Saturday, February 9, 2019

Ho Chi Minh City

city hall saigon ho chi minh vietnam


              Ho Chi Minh City is a mixture of old and new.  Elegant buildings of French Colonialism sit between high rises and hotels.  With a booming economy and a growing middle class, the people of this city are eating artisanal foods and sipping craft beer.  Tourist may come to visit the articles of the past, but the city is moving forward, and fast.


vietnam war airplane saigon ho chi minh vietnam
Vietnam War plane at the War Remnants Museum.


Once called Saigon (and still is by most), the name was changed after its fall at the end of the Vietnam War.  Most tourist only touch down here and leave or use it as a jump off point for sites in the area, while partying hard in the backpacker’s district at night.   But there is far more to Ho Chi Minh than just that.  Here where history meets the future, you have photogenic historical buildings, lively markets, museums, and craft beer. 


What to Do in the City 



War Remnants Museum



tiger cages war remnants museum saigon ho chi minh vietnam
'Tiger Cages', barbed wire boxes, used to hold prisoners of war.


              Housed in the former US Information Service Building, the War Remnants Museum is one of the most gripping museums of war you may ever enter.  Never before have I seen a more overwhelming story of the atrocities war enacts on the civilian populations caught in its grip.  While some of the displays are one sided, many are of atrocities displayed are of well documented by US sources.


huey helicopter war remnants museum saigon ho chi minh vietnam
Huey helicopter at the War Remnants Museum.


              Outside the museum are many of the armored vehicles and aircraft used during the Vietnam War.  There is also a recreation of the notorious island prisons of the French and South Vietnamese.  This display houses a look at the cells, a guillotine, and the ‘tiger cages’ used to hold prisoners.  While the ground floor of the museum holds a collection of posters dedicated to the antiwar movement.


bombs war remnants museum saigon ho chi minh vietnam
Different types of bombs used during the Vietnam War.


              While upstairs hold pictures and weapons of the war.  Throughout the museum are displays of the many weapons used in the war, including many that were Top Secret at that time.  The most compelling display of the museum though is the Requiem Exhibition.  This collection documents the works of the photographers who were killed during the conflict, on both sides.  


Jade Emperor Pagoda



jade emperor pagoda saigon ho chi minh vietnam
Jade Emperor Pagoda


              The Phuoc Hai Temple, also referred to as the Jade Emperor Pagoda, is a multifaith temple located north of the city center.  Although it is walkable (a long walk), I suggest getting a Grab taxi to take you there.  This ornate temple is covered in elaborate wood and tile work far different than what you will see in many of the other temples in Vietnam.  


Notre Dame Cathedral



notre dame cathedral saigon ho chi minh vietnam
Notre Dame Cathedral, Saigon


              The Notre Dame Cathedral is a neo-Romanesque church built in 1883.  It is located in Government Quarter across the street from the Post Office. 


Central Post Office



central post office saigon ho chi minh vietnam
Central Post Office.


              The Saigon Central Post Office is a highly visited site in Ho Chi Minh.  Built in 1891, the building still looks as if it had just opened.  The inside is stunning and spacious and a remnant Colonial Vietnam.  There are even the original phone booths inside.  Also, if you are looking for a postcard to send home, the Central Post Office is still in full operation.  


Ben Thanh Market



ben thanh market saigon ho chi minh vietnam
Inside of the Ben Thanh Market.


              Ben Thanh Market is one of the oldest landmarks in Ho Chi Minh, as well as one of its most popular markets.  Reconstructed over the years, the clock tower out front still remains the same as the day it was built.  If you are looking for a souvenir, then look no further than Ben Thanh Market.  It is full of souvenirs and handicrafts of all types.  If your felling a little hungry then there is also a few food stands inside, as well as many fruit stands.  In the evening though there are many street style local food places that open up around the market.  


Caravelle Hotel/Opera House/City Hall



oprah house saigon ho chi minh vietnam
Oprah House.


              These three buildings show great mainstays of French colonial architecture in Vietnam.  The Caravelle Hotel is famous for housing many journalist offices and was the meeting place for many of the war correspondence during the Vietnam War.  The Opera House is another beautiful landmark from the colonial era and is still used as a theater.  Lastly, the City Hall is another popular spot for photo opportunities.  Although you can not tour the city hall itself, many people take photos of the building from Memorial Park outside.  It is very nice at night when it is all lite up.  


Food



quan an nguyen ky saigon ho chi minh vietnam
Menu for Quan An Nguyen Ky.



