that draws the youth that Hanoi fails to be. Although much of the city is new, having been hit hard during the war, there is still a lot to see and do. So, rather than concentrate on the generalities of the City or the various highs and lows that have been documented elsewhere, I will talk about some of my favourite sights. It is the energy of the city that should inspire a visit, just walking around the city is an amazing experience. Once you have arrived and settled in though there is a lot to see and do.

Most city tours will include Notre Dame Cathedral, Reunification Palace and Ben Thanh Market; these are probably the three main attractions and if you only have a day in Saigon these are the must see places.

Notre Dame Cathedral sits in the centre of the Government sector. Nearby there are foreign consulates and Vietnamese government buildings. The cathedral itself is inspired by French architecture and is used for Catholic services for both foreign a local worshippers. Across the road from the Cathedral is the Central Post Office. Again this building is of French design. The highlight is very much on the inside with the high ceiling and traditional wooden booths.

Reunification Palace is not far from Notre Dame Cathedral. This strikingly modern (well 1970’s modern) building has gone under several names and duties over the years depending on what is happening in the country at that time. Most recently it was the home of the Southern Vietnamese government and it was here on 30th April 1975 that the South surrendered to the North as a tank came crashing through the main gate. The building now serves as a time capsule to that era and is an important place to visit on Reunification Day. Tours are held through the building and the war bunkers beneath it. It is an interesting walk through the past.

Ben Thanh Market is one of the most famous landmarks in Saigon. Crammed full of stalls you can by almost anything within these walls. It can be a daunting experience walking through though as you a pushed and pulled, being offered anything from knock off clothes to traditional Vietnamese items. Personally, I walked in one door and straight back out the other side without stopping.

There are several museums that I must also mention, and if you are staying for longer you should really check them out as well. All are easily walkable if you are staying in District 1 and all have very reasonable entry fees (15000VND is about the normal price for any museum in Vietnam; equivalent to about 50 pence).

The War Remnants Museum is a shocking reminder of the atrocities of war. The forecourt is filled with helicopters, aircraft and other battle hardware but as you get closer you realise this is not a traditional war museum, it is about the horror of war. A replica of a POW prison drives home the brutality, made even worse by the fact it was run by the US and the inhumanity was perpetrated by them. The main museum is mainly propaganda and photos from the war. I found it very hard to stomach, the only time I had felt this sickened was in Hiroshima.

The Museum of Ho Chi Minh City is housed in a neo-classical building. There are some examples of the successes of the Country, the space program for example, but mostly the museum is about the rise of Communism. As with all things in Vietnam, it is propaganda based and written by the Government. It is an interesting visit though.

The History Museum is at the entrance to the Zoo and is a journey from the Bronze age to modern day. The history of the Vietnamese civilisation is well presented, following the traditions, art and religions of the various ethnic groups that have combined over the centuries. There is also an opportunity to see a Water Puppet show, which is quite a fun introduction to this art.

And that pretty much covers that. There are plenty of things to do in Saigon, just give it a try and walk around.

http://www.travelblog.org

Ho Chi Minh City – ongoing dynamic & enchanting

Posted by vietnamtravelblog on August 17, 2008 under Uncategorized | Be the First to Comment

Here, new buildings, there, persons in a hurry… It is the picture of a busting, dynamic but beautiful and friendly city – Ho Chi Minh City, the Chief Southern Centre of Vietnam!

Ho Chi Minh city

Introduction & Location

If you have visited a number of cities in Vietnam but forgot Ho Chi Minh City, you have not known much about Vietnam for real. It is considered the capital of the Southern area of Vietnam. It is located near the Mekong delta, about 1,760 kilometers south of Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh City is the largest city in Vietnam with the population of 7 million in the area of 2095 square kilometers (908 square miles). Ho Chi Minh City is the second heart and soul of Vietnam, to Hanoi. It’s a bustling, dynamic and industrious centre, the largest city in the country, the economic capital and the cultural trendsetter. Yet within the teeming metropolis are the timeless traditions and beauty of an ancient culture.

History

Ho Chi Minh City (abbreviation HCMC), commonly known as Saigon is the largest city in Vietnam and the former capital of the Republic of Vietnam. The city used to be a small fishing village, inhabited by Khmer people, Cambodia before becoming a land under Nguyen dynasty rule in 1698, being conquered by France from 1950 to 1975. Throughout its long history, HCMC appears to be not only a modern and dynamic city but a cultural and historical one as well.
Following the Fall of Saigon in 1975, Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City. Nevertheless, the old Saigon moniker is still used by both Vietnamese and foreigners.

