Ho Chi Minh City, or as it is formally called Saigon, is the capital of Southern Vietnam. It is the jump off point for the Mekong Delta or a journey to Cambodia. The city is much more modern then Northern Vietnam and you can easily find anything you need. It is packed with restaurants, malls, cinemas, parks, and more. If you’re looking for an interesting cultural hub but also easy to navigate, this is a great city. It’d also be a good spot to take some down time on a long Southeast Asian holiday.
One must do (as many times as possible) whilst in Vietnam is to drink as much vietnamese coffee as you can get your hands on! It is, in mine and most people’s opinion, the best coffee in the world. The coffee is strong (strong) but is sweetened with condensed milk. Yes, it’s horrible for you, but if you’ve gotta die, this is the way to go. Just kidding, but it is delicious.
Saigon is also home to a lot of historical sites. You can start with the War Remnants Museum in the heart of the city. The museum is very well done and not unlike other war museums I have been to in the past. The photography blew me away, and is the main focus of the museum. I will warn you, there are some challenging rooms to get through, the Vietnam War was not a pretty war. It was illuminating to someone like me who knows an embarrassingly little amount about what transpired. I learned a lot and left with a new understanding and appreciation of what the Vietnamese people went through. The museum itself isn’t huge, so you won’t need more than a couple of hours to go through it.
Nearby you can find beautiful architecture including Saigon’s very own Notre Dame Cathedral and the most beautiful post office maybe on the planet.
One of the most popular places to visit just outside the city are the Cu Chi Tunnels. Located in the Cu Chi district, this is where the Cu Chi gorilla fighters built and immense network of underground tunnels that were used during fighting in the war.
It is easy to book a tour through a touring shop or you hotel/hostel. Once you arrive, your group will be given a guide who will explain the areas of significance. You will be shown the entrances to the tunnels and the breathing mounds disguised as termite mounds. The Vietnamese people are quite small in stature but the entrances are tiny. Like, American Girl doll tiny. It is a wonder that grown men in full soldier gear could fit. There’s a demonstration of how the camouflaged the entrances and then an opportunity to try it for yourself.
They also explain in gruesome detail how the gorilla fighters used bamboo traps, including trap doors, battering rams, and revolving spikes. You even get to see examples and they describe what situations they were used for. Yikes. They use mannequins, animatronics, and a video presentation as well to relay the history. It’s all cute interactive and very interesting.
Finally at the end you get the opportunity to go through one of the tunnels if you so choose. The tunnel has been widened and heightened for tourists but it is still insanely small. They will tell you if you are to large to attempt it. Don’t be offended if they do, it gets smaller as you go on. I, of course, led the way. We had a guide take us through the 120 meter tunnel, which features an exit half way through if you decide you can’t make it. It is very tight and hot and if you have even the slightest inkling of claustrophobia stay away! The tunnel takes you down deeper about four times and takes a few minutes to get through. I was quite tired by the end and a few times wondered if I had made a good choice. Of course I did. I would say go for it unless you freak out in small, dark places. Otherwise, it’s very interesting!
Throughout your stay at the Cu Chi Tunnels you will here gun shots in the background. It adds to the atmosphere but I was baffled as to why. Turns out, at the very end of the tour you can choose to shoot off a number of different assault rifles or AK47’s for an additional charge. Now, I’ve shot guns before and I generally find it rather enjoyable at a range, but I chose not to participate do to this location’s history. Thousands of people lost their lives in this area with those same weapons, and I just found it disrespectful. However, if that interests you, it’s an option.
Saigon has so much more to offer than just these things, and I so wish I could have spent more time there. Someday I’ll be back, I hope! Take your time in planning your activities in this lively city and appreciate it for all the modern and historical offerings it has to share. Just make sure you drink the coffee!