August 08, 2015

Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) – City tour

I was in HCM for a work trip in May, and took the opportunity to visit the city for the first time.  My colleagues and I went two days earlier, and we explored the city on Day 1, and made a trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels on Day 2.

The first order of the day – lunching like a local.  The pork chop rice was yummy.

We then explored the city on foot.

Cho Ben Thanh or Ben Thanh Market, was within walking distance to our hotel.  One of Saigon’s oldest landmarks, Ben Thanh is great place to buy local handicrafts, Vietnamese arts, souvenirs and also to sample local Vietnamese food.

Hotel de Ville (City Hall), a striking cream and yellow colonial building, was completed in 1908 by the French.  The design was based on the Paris original.  It is now a working government building, housing the Ho Chi Minh City People's Committee.

Lam Son Square has always been one of the city's most prestigious addresses: today, it's the place to head for a night of culture, or a spot of shopping amongst the city's affluent residents.  In the heart of Lam Son Square is Hotel Continental, the favoured spot of French high society of the past.  Next to Hotel Continental is the Municipal Theatre – a lavish 100-year-old building that regularly hosts local and touring dance, opera and theatre companies.  We bought tickets to watch the famous AO Show.

Hotel Continental 

Municipal Theatre

Roadside barber - shaving head the traditional way

The Central Post Office is a beautifully preserved remnant of French colonial times and perhaps the grandest post office in all of Southeast Asia.    Constructed between 1886 and 1891, the interior has looping arches, intricately designed marble floors and antiquated telephone boxes; all serve as a reminder of the importance the post office played in days before email and mobile phones.  There’s a large portrait of Ho Chi Minh hanging high above at the far end of the building.  It is still a functioning post office, with free postcards available for visitors to send back home.

(L) A Vietnamese girl in aodai posing at the counter; (R) A Malaysian girl posing next to the phone booths

Next to the post office is the Notre Dame Cathedral.  Built in the late 1880s by French colonists, it was formerly called Saigon Church.  The name Notre Dame was given after the installation of the statue ‘Peaceful Notre Dame’ in 1959.  In 1962, the Vatican conferred the Cathedral status as a basilica and gave it the official name of Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica.  It is a popular place for pre-wedding photography, as evident by the many pairs of newly weds taking their wedding shots when we were there.

The iconic Reunification Palace made its name in global history when in 1975 a tank belonging to the North Vietnamese Army crashed through its main gate – thus signifying the end of the Vietnam War.  The palace is like a time capsule frozen in 1975 with two of the original tanks used in the capture of the palace parked in the grounds.

The War Remnants Museum once known as the ‘Museum of American War Crimes’ first opened to the public in 1975.  It is a shocking reminder of of the long and brutal Vietnam War.  From eerie bomb remnants and first-person accounts by war veterans to a bloodied guillotine and photographs of horrific napalm burns, disfigured bodies of locals exposed to Agent Orange, this is a chilling reminder of life not-too-long ago.  Not for the faint-hearted, I’d say.

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