Ho Chi Minh City , Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City, commonly known as Saigon, is a city in southern Vietnam famous for the pivotal role it played in the Vietnam War. A visit to Ho Chi Minh City is an encounter with French colonial architecture and memories of war. HCMC is famous for its pho (traditional Vietnamese noodle soup) and pork rolls. When I visit HCMC I didn’t expect much, most of my friends commented that there’s nothing much but “it’s all about war reallly”. But to my surprise it’s not just all about war, you will encounter those exotic food and not just the past but to enjoy their present at bustling city of District 1.

When I went Vietnam I stayed at Hotel Nikko Saigon. The Hotel Nikko Saigon is located a bit out of the very center of Ho Chi Minh City, but it does not mean it is far. The rooms are very clean and the toilet facility is technologically very advance. The staff was so friendly and helpful they bring me all the way from lobby to my room and made sure everything is in place before leaving. The breakfast is excellent with a very good variety to choose from. In fact the breakfast is exceedingly good. This hotel has a class of its own. Excellent!

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My first stop is the War Remnants Museum – a real eye-opener to a part of  Vietnam’s proud history. This museum was very interesting and very thorough. I can definitely see that the history portrayal is a little one sided but nonetheless I felt it was very comprehensive and honest about what Vietnam experienced during the war. There are 3 levels with different rooms with photo explanations written in English. Certain photos are really shocking, so be prepared and think twice before entering the Agent Orange exibition… Its horrible… Never bring a child in there! It gives you a very real view of the war, from the Vietnamese prospective. It was an interesting visit but be prepared to be upset.

Then I transfer to visit the Reunification Palace – untouched piece of history where time seems to have stood since April 30th of 1975. Former residence of the President of South Vietnam built during the French occupation. The basement of this palace is interesting for those who wants to understand how the military operations happened in April 1975 and few days before the fall of Saigon. The cool part is you can get right up to the very top and check out the helipad. The balconies as well give a commanding view of Saigon and makes for a good photo. Give yourself at least an hour or more for the visit.

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After that, I visit the Notre Dame Cathedral located in a very peaceful picturesque corner of Ho Chi Minh city and to let myself escape to the maniacal buzz of motorbikes for a few minutes. I was so lucky to see the Cathedral. I really wasn’t anticipating seeing such a beautiful church in Vietnam. Temples sure but Catholic churches not so much. A beautiful little place for photos, so beautiful that you’ll probably see lots of wedding couples having their photography.

And crossing the road, you will reach the Central Post Office – a significant symbol of the city. An interesting building from the outside and a curious one inside. You may feel that they’re brought back to 20th century railway station in Europe, rather than a post office in an Asian country. Walking inside, the first things you notice are the two maps: Saigonet ses environs, 1892 describing Ho Chi Minh City in the past and Lignes télégraphiques du Sud Vietnamet du Cambodge which is the postal route from Vietnam to Cambodia. Even if you don’t have a bundle of postcards to send to the relatives back home, you should still drop into Saigon Central Post Office to admire the interior.

Feeling hungry and had to stop for my late lunch at a local resturant nearby.

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The next day I had my day tour in Cu Chi Tunnel a 75-mile (121 km)-long complex of tunnels at Củ Chi has been preserved by the government of Vietnam, and turned into a war memorial park with two different tunnel display sites, Ben Dinh and Ben Duoc. The tunnels are a popular tourist attraction, and visitors are invited to crawl around in the safer parts of the tunnel system. The Ben Duoc site contains part of the original tunnel system, while the Ben Dinh site, closer to Saigon, has tunnel reconstructions and some tunnels have been made larger to accommodate the larger size of Western tourists. In both sites low-power lights have been installed in the tunnels to make traveling through them easier and both sites have displays of the different types of booby traps that were used. Underground conference rooms where campaigns such as the Tet Offensive were planned in 1968 have been restored, and visitors may enjoy a simple meal of food that Viet Cong fighters would have eaten. Above-ground attractions include caged monkeys, vendors selling souvenirs, and a shooting range where visitors can fire a number of assault rifles, such as the M16 rifle or AK-47, as well as a light machine gun like the M60.

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After a long day in Cu Chi Tunnel it’s time to explore the busy and bustling area of District 1. Shop awhile at Ben Thanh Market, the market is a busy place where you can buy most anything you want from custom made clothing to coffee to food. But for me the place is a tourist trap.

Finally, my last stop is to get the one dish that most foreigners associate with Vietnam, a noodle dish that is deserving of its own heading. Pho is a noodle soup consisting of broth, flat rice noodles, herbs and meat (usually beef or chicken). The quality and style of pho varies quite a bit between vendors. I chose to get the Pho with beef brisket. Pho is served with a variety of condiments and sides, exactly what you’ll get depends on the vendor. Fairly typical selection of limes, chillies, mint and basil, as well as a variety of sauces to the side. I ate at Pho 2000 which will forever be remembered as the place where President Bill Clinton tried his first bowl of pho in Vietnam during his state visit in…the year 2000. He was so taken with the delicious beef marrow broth and glutinous noodles that he ordered a second bowl – or so the story goes. The fresh spring rolls are also excellent at Pho 2000 and together with your pho noodles can turn a tasty snack into a full meal.

Pho 2000 is very close to Ben Thanh Market so it makes sense to use this famed pho restaurant as a place to take a break from shopping and cool off. English is widely spoken here too, making ordering a hassle free experience.

Overall, it was a great experience.

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