photo taken by Eustaquio Santimann
It is hard to imagine that Vietnam had been engulfed in war for over a century first fighting with the French when it was colonized in the mid 19th Century then to be occupied by the Japanese during World War II to then having to fight the French once more when the Vietnamese were wanting independence. America stepped in to try to prevent communism. Vietnam was finally at peace from April 1975 when two tankers rolled into town and crashed through the gates of what is now called Reunification Palace to end the war.
Ho Chi Minh formerly known as Saigon has reformed the city over the forty years since the war ended. It is now a sprawling metropolis with over 8 million people. The French have left their mark on the city dotted around the old town landmarks such as the city hall, a striking cream and yellow French colonial building lit up at night as Ho Chi Minh’s statue sits out front keeping an eye on the city. The opera house that holds performances of A&O’s circus portraying the town’s history of Ho Chi Minh. There is also the Notre Dame church built by the french while walking around we entered to see the Vietnamese service, the harmonies of the choir were pleasant to hear even from a language that we did not understand.
The French landmarks are not the only things to represent France, amongst the local restaurants and shops, cafes, French bistros, restaurants are easily found around the city and affordable unlike most French restaurants around the world. The bread from the bakery, baguettes filled with slices of beef, the pastries served with piping hot coffee, oh how the French have influenced you.
The tallest building in Ho Chi Minh city
Vietnam’s economy is roaring along at a speed that has never been seen before as the country opens itself up to the outside world as international companies are popping up everywhere a long with shopping malls and high-rise buildings. Ho Chi Minh’s tallest building is Bitexco Financial Tower. It stands 263 metres high and has an observation deck on the 49th floor. The panoramic views of the city where you can see clearly the main market of Ho Chi Minh,Ben Thanh market and the river that is nearly as hectic as the roaring motorbikes that fill the roads of the chaotic streets.
photo taken by r silva
Twenty years ago these streets would have been filled with bicycles but now most people roar around on motorcycles, the chaotic streets which to the eye looks like there are no rules. Ho Chi Minh has very few traffic lights that at first makes it difficult to cross the street. A tip even though you will be apprehensive at first, walk in a straight line at a steady pace the motorbikes will swerve around you. If you’re really nervous cross when a local crosses after you have crossed a few times you will feel a lot more comfortable crossing the road. With a subway in process of being built it will be interesting to see what Ho Chi Minh traffic will be like in a few years.
Motorbikes also cover the footpath making it difficult to walk. Fortunately taxis are cheap just make sure they use the meter. From the airport to the city it shouldn’t cost more than 120,000 dong. Hotels also check the meter when you arrive to make sure there isn’t a problem.
Ho Chi Minh’s attractions
Ho Chi Minh’s main attractions are related to the war as mentioned earlier the reunification palace is where the Vietnam war ended when the tanks rolled through its gates. The yard has replica tanks and aircrafts on display and the palace rooms of where the former President lived. The basement where the War Command rooms were where they strategically planned for war and old telephones which were left how they were during the war period is the most interesting rooms in the palace.
The other main attraction which is nearby is the War Remnants museum otherwise known to the Vietnamese as the America’s War. This is clearly the Vietnamese version of the war on display are photos of the atrocities that took place, examples of weaponry and the effects of biological warfare. The museum will leave you in a sombre state, a coffee at a nearby cafe is a great place to sit quietly and reflect on what war really is.
Ho Chi Minh is changing at an incredible rate and in a few years it may be different to how I have described it. The city is worth a couple of days to learn about the past and is a good introduction to this country.