Ho Chi Minh City

After a long, sleepy train journey, it was something of a shock to emerge from the train station into the full-on chaos of an evening in Ho Chi Minh City. There are about 7 million people living here, and at nearly any time of the day it feels like at least half of them are riding round on their motorbikes. The roads, and often the pavements, are completely clogged with them, and there are relatively few cars, buses or even bicycles. After a white-knuckle ride to our hotel, we put our bikes in the garage and forgot about them for our entire stay.

Our hotel was in a great central location, right next to Reunification Palace. Formerly the Independence Palace, it is perhaps not quite as famous as its front gate. The image of a North Vietnamese tank crashing through its gates in April 1975 was the symbol of the end of the war, and is a picture that we’ve seen many times. Beyond the gate, the Palace was a great place to visit, as it has been left virtually untouched since that day. As the home and office of the president of South Vietnam from 1967, it was very interesting – especially the underground offices and map rooms.

We stayed in HCMC for six days, and managed quite a lot of tourism. The War Remnants Museum, which mostly displayed photographs of the Vietnam conflict from the 1950s to the 1970s, was notable and moving. Particularly good was an international exhibition of photographs whose captions mostly focused on the role (and fate) of the photographers. The rest of the museum was perhaps a little bit heavy on the propaganda, as were several other sites we visited.

Having missed the tunnels up north near the former DMZ, we were excited to visit the Cu Chi tunnels, just 70 km north of HCMC and right on the Cambodian border. They were built in the 1960s and functioned as a hideaway and base for the Viet Cong in the area, and as a bomb shelter for local villagers. Although the tunnel network and the fifteen minute propaganda video made in the 1960s were both very interesting, the actual tour was, as ever, something of a disappointment. After spending a good 40 mins hanging about outside a factory shop thinly disguised as a toilet stop on the drive to the tunnels, we then had very little time actually at the main attraction. The tunnels were a full-scale tourist site, and although it was extremely busy and we had little time, they are fairly well done. The attractions include a chance to go down several tunnels (if you had time), examples of the traps created by Viet Cong, and a gun range. The gun-range was something of an inspired addition to the site. Firing an AK-47 at a dollar a bullet wasn’t something either of us really wanted to try, but the sounds of the guns did make the whole experience more atmospheric.

HCMC was interesting rather than beautiful; a few impressive buildings – such as the post office – and a number of tree filled parks provided some charm. We wandered around the centre of the city quite a lot – though didn’t appreciate the city’s sprawling size until we tried to cycle out of it. Its reputation as the third most expensive city in SE Asia is well deserved; somehow we managed to go over-budget every day. I think it was mostly all the great food. After six days of constant eating and no cycling we’re probably weighing our bikes down a bit too much now. But we’re off again, and heading into the Mekong delta, which we’re really looking forward to.

Photos from HCMC can be found here

Pages updated: Maps, Statistics, Photos, Food

~ by Elephants on January 9, 2011.

2 Responses to “Ho Chi Minh City”

  1. Happy New Year – did I say before? Looking forward to your report and photographs of the Mekong Delta . I remember flying over it in 1974 on our way to Hong Kong and asking the Captain to tell us when we were over it. Couldn’t miss it when it happened as it was so much bigger that all the other deltas i had though might be the Mekong. It was always in the news in those days. Enjoying all your writing and photographs hugely.

  2. Happy New Year! Glad you found some good food in HCMC. Sure the amount of exercise you do will mean it will soon come off!! All the best

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