4 Days in Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh Culture / Travel

Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam.

We booked the wrong destination! – was my reaction immediately after my friend sent me our flight details. I suppose it was my fault for not doing enough research before we decided where to go.

Here’s what I imagined Vietnam to be — a picturesque view of mountains rising up from the bay as boats whose sails resembled giant red fins glide across the glistening jade waters. I envisioned this peaceful rural area in which I could sit back, relax and escape the hustle and bustle of urban life.

When I finally started doing my research on where we should be staying, what attractions to visit in and around Ho Chi Minh, I realised that this is not the Vietnam I had pictured in my head. I was apparently picturing the other side of Vietnam, Hanoi. Well there wasn’t anything I could do about it really, might as well take advantage of this little mishap and come in not expecting anything. Incidentally, I find that the best way to experience something is to not expect anything at all and simply let the experience happen — which is exactly what happened and I was blown away with how wonderful Ho Chi Minh City is!

Day 1

Coffee! Coffee! Coffee!

Almost every other establishment is a coffee shop! It’s no surprise since Vietnam is the second largest exporter of coffee and their coffee is really good! The way it’s prepared is quite unique as well. Condensed milk sits at the bottom while the coffee brews atop it and slowly drips down into your cup. The moment you lift the stainless steel coffee filter, the coffee’s aroma takes hold of your senses.

War Remnants Museum

A larger chunk of the day was spent in the War Remnants Museum. At first I was expecting to see the usual war memorabilia, the tanks, the planes, the bombshells, but as we walked through the galleries the photographs got darker and more depressing. This was not your typical museum that gives you an idea of the hardships that the Vietnamese people endured, rather it paints you an extremely graphic image of what exactly they had to go through during those trying times. This was the very first time I actually got a glimpse of what it was like to live through this kind of tragedy and not just relics of a time long gone. They didn’t cover up their history, they didn’t censor anything, but they chose to remember it all – the tragic, gory truth which I believe taught them how to be as resilient as they are.

Ben Thanh Market

If bargain hunting is your go to activity, then the Ben Thanh Market is perfect for you! The Ben Thanh Market is the best place to find unique local handicrafts, lacquer art and other souvenirs. It’s one of those places where you could look around and get overwhelmed with the amount of things that you could haggle and purchase.

Day 2

Cu Chi Tunnels Tour

On our way to the Cu Chi tunnels, we first passed by a lacquerware workshop wherein some of the artworks are created by the handicapped affected by Agent Orange. These artworks are known as “sơn mài” and it takes up to at least 100 days to create a single artwork. Although the process is long and tedious, each artwork looks spectacular.

The Vietnamese used the Cu Chi tunnels as an underground military base back during the war against the Americans. They built these ingenious tunnels to try and outsmart the American soldiers. The entrances would be tiny and very well hidden; some of which were even boobytrapped.

The tour guide brought us around, showing us the life-like displays which depicted how the soldiers used to live during those times.

Entrance to the Cuchi Tunnels

Saigon Opera House

That evening we decided to catch the AO show in the Saigon Opera House. The Saigon Opera House, built in 1897 is a gorgeous French colonial building. The moment I walked through the doors I felt like I was transported in the set of the Phantom of the Opera! The ornate interior gave it an old world charm.

The AO show was amazing! It was basically a Vietnamese version of Cirque Du Soleil. This extraordinary show featured moments of country and urban living told via acrobatics and dance! Oversized bamboo baskets spun round the stage as 20 foot long bamboo poles come flying across as if they were straws.

http://www.luneproduction.com/ao-show

Day 3

Mekong River Tour

The Mekong River tour started off with a visit to the Vinh Trang temple; a buddhist temple with beautiful ornate designs that ran through the entire temple.

 

We then proceeded to get on a boat on the Mekong Delta. Our tour guide explained to us that there used to be 25 floating markets. However today, there are only 5 floating markets left, which the government is trying to keep this part of their heritage alive.

It was quite an experience to float along the river wearing traditional Vietnamese hats as the green trees wall the sides of the river. When we got to the other side, we were served some fresh fruit and tea while performers sang traditional Vietnamese songs.

Day 4

On our last day, we decided to walk around the city and check out the usual tourists spots, the Notre Dame, the Reunification Palace and the Post office. Although we weren’t able to enter the Notre Dame and the Reunification Palace, we were able to enter the Post office.

I came into Vietnam expecting nothing in particular and I still stand by my belief that the best way to experience something is to not expect anything at all and simply let the experience happen — which is exactly what happened; I witnessed a city whose vision of the future drives them to continually grow and develop themselves in the present. What really impresses me with the Vietnamese is that they continually look back into their past, unashamed of their tragic history, but rather celebrating and learning from it. The value they put in upholding their culture and their past is something I believe we all can learn from.


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