Ho Chi Minh City once known as Saigon, is a modern, fast paced city with lots to see and more importantly – eat! We enjoyed our stay here immensely. This was our first visit to a communist country. Although economically, they really aren’t communist. Still, we found the way of life in Vietnam interesting – the lack of information, one sided museum exhibits, the chaotic driving rules – it made our day to day interactions in Vietnam quite eventful.
Saigon was changed to Ho Chi Minh City after the Vietnam War (which they call the “American War”). Ho Chi Minh still continues to have a huge impact in Vietnam. His face is on the currency, there are statues everywhere of him and his mausoleum continues to attract people from all over the world to visit. Even though the name has been Ho Chi Minh City since 1976, there are still many Saigon signs all over the city.
Vietnam was occupied by France for close to a century, until after WWII. It is easy to spot French architecture throughout Ho Chi Minh City. It is also why many people referred to me as Madam, and some signs are still in French. Overall, Ho Chi Minh City was a great place to start our two-week adventure in Vietnam.
How We Got There and Around
We flew to Ho Chi Minh via VietJet Airways. Our flight was ok. From the airport we took a taxi to our hotel. We walked everywhere, and didn’t find the need to get a taxi, except when leaving.
Walking around in Ho Chi Minh proved to be exciting. From what I can tell, here is what traffic lights mean:
Green – Go
Yellow – Still Go
Red – Go, and pretend you don’t see the red.
I would wait patiently for the green light and the walk symbol to come on, but would still feel like I was in a Frogger game from hell. I wish I could say I am being over dramatic, but really, walking around is an active sport- you need to be vigilant at all times. If you know me, you know that I can be easily distracted when walking, so I found this challenging. And if you think you are safe on the sidewalk – WRONG. Those who don’t want to wait for the light or in traffic goes rogue and rides on the sidewalk. I remember thinking Bali was the capital of all Scooters, I as wrong – Vietnam is.
Where We Stayed
We stayed at Happyland Hotel and for less than $20 a night, it was great. The location was just a two-minute walk to the Ben Thanh food market! However, we did have a few issues. Rats were out and about in the lobby, and no one seemed to care – so we pretended we didn’t care either (although on the inside I was screaming). We also paid money to use their washer and dryer – turns out their dryer was pretty terrible, and our clothes smelled like mildew… again. If you can get past those things – it was a fine hotel.
Our Favorite Eats
Vietnamese food is one of Steve’s favorites, so we spent a good amount of time eating and trying new things. We may have to buy bigger clothes soon…. Here are a few highlights:
Ben Thanh Food Market – This food market has everything from Indian food to Mexican! We ate there every day, and tried a bit of everything. Steve’s favorite was the Phó, while I really enjoyed the bun chicken burgers. Anything served on a steam bun is delicious.
Vietnamese Coffee – Made with sweet condensed milk, and usually served on ice. Steve enjoyed his hot and fresh dripped.
What We Did
Saigon Opera House – Stunning French colonial architecture, the theater was built in 1897 and still used today for shows.
Notre-Dame Cathedral Saigon – Although not as impressive as the Notre-Dame in Paris, still quite beautiful. It was completed in 1880 and attracts many people from all over the world to visit it. We visited it on the Saturday before Easter, and because it was during Holy Week, we were not allowed to get inside the church for tours.
Central Post Office – Still a functioning Post Office from the 1890s, with beautiful French architecture.
People Committee Hall (City Hall) – Steve and I really loved this building, with the beautiful gardens in front. In front of city hall is a statue of Ho Chi Minh.
War Remnants Museum – This museum is one with a bit of mixed emotion, as it is based on the Vietnam War. It had received high reviews on every travel blog we have read, but also warned that the museum is very one-sided. The museum is open daily, except it is closed for lunch (which we learned is typical in Vietnam). We went after lunch and had an open mind. The museum did give a lot of information, and the exhibits were mostly a photographic documentary. However, it did not paint the complete picture of the situation. It had a lot of Anti-American propaganda. In fact, after visiting the museum, I was convinced that Vietnam must hate Americans, except there was a small exhibit at the end about the friendship they now share starting in 1996. We went to their prisoner of war exhibit, which I can’t deny, was horrific, but indicated that Vietnam was nothing but nice to our POWs. In the end, I feel very conflicted. I felt the overall message was “We did nothing wrong, Americans attacked us and our ideals, they killed innocent people, and in the end we won”. No matter what your opinion is on the war, it still felt the museum was distorted in the information they provide. Still, I am glad we went, as I learned a lot about the war, Agent Orange, and current relations – but it also gave me insight into the government’s control of information.
Jade Emperor Pagoda – This beautiful Taoist temple was built in 1909. Our visit there was brief, but still enjoyed it.
Independence Palace – Once the home and office of South Vietnam’s President. It might be best known for the iconic images of a tank crashing into the gates on April 30, 1975, known as the fall of Saigon. Today, it is a museum and still has artifacts from the last days of South Vietnam. We especially enjoyed seeing the bunker.