Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known (and still referred to by the locals) as Saigon is a must see place – even if you hate it, as many do – just so you can believe the traffic!
With a population of 10million (and an estimated 7million motorbikes), it is busy, hectic, filthy (in parts) and only the brave survive crossing the road.
Despite following the ‘walk slowly, do not stop or hesitate’ rules, on my first solo road crossing only a Matrix style hips-forward manoeuvre helped me to narrowly escape being run over by a moped who’s driver was picking his feet rather than avoiding petrified pedestrians!
First day there I wasn’t impressed and, although I still feel Saigon lacks soul, after a few days settling in it grew on me and I enjoyed the contrast with the rest of Vietnam.
Walking is the best way to get around (if you are brave enough to cross the road), but regularly repeated warnings of bag snatchings and pickpockets mean minimal valuables are advised.
A US$15 bus trip and guide to the gruesome and impressively masterminded Cu Chi Tunnels (where the Viet Cong lived during the war) and then a drop off at the war remnants museum is a fascinating and spine chilling day out, as well as a lesson in propaganda at its best .
The beautiful architecture of the Colonial Post Office and the Catholic Cathedral are worth a trip, as is the hidden gem of an Art Museum. It’s 30,000 Vietnamese Dong (about £1) entrance fee gives you admission to two buildings of exhibits, which are impressive enough without the paintings. And, out through the courtyard are four or five smaller commercial galleries are all worth a look.
The Imperial Palace could be given a miss, unless Soviet style war strategy basements and 70’s architecture are your thing. And, if you’ve been to China, the central market doesn’t offer much variation – only in attitude and it’s not more positive!
For a treat and a glimpse of expat Saigon, the rooftop bar at The Rex hotel is great, but not cheap and the opera house, tourist information and high-end shops are close by.
On the flip side, Pho 2000 does some of the best (and cheapest) beef noodles in town – without the frills!
I had high hopes for Ho Chi Minh City and am happy to say I’ve seen Saigon, but three days were probably enough to soak it up.