HO CHI MINH
CITY ( SAI GON ) SMILE VIETNAM
Washed ashore above the Mekong Delta, some 40km north of the South China Sea,
HO CHI MINH CITY
is a city on the march, a boomtown where the rule of the
dollar is absolute. Fuelled by the sweeping economic changes wrought by doi
, this effervescent city, perched on the west bank of the Saigon River,
now boasts fine restaurants, immaculate hotels, and glitzy bars among its
colonial villas, venerable pagodas and austere, Soviet-style housing-blocks.
Sadly, Ho Chi Minh City is also full to bursting with people for whom progress
hasn't yet translated into food, lodgings and employment, so begging, stealing
and prostitution are all facts of life here. Petty crime
dramatically in the last few years, particularly bag snatching, and care should
be taken at all times with personal belongings whilst walking the streets, or
travelling on cyclos and motorbikes – especially after dark and around tourist
Ho Chi Minh City started life as a fishing village known as Prei Nokor and,
during the Angkor period (until the fifteenth century), it flourished as an
entrepôt for Cambodian boats pushing down the Mekong River. By the seventeenth
century it boasted a Khmer garrison and a community of Malay, Indian and Chinese
traders. During the eighteenth century, Hué's Nguyen dynasty ousted the Khmers,
renamed Prei Nokor Saigon, and established a temporary capital here
between 1772 and 1802, after which the Emperor Gia Long used it as his regional
administrative centre. The French seized Saigon in 1861, and a year later the
Treaty of Saigon declared the city the capital of French Cochinchina. They set
about a huge public works programme, building roads and draining marshlands, but
ruled harshly. After a thirty-year war against the French, Saigon was finally
designated the capital of the Republic of South Vietnam by President Diem
in 1955, soon becoming both the nerve-centre of the American war effort, and its
R&R capital, with a slough of sleazy bars catering to GIs on leave of duty. The
American troops withdrew in 1973, and two years later the Ho Chi Minh Campaign
rolled through the gates of the presidential palace and the communists were in
control. Within a year, Saigon had been renamed Ho Chi Minh City.
Things To Do
Cu Chi Tunels
A two-hour drive northwest out of Ho Chi Minh City brings you to the area of
Cu Chi, famous for its maze of tunnels used by the Viet Cong in the war against
the United States. Often little more than one meter high and 80 centimeters
across, these tunnels were supply routes, kitchens, hospitals and training
facilities. Crawl down a tunnel yourself (if you can fit) or try an AK47 rifle!
Ben Thanh Market
Impossible to miss at one of the key intersections in the city center, Ben
Thanh is the city's main market. Inside is a tightly organized grid of aisles,
arranged according to product. Clothes, shoes and fabric dominate the front,
before giving over to kitchenware, cooked food, fresh vegetables and a somewhat
alarming display of seafood and meat (some of it still alive). There is plenty
for the visitor to buy, but the main attraction is the way in which the bustling
market is still very much part of the city's life and economy.
On April 30, 1975, Communist tanks smashed through the gates of the
Presidential Palace, symbol of the South Vietnamese government. Guides at the
renamed Reunification Palace now offer daily tours to visitors. The Palace is
also noted for its striking 1960s architecture, the creation of Paris-trained
Vietnamese architect Ngo Viet Thu. Included on the tour are visits to
conference rooms, the Presidential Receiving Room, basement tunnels and war
room, telecommunications center and the residential.quarters, as well as a
back terrace complete with heliport. A video presentation of Vietnamese
history is available in several languages
Notre Dame Cathedral
This is one of the landmarks among the impressive avenues and open spaces
north of Dong Khoi. The huge red-brick edifice with twin spires is placed
between two streams of traffic and is a clear reminder that the French once
ruled this city. Inside, the decor is relatively austere, but the church gets
very full and very lively during services. This peaceful place is perfect for
quiet contemplation. Sunday Mass is held at 9.30am.
War Crimes Museum
Housed in a former United States administration building, this is one of the
most popular and sobering museums in the city. It highlights the suffering of
the Vietnamese people at the hands of the French and American forces up to 1975.
The photographs of the injured and dead are both haunting and sickening. This is
not a politically balanced exhibition, but when you consider the statistics of
American versus Vietnamese casualties, that is hardly surprising. This museum is
probably too disturbing for children to view.
Water Puppet Theater
Just inside the grounds of the
War Crimes Museum is a water puppet theatre. Despite recorded
music this 20-minute show is a rare chance to see this traditional Vietnamese
art form. Fighting and footballing dragons and dogs as well as life-like people
puppets are brought to life with grace, precision and power on the surface of
the water. This professional production by highly skilled artists is well worth
the USD2 ticket price.
The city's newest and most central bowling centre, with 24 lanes and
computerised scoring, is on the fourth floor of a shopping centre. Games cost
from USD1.50 in the daytime to USD3 in the evenings and weekends. Hourly lane
rates range from USD7 to USD14. Shoe rental costs USD0.40 and socks are USD0.60
a pair. There is also a range of arcade games plus eight pool/snooker tables for
hire from USD2 to USD4.50 an hour. And there is a Kentucky Fried Chicken if you
get peckish between bowls.
Ho Chi Minh Museum
It was from this old customs house, known as the “dragon house,” in 1911 that
Ho Chi Minh set sail for 30 years in exile. Now a museum, the eclectic
collection features many of the leader's possessions including the Uncle's
sandals and his beloved Zenith radio (ironically made in the United States).
Most of the signs are in Vietnamese. The museum can be reached by taking a ferry
across the Saigon River from the pier at the end of Ham Nghi Avenue or using the
bridge on Nguyen Tat Thanh Street.
How To Get to Saigon - Ho
Chi Minh from others City
||Tan Son Nhat airport is 7km from the city. Domestic
connections with Buon Me Thuot, Dalat, Hue, Hanoi, Hai Phong, Danang,
Nha Trang, Phu Quoc, Pleiku, Qui Nhon, Rach Gia and Vinh. There are
taxis to the city centre.
||Saigon Railway Station 1 Nguyen Thong St., Dist. 3,
Tel: 8443952 The express train takes 32 and 41 hours to reach Hanoi.
Passenger and freight ferries to the Mekong Delta depart from the dock
at Ham Nghi Blvd. There is daily service to AN Giang, Vinh Long, Ben Tre,
My Tho, etc. The hydrofoil leaves Saigon to Vung Tau at 6.30 am, 8.30am,
10.30am and 12.30am. Return departure are at 6.30 am, 8.30am, 10.30am
and 12.30am. The ticket booking office at 6A Nguyen Tat Thanh St., Tel:
||Mien Dong Bus Station: 292 Dinh Bo Linh St., Binh
Thanh Dist., Tel: 8984893 Buses leave for Binh Duong, Binh Phuoc , Dong
Nai, Dalat, Phan Thiet and other province. Mien Tay Bus Station: 137
Hung Vuong Blvd., Binh Chanh Dist., Tel: 8776593 On the western edge of
the city, where several buses a day leave for all the major towns of the
Mekong Delta, except Ha Tien.