“Don’t think or judge, just listen.” – Sarah Dessen
Unfortunately we didn’t have longer in the beautiful and inspiring Ho Chi Minh City but an extended stopover on our way from Pnom Penh to Ha Noi. However, what I learnt while I was there will stick with me for the rest of my life. History lessons of Ho Chi Minh are learnt by visiting the War Remnants museum, passing by The Independence Palace and above all wandering. Here is a quick guide to the city, if you only have a few hours.
Hussle, Ho Chi Minh style
Depending on where you’re staying I would recommend that you walk to the sites you want to see in Ho Chi Minh. Walking around the streets of this mesmerising city is gob-smacking. The sheer volume of people and the number of motorbikes on the road is all part of the experience. We took our lives in our hands when crossing the road – literally, my sister and I wouldn’t cross the road without holding hands! Those motorbikes don’t stop for anyone! I feel I learnt most about the Vietnamese people when we sat outside an ice-cream parlour in the centre (District 1) and we people-watched until midnight. As you will soon all become very aware, ice-cream is my favourite food-type and people watching is one of my favourite pastimes. So it was the perfect combination and it allowed us to see how the Vietnamese live.
The War Remnants Museum & The Independence Palace
I was humbled by the history that I learnt at the War Remnants Museum. This is a museum dedicated to Vietnam’s perspective of the U.S.-Vietnam War. It is the most popular museum in all of Vietnam and has over half a million visitors every year. It is an extremely upsetting visit – however, it must all be taken on the chin because it has been dubbed extremely one-sided by many visitors. I was mostly upset and shocked by how little I had known previous to my visit. But, where better to learn? This is definitely a must see in Saigon.
On your walk to the museum, be sure to pass by the Independence Palace. It is very much in keeping with the history lesson of Ho Chi Minh. It is a building that is steeped in history and you can read all about it here.
Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica
Peculiarly, I visited the Notre-Dame in Ho Chi Minh city before I ever got to Paris to see the Hunchback’s home! Quite a strange turn of events for an Irish girl to get to Vietnam before ever getting to Paris. Thankfully, I have since been lucky enough to visit Paris and see their spectacular cathedral on Île de la Cité. But more on that in a future post.
I was blown away by the magnificent Basilica in Ho Chi Minh. All of the building materials were imported from France when it was built in the 1800’s. The contrast of the Romanesque architecture and the rest of the city is out of this world. We got a little bit confused when we visited and somehow accidentally ended up attending a Vietnamese mass! That was quite the experience. I love travel mishaps that actually turn out adding to the adventure. How many Irish twenty-somethings can claim they’ve sat through a Vietnamese mass?
Bến Thành Market
Ho Chi Minh has an array of night markets. Considering the time pressure we were under in Saigon, I only made it to one. Bến Thành Market is in the city centre (and therefore, easily-accessed if you’re under time pressure), it’s in Le Loi, District 1. It’s full of tourist tat but my sister actually picked up the most beautiful (and easily transportable) fairy lights. We both have a minor obsession with fairy lights, but who doesn’t? If you have more time in the city, definitely check out the other night markets and make me jealous!
I also bought this hat, which looks lovely hanging on my wall at home, if you’re interested in home décor and bringing your travels home with you – I love seeing it on the wall to remind me of my South East Asian summer. That’s all I got to fit into my sweeping visit to Saigon. Even though it was a quick visit, I’ll never forget it. It was an incredible introduction to Vietnam, and one I wouldn’t swap for the world.
IF I ever go back to Ho Chi Minh
I would still love to visit the Củ Chi tunnels (more history!), the Saigon Central Post Office and of course, the other markets I mentioned. IF you’ve been, as usual I’d love to hear all about it on facebook, snapchat (imperfectlyfree), instagram, or twitter!
Still to come in the Vietnam series are IF you’re in a monsoon in Hanoi and The IF guide to Ha Long Bay.
*all images ordinarily belong to me and are taken by me but the header of this post is from Vietnam Is Awesome – most of my Vietnam photos got deleted in a Microsoft upgrade mix up.