At the end of September, James and I spent a couple of days walking around Ho Chi Minh City, perhaps more commonly known as Saigon. We were expecting a fairly cramped city, overrun with mopeds with the same amount of limited walking space as Hanoi. We were wrong on two accounts, the city was more spacious than we thought with plenty of room to walk the streets. We were right about the mopeds but as the roads in HCM are bigger than those in Hanoi, it didn’t feel as congested (except when trying to cross roads).
As we only had a few days booked for this city, I decided to plan out an itinerary to make the best use of our time. The entrance fees for the majority of places were reasonable and a lot of the main things to see are within walking distance of each other which was hugely beneficial .
The Independence Palace
We started with the Independence Palace. The entry ticket cost us around 40,000 VND (around £1.30) and we spent around an hour walking through the hallways, learning about the former president who lived there, how it was impacted by the war and what the building has been used for since.
Vietnam has obviously had a somewhat recent, very violent history and the tourist attractions are not afraid of displaying some of the more gruesome aspects. The Independence Palace is one of the few attractions that doesn’t display such horrors and remains an interesting part of HCM’s city that you can explore without having to worry about having upsetting children or others who may get easily distressed.
The War Remnants Museum
This was a hard one for me. I didn’t realise before we went in how much gory detail the museum would show. Entry to the museum cost 15,000 VND (less than 50p), you walk on to the lower floor of the museum which displays letters, clothing, propaganda and articles from other countries in the world protesting the American and Vietnam War. The second and third floors are where the horrors lie and it becomes a difficult visit. One floor is dedicated to weaponry and the tactics used by the Americans both during battle and on civilians. One picture depicts a prisoner of war being thrown from a flying helicopter and an entire wall is dedicated to murdered civilians including mother’s with their children. The third floor was the worst for me personally, the ‘Agent Orange’ room which describes the use of chemical warfare used by the Americans widely across Vietnam and how it’s people have been effected since. This was an extremely graphic room, one which I had to leave once I spotted a number of deformed foetal babies being preserved in a large case.
This museum is not for the faint of heart and I would definitely not recommend for those with children. However, if you are interested and you want to get a real understanding for the horrors that the Vietnamese people suffered then you should plan in a visit.
Notre Dame Cathedral
This was closed for construction when we visited but was still pretty to look at from the outside. It was also next to the General Post Office which is another place recommended by most travel books.
Vincom Shopping Centre
I know that this isn’t a typical suggested stop but it’s just down the road from the Notre Dame and the General Post Office. It offers air con and a taste of home (if you are missing it). There were loads of shops including H&M and Zara and in the basement of the building is a massive food complex.
The Cu Chi Tunnels and The Mekong Delta
This was a combined day tour that takes place just outside of HCM City. We booked this trip through Sinh Tours for around £13 each, not including the entrance fee for the Cu Chi museum.
We started in the Cu Chi museum where our guide walked us through the top layer of the village exhibit and talked through the techniques used by the Viet Cong. A volunteer was asked to fit into one of the small hidden tunnels in the ground and much to my amusement, James was picked. We were also shown a number of booby traps that were created both on top of land and in the tunnels.
Once the tour was done, we were invited to walk through a length of the tunnels which we were told had been made bigger for westerners to get through. We were informed that there were 3 exits through the tunnels, one at 20 meters, one at 40 meters and one at 60 meters. Be aware that if you suffer claustrophobia of any kind you should avoid the tunnel part of this tour. I realised about 10 meters in that being in a tunnel 6 meters below ground with no room to move and people in front and behind me was not my scene at all. I started shaking and panicking and climbed out as soon as the 20 meter exit light shone into the darkness.
The Mekong Delta was the next part of the day tour. We were driven out to the river where we were taken by boat to have lunch (this was included in the day price). After this we were taken through a grove on a rowing boat to an island where we were taken to a bee farm and a coconut candy factory. This was a pleasant afternoon but be warned that the bee farm and the coconut candy factory are essentially shop stops where people will try to sell you things.
Ho Chi Minh City was one of my favourites in Vietnam. There was plenty to do and lots of food choices. We ended up staying for 4 nights which we were happy with as it gave us an extra day to go at a more relaxed pace. If you were shorter on time you could do it in 2 nights without the Cu Chi Tunnels but I would recommend 3 nights to fit everything in.