Ho Chi Minh City – the famous bits

6th – 9th March

In Vietnam they build things with concrete. Concrete, concrete, concrete. 

There’s a lot of good things to say about this material… but one word that does not usually spring to mind is “beautiful”. 

This is why my expectation was that Ho Chi Minh City was going to be a hot, infinite expanse of concrete and cables, that was beautiful only in the sense that your eyes are simply overloaded with stuff in a novel way. 

There was a bit of this (which I did enjoy). Cycling in Ho Ch Minh City 

But no, mostly I was wrong. Ho Chi Minh City was so much more beautiful and pleasant than I thought it would be. Yes, there was still a lot of concrete. Ho Chi Minh City 

But there were also big parks full of sculptures. Ho Chi Minh City 

Wide pavements lined by enormous trees. Outside the reunification palace 

And some of that sensory-overload beauty at night. Ho Chi Minh City, backpacker area 

We didn’t stray off of the typical tourist itinerary while we were here. We both felt that we’d seen plenty of untouristic Vietnam. It was time to investigate the famous bits!

We visited the Museum of Fine Arts, which is the first art gallery we’ve seen in Asia.  Saigon Museum of Fine Arts 

The collection is housed in a beautiful French colonial-style yellow building. Saigon Museum of Fine Arts 

Famous Vietnamese artists displayed here often used lacquer, which gives an interesting effect. Saigon Museum of Fine Arts  

Saigon Museum of Fine Arts 

Paintings on display were mostly defined as Modern Art, though none of it was the unmade beds/light switching off and on type. We thought it was good and worth a visit.  Saigon Museum of Fine Arts 

According to Eric, this depicts the moment that KFC was introduced to Vietnam. Saigon Museum of Fine Arts 

Other architectural remnants of the French occupation are the Central Post Office, which is still in use today. Saigon Central Post Office  

Saigon Central Post Office 

As well as the Basilica of our Lady of the Immaculate Conception (just rolls off the tongue). Basilica of our Lady of the Immaculate Conception 

And the Opera House. Saigon Opera House 

We treated ourselves to lunch in Hoa Túc, a restaurant recommended to us by a friend. I had spicy noodles covered in fish sauce and dill, before trying the charcoal banana (basically a “pimp my banana” dessert). Hoa Tuc, Saigon 

We took a lift to the 49th floor of the Bitexco Financial Tower, where there is a spectacular 360 degree view of the city. This was a bit more expensive than most other excursions at 200,000 dong each (£6), but the view was worth it. Bitexco Financial Tower  

Bitexco Financial Tower  

In ten years I imagine the section to the right will be just as developed as the rest.

Bitexco Financial Tower 

We visited Ben Thanh Trhu – the market where the tourists go. 

Ben Thanh Trhu 

The phrase “Hello Madam, what you looking for?” followed me everywhere in this place. Ben Thanh Trhu 

In hard-sales markets like this it’s a relief to know that you can’t buy anything. (Cycle touring: you buy it = you have to carry it.)

We popped by Con Rua, or Turtle Lake, an interesting looking park in the middle of a roundabout. No turtles though, just fish! Disappointing. Maybe it’s meant to look like a turtle? Con Rua, Turtle Lake 

We DID see a lot of turtles at the Jade Emperor Pagoda, however. Jade Emperor Pagoda 

This place was cool. Jade Emperor Pagoda 

Super atmospheric – incense smoke, monks chanting, and these huge, grotesquely beautiful models everywhere. Jade Emperor Pagoda  

Jade Emperor Pagoda 

We looked through the gates at the Reunification Palace – a 1960s style building, famous because it’s where the South Vietnamese handed over power to the North Vietnamese in 1975, when the Vietnam War ended. This is when Vietnam officially became a Communist country, so it’s a pretty Big Deal.   

We learned quite a lot about the Vietnam War, or the “American War” as it’s referred to in Vietnam. We visited the War Remnants Museum, which has some pretty cool 1960s/70s US military vehicles outside.  War Remnants Museum 

This museum was very good, but it didn’t pull its punches. There were graphic displays about war atrocities and the terrible affects of the chemicals that the US Army dropped onto Vietnam. As well as killing, burning and maiming people at the time, chemicals such as Agent Orange caused severe birth defects for children whose parents were exposed (including the soldiers who deployed the chemicals). It’s estimated that 100,000 litres of poisonous chemicals were dropped, and the affects were devastating. 

