It’s been a long time since Ho Chi Minh was on my bucket list. This city was one of my dream travels for some years and there I was.
As soon as we crossed the border to Vietnam, we entered a bus with two floors of beds where it was almost impossible to sit. The options were to lay and try to stay awake or to lay and sleep.
We got to Ho Chi Minh after a long trip of more than 10 hours that started in Kampot in Cambodia. The bus left us in the city center near Pham Ngu Lao in district 1 which is the backpacker area and is full with bars and hotels of every kind.
We went on asking every hotel for prices until one guy came to us and said he had room to rent in his house which was “right there”. We followed him and entered a really narrow and dark alley where two bikes wouldn’t fit next to each other. The room was very clean and the price was good, so we stayed. It’s funny that we wouldn’t have found that street, even though it faces the main street, if we hadn’t follow the guy. The street divided in other smaller streets and it was possible to see the Saigon life style at least in that quarter of the city every time we went in and out of our room. They spend their time on the floor, eating, sleeping, talking or watching TV. Many of them in that area had rooms to rent, so they really were never leaving their houses. Pham Ngu Lao has plenty of life and there are bars after bars, mainly attended by tourists. Colorful neon lights bright up the streets and give them that typical asian atmosphere we know from the movies and pictures in magazines. The animation is constant.
The traffic in Ho Chi Minh was the most chaotic I’ve seen till that day. There are thousand of small motorbikes everywhere and they try to squeeze to every possible hole. A simple task like crossing the street can become a giant headache. It is just a matter of habit, as we could see later. There are posters and flags elusive to the regime and Ho Chi Minh, the father of the nation, is also represented all over the city, usually next to the communist and Vietnamese flags.
The city is very big and there is a lot to visit. The Notre Dam Cathedral in Ngo Duc Ke in very European style is one of the French remainings.
The typical train station with the famous phone booths that used to allow phone calls everywhere in the world that were now transformed into ATMs.
The Nguyen Hue boulevard where Saigon’s skyscrapers are is also home to the famous designer clothes shops and it’s such a large avenue that its end is almost imperceptible. It starts by the Municipal People’s Committee where the statue of Ho Chi Minh is, and finishes only by the river.
Here we can find the highest building in the city. There is an observation deck on the 49th floor and two floor above there’s a bar/restaurant with similar views. The deck cost 100.000 Dongs to visit so it’s better to go to the bar and order some drink and enjoy the views from there. The drinks are very expensive, but it’s still better than the deck. From there you can contemplate the whole city and you can realize how big it really is. Ho Chi Minh has a population of over 8 million people.
One of the main markets in Saigon in Binh Tai in China Town. This must have been the best market I’ve seen so far. It’s very big and has almost everything you can imagine. From clothes to food, souvenirs, kitchen appliances to an entire section of hats and another with shoes and purses. It seemed endless! This part of the city is full with small street markets and we can breath commerce everywhere. Women selling fruits, fish, vegetables and chicken. All in the side of the street where thousands of bikes drive by at any time. There are some buddhist chinese temples and even a church to see.
We visited and we really recommend the War museum. A place everybody wishes didn’t have to exist but it is there and remind us of the horrors the Vietnamese went through not long time ago.
From Ho Chi Minh we can also visit the Mekong Delta and the Cu Chi tunnels that again, take us back to the war period.
Ho Chi Minh is futuristic, a real city with all the strength of any other big asian city and at the same time friendly and convenient. It is however easy to get lost in its immensity. For a long time I wanted to see her and it didn’t disappoint me.