Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), is the largest city in Vietnam and the former capital of the Republic of Vietnam. Following the fall of Saigon in 1975, the city was officially renamed Ho Chi Minh City. However, it’s still commonly and routinely called Saigon.

The city, which is rich in culture, history, and national treasures, was an unusual, but exciting choice for our first vacation destination. We initially discussed the idea of going to New Zealand or Australia (just to get our toes wet), but, ultimately, decided to push the boundaries of our comfort zone and visit a city that’s a little less traveled. We ended up jumping into one of the most enriching and culturally engaging experiences of our lives.

This is the "luxury living residence" (hotel) where we stayed.  It included three bedrooms, three bathrooms, a kitchen, and an incredibly spacious living room/dining room.  The room cost the same as a Holiday Inn in the US.  Cheap!

We stayed on Thanh Da Island, which is considered the last vestige of green space in Saigon. Our “luxury living residence” (hotel) included three bedrooms, three bathrooms, a kitchen, and an incredibly spacious living room/dining room with an attached patio. It cost a little over USD$100/night. Cheap! Conveniently located on the Saigon River, the residence was an easy 15-minute boat or taxi ride to the city center.

The river, itself, was a great source of entertainment. The ever-changing direction of the river mystified us, the floating foliage provided a unique form of evolving art, and the constant activity of barges, fishing boats, ferries, and floating kitchens/markets bolstered our imaginations.

Chris and Ally enjoying the view from the hotel's dock.

Chris and Ally enjoying the view of the Saigon River from the hotel dock.

The Indochina Junk.  An Indonesian sailboat used for dinner cruises.

La Perle de l’Orient, a Vietnamese wooden yacht.

A lot of Vietnamese boats, like this one, have eyes on the bow to ward off evil spirits.

A lot of Vietnamese boats, like this one, have eyes on the bow to ward off river monsters.


The sound in the video is muffled because I (unfortunately) had my finger over the recorder. However, if you listen closely, you can hear the captain of a floating kitchen or market using his loud speaker to sell fresh food, fruits, or vegetables to passing vessels.

Saigon is a constant flurry of activity. Motorcycles, cyclos, taxis, tour buses, bicycles, and delivery trucks flood the streets. Pedestrians, tourists, walking venders, and crowded street kitchens fill the sidewalks. The cacophony of honking horns, motorcycles, and overlapping voices of excited street vendors add to the chaos, but it was all part of the cultural air that we breathed.

A typical Saigon street.

A typical street in Saigon.

A street vendor taking a nap in the hot Saigon sun.

A street vendor taking a nap in the hot Saigon sun.

A typical sidewalk in downtown Saigon.

It’s not unusual to see sidewalks packed with parked motorcycles, which turns concrete paths into mazes.

One of the best things about Vietnam is the food, which is influenced by Chinese, French, and Cambodian cuisines. Traditional Vietnamese food is considered one of the healthiest cuisines in the world, and is regarded for its use of light, fresh, and fragrant ingredients. Some common ingredients in Vietnamese food include fish sauce, shrimp paste, lemongrass, mint, coriander (cilantro), and basil.

Within minutes of entering Behn Thanh Market (a landmark of Saigon that sells everything from fresh fruit to textiles) we were aggressively guided to this stall for lunch.  Chris wasn't too fond of sitting on a child-sized stool, with his knees up to his chest, and eating within shoulder reach of another tourist, but it was hard to resist the experience.

Within minutes of entering Ben Thanh Market (a landmark of Saigon that sells everything from fresh fruit to textiles) we were aggressively guided to this stall for lunch. Chris wasn’t too fond of sitting on a child-sized stool, at a child-sized table, with his knees up to his chest, and eating within shoulder reach of another tourist, but it was hard to resist the experience (which is typical for Vietnam).

Street kitchens are an essential part of city life in Saigon.   They are everywhere!

Street kitchens are an essential part of city life in Saigon.

Coconut vendors are everywhere in the streets of Saigon.  On a hot day, a fresh coconut with a brightly colored bendy straw is always a welcoming treat (especially for kids).  The vendors use a lot of trickery to sell their product, so tourists need to be careful.  This vender's modus operandi was encouraging tourists to feel how heavy his apparatus is.  Before we knew it, he had pulled out his machete and, at lightning speed, had the coconuts in the girls' hands.

On a hot day, a cold, fresh coconut with a brightly colored bendy straw is always a welcomed treat. The vendors use a lot of trickery to sell their product. This vender’s modus operandi is encouraging tourists to feel how heavy his apparatus is. Before we knew it, he had his machete out and, at lightning speed, had the prepared drinks in the girls’ hands.