Knowing this now, I have thought back and realised that I have seen a few middle-aged Vietnamese people with slightly deformed limbs. It’s very likely that they are part of the generation born affected by Agent Orange. 

The museum houses the original photograph of the “napalm girl”, Kim Phuc, an image that rocked the world, and something that I remember studying at school. War Remnants Museum 

This young girl was burned by napalm, but she survived and is now in her fifties.

We also took a trip to the Cu Chi tunnels, an impressive series of tunnels that the Viet Cong built as part of the guerrilla warfare they waged against the Americans. 

The tunnel we crawled through had been widened for the benefit of tourists, but was still tiny. Squatting along 140 metres gave me instant respect for the people who lived underground for years. Cu Chi Tunnels 

There were over 150 miles of tunnel in total, all built with basic hand tools. 

A hole the Viet Cong used if they needed to instantly hide.Cu Chi Tunnels 

The Viet Cong had very few resources, but used their knowledge of the land and what weapons were available to stage a fearsome resistance.

During the tour our guide demonstrated several different types of brutal booby traps that the Viet Cong used, all utilising metal spikes. 

Punji trap. Cu Chi Tunnels 

They used grenades connected to trip wires, as well as traps involving scorpions and snakes. With their cruel and clever booby traps and their ability to “disappear”, I could imagine the hatred they must have kindled amongst the US Army. But I had to admire the sheer determination of their resistance when they had so little and were facing the most powerful army in the world. 

Looking at Vietnam now, you would not imagine that it endured such a terrible war only forty or so years ago. Vietnam has a feeling of industrious energy and friendliness that I like very much. From what we’ve encountered, it doesn’t seem at all like a “damaged” country.

One important job we finally ticked off the list was getting some bits of our bike replaced. We visited the Saigon Bicycle Shop based on its good reviews. It certainly lived up to the hype – the mechanic was very helpful, the shop was well stocked, and we even got a free drink while we were waiting.

The bike, pre-repair. You can see that the chain had begun to hang. Saigon Bicycle Shop 

We got new Kevlar reinforced tyres, new inner tubes, a new chain and new handlebars for me. The final bill was 2000,000 dong, or £60. Not bad. 

We decided against throwing away our old tyres, so we will now be entering Cambodia with TWO spares. Let’s hope that’ll do. 

On our final evening in the city, we met up with King, Tuyen and their very cute little girl, Annie. We first met them while on our way to Quy Nhon, and they invited us to meet with them in HCM. They treated us to dinner, and it was lovely to spend some time with them and learn a bit more about life in Saigon.   

 Dinner with  King and Tuyen   

They even gave me a little hand-embroidered purse as a gift. What kind hosts!

Our three days here have been quite intense, but I am leaving feeling unexpectedly re-energised. It was good to have a change of pace. 

We are now planning to make our way across the Mekong Delta, back to the shoreline where we will cross into Cambodia. Only four more days in Vietnam! I am heartbroken already.


6 thoughts on “Ho Chi Minh City – the famous bits

      • I think we paid $35… It was quick and painless. If you go to Kampot stay at Kampot River Bungalows, don’t bother going to the old funnanese temple sites in Takeo if you plan to go to Tonle Bati and Angkor further North, expensive and not worth it. We did a beautiful route through the countryside from Takeo to Tonle Bati which avoided the N2 road as much as possible – horrible road. We loved Phnom Penh – some great warm shower hosts there – and try not to mid both S-21 and the killing fields. Hard, but really worthwhile. Buy face masks for the dust as some of the roads are horrible, particularly a 15km stretch between PP and Siem Reap. X

  1. The aeroplane is a Douglas A-1 Skyraider, in case you were wondering. Just read most of your Vietnam posts in one sitting. A really enjoyable read, though I’m a little sad your horn got stollen. I’m incredibly jealous of all the wonderful travelling you’ve done!

    • Thanks 🙂 the aeroplanes and tanks were very cool. Yes it was a shame about the horn, it was a present from my sister, and everywhere we went people loved to honk it!

      The south coast of Vietnam has been pretty much my favourite part of our trip. Cycling from beach to beach… that’s the way to do it! 🙂

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