Ho Chi Minh City, or HCMC, named after the saviour of Vietnam, previously Saigon is the largest city in Vietnam, and you can really feel it. The most commented thing about this city is the traffic, and you can see why.
It’s incredible, even compared to Bangkok, like a river of mopeds, with the occasional tree branch of a car being swept along. The traffic rules are very flexible, and you’ll often find the pavement filled with oncoming traffic as they try to edge themselves closer to the red light that has cause this momentary tailback. Crossing the street is not for the faint hearted, in fact, it’s more like doing a high wire tight-rope than crossing a normal street. Walk straight, slowly and keep moving, that way the the traffic will flow around you. Any sudden movements will leave you at the bottom of a multi-bike pile up. That said, I never saw any accidents in the city, which considering I think I saw more mopeds in the first two minutes than I ever did in any European country in total is a miracle.
We stayed in Phạm Ngũ Lão Street, the backpacker area, in one of the many alleys that maze their way between the park and the drinking street that are home to the guesthouse and hostels that accommodate the travellers in the city. It’s close to plenty of naff fast food places, including the ‘arriving soon’ McDonalds, the second in Vietnam. Exploring this city was very different to Can Tho, the gentle urbanism replaced by big commercialism and in-your-face advertising boards and the constant need to pay attention. Despite this, from the main backpacker area most tourist attractions are only a short walk away.
The Reunification Palace is open and is an interesting spot to experience, mostly thanks to the rooms in the basement that show what was necessary in order to survive the war. The building was an important symbol during the vietnamese war, and housed several significant events marking the start, and end of the war.
On our wanderings we also visited the City Post Office and Notre Dame Catherdral, both of which are close to the Palace. In a nearby shopping centre, the food court gave us a chance to experience urban food in Vietnam, somewhat confusing, but we ended up with a good variety of interesting and tasty foods.
The War Remnants museum (there’s one of these in every city) is very impressive, while it has much less in the way of actual weapons, it still has a display of artillery, tanks and aircraft, inside is dedicated to photo, and art galleries ranging from the effects of napalm, peace posters and historical propaganda. The stories it tells through pictures alone convey so much more than the bad captions and artifacts that other museums rely on. It is both tasteful and poignant in its delivery, and with such a strong and simple message the impact is quite moving. Of all the military museums, this was the best, and of all the attractions in HCMC, this was my favourite.
We finished the day with a trip up the highest building in the city. You can reach the Saigon Skydeck on the 49th floor of the Bitexco tower throughout the day, or you can go a little higher, to the 52nd, and have a drink as well. It works out about the same price, but with seating and a drink, we felt the bar was the better choice. Watching day turn to night across the city was fascinating, especially as the roads changed to rivers of light blurring streaks across the city.
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