Learning about the culture and customs of other people is one of the greatest experiences of travel.
On April 30, 2015, a spectacular ceremony and parade involving nearly 6,000 soldiers, militia, and civilians took place in Ho Chi Minh City and was watched by more than 10,000 spectators to mark the 40th anniversary of the liberation of southern Viet Nam and national reunification.
A visit to the Reunification Palace, formerly the Independence Palace of the South Vietnamese president, is a great way to learn about the history of the country. This 60’s style building was stormed by tanks on April 30, 1975 signifying the fall of South Vietnam. It has been preserved in its original state, and the tanks remain on display near the entrance gates.
While in HCMC, still called Saigon by many, I had the pleasure of experiencing today’s beauty and culture of the people. Here, I learned there are nine million residents who compete with six million motorbikes for space. In this city of contrasts you’ll find an emerging new and modern skyline against a backdrop of traditional Hindu and Buddhist temples. Outside you’ll find young professionals stopped at a cafe to drink coffee and chat on mobile phones, while local worshipers pray in quiet temple courtyards filled with clouds of incense.
While in HCMC, take a part of your day to visit the Emperor of Jade Pagoda, the neo-Romanesque Notre Dame Cathedral and the Central Post Office. Pass by the ornate City Hall, the old Opera House and end up at the central Ben Thanh Market, where you can barter and shop for a vast array of goods and crafts in the alleyways.
Explore the Cu Chi Tunnels: Undiscovered by American forces, these narrow underground tunnels were an important Vietcong base during the American War. Over 200km, this incredible underground network of tunnels, dug by hand, connected command posts, hospitals, shelters and weapon factories. There are cleverly disguised hidden entrances and elaborate boobytraps on display. If you dare, you can even venture inside the tunnels, some of which have been modified to accommodate tourists. In the Cholon (Chinatown) area you can explore the Chinese Medