Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Ho Chi Minh City - Traditional yet modern, old yet new

I don't have any idea about Ho Chi Minh City before I went there, the only things come into my mind are Vietnamese War, French Colony, Motorbikes and Beef Noodles, yet I know none of them in detail. Hence, I was quite excited and looked forward to our 4D3N trip in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. It felt like quite an adventure.

I was expecting a city pretty much like a city in the current North Korea now or in China during the 80's. What unfolded in front of me as I took a bus from the airport to the city center and toured around the city center by foot, is a city traditional yet cosmopolitan, old yet new, exciting yet tranquil. It has a mix of everything - modern Asian culture, typical Western influence and ancient Vietnam history, yet they seem to blend in perfectly well.

Coming out of the airport and into the city is quite an experience, especially by a local bus. There are motorbikes everywhere. Car, taxis and buses are surrounded by motorbikes, the drivers need to horn every one minute in order to get moving. 

This photo I took does not do justice to the real traffic. You hardly see cars on one side and motorbikes on the other, and you hardly see them stop for traffic lights. It just seems very, very chaotic but the traffic seems to flow. Learning to cross a street in Ho Chi Minh is quite an art, yet most tourists mastered it rather quickly, not without a few high blood pressure moments though.

Motorbikes in Ho Chi Minh

We went straight to the city center in District 1 after checking in our hotel. There are some really stunning and grand buildings such as the Reunification Palace, the Post Office and the Notre Dame Cathedral. I like especially the french colonial influence on the latter two.

Reunification Palace

Post Office

Cathedral (Right) and inside of the Post Office (Left)
Where we spent most of the afternoon is the War Remnants Museum. If you have to choose one museum and skip all others, it has to be this one. You can't understand Vietnam or Ho Chi Minh without reading about the (American) Vietnamese War.

Weapons used by Americans
Exhibition of war photos and posters

After the heavy stuff, it is time to explore markets and food. I am not very fond of going to night markets in any asian cities because of the suffocating crowd and the endless pushing and bargaining. I am just not a shopping type. As for food, we did not have any must-go places, we were quite happy to just try out street food or step in a restaurant where most customers are locals.

Street food stall

Arranging fresh fruits

Food stall at the famous Ben Thanh Market

This is the famous Vietnamese beef noodle from a street stall. We both agreed it tasted the same if not better than in a restaurant. We tried different variety of noodles for a few days, so much so that during the last day in Dalat, the husband declared "I had enough of eating raw vegetables!". He is refering to the fresh vegetable and herbs they serve in a plate for you to dip into the noodle.

Noodles are not the only food they have in Ho Chi Minh though. There are very nice restaurants offering a large selection of Vietnamese cuisine. Most of their food use lemongrass and fresh herbs heavily.

There are many western cafes in town too, you will be spoilt for choices. Some of them are so posh that we don't quite dare to venture in even though we have a few million Dong in our pocket. This is the new and modern part of the city. It is amazing how fast they have developed since independence some thirty over years ago.

Most tourists opt for day tours out of the city to nearby scenic places during their stay in Ho Chi Minh, while some (especially westerns) will wander around the streets for days and weeks until they sink in. We only stayed one day in Ho Chi Minh city. We booked an early bus the next morning to a highland resort place called Dalat. I am glad for our choice. All the noises in the city can be quite overwhelming, it is also humid and dusty. And as I am not into shopping and nightlife - both are the highlights of the city - I can't wait for my 2-day getaway before heading back to it on the fourth day.

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