              If you have read many of my blog post then you know I’m a huge foody and Ho Chi Minh has a lot of good food.  Although it has many of the same dishes as the north, most of them are prepared a bit differently.  There are also a few items that are usually only found in the south like one of my favorites, Bò Lúc Lắc (Sauté Diced Beef).  On of my favorite restaurants in Ho Chi Minh was Quán Ăn Nguyên Ký, not only for their Bò Lúc Lắc, but also their fried rice.  


sugarcane juice saigon ho chi minh vietnam
A lady squeezing sugarcane for its juice.


              I also highly recommend getting a glass of sugarcane juice from one of the many street vendors.  They will squeeze the sugarcane right there in front of you, add a little lime, and serve it to you on ice.  It’s very delicious!  I also recommend Royaltea.  You can find these in many large cities in Vietnam and they are very good.  My personal favorite is the Royaltea Fresh Juice Tea.


BiaCraft



biacraft craft beer flight saigon ho chi minh vietnam
Flight of craft beer at BiaCraft.


              Last, but far from least, is BiaCraft.  The craft beer scene in Vietnam is growing large and that is seen no better than in Ho Chi Minh City.  There are numerous craft beer brewing companies that call this city home and BiaCraft is one of them.  But what sets it apart from all the others is that not only can you get all of their beers on tap, but you can get many of the other companies on tap as well.  It’s a craft beer lovers paradise.  Not to mention that they have some killer appetizers. 


Where to Stay



              Ho Chi Minh City is the largest city in Vietnam and has many hotels in every price range.  Like Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh has a backpacker’s district (between the streets of Pham Ngu Lao and Bùi Viện) that is home to many cheap hotels and hostels.  This area can get fairly load at night though, so if you are looking for something a bit quieter, you can find many more hotels a few blocks north of this area.  There are also many other hotels throughout the city.  When booking my hotels I always use Agoda to find the best hotel in my location and price range.  




How to Get Around



saigon ho chi minh vietnam


Ho Chi Minh City is a fairly compact town and the sights above can easily be walked between with no longer than about a 20-minute walk.  If walking isn’t your thing, or you don’t have the time for it, you can always take a taxi, motorcycle taxi, rent a motorcycle, or take the public bus.


The first two of course can be found on the street.  There is also Grab in Ho Chi Minh City (the cheaper version of Uber) so you can always download their app and take one of them.  It should be noted that, unlike Uber, Grab service is usually paid for with cash.  If you are brave enough to rent a moto for the crazy streets of Hanoi, then your hotel/hostel should be able to set that up for you.  The roads of Ho Chi Minh City are packed with motorcycles, so unless you are a very experienced driver in these conditions, I would advise against it.  The best and by far the cheapest of these options is the public bus.  The bus system is fast and very reliable in Hanoi.  I suggest downloading the BusMap - Xe buýt thành phố App for the public bus system.  It’s a great App and also allows you to track how far your bus is from you (note: it only works for buses in the HCMC Provence). 


How to Get There



Ho Chi Minh City is the most visited city in Vietnam and is the starting point for touring Vietnam for most tourists.  If you are flying into Ho Chi Minh City, I suggest using the Skyscanner widget below to book yourself a cheap ticket.




              If you are starting in Hanoi and working your way down, then there are many other options available to you.  The buses are by far the cheapest option.  You could book a ticket with one of the many sleeper bus companies that make this route.  The sleeper bus is basically a bus with bunk-bed chairs that lay down into beds for you to sleep.  They are very comfortable and usually also have wifi.  There is also a hop on hop off bus that you can book, which allows you to book a bus for the number of stops you want to make along the way (the price varies according to the number of stops).  Or if you are like me, you can easily peace together your trip with local and sleeper buses as you make your way across the country.  You can also use 12GO to book buses online; either from your destination in the north or from Cambodia.


Powered by 12Go Asia system


 


              Another option is to take the train.  Sometimes referred to as the Reunification Express, there is nothing express about it.  The whole trip from Hanoi to Saigon takes approximately 38 hours.  You have the option of reserving a bunk-bed sleeper car (which you share with 3 – 5 other people), a soft seat (a normal bus seat that reclines), or a hard seat (just a spot on a wooden bench) and attendants come by regularly with carts of food and drinks for you to buy at a reasonable cost.  Something to note: all of the seats in each car face the center, so if you start the trip traveling backwards, at some point the train switches tracks and you will then be traveling forwards.


ho chi minh saigon pinpoint map



What was your favorite thing about 
Ho Chi Minh City?

 

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