For those older folk, such as myself, Ho Chi Minh/Saigon evokes images of the 'Vietnam War', which saw Indochina invaded by the west. In this war three million people were killed, and the region devastated. It has taken the Vietnamese people a generation to rebuild their country, but they are on the way and doing an excellent job.
|motorbike taxi guys.|
|Your humble narrator and a local tour lady|
(V ladies do not normally dress like this)
This history was at first based around communism, state planning, but in reality, this quickly gave way to an emerging capitalism. Ironically, it is the officially communist countries of the world, or at least of SEA, that have a more dynamic capitalism than the comparatively sedate western countries.
HCMC has had a long history. A millennium ago it was a small town ruled by the Khmer Empire, but following the collapse of Cambodia (and, paradoxically, Vietnam ruled Cambodia on and off for several centuries), it became a Vietnamese city. In the 19th century the French came to rule the region, and gave the city the name 'Saigon'. Over this time the city has had its successes and failures, but now it is the leading city in Vietnam. In 2012 the city has an estimated population of over seven million. This is 7% of the Viethamese population, making HCMC by far the largest city of Vietnam. It also generated 20% of the countries GDP.
The city sprawls westwards from the Saigon River. Along the foreshore is to be found the central and older area of the city. Here are the surviving French colonial era buildings. Also the more expensive hotels, restaurants, and the towering new office and residential skyscrapers. Inter-mixed are KFCs, and the rest of the global franchises, plus shops and department stores of all types. There are still women selling food on the street, and a few beggars, but now the streets are clean and busy with cars, not bicycles. Capitalism is progressing well.
|Central bus station, to the east of the|
For the more affulent tourist, the hotels in this area are where you will hang your hat. For the backpacker/cheapsake vagabounds of this world the backpacker area of district 1 is your destination. This is a long stretch along and around Pham Ngu Lao Road, starting 1km back from the River, but still in the central area of the city. Here is where the long distance buses will drop you off, and where motorbike drivers will ask $2 to convey you 100m to your hotel (but take you the long way). In this area are a bevy of cheaper accommodation ($5 dorms to rooms $15-$30 a night), restaurants and street food, tourist agencies that can book and do anything (visas, travel, tours, advice), street vendors, motorbike drivers who will constantly ask you if you want a 'massage' or even a ride somewhere, plus, lots of people. There is a busy backpacker scene here. People from every western country, plus Chinese, Japanese, and any one else affluent enough to afford a holiday. Many of the backpacker places include a breakfast with your room. Expect to share your morning repast with people from a dozen countries. Don't worry, English is the shared language. This is a fun place, more relaxed, I venture to state, than the comparable 'Khao San Rd' of central Bangkok.
|Pham Ngu Lao Road.|
Cheap accomm, cheap food, fun times
When desirous of crossing a street, look around, gauge the traffic, and walk out in a traffic lull. Motorbikes will veer around you.
This does not mean that you should run out into the oncoming traffic, but it does mean that people will avoid you if walk across a city street. Just don't make sudden changes in direction, this will cause confusion, and confusion leads to problems.
|Looking down backpacker street.|
The name, the city is known by two names: Saigon and Ho Chi Minh. Since 1975, legally, the name is HCMC, but it is also still called by locals 'Saigon', however, in talking to residents it seems that HCMC is widely used by the locally born younger set, while it is the older city residents and people from elsewhere in the country, who prefer the older name.
|Fountain and small park leading to |
the HCM Opera House
|Museum interior, the struggle for independence|
|City Court House|
I would recommend a visit to Vietnam, certainly Ho Chi Minh. An interesting place. I venture to suggest that with time it will become a more popular destination.
|Interior of Court House|
|Interior of Court House|
|Numerous public displays of allegance|
to the memory of Ho, amidst the
bevy of KFCs and banks
|Statue of Uncle Ho|
outside the HCM City Town Hall
|Lots of food options in the city|
|Boulevard to the Town Hall|
|Artwork in front of Post Office|
Formerly the south Viet presidential palace,
|Central Post Office|