A first encounter with classical Saigon
Ho Chi Minh City Travel Blog› entry 16 of 23 › view all entries
Our night train arrived in Ho Chi Minh City (former Saigon) at around 5 oâ€™clock in the morning. It was till dark and streets were mostly empty, but we had no trouble getting a taxi to bring us to our hotel. Luckily we could get an early check-in, as soon as we got into our room and dropped our backpacks in a corner, we lie down in bed and get a couple of more hours of sleep. No matter how well you sleep on a night train, you never feel rested when you reach your destination.
The morning is half way gone when we finish our late breakfast and try to decide what to do first in this huge city.
We make a spontaneous tour on foot, beginning at the theatre, passing the Continental hotel and having a drink on the rooftop terrace of the Rex hotel. We pass the beautiful city hall, and by the time we reach the Notre Dame Cathedral we feel as if we are in Europe and not in Asia. The entire neighborhood we have been walking in so far has been dominated by a colonial French architecture, making the area seem like an Asian version of Paris.
Our last stop in this quarter is the main post office, the highlight of all classical European architecture in Saigon if you ask me. After this, we continue our walking tour towards the Reunification Palace, the former residence of the president of southern Vietnam.
The faÃ§ade of the palace is in a horrible modernistic style that was popular in the 50s and 60s.
I guess itâ€™s the atmosphere in those cave like spaces, itâ€™s like the war only ended yesterday. The equipment that is on display here (telephones, desks, radio transmitters) is obviously from a long time ago, but it is still as if time stood still is this area of the building. You can almost hear the radio transmissions, the telephones ringing, generals debating over several maps. There is also a hall with an exhibition of pictures and stories of the war, at the exit of the exhibition is a jeep on display that used to drive around the president of southern Vietnam.
I suppose itâ€™s the basement of the palace that made it worth our visit, although we also enjoyed watching the movie theatre and game room, because it showed that real people lived in this huge building.
As soon as we leave the Dong Khoi-area, itâ€™s as if we return to the actual Vietnam. The whole uptightness of classical and modern buildings, shops with Dior, Prada and Gucci, broad boulevards with trees and wide, clean sidewalks are gone. The thousands of honking scooters, the noise of traffic and normal shops and cozy restaurants are back, and we feel more at home in an instant.