Weather

You are going to visit Sai Gon? The best time to visit weather-wise is the dry season between December and April, when the humidity is more manageable. The clouds start getting heavy around November and stay through March. The Tet Festival in late January or early February is an exciting, if extremely hectic, time to visit. Being only 10.5° above the equator and between 5 and 10m (16-35ft) above sea level, Ho Chi Minh City is almost a template for tropical weather. Temperatures rarely vary from about 30°C (86°F).

People and Culture

Exploring deeply inside Sai Gon, tourists may be surprised at the diversity of ethnic minorities in the magnificent city and its surroundings. Apart from Kinh (or Viet) people, there are a number of others, for example, Chinese, (the largest Chinese community in Vietnam), Khmer, Cham, Nung, and Rhade, etc. Each of them has their own cultural characteristics, languages, costumes, lifestyles, and religions such as: Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Ancestor Worship, Roman Catholic, Protestant, Cao Dai, Hoa Hao, Islam, Hinduism, and Bahá’í Faith. Yet, the vast majority is Kinh people, whose common charateristic is to be friendly, hospitable, open-hearted, and straightforward.

These days, lots of Sai Gon’s youngsters and youths could speak English fairly well. They are more and more fond of communicating with foreigners in English for practice. More importantly, they are helpful, which fully reassure first-time foreign visitors to this city.

HCMC, as known, is now growing up to be an industrious, modern and dynamic city, with a lot of new modern constructions of Western architecture. However, here and there you can still see ancient monuments such as Notre Dame Cathedral, Thien Hau Pagoda, Phung Son Tu Pagoda, etc., making it a special picture of “an integrated rather than dissolved city”. HCMC is called “the Pearl of the Far East” or “Paris in the Orient” thanks to this special fascinating beauty, capable to have most travellers lengthen their stay.

Places of Interest

Being a city embracing both traditional and modern beauty, HCMC is an ideal destination of interest for every generations with different characters.

You are young, active and playful? There are uncountable places of entertainment for you in this fast-growing dynamic city. Dam Sen Water Park is worth your try. Opened in 1999 with new water slides added each year, this water park offers some truly unique water slide experiences (including the amazing “Space Bowl”)! Or you may like to watch films? Galaxy cinema with up-to-date films on big screen would be your premium choice. Though not as huge as that in some other countries, it is one amongst the top places of entertainment in Ho Chi Minh City these days.

If you prefer places of religion and history, here we go! Notre Dame Cathedral (Nhà thờ Đức Bà) is the old architectural monument, which is much enchanting. Incense Thien Hau Pagoda is dedicated to Lady Thien Hau, the sea goddess, who left two giant turtles to keep an eye on things in her absence. A festival is held in her honor on the 23rd day of the March lunar month. Don’t miss the gorgeous sculptures in the walls of the courtyard outside the temple! Quan Am Pagoda, the oldest pagoda in town, and Phung Son Tu Pagoda, which is dedicated to the God of happiness and virtue. The pagoda itself is dusty and dwarfed by high-rises under construction nearby, but the small, sculpted grounds are a good place for a rest from the hectic city. Besides, you should also visit some premium museums of the city, such as the Ho Chi Minh City Museum, Museum of Vietnamese History, and Revolutionary Museum and the War Remnants Museum.

Further more, HCMC is a city that churns, ferments, bubbles and fumes. The streets are a jumble of street markets, shops, pavement cafes, stands-on-wheels and vendors selling wares spread out on sidewalks. It’s impossible not to be infected by its exhilarating vibe.

Dynamic economical outlook

As mentioned, HCMC is now one of the two most significant economic centre of Vietnam. Around 300,000 enterprises are trading in high-tech, electronics, processing and light industries, in construction, building materials and agro-products on a whole. Further foreign investment is now pouring into the city. Month by month, year by year, buildings, contructions of entertainment, tourism, and companies come up. Higher education in Ho Chi Minh City is much concentrated, with about 76 universities and colleges and a total of over 380,000 students. The health care system of the city is relatively improved with a chain of about 100 public-owned hospitals or medical centers and dozens of private-owned clinics. Transportation is more and more convenient with four means of transport system: airlines, rail, road and marine. What is more, mass media is day by day fast developing. It is also the home of hundreds cinemas and theatres, parks, and luxury and standard hotels. Well, what can you see from this much-to-say view? I can only see rapid growth and great economic as well as tourism potential!

Activities

  • Notre – Dame Cathedral
  • War Remnants Museum
  • Jade Emperor Pagoda
  • Binh Tay Market
  • China Town
  • Cu Chi Tunnels