Surviving Ho Chi Minh City

Friday, July 4, 2008

So you’ve just arrived in Ho Chi Minh City before you head out there are some things you need to know.

1. HOW TO CROSS THE ROAD

The first thing a visitor to Vietnam must learn is that pedestrian crossings and traffic lights are virtually non-existent in Vietnam. HCMC (or Saigon as those in the south still call it) has one of the highest population densities for any city in the world, and its residents own over 4 MILLION motorbikes, so crossing the road is not at all like at home.



When we first arrived I heard an ex-pat, who had been in Saigon some time, refer to the traffic as being similar to a school of fish – a large collective that flows around obstacles. Motorbike riders are used to people stepping out in front of them, so the trick is to ignore your fear and walk slowly, in a straight line across.

DO NOT STOP!

If you stop the drivers do not know which way you are going and are more likely to run into you. If you walk slowly enough they will be able to move around you.

2. GET A MAP AND PUT DOWN THE GUIDEBOOK

The great thing about Saigon is the friendliness of the locals. You will be greeted by big smiles and teenagers desperately wanting to practice their English, you’ll be surprised what crazy adventures they are willing to take you on!

Most guesthouses will have easy to follow street maps with the main tourist spots clearly marked. Grab one of these and head out to see what you can find. The main sites can be seen on a guided day tour, but most sights are within District 1 and easily reached on foot, so save your $$$s.


So now you’ve mastered the technique to cross the road and you’ve got a map in your hand, what should you not miss?

1. FINE ARTS MUSEUM

I am not an ‘arts’ person. I’ve been dragged to plenty of art galleries by my partner over the years and to be honest I’m one of those who can’t tell the difference from one painting to the next, and I certainly can’t find meaning and emotion beneath the brush strokes. But I really did like this place.

The building itself is an excellent of colonial French architecture and inside is a range of art-forms including sketches, paintings and pottery.

The second floor houses the museums permanent contemporary works and it was here I was the most captivated. There are some brilliant paintings from the Vietnam War and it’s the first time a painting has evoked emotion.

2. THE WAR REMNANTS MUSEUM


This museum evokes different feelings from each and every visitor. It contains relics and photographs from the American phase of the Vietnam War and is run by the Vietnamese Government.

Regardless of your feelings on the war, it is definitely a worthwhile to hear the story told from the other side.

3. BEN TANH MARKET



Spend some time getting lost in the Ben Tanh Market. With over 300 stalls if it hasn’t got it you don’t need it!


4. THE CHRISTINA NOBLE CHILDREN’S FOUNDATION

This suggestion is not one you’ll find on any tour.

Having experienced a horrific childhood in Ireland in the 1940s, Christina was well aware of how much children could suffer. Armed with nothing more than a dream to assist the children of Vietnam, Christina arrived in Saigon in 1989. Against significant odds and with no understanding of the Vietnamese language, Christina established a Medical Center for abandoned and malnourished children and later followed The Christina Noble Children’s Foundation.

Her story can be followed in two autobiographical novels, Bridge Across my Sorrows and Mama Tina.

Visits to the Foundation can be arranged via their website Christina Noble Children's Foundationand it offers travellers an opportunity to get outside the tourist district and get involved in the wonderful work they do.

Spending time playing with the children in the Social Centre is one of my most cherished memories from Vietnam, and I will definitely be going back when we return to Vietnam in November.


SIDE TRIPS

There a number of day trips that can be taken to sights outside Saigon. Most guesthouses will happily arrange the tour for you, but they can also be booked at a number of stores in the backpacker area of District 1.

1. CU CHI TUNNELS

During the Vietnam War, Viet Cong guerrillas built an amazing network of underground tunnels that are now known as the Cu Chi Tunnels. Visitors to the area are able to learn about the life of the soldiers and how they managed to survive.

As part of the tour, guests are taken through a section of the tunnel, which has been widened to accommodate Western tourists!

At the conclusion of the tour, visitors have the option of purchasing bullets to fire off different weaponry.

2. TAY NINH (CAO DAI TEMPLE)


When booking your trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels, there is the option of including a visit to a Cao Dai temple in Tay Ninh.

Tay Ninh is the original home of the Cao Dai religious sect which is an odd mix of Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism and Christianity, and their patron saints include Joan of Arc, Victor Hugo and Winston Churchill.

It certainly is a colouful affair and if time permits I highly recommend a visit.






5. MEKONG DELTA

A boat trip on the Mekong is a must for any visitor to Vietnam.

We used the trip as a means of crossing in to Cambodia. Our tour took 3 days, which was a bit of an overload and I couldn’t wait for it to end.

For those not going all the way to Cambodia, one day would be sufficient to experience what life is like on the Mekong River.

1 comments:

eunice said...

Hi Cazbah,

I like your Vietnam Tips! When did you go there? I traveled Ho Chi Minh city and Mekong Delta in May 2mths ago. Reading this post brings back some memories.

Thanks for sharing! :D Oh ya, I think you will enjoy your Disney trip in Tokyo! How long will you be there? Do share with me your posts on Japan when you are back! :)

Could you please vote for me at my blog? Feel free to buzz me if you have any questions on that. See you around! :D

~eunice~
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