Ho Chi Minh City aka Saigon

22 Jan

Visiting Vietnam was something both Orestes and I have wanted to do for quite some time. His interest stemmed mostly from the fabulousness that is Vietnamese food; my interest  had two sources, Anthony Bourdain and my father. For those who don’t know, Anthony Bourdain is a chef turned TV travel host with whom I am mildly obsessed. His show made Vietnam seem pretty darn awesome. As for my dad, he visited the country during the unfortunate debacle that was the Vietnam War. Although he hardly spoke of his time there, I do recall one moment when he told me that he always thought it was a shame he was there for such a horrible reason, since the countryside was beautiful. He also had a love of all types and flavors of Asian food, so I think he would have been just as interested in the food as Orestes. Corinne and David were more than willing to help us explore, so off to Vietnam we went!

Ho Chi Minh City was the capital of the French colony of Cochinchina, and then the capital of South Vietnam during the war. When the North Vietnamese took over, they renamed the city after Ho Chi Minh, the founder of the Vietnamese communist party. Lots of people still call it Saigon however, or just abbreviate it to HCMC. It also happens to be the largest city in Vietnam. Everyone I had talked to about HCMC  warned me that the traffic was insane, and that the city was crazy. After last summer’s adventure in Phnom Penh, and my feeling of overstimulation while there, I was understandably worried about HCMC, especially since neither Corinne or David had been to Asia before. Well, turns out the traffic is indeed insane. There are 20 million people, 5 million motorbikes, and the traffic laws are… traffic laws? What are those? Crossing a major road as a pedestrian took planning, peripheral vision, and determination.

Traffic chaos aside, HCMC is lovely. The French influence is still very much in evidence. There are tasty French bakeries, fabulous coffee, quality wine available, and streets with rows of houses that look like they belong in Europe. HCMC was slightly less developed than Bangkok, but definitely up and coming. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of public parks and green spaces, which provided some nice moments of shade as we wandered around. Vietnamese food is amazing, partly because it is so fresh. Many dishes are served with a plate of leafy greens, herbs, and limes alongside. Two of my favorites were pho, a tasty, tasty Vietnamese noodle soup, and  banh xeo, a French crepe with an Asian filling of shrimp, pork, and bean sprouts, with a delicious result. We also had a grand old time grilling our own marinated meat items over hot coals at our table, and boiling strips of beef in vinegar. Sounds weird, tastes great.

Interesting/random tourist things we did include:

  • Visiting the War Remnants Museum, previously known as the Exhibition House for Crimes of War and Aggression (the name was changed in 1990 after the US lifted its embargo of Vietnam) ~ Very interesting, very sad, very full of anti-US propaganda, including an entire exhibit dedicated to the aftereffects of Agent Orange, complete with deformed fetuses in a tank (yes, human fetuses)
  • Crawling 120 meters through the Cu Chi Tunnels at Ben Dinh – Corinne and I made it the whole way, David made it the first 20 meters, and Orestes refused to go in. Although they’ve been enlarged for Western tourists, they are still quite small, not to mention hot and humid. See photos of us squatting and sweating below. We also learned about the many types of do-it-yourself booby traps the Viet Cong created, and got to see some in action (not on us!)
  • Wandering the halls of the Reunification Palace. The Palace was constructed by the extremely unpopular first president of South Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem, and became famous when a North Vietnamese tank crashed through the front gates, officially ending the War. The entire decor is 1960s fabulous, complete with mustard yellow drapes.
  • Visiting the main Cao Dai Temple in Tay Ninh. Caodaism is a Vietnamese religion founded in 1926 that took snippets from Christianity, Buddhism, and Taosim, mixed them around, and created their own unique brew. The main temple at Tay Ninh is visually shocking, a mix of pastel pink and bright yellow, somewhat reminiscent of a wedding cake.
  • Enjoying discounted spa packages are our hotel. Delightful relaxation at its finest. When in Asia…

One Response to “Ho Chi Minh City aka Saigon”

  1. Elaine McCormick January 28, 2014 at 5:02 pm #

    Thanks for sharing! Sounds like you had a wonderful trip. Love YA!

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