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Ho Chi Minh City


Well, we’ve made it to our final stop in Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City. This city, which used to be named Saigon, was the capital of Vietnam from 1949-1975. However, once the Vietnam War ended, Hanoi was given the title and became the capital of a reunified Vietnam. We didn’t spend a ton of time in the city itself, but from the time spent walking the streets, we quickly realized that this city has a great energy about it. It reminded us strongly of Bangkok - and as many of you know, we LOVE Bangkok, so we knew we were in for a treat.

Trying to find our way around the city streets brought us back to our “pre-beach town” days spent in Hanoi; the motorbikes were back (8 million to be exact) along with the constant honking and people-packed walkways. We did however notice that there was much more structure here; less motorbikes driving on the sidewalks (they often had dedicated lanes), streets with real lines, large boulevards and even a traffic light or two dotted throughout the city where the drivers actually paid attention! Aaahhhhh ;) Even though the sidewalks have bikes and food stalls all along them, there is still room to walk which was nice. The city is still crazy, busy and loud BUT, there just seemed to be a bit more order and respect for pedestrians here. We were staying in “District 1” though, and didn’t venture too far from there, so who knows, maybe the rest of the city was like the Hunger Games everywhere else!

Our first stop in Saigon brought us along the Mekong River for some sunset pictures. Unfortunately, it was pretty underwhelming. Dirty and brown, with garbage and weeds floating in the current and a pretty lackluster river front. Well, at least we saw it. Our walk home was much more interesting, with traditional dancers performing in the middle of a square and seeing all the neon signs and bars light up for the long night ahead. Finally, some night life!


We ended up heading to Bui Vien Street where we initially sat down for "just 1 beer" - famous last words. We found this small roadside stall that had multiple plastic tables and chairs packed in the stall itself and also flowing onto the sidewalk. As the sun started to set the street got busier and busier and busier. By 10pm the street was so packed you could barely drive down it anymore and all of the roadside stalls and pubs were exploding with people. We ended up sitting with a couple of guys who have been living in Vietnam for some time, one a teacher and one works oil and gas. Both men have extraordinary stories to tell from their work and their life experiences living in HCMC. The hours went by (as did the beers), and before the end of the night we were eating quail eggs dipped in salt and pepper - actually quite delicious.


The next day we spent sobering up wandering the streets in the heat, trying to find as much shade and air-con breaks (air conditioning) as we could. The day started with us finding the Notre Dame Cathedral and the famous Saigon Central Post Office right beside it. Though the French influence was extremely noticeable in HCMC, the post office had its own Vietnamese feel - even though it was also designed by a French architect. The rumor is that Gustav Eiffel (yes, THAT Eiffel) was the famous architect behind this beautiful design, however, fact states that Villedieu was the true vision behind this building. Unfortunately for him, everyone still believes it’s Eiffel.


From there, we walked, and walked, and walked to our next destination – the Independence Palace or the “Reunification Palace” as it is now known. This place was like a blast from the past; imagine Austin Powers in the 1970’s and you’ve got it. The architecture was clearly from the 70’s era and as we explored the inside, we experienced first-hand what that time must have been like. Big, round faux leather chairs sitting on lime green or rusty orange carpets, massive oval wooden tables with pastel coloured dial up telephones sitting on top, red velvet staircases and thick yellow curtains from floor to ceiling... we could keep going! It was an experience for sure.






On a serious note though, this was the place the President lived and worked before and during the Vietnam War as well as where the war ended in 1975 when the North Vietnamese Army crashed through the front gates. It has also seen its fair share of suffrage as it was bombed in 1962 by rebel pilots who were supposed to fly north to bomb the Viet Cong. It was rebuilt by 1966 and continued to be a functional facility, however today it is basically a museum filled with tourists, vying for a chance to see the 2 red markers on the roof where the bombs were dropped. Definitely a site to see in HCMC.


Our last stop on this sweaty day was the War Remnants Museum. This is the first place Sean and I truly felt the propaganda in this country. This is a museum that has kept artifacts and pictures from mainly the Vietnamese War - or for the Vietnamese, the “American War”. Floors upon floors are showered with photographs throughout the war, old bombshells and guns, and stories from local people. The challenging part for us was, that everything seemed to explain how horrible the American’s were and how the country was settled and peaceful before they arrived and just started “bombing for no reason”. There was never any mention of the communist dictator and murderer Ho Chi Minh, other than to say he was an amazing leader trying to liberate the south from the American’s. Now, we’re not trying to say that the American’s were in the right and should have done what they did, but it was difficult to know that only one side of the Vietnam War story was being told.




We had heard from a few people that HCMC was a city that could be missed and was a bit "scammy", as in tourists are constantly being scammed or ending up in bad positions, however our experience here was the complete opposite. Please keep in mind that we both love the hustle and bustle of big cities with great nightlife scenes, but we thought HCMC had a great feel to it, with lots of energy, great people, great sights and air that isn't completely riddled with exhaust. Even if you only have a day or two, give HCMC a chance, because we think you'll love it.

