Driving into the city center from the airport, I noticed the skyscrapers making up the cityscape of Ho Chi Minh City. Coming from Hanoi, which mostly has buildings up to 4 stories, the skyscrapers gave the city an almost western feel. The commotion of the city reveals that this is a much larger city than Hanoi and also more commercial and developed. Even though Ho Chi Minh City doesn’t have the Southeast Asian feel to it, the city has so much history and many interesting museums that remind you of its prominent location in Vietnam.
The Independence Palace was the headquarters for South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. The leaders of South Vietnam and the palace had a history of assassinations, attacks, and bombs, so the Independent Palace, constructed in 1962, was built with these threats in mind. The palace is extremely practical especially compared to palaces across the world. The rooms lack the decadent architecture and design that I’m accustomed to seeing and instead had subtle elements of wealth without losing the purpose of the room. The palace has a movie theater, game room, bedrooms, and tons of meeting rooms. The most interesting part of the palace is the bunkers. All of the technology was held in the bunkers, and the key leaders of South Vietnam had second offices and bedrooms in the bunkers in case it was required. You can tell that the palace was designed for an impending attack from the North.
War Remnants Museum
This museum is one of the few I’ve visited where the message of the museum really hit home. Most of the museum consists of images of the destruction and torture that the United States imposed on Vietnamese civilians. The images are graphic, but tell a lot of the truths of the Vietnam War that have been silenced in the United States. Before going to the museum, I didn’t know much about Agent Orange and probably for a reason. The United States unleashed herbicide chemicals that they knew were breaking international agreements for conducts in war. The chemicals had detrimental effects on the environment, but also increase risks of cancer and cause gene deformities, so generations of Vietnamese suffered from the side effects of these chemicals. One note about this part of the museum though; the museum displays images of anyone with a physical disability as being affected by Agent Orange disregarding the fact that genetic, physical disabilities can happen for a plethora of reasons.
Ben Thanh Market
Each morning that I was in Ho Chi Minh City, I stopped at the Ben Thanh Market to get iced Vietnamese coffee from this woman. It was the best Vietnamese coffee that I had in Vietnam because it wasn’t too sweet or creamy, and I’ll forever crave it. The market has a ton of touristy crafts and is similar to many markets throughout Southeast Asia. If you’re looking for souvenirs, check this place out. If you want to walk around and take in the bustling, lively market with amazing Vietnamese coffee in hand, check this place out.
Bitexco Financial Tower
The top of the Bitexco Financial Tower offers views of the city, but it’s fairly expensive to go up there (relative to Southeast Asia prices). Instead, I went up to the bar, which is only a few floors below the sky-deck. I had to ask around to figure out how to get up there because the building design is not very intuitive. They have elevator banks all over the building that only go to specific floors. When at the bar, I enjoyed a Saigon beer while looking at the night views of Saigon. I also ended up sitting next to a woman who went to St. Olaf, so we talked for a while and headed to a brewery together.
Thein Hau Pagoda
The morning of my flight to Delhi, I got up early to explore some temples. However, it was DOWN POURING even for monsoon season standards. I trekked to see the Thein Hau Pagoda and ended up spending a decent amount of time under its shelter. I planned to see the Jade Emperor Pagoda, but the traffic was so bad that I couldn’t make it there in time before my flight. There’s actually no traffic laws enforced so basically traffic remains at a standstill for literally hours because the movements of the vehicles are so inefficient.
Saigon Notre Dame Basilica
Saigon Central Post Office
Heart of Darkness Craft Brewery
This place has so many beers! It was difficult decided between them all. They also have western food, the place is very western, so I got a stout chili in a bread bowl knowing that I cannot get anything like that in Yangon.