Exploring Saigon

Ho Chi Minh City Travel Blog

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When you say Asia, you say scooters...and this was a not so busy street.

It’s 10.30 am when we land in Ho Chi Minh City, next to the runway quite some helicopters are waiting for their next mission (nowadays peaceful I guess), but it still gives me the feeling I’m flying right into the Francis Ford Coppola movie “Apocalypse Now” with The Doors singing “This is the end” in the background.

It takes a while before we can disembark, because another plane is at our gate at the moment, so all we can do is look at the blue skies through the tiny airplane windows and wonder what this country will bring us.

Outside it is over 30 degrees Celsius already and in the line at Immigration the temperature starts to rise as well, or is it just our bodies that are telling us we are tired and need to go to sleep?

We dig our luggage from the huge pile of suitcases and backpacks that, so it seems, have been thrown out of the airplane, instead of being unloaded with (at least some) care.

The Rex Hotel, home of the "Five o'clock Follie" during the Vietnam war.

Once through customs, outside we are welcomed by an extraordinary bright sun and Michel Goetghebuer (our tour guide). He is an elderly man from Belgium with white hair and a cigarette between his fingers. This seriously deteriorates my hopes for an active vacation and I fear for lots of “smoking breaks” on every bus trip we are going to make. Boy can a man be wrong!!! Michel will prove to be the best tour guide we ever had, with understanding of the country and the culture, a good sense of humour and meticulous accounting skills.

Michel tells us that we can use the ATM some twenty metres from where we are standing, which sounds like a smart plan. Within an instant I’m a millionare, I pull 2,000,000 Vietnamese Dong (VND) out of the wall, which is about 115 Euros.

All of us shake hands and names are exchanged, most of them I forget immediately, and then we drive by bus to the Vien Dong Hotel which is located in Quan 1 (District 1), the backpackers area of the city.

The former City Hall now houses the Ho Chi Minh People's Committee.
Here bars can stay open longer, while everywhere else in the city they have to close at midnight.

We put our luggage in our room and take a nice lukewarm shower. While most of our party hit the sack, Trudy and I decide to go out and explore the city. Staying awake now and sleeping tonight is probably the best way to kill our jetlag.

There is supposed to be a covered market somewhere in the neighbourhood and we set out to find it. We enjoy the Asian city traffic with its hundreds and hundreds of mopeds and scooters (for the price of a car you can buy a house here) and watch them buzz by. Crossing the road may look scary in the beginning, but you only have to keep one rule in mind: Keep going forward and you’ll be perfectly safe. The motorists anticipate on you doing so and will pass behind you. Take one step back though, and you’re in trouble.

The Opera House still draws a crowd on a regular basis.

Ben Tanh Market (Cho Ben Tanh) lies on a corner of a very busy crossroads and as soon as we enter the building, from all sides, we are approached by people who want to sell us all kinds of goods. We browse for a while and just before leaving the market Trudy buys two blouses for €9, they are not the most fashionable ones, but some extra clothes always come in handy (and what can you expect for that kind of money).

From here we walk to Lam Son Square, where the Rex Hotel with its famous rotating crown stands in which during the Vietnam war the American press conferences were held, better known as the “Five o’clock Follies”.

On the north-western end of Nguyen Hue Boulevard stands the former City Hall, built by the French in 1908 and modeled on the Hôtel de Ville in Paris.

Notre Dame Cathedral.
In front of the building the statue of Ho Chi Minh offering comfort to a child. This is a very popular spot for Vietnamese newlyweds who think Uncle Ho confers his blessing on them.

North-west of Lam Son Square stands the Opera House, also in French colonial style, which is still being used for giving theatre, dance and gymnastics shows. On the edge of the pond in front of the Opera House we rest for a while, taking in the impressions of this thriving city.

It is not very far to the Notre Dame, a Roman Catholic cathedral built by, again, the French between 1877 and 1880. Unfortunately we can’t go in, a funeral mass is taking place at the moment. I wouldn’t like a bunch of Japanese tourists dropping in on the burial of one of my relatives either.

The façade of the general post office.

When standing in front of the cathedral, with your back towards it, on your left hand side you find the general post office. On its facade there are both French and Kmer motifs and the inside is worth a look as well. Upon entering a large painting of Ho Chi Minh looks us in the face. The high curved ceiling gives the interior a very distinct look (a design of Gustav Eiffel) and the large maps of Indochina on both side walls and the rows of office windows make us want to sit down and just observe what goes on for some time.

When looking for a toilet we find out that not all Vietnamese speak English (although many do), we cannot possibly explain to the two ladies that own a shop that Trudy needs to use the restroom and finally we go out again looking for a public toilet. After a walk that’s way too long in Trudy’s opinion we pass a public toilet and for 2,000 VND the problem is eventually solved, it could have been cleaner, but it did the trick.

The curved ceiling was designed by Gustav Eiffel.

At 7 pm two taxis take our whole party to a restaurant that serves Vietnamese food only, it tastes very good and people are getting along just fine. Caroline asks us if we would like to check out the Hardrock Cafe with her, this sounds like fun and thus the first good contact seems to be made.

When everyone has eating his/her fill we go back to the hotel, where after another refreshing shower we go to bed for a well deserved night sleep.

jennethm says:
Great blog and pics, I am definitely going to Vietnam :)
Posted on: Dec 23, 2007
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When you say Asia, you say scooter…
When you say Asia, you say scoote…
The Rex Hotel, home of the Five o…
The Rex Hotel, home of the "Five …
The former City Hall now houses th…
The former City Hall now houses t…
The Opera House still draws a crow…
The Opera House still draws a cro…
Notre Dame Cathedral.
Notre Dame Cathedral.
The façade of the general post of…
The façade of the general post o…
The curved ceiling was designed by…
The curved ceiling was designed b…
One of the old maps of Indochina i…
One of the old maps of Indochina …