During a three week long tour of South East Asia, we decided to fill a hole in our itinerary with a trip to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. Bookended by incredible cities on either side, I honestly expected Ho Chi Minh to be a blip on the radar, but was I ever wrong. It was UNBELIEVABLE. A stand out among every city I've traveled to, and here's why:
1. THE HISTORY. Traveling to Ho Chi Minh City feels like you've time traveled to the 1970's. Not only that, but a crazy Parisian-Asian fusion version of the 1970's. You immediately notice the French influence as you come across the cathedral that's strikingly similar to Notre Dame, and the Parisian architectural elements around every corner. It's like Paris and Hong Kong had a baby. A REALLY COOL BABY. The 70's vibe comes from buildings that haven't been updated since the war, and still have that iconic and distinctive 60s/70's flare. You will see men in uniforms that look straight out of Vietnam War text books. There are modern elements across the city, but the clash of the old and the new make for a very captivating and unique aesthetic. Between the War Remnants Museums, Independence Palace (very similar feel to the Churchill War Rooms in London), and all the historical buildings you can tour, you are in for an enlightening, educational, sometimes sobering trip to the land of Saigon.
2. THE PEOPLE. Everyone you pass on the street is on the same page: chill. There is hustle and bustle, but not at all like that of a big city like New York or even Hong Kong. Everyone is doing their own thing, and is in no particular rush. Every local we met was very kind, and always started off asking if we liked their city! They are very proud of their country, and despite the negative American/Vietnam relations throughout history, are quick to accept American tourists, and even ask questions about what it's like living in America. We were offered unsolicited directions (some helpful/some that got us very lost), food recommendations, and history lessons from a local perspective everywhere we went.
3. GETTING AROUND. The transport of choice is unanimous: motorbike. Everyone has one, and you will see hundreds pass at any corner. Delivery boys, to full families getting where they're going. I'm assuming there are traffic rules, but to an unknowing bystander, it's seems to be every man for themselves on the streets. We hopped on one to get across town to the war museum, and the driver said he would wait for us outside to take us back home. Being from New York, I immediately questioned this as a hustle, especially since the museum would take well over an hour to tour. Low and behold, we exited the museum and saw our driver waiting across the street, exactly as he said. The best kind of people y'all!
4. THE STREET FOOD. The restaurants, especially in their "back packing district" basically spill out of the owner's home kitchens into the streets. There may be a sofa bed with children watching tv in the same ground level room that you are eating in. They are all open air, and as soon as night falls, plastic chairs and make shift tables are thrown together to create sidewalk bars that blend into each other up and down the streets. It's one of the coolest people watchings spots I've ever found. Bikes whizzing by, women selling dried fruits as they pass, everyone making friends over buckets of Saigon beers...it's just the best.
5. DAY TRIPS. There are several day trips you can take out of the city to see the iconic bright green fields that sprawl for miles and miles. We chose to take a day to see the Cu Chi Tunnels. These are underground tunnels used during the war by the Vietnamese soldiers. They are extensive, and ingenious. It takes only a few hours to drive out to the tunnels. They have several different language guide groups that lead you through. You see the different traps used, the tight quarters the soldiers and their families lived in, traditional ways they cooked to feed everyone, and you can even crawl through several of the passageways. I will tell you now, that this is not for the claustrophobic traveler. I did not consider myself uncomfortable in small spaces until I was on hands and knees in a pitch black tunnel, with no idea how much further/longer we would be underground. You can bypass this part, but if you want to brave it-it's definitely worth the experience!
MORAL: GO TO HO CHI MINH AND HAVE YOURSELF A SAIGON ADVENTURE. DO IT! LIKE NOW!