Monday, April 1, 2013


With it's wide boulevards, urban atmosphere, colonial buildings, and activity-filled public spaces, Ho Chiinh City (formerly Saigon), particularly in the old quarter (still called Saigon), resembles nothing so much as it does a European city - particularly those in France. That is, of course, until you notice the scooters - and with somthing like four to six million scooters for the eight million people living there, they are somewhat hard to miss. Speaking from experience, I can also say that riding on the back of a moto-taxi (xe om) here is a far more harrowing than anywhere else.

A statue of 'Uncle Ho' outside City Hall.
Even just walking around central Saigon is pleasant - the atmosphere is a thoroughly enjoyable one to soak up. Sites-wise, I had a few favourites. The post office next to the Notre Dame Cathedral (told you) with it's awesome old-school map murals inside is definitely worth a peek in.

Saigon's Notre Dame Cathedral.
Likewise, the remarkably hideous-on-the-outside-until-you-recognize-its-ingenuity-from-inside Reunification Palace built in 1966 to replace the former French Indochinese governor's palace is possibly one of my favourite buildings of all time. I can not describe how amazingly light and airy it was inside, nor how 60s chic - both of which (though maybe less so the latter) are uncommon in political residences. The James Bond style roof top garden, bar, dance floor and chopper landing site were also a plus. As was the underground bunker in the basement from whence the Southern Presidents worked during the war. It was also here that the war symbolically ended - with a tank driven through the gates and acting South Vietnamese President Tran Van Huong taken to the radio station to announce surrender.

The not supremely attractive exterior of the Reunification Palace.

The interior of the Reunification Palace.

Finally, the somewhat biasedly presented, but factually correct and utterly heart wrenching, War Remnants Museum is an absolute must see. Documenting the atrocities of the Vietnam war (albeit completely one sidedly in favour of the North), the museum houses weapons, casings, photographs and stories of those involved as well as information on the war and a recreation of the American/South Vietnamese prison on Phu Quoc. Particularly devastating are the rooms dedicated to the ongoing effects of the use of biological and chemical agents, such as agent orange, not only on those (on both sides) who came in contact with it, but their descendants as well.

A woman in a traditional aojai walks past some of typical communist-style posters found all over Vietnam.

For a great side trip just 40km outside of Ho Chi Minh City, it's definitely worth checking out the Cu Chi tunnels - a network of over 250km of tunnels in which the Viet Cong (the southern communist guerrilla forces) hid out and lived for nearly 20 years during the war. 100m of the tunnels, along side model booby-traps, decoys and a shooting range, are accessible to tourists at Ben Dinh. If you go on a tour you will also stop at one of the government craft centres for the disabled. While I am opposed to the voyeurism involved in checking out the workshop, the work they produce is fabulous. While the tunnels have been widened to accommodate foreigners, even I found them to be on the unpleasantly tight side - and I'm tiny! Hard to believe anyone could live down there for weeks on end.

It should also be noted that Ho Chi Minh City (and Vietnam in general) is home to some absolutely fabulous food - special thanks to Jackson and Vanessa for taking care of us in that regard, you can come visit me for food in Toronto anytime!

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