Chris finally found, and, thoroughly enjoyed, a fresh durian!

Chris, finally, found and bought a fresh durian! The woman behind the counter is wrapping his fruit in layers of newspaper to prevent bodily injury during transportation.

Traffic defies all logic in Saigon. It’s everywhere, it’s constant, and rules don’t seem to apply or exist. It’s pure mayhem. Just watching the traffic from the safety of a taxi or a sidewalk gave me anxiety.

To get anywhere in Saigon you have to cross streets, which is, often, a death defying act. Cars and motorcycles don’t stop for pedestrians. Instead, they deftly maneuver around them (sometimes within inches of contact).

The first few minutes of watching traffic buzz past us, we were paralyzed by fear. Once we realized that we weren’t going to get anywhere, we followed the three officially regarded rules for crossing Saigon streets: 1. Take a deep breath. 2. Enter the street when you see a small opening. 3. Continue walking in a slow, steady, and constant pace.

The French began exploring and conquering areas of Vietnam in the 1850’s, so there’s a strong French influence in Vietnam’s history, architecture, and food. Some of the most beautiful French colonial buildings in Saigon include the People’s Committee Building, the Central Post Office, and the Notre Dame Basilica.

The People's Committee Building

The People’s Committee Building, which is not open to the public, was built between 1902 and 1908.

This is a picture of the Central Post Office.

The Central Post Office was built in the early 20th century by the famous French engineer and architect, Gustave Eiffel (yes, that one!).

The interior of the Central Post Office.  There was an official government holiday the day that we went to the post office, so it was locked up tight.  It was only locked with an iron gate, so we were able to peek inside and take pictures.

This is the interior of the Central Post Office. There was an official government holiday the day we were there, so it was closed. However, we were able to see it and take pictures of it though an iron gate.

The Notre Dame Catherdral.

The Saigon Notre Dame Basilica was constructed from materials that were imported from France. It was built between 1863 and 1880 for French colonists who wanted a place to worship.

The Vietnam War has permanently scarred the country, and the tourism industry is geared toward reflecting the atrocities of the US military. In fact, all of the tour guides we encountered referred to the war as the “US War Against Vietnam”, the “US Aggressive War in Vietnam”, and, most often, the “American War.” Their views are (naturally) one-sided and filled with propaganda. With that said, we were always treated with kindness, dignity, and respect by the Vietnamese people.

This is a picture of the Reunification Palace.

The Reunification Palace. This is where the Fall of Saigon took place.

I love this picture.  It is a picture of Ally and Kylee touching the gates of the Independence Palace/Reunification Palace.   When they look at the iconic picture of a North Vietnamese Army tank crashing through those gates on April 30, 1975, they can say to themselves that they have touched those gates.

I love this picture of Ally and Kylee touching the Reunification Palace gates. When they are sitting in their history classes, and see the iconic picture of a North Vietnamese Army tank crashing through the gates of the Reunification Palace (pictured below), they will have the memory of being there 39 years later.

Photo by Vietnam News Agency REUTERS

Photo by Vietnam News Agency REUTERS

An abandoned US military aircraft that sits outside the War Remnants Museum.

An abandoned US military aircraft that stands outside the War Remnants Museum. The War Remnants Museum houses materials of propaganda and a collection of incredibly graphic photographs and artifacts from the war.

This is a picture of Ally standing in a camouflaged  trap door at the Cu Chi Tunnels.

Ally preparing to hide in a camouflaged trap door at the Cu Chi Tunnels. The Cu Chi tunnel system was an extensive and impressive network of underground tunnels that the Vietcong hid and operated in. The tunnel system, made of three levels and 250km of space, was an entire community that included living quarters and caches for food, tools, and weapons.

Kylee and Ally entering the Cu Chi Tunnels.

Kylee and Ally entering the Cu Chi Tunnels.

Chris crawling through the Cu Chi Tunnels.  The Cu Chi tunnel system was an extensive and impressive network of underground tunnel systems that the Viet Cong hid and operated in.  The tunnel system, made of three levels and 250km of space, was a community that included living quarters and caches for food, tools, and weapons.

Chris crawling through the Cu Chi Tunnels.

An example of a booby trap created by the Vietcong to "injure" American soldiers.  This trap was called the

An example of a booby trap created by the Vietcong to “capture” American soldiers. This trap was called the “window trap.”

A US Army tank abandoned near the Cu Chi Tunnels.

A US Army tank abandoned near the Cu Chi Tunnels.

We thoroughly enjoyed our trip to Vietnam. Would we go back? Absolutely!

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