VIETNAM TRAVEL

 

Ho Chi Minh City

History - Orientation - Information - Dangers Annoyances - Sights - Activities Walking Tour - Courses - HCMC For Children - Tour - Festivals Events - Sleeping Eating - Drinking - Entertainment - Shopping - Getting There Away - Getting Around.

Boasting an electric, near palpable energy. Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) is Vietnam's largest metropolis and its undisputed capital of commerce. For the casual visitor, Saigon - as its still called by all but the city officials who live here - can seem a chaotic mess of traffic-clogged roads and urban bustle, with nary a green space in sight. Yet thousands of expats and Vietnamese immigrants couldn't imagine living anywhere else. They've long since fallen prey to the hidden charms of one of Southeast Asia's liveliest cities. If every town had a symbol, Saigon's would surely be the motorbike. More than three million of them fly along streets once swarming with bicycles. Cruising along boulevards and back alleys astride a xe om (motorbike taxi) is the quickest way to sensory overload - daily fare in this tropical town. Teeming markets, sidewalk café’s, massage and acupuncture clinics, centuries-old pagodas, sleek skyscrapers and ramshackle wooden shops selling silk, spices, baskets and handmade furniture all jockey for attention amid the surreal urban collage. Saigon is a forward-looking city driving Vietnam's economic boom. Investment has led to new crop of lavish hotels and restaurants, with trendy nightclubs and nigh-end boutiques dotting tree-lined neighbourhoods. Yet the city hasn't forgotten its past. The ghosts live on in the churches, temples, former Gl hotels and government buildings that one generation ago witnessed a city in turmoil. The Saigon experience is about so many things - magical conversations, memorable meals and inevitable frustration - yet it's unlikely to evoke apathy. Stick around this complicated city long enough and you may find yourself smitten by it.
HO CHI MINH CITY IN...
One Day
Start your morning with a steaming bowl of pho (rice-noodle soup), followed by a stroll among the shops and galleries lining Đ Dong Khoi. Make your way to the Museum of Ho Chi Minh City, then have lunch at nearby Quan An Ngon. the place to sample a wide variety of Vietnamese delicacies. Continue your journey into the past at the Reunification Palace and the War Remnants Museum. In the evening, catch the sunset and stunning views from the rooftop bar of the Sheraton Saigon, followed by an elegant meal at either Temple Club or Nam Phan. Have a nightcap at Qing a small cosy wine bar.
Two Days
Begin the day at the lively Ben Thanh Market, where you can grab a bite while loading up on wooden knick-knacks, sweets and conical hats. Then, grab a taxi 10 Cholon for a visit to the historic pagodas of HCMC's Chinatown. Have lunch, then pay a final pagoda visit to Giac Lam, HCMC's oldest and arguably most Impressive pagoda. As the afternoon wanes, treat yourself to a massage or spa treatment at L'Apothiquaire a welcome reward for tired gams. After detoxifying, start the fun all over again with a decadent meal at Tib or Lemon
RENAMING THE PAST
One of the main battlegrounds for the hearts of Vietnamese during the last four decades has been the naming of Vietnam's provinces, districts, cities, towns, streets and institutions. Some places have borne three or more names since WWII and. often, more than one name is still used. When French control of Vietnam ended in 1954. almost all French names were replaced in both the North and the South. For example, Saigon's Rue Catinat - a familiar name to anyone who's read Graham Greene's A Quiet American - was renamed Đ Tu Do (Freedom); since reuni fication it has been known as Đ Dong Khoi (Uprising). Later, in 1956, the US-backed puppet regime changed the names of some provinces and towns in the South In an effort to erase from popular memory the Viet Minh's anti-French exploits, which were often known by the places In which they occurred. The village-based southern communists, who by this time had gone underground, continued to use the old designations and boundaries In running their regional and local organisations. The peasants - now faced with two masters - quickly adapted to this situation, using one set of place names when dealing with the communists and a different set of names when talking to South Vietnamese officials. After reunification, the first task of Saigon's provisional government was to rename the southern capital Ho Chi Minh City, a decision confirmed in Hanoi a year later. The new government began changing street names considered inappropriate - an ongoing process - dropping English and French names in favour of Vietnamese ones. The only French names still in use are those of Albert Calmette (1893-1934), developer of a tuberculosis vaccine; Marie Curie (1867-1934), who won the Nobel Prize for her research into radioactivity; Louis Pasteur (1822-95), chemist and bacteriologist; and Alcxandre Yersin (1863-1943), discoverer of the plague bacillus. Despite the current attempts at renaming (like in 2000, when the Municipal People's Committee renamed over 150 streets), the most Important streets are unlikely to change names. Some even resist officialdom's intrusion into the rename game. Saigon, after all, is still the preferred : name for the majority of southerners who live there.