Posted by BlondeandCurly 14:34 Archived in Vietnam Tagged tunnels palace museum saigon war mekong cu chi ho minh hcmc delta remnants reunification Comments (0)

Hanoi - The Good, The Bad & The Exhaust

To all of you who know us well, you were well aware of our plans of visiting Australia and New Zealand this winter. However, as plans tend to do in life, they change. We ended up buying our first house together in July which as many of you know, can lead to many new and larger bills. In the end we decided that Asia would be much more affordable and that we would make it to Australia and New Zealand once we had more money. After much deliberation we made the informed decision to go to Vietnam and Cambodia. We embarked on this journey leaving Calgary in a -30 deep freeze and headed to Bangkok and its sweltering +30. After 2 days acclimatizing to the heat and time change we boarded a flight to Hanoi.


Oh Hanoi...the capital city of Vietnam and the capital city of the world for exhaust. Maybe not, but it sure felt like it! We arrived in Hanoi at the peak of rush hour (if there is such a thing here) and to only +14, which after Bangkok felt a little chilly. After an unsuccessful search for a cheap bus ride to our hotel in the Old Quarter, we opted for a taxi. Our first thought of Hanoi is that it's noisy, dirty, chaotic and the exhaust from the motor bikes and cars is actually quite suffocating. No wonder all the people here wear masks. The motorbikes were parked on the sidewalks, along with the street vendors, so we were forced to walk on the street and were honked at for being in the drivers way. Once we finally found a clear section, we would still have bikes coming at us even on the sidewalks. It honestly felt like a game of "frogger" :) which was an adventure to say the least!




There are a lot of sights to see and activities to do in and around Hanoi, so we tried to hit up what we could in 3 days. We stayed quite central in the Old Quarter, which to our dismay actually doesn't seem to be very old at all, probably from having to rebuild after the war. As we were still recovering from the jet lag, we were up pretty early the first day so we trekked the streets to Hoan Kiem Lake. To our surprise, the city shuts down the street around the lake on the weekend, allowing all the locals to run, dance or play badminton anywhere they can find room. It was lovely to see and a nice reprieve from the chaos. This beautiful lake houses a pagoda on an island at the north end and a temple on another island at the south end. Fortunately for us, we got to experience this without tons of traffic or tourists.





We then made our way to the "Hanoi Hilton", otherwise known as the Hoa Lo prison. This prison held many souls, mostly the Vietnamese trying to resist the French occupation but is probably most famous for imprisoning the American POW's during the Vietnam War. There isn't much of the original jail left, as 2 massive sky scrapers now surround the grounds, but the displays inside are quite thought provoking and well done. One of those displays focuses on American pilots who were incarcerated at Hoa Lo during the American War. One of those pilots was John McCain. His flight suit is displayed in the prison along with photographs of local Hanoi residents rescuing him from Truc Back lake in 1967. Quite a sobering place to visit.




We woke up bright and early again for day number 3 and decided to go to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum complex. This place is massive. It houses the Mausoleum, Ho Chi Minh's personal residence on stilts, botanical gardens, a pagoda and a massive military parade route. The line up to get in snaked around for blocks and blocks. This allowed me enough time to put Sean's socks on to cover up my legs because I forgot to bring long pants on this trip! Nearing the entrance, we finally were able to look up at this gigantic square cement building where all of the guards were dressed in pressed white uniforms and not a smile cracked. The line was single file, hands out of our pockets and no talking. All this for a 15 second saunter into a dimly lit room with Ho Chi Minh, preserved in a glass casket, hands crossed over his stomach and 4 more guards standing at attention at each corner of the casket. As we left the room, it was easy to see that this place was a refuge for many Vietnamese people and something important for their country.


After a few hours at the Mausoleum complex, we continued our excursion to the Temple of Literature which was built in 1070. This temple has all the markings of Chinese culture, and early Vietnamese architecture with many ponds and gardens, pagoda's, gongs and statues of Confucius. This temple was the place of Vietnam's first University and honors those who studied within its walls. Though there were a lot of people visiting the temple, it was easy to get lost in the moment; the setting sun bouncing off the dark red wood structures, golden Chinese characters and dragon sculptures protecting their offering pots filled with incense.




Now that we've seen Hanoi, we're on our way to Sapa and Halong Bay. We want to give a shout out to Paul and Hana from Adventure Indochina Travel in Hanoi. They treat you like family and provide frequent follow up and information while you are on your excursions. If you're ever in Hanoi, please look them up! They are incredibly helpful, friendly and made sure everything was perfect. We didn't have to lift a finger ;) Here is a link to their website: Indochina Adventure Travel


Posted by BlondeandCurly 01:49 Archived in Vietnam Tagged temples church vietnam hanoi chi ho minh mausoleum Comments (3)

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