Ho Chi Minh City, city of contrasts

Meet Uncle Ho

Uncle Ho poster in Saigon

Ho Chi Minh city (formerly Saigon) was a surprise. It’s a city full of contrasts: Glamorous boulevards featuring Vietnam’s most luxurious hotels and dark, narrow alleys with cheap budget hostels, high-end rooftop bars and traditional bia hoi’s, American fastfood chains and anti-US propaganda museums. It takes a while to get used to HCMC’s vibe. But once you do, it is easy to fall in love with the city. HCMC symbolizes Vietnam’s future, a young and fast-paced country opening up to foreign investments and ASEAN partnerships.

French inspired boulevard in saigonCathedral in Ho chi minh city

Understanding Vietnam’s past

Saigon's presidential palace

There’s no better place than HCMC to learn about Vietnam’s tragic history. A visit to the War Remnants Museum (formerly ‘Exhibition House for US and Puppet Crimes’), the Reunification Palace as well as to the Cu Chi tunnels will give you a better understanding of the impacts of Vietnam War on the Vietnamese population. Although some parts can be considered communist propaganda, many of the pictures and relicts will leave you stunned.

vietnmese bunker in saigon palaceUS helicopter used in vietnam waranti vietnam war protest expositionthe tunnels of cu chivietnam war killing trap

Finding the hidden spots

flower on riverside deck in saigon

Quite a few travelers have told me they prefer cozy Hanoi to the hectic city life of HCMC. With a population of 8 million it can be hard to find a peaceful retreat. One of those places would be ‘The Deck’, a riverside lounge restaurant popular with both locals and expats. And for those looking for a great value hostel, check out Khoi hostel, located in a quiet back alley in the backpacker area.

The Deck in ho chi minh city

Travel Advice

Stay: Khoi Hostel

Eat: The Deck

Drink: OMG Rooftop

Next: Lonely Phu Quoc

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4 thoughts on “Ho Chi Minh City, city of contrasts

  1. Mmm.. communist propaganda. It’s like an filter that so many visitors to Viet Nam come with. Looking around Ho Chi Minh City you don’t see much evidence of communism though. There are lots of hard working people, focusing on living, trying to make some money and get ahead.

    You’re right that these museums just touch on what the war was like. It’s just a layer, but the images are very confronting, again and again, showing different angles of the same thing – destruction, death, a country torn up, many captioned “Bombed by America”, “Killed by Americans” and so on.

    Just know that Vietnamese don’t harbour any ill feelings towards the US, if anything many are bitter towards their own government for what they suffered during and after the war. Many Vietnamese actually aspire to the American lifestyle.

    It’s great that you’ve taken the time to explore Viet Nam and really try to understand the culture.

    • I have met many young Vietnamese that were very eager to talk to me and tell me about their ambitions in the western world. I agree with you that they are very hardworking and open up to foreigners.

      Unfortunately, this is not the case with the older generations. Many of them still have hard feelings towards westerners, no matter if we’re from neutral countries or the US.

      Also, I don’t want to give the impression that Vietnam is full of communist propaganda. This was mainly meant for the tours I experienced personnaly in War Remnants Museum and in Cu Chi. The older guides clearly enjoyed showing off how they used to kill or injure US soldiers….but in a way that was quite irritating, even to a non-Us citizen.

      That said, I am so happy that I got to visit your country and experience the differences in culture that are still obvious between the North and South. Vietnam is on the right track, as long as they learn to embrace tourism the same way than the other SE Asian countries do.

      Thanks do much for following my blog and your feedback.

      Best,

      Jeff

      • Ah, some Vietnamese do struggle with tourists who they feel don’t dress respectfully, particularly the backpacker crowd. Also, uncomfortable situations occur in shopping due to cultural mismatches. Hehe, some shop keepers even try to take Vietnamese foreigners for a ride. They get a strong telling off, I can assure you, but at the same time we understand them. Vietnamese foreigners represent money, something they perhaps don’t have much of. 🙂

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