Ho Chi Minh City is the largest city in Vietnam with the population of more than nine million people. However it is not the capital of the country, the large city of Hanoi in the north is the working capital of Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh City, also known as Saigon, was once the capital of the French colony of Cochinchina and later the capital of South Vietnam until 1976.
Hello: Xin Choa (Said like Seen Chow)
Thank You: Cam On (Said like Come On)
Vietnam is officially known as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. With the Vietnam War ending in 1975 and the Northern Vietnamese coming out on top as winners, the country is still a working communist country. This was my first visit to a communist country. I was not blown out of the waters by stark differences of mentalities but I did see some obvious differences in the way our countries work. There were Vietnamese flags lining most streets and communist looking billboards everywhere!
We spent 3 days in HCMC, including a day trip to the Mekong Delta. I stayed at An An 2 Hotel right in the heart of the back packing district, next to the Crazy Buffalo restaurant. It was a clean hotel with the friendliest staff, for only $25 a night. I would recommend staying here if you want to stay somewhere one step up from a hostel.
Our days in HCMC were mostly spent wondering around the city and trying to soak up the culture around us. We mistakenly found ourselves traveling in Vietnam during TET (which is Vietnam's Chinese New Year holiday). Any guide book or travel agent will advise you to stay clear away from Vietnam during TET because the entire country will be traveling home to see their family and most everything will completely shut down. We were very lucky considering TET that everything worked out smoothly for us!
One perk of being in Vietnam during TET were all the beautiful flowers in the parks and in peoples homes. We were told this is the only time of year there are flowers in the city!
One of the first places we visited was the famous Ben Thanh Market. It is considered to be a symbol of Ho Chi Minh City and one of the earliest surviving buildings from the French Colonial times. It is full of t shirts, perfume, food, candy, jewelry and nail and hair removal stalls. It is a fun place to walk around and get lunch; however, it is full of tourists.
We then hit up The Reunification Palace in District 1. This palace was the home and work place of the South Vietnamese president during the Vietnam War. It is also the site of the end of the Vietnam War when North Vietnamese' tanks crashed into the gates of the Palace in April 1975. It was the most modern and frankly the ugliest palace I have ever seen. There was a shooting range in the basement which I thought was cool.
Since Ho Chi Minh City was the former capital of the French colony it has many european traits. It has large streets lined with trees and cafes and European style parks. It even has a beautiful European Cathedral called Notre Dame.
The Vietnamese drink tons of delicious coffee called "cafe suada" that you can buy from any stand on the street. My favorite street food is called "Banh Mi". It is a Vietnamese sandwich made with vegetables, eggs, cheese, and meat (if you want) on a delicious fresh baguette. If I could eat Banh Mis everyday in Korea, then the world would be complete.
All the seating on the streets for the food vendors looks like they are made for Barbies. Small tables with even smaller plastic chairs. But everyone seems to fit perfectly and comfortably on them. All day everyday people of all ages sit and socialize on these small pieces of furniture.
There are millions of motorbikes in Ho Chi Minh City and none of them obey traffic laws and most have at least 3 people on them. My favorite way to people watch was ride in a taxi and watch all the different people zoom by on their motorbikes. Crossing the street was terrifying at first, but once you learn that all you have to do is walk at a steady pace and DO NOT STOP OR SPEED UP it was quite easy.
We went out twice in HCMC. The night life was less thrilling than Bangkok but I would not say it was tame by any means. The first night we went and got drinks at The Rex. This is an old hotel on the main drag of town. It has a great roof top that plays live music and it is where the American generals would hang out and plan aspects of the Vietnam War in the 70's. After The Rex we hit up the biggest club in HCMC called Apocalypse Now. It was pretty fun with good dancing, but it had lots of younger Vietnamese girls and older foreigner men.
The second night we went to a live music bar in District 3 called the Acoustic Bar. It is wear all the hipster in HCMC flock on the weekends. Throughout the night multiple acts get up on stage and preform a handful of American pop songs. It had a very similar vibe to the Ivory Room in Madison, WI. It was amazing and I would 100% recommend going here if you ever visit HCMC.
We spent the rest of our time just wondering around different neighborhoods in HCMC. Here are some pictures I took while walking around.
I loved HCMC and I am so happy I got to spend time there. I really wish I had one more week to travel north up the coast of Vietnam ending in Hanoi and seeing Ha Long Bay, but I guess I will have to make it another trip sometime soon!
Next is my day trip to the Mekong Delta.