Ho Chi Minh has completely shattered my stand of “I don’t like cities”. I cannot pin point what it is about this place but I love it here. There are so many contrasts in the city, from fancy-ish restaurants to street food stalls, from the glittering high rise buildings to the tiny shacks, from Starbucks to coffee carts, from dessert cafes to hand pulled sweet carts, HCM has got the best of both worlds.
There are more motorbikes here than I have ever seen in my life (coming from an Indian, this counts for something). In the evenings, when you are at a big intersection and all you will see is heads covered with helmets as far as the eye can see. And of course, there are cars and busses and bicycles. But you can see the systematic way in which people ride/drive, you can see the order (unlike in India where the order can only be seen/followed by locals but not by outsiders) and this makes it easier to walk around the city.
And the food, oh the glorious food! I made a list of everything I’ve eaten in the city but decided against putting it on here because you’ll either get bored reading the names or hate me for eating delicious food. But if you know me, then trust me when I say, it’s worth coming to Ho Chi Minh just for the food.
As if all the above wasn’t enough to have a pleasant stay I was fortunate to have amazing company. It was Sev’s last few days in the country so I got to spend that time with him. I also met a fabulous group of Indians who were staying in my hostel. They were the non-stereotypical types and funny, intelligent and really nice bunch of guys, with whom I spent a some 3-4days exploring the city and having long conversations about anything and everything from photography, law, war, to life, food, treks, etc. I am really grateful to have met them and if things work out, m hoping to see them again in India.
Tourists come to HCM for a few days but to really experience this city, you need at least a week. I was lucky to have 10days.
In terms of the sights in the city, there’s quite a bit to see and do.
I spent 1 day visiting the Reunification Palace, Post office, Notre Dame Cathedral, Phap Hoa pagoda, and the War Remnants Museum.
The palace didn’t even look like a palace, just a big museum sort of building so we gave that a skip. The War Remnants museum was amazing. There are displays of jets, helicopters and tanks, a whole floor dedicated to war history and then 2 floors that are dedicated to photographs, some taken during the war and a lot of them were of people who were affected by the chemicals used during the war. After seeing the pictures on one floor I could not take it anymore, it was too horrific, too sad, too graphic. But no visitor/tourist should miss this museum, it shows how low humanity can stoop to prove themselves right when they are utterly wrong. This war, like many others, is something people should not forget and not repeat in the future.
I enjoyed the river side Phap Hoa pagoda as well, it’s not on any tourist map and we just happened to come across it while walking around. Wanting to get some respite from the heat I walked into the 3 storeyed building, which was very quiet with may be 2 people in there but there was a good breeze flowing from the river and I just dozed off on the floor for like an hour or so. When I woke up there were a few monks there, going about doing their job. But they were very good natured about me sleeping there and just grinned when they saw me wake up!
Cu Chi Tunnels – This 120km network of underground tunnels, spread over 3 levels are the tunnels which the Vietnamese used as hiding spots and also where they lived for 25yrs during the war with the USA. Even though it was 2hr drive and most of it was very touristy and the mosquitoes were relentless, I enjoyed going into the tunnels. These were low enough that you had to stoop really freaking low and narrow enough that my shoulders were rubbing the walls on both sides. Definitely not for the claustrophobic!
China Town – I didn’t find china town very different to any other place in Ho Chi Minh, if anything it was a bit dirtier, but I went there for the pagodas and it was definitely worth it. The Chinese pagodas are very different to the Vietnamese Buddhist ones, they have stronger colours with lots of bold red, gold and black, definitely worth visiting.
These were sort of the highlights of the attractions. Rest of my time was spent eating, drinking fresh fruit smoothies, having delicious iced coffees, getting full body massage, etc.
Oh, I am going to miss this city.