Unlike Hanoi, I was charmed by Ho Chi Minh City, the former Saigon. I would definitely like to return one day soon.
However, it is ironic to note I have struggled enormously to write this blog. I enjoyed it so much that my mom is going this summer based on my reports. And yet, I have very little to say.
I loved the chaos. It has more personality than the similar streets found in Hanoi. The parks were full of people and there were far fewer flags and photos of Ho Chi Minh on every corner.
I guess what I liked most was the juxtaposition of history …so obvious. You can see and feel the legacy of the French, the Americans, and the Chinese. But more obvious than any of them, the spirit of the Vietnamese shines through.
My favorite stops if you have one day:
Reunification Palace was eerie and fascinating. It is frozen in time as a symbol of the end of the war. You need at least 30 minutes for a sense of the place but to see every room plan on a couple of hours.
Burning man monument (Venerable Thich Quang Duc Monument) is worth a stop. He was a monk who burned himself in 1963 as protest for the treatment of Buddhists the government. JFK has been quoted to say: “No news picture in history has generated so much emotion around the world as that one.”
War Remembrance Museum was extremely emotional and interesting. As well done as the exhibits are, it was also intriguing to watch the people look at the exhibits. The crowd was a mix of Vietnamese learning about their own history, US Vietnam War Veterans returning to Vietnam for the first time, people my age or older remembering / relearning what we knew of the war, and those of a younger generation learning about the horrors of war for the very first time. Plan on at least 1-2 hours for your visit.
Caravelle Saigon Hotel and Hotel Continental Saigon: These are both beautiful buildings across the street from each other. They are both ripe with both French and American history from the wars and both have preserved some of that history.
Central Market (Ben Thanh Market) is a maze of hundreds of stalls. I was there for a very short time. Partly because I am not a shopper and partly because I could not stand the crowds and the heat.
Notre Dame Cathedral built in 1880 as a replica of the original in Paris. I was unable to go in as it was under construction.
Central post office is a beautiful building with wonderful maps and mosaics. It is now filled with shops and tour operators.
What I didn’t do:
I did not have time for the Cho Chi tunnels or Meekong delta which is part of why I want to return. I would really like to spend a few days on the Meekong, away from the cities.
At the end of the day, people have mixed reactions about Ho Chi Minh City. I can definitely say that I liked it better than Hanoi. I also think that if in the area you have to go to Siem Riep which means you need to fly through Thailand or Vietnam. You might as well choose HCMC!