It was one of the most laid-back trips I have ever had. There were no rush throughs, we ambled from site to site, enjoying the straight tall trees (the trees in Ho Chi Minh are pretty darn straight, mind you) and dry heat.
We reached the city at about 3pm and had to queue for about half an hour before passing through immigration. It took us another hour to get to the hotel which was situated in District 1 – massive jam, no idea why. After we settled down and changed, we went hunting for food while familiarising ourselves with the city.
On the first night, we walked around District 1. Our hotel was only 5 minutes walk away from Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica with the Central Post Office situated right next to it. The whole area is actually connected – so we walked very comfortably towards Dong Khoi street where it is littered with art galleries, cafes and local boutiques.
Exploration of the city began! We went to Ben Thanh Market in the morning to take a look at what the whole fuss is about. Turns out, the entire market was brimming with energy and tourists. If Singapore’s version of a wholesale place is Mustafa, Ho Chi Minh’s would be Ben Thanh Market. Anything you can imagine is sold there.
We then went to the War Remnants Museum. You will see a lot of mixed reviews online about this museum. Basically, what you need to expect is a lot of photographs and a few exhibits on the bombs, guns and equipments they used back in the Vietnam war. The narrative is extremely one sided, history is written by the victors after all, so you will see how the Vietnamese government talk about the American prerogative. The photographs are downright gruesome and sad, alas, all wars are tragic.
Chu Chi Tunnels. If you, like us, are thinking of skipping this part of your holiday, don’t. It will be a crucial and unforgettable experience. I hope you don’t go there with very high expectations though – you are basically walking through a small section of what used to be where the Vietnam War took place. The Vietnam War is interesting because the Americans have not lost so embarrassingly in a war before and the fact that they couldn’t overcome the tactics of the guerrillas, well you can make your own deductions.
We went with The Sinh Tourist. They are one of the cheapest and most reliable tour agencies in HCM. You will be asked to pay 69,000VND per person and an additional 110,000VND for entrance fee when you reach Chu Chi Tunnels. Don’t worry – it’s not a rip off. The hotel I was staying in was charging 550,000VND for the exact same tour.
I really enjoyed the information given by our tour guide. He talked about how the guerrillas survived in conditions we can’t even dreamed of today. I won’t elaborate lest I disrupt your tour. Towards the end of it all, you will be given the option to try out the tunnels. It’s as real as it can get! We were in the tunnel (about 5m deep) for less than 5 minutes, but we came out gasping for air and feeling very relieved due to how claustrophobic we felt.
After the tour, we reached the city at about 2 plus in the afternoon.We had lunch and went straight to the Museum of Vietnamese History. This museum has a lot of artefacts and brief descriptions about the history (all the way back to BCE) of the different clans (or tribes?) and how the nation evolved and were eventually dominated by Chinese Emperors. There’s a water puppet show too, much cheaper than the one that’s showing near Ben Thanh market, that runs daily at 11am and 2pm too IF i am not wrong.
Leisure walk around the city and travelled to Tran Phu (quite near the Chinatown district) where the whole street is lined up with art galleries. We went into to at least 10 galleries and finally bought two works from Op Company. I really like the gallery! They are slightly different from the rest and had quite interesting and understated works. The exact address is 63 Tran Phu, Ward 4, District 5, HCM City and is owned by a Mr Cao Liem. They were more flexible with the negotiations and apart from the replicas, they had original works as well. We bought the two paintings at about 50-60USD and they are a decent 60 x 80 cm size. Really a good deal, me thinks!
That pretty much sums up our entire trip to Ho Chi Minh!