Following our visit to Hanoi, my friends and I traveled to Ho Chi Minh city where we spent 24 hours in the city. We fitted this day in between our travel to Hanoi and Siem Reap because one of my friends had Saigon on her travel wish list. While we did not have sufficient time there to explore much nor go on the Mekong delta cruise, which I was keen on, we did have a lovely day in the city where the traffic, especially that of scooters, at junctions is crazy. I mean that literally.
These are my special six highlights that I would recommend for anyone traveling to Ho Chi Minh city for a day.
Walk through the Old French quarter starting from Notre Dame Cathedral and ending at the Opera House. The stretch of road we liked best was Dong Khoi street, which is filled with fashionable boutiques, coffee shops and restaurants. We spent a lot of time at several of the shops on this street as I was travelling with two shopaholics. My shopping recommendation is to buy some beautiful silk scarves and shawls at Khai silk at 81 Dong Khoi. I did most of my gift shopping here.
Eat at Nha Hang Ngon at 160 Pasteur, which is close to Dong Khoi Street. We met up with a former colleague and friend living in Ho Chi Minh city at this restaurant, which she recommended for local Vietnamese cuisine. We especially enjoyed the rice paper wrapped spring rolls here.
Visit War Remnants Museum. Any first visit to Ho Chi Minh city needs to include a visit to this museum. I am not keen on war memorials or museums but we decided to visit this museum to learn a little about the Vietnam war from the Vietnamese government perspective. The museum will make you emotional and some photo exhibits are too gruesome to watch. We left the museum pretty much drained of energy.
Read The Sorrow of War (original title – The Destiny of Love) by Bao Ninh and translated into English by Frank Palmos, over some coffee at a local café or at an international chain like Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. Or, just relax and enjoy the coffee there and read the book after your visit like I did. Bao Ninh, was part of a 500 member youth brigade during the Vietnam war and one of the ten in his brigade who survived the war. The book’s protagonist is a 17 year old youth, Kien, who goes to war with ideals and a dream of a happy future with the love of his life and fellow-classmate, when he returns from the war. The novel takes you through the abrupt memories of Kien and is basically his lament of his twice lost love and the human cost of war and what he terms the lost generation. The book won The Independent’s Best Foreign book prize in 1994.
Explore Bui Vien Street’s night life and cheap eats and get a custom made ao dai stitched overnight for you at one of the tiny tailor’s shops on the street. I am not sure we would have visited this famous backpacker street, if we were not staying at Beautiful Saigon in this neighbourhood. We soon realized that this place was one busy place in the night with crowds of travelers frequenting the eateries lining the street and shops open late into the night.
Browse through Ben Thanh market for cheap souvenirs and street food. While the current Ben Thanh market structure is an early 20th century construction, the site has been known for its street market commercial activity since the 17th century. It is an interesting place to visit.
Which of the highlighted activities would you enjoy most? If you have visited Ho Chi Minh city, what was your favourite city highlight?
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