It is a while ago now that Miles and I visited this understated, beautiful country, which is so rich in sad war history and blankets of green fields producing some of the freshest and tastest food we have eaten.
If you are thinking about a trip, this is the first of 3 posts on Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi and, my favourite, Hoi An. And there will be plenty of photographs as i had the most enjoyable time photographing this culturally vibrant place.
Part 1 of 3: Ho Chi Minh City, the city of the scooter
We had the tastiest plate of chargrilled prawns at the Ben Thanh Night Market the evening we arrived. Cooked on an open fire roaring with flames on the street side by a petite lady churning through the queue of customers that stretched at least 8 metres down the road. The whole octopus' spotted amongst our first dish of noodles, were not so impressive and pushed our culinary boundaries. Some street food in Vietnam tested our hygiene tolerences, making our stomachs churn, but the Ben Thanh food market was packed full of people, and the freshness of the food was clearly evident.
The market does have touristy souvenirs and fake knock offs, but its more about food. It is not a tourist trap, with over half of the clientele being Vietnamese families. A group of teenagers sat next to us, cooking a whole raw fish in a crock pot that literally was brought over and slapped on a plate in front of them. I caught the eye and cheeky smile of the guys as my face squirmed.
Desipte the warm beer and a table cloth ladden with reminents from those meals consumed before us, HAI LUA or 'Food Country Side' at the Ben Thanh market is a must.
The Independence Palace (aka Reunification Palace) was a great piece of history to look through and learn about the war of 1967. It was clear that the readings and photography on show were very biased against the Americans, depicting how they invaded the South post the resolution of the French, forgoing their reign on the country.
It does not take an expert on architecture to tell this building was built in the 1960's, specifically 1962-1966. Within rooms the open spaces are simple with straight, pared back lines, high ceilings, and timber and concrete finishes. The Conference Hall shows some ceiling detail, but for the most part the interior is, well, a bit ugly and boring for a palace. The most interesting part of the Palace was the underground bunker, or the "War Room of the President", which was geared up with radios and monitoring equipment, and found down a dimly lit, secure tunnel.
The imposing facade emphasises the architect's, Ngô Viết Thụ, intent to create a building that posessed strength and solidarity for its ridiculed South Vietnam president of the time, Ngô Đình Diệm, who never ever saw his finished home as he was assasinated in 1963.
In the bunker:
We also visited the War Reminents Museum which had about 6 rooms full of photographs from the war and the aftermath. The photography is incredibly graphic, especially on the war injuries of men, women and children. The museum had a reconstructed prison outside and showed some of the torture mechanisms used on the prisoners. Very sad and i didn't want to take photos in respect of the torture that happened to the people of Vietnam during that period. It is worth a visit.
Overall, we found Ho Chi Minh City to be quite boring compared to our time in Phuket and Bangkok where we flew in from. It's definitely a place to visit, but i would suggest one or two nights maximum.
And to finish, one of the things that stands out in this heavily populated city, was the number of dam scooters on the road! Unbelievable how many people are on the road, on scooters, at one time, let alone the number of people riding on one scooter at a time! Whole families of 4 can be seen piled on the family mode of transport off to god knows where - one of the things we wondered about most while here...where are they all going?
We stayed at the Hyatt hotel which was average for the nightly rate charged, but was within walking distance of the Ben Thanh Market, Independence Palace and War Reminents Museum.
This is just part 1, see my other posts on Hanoi and Hoi An (which is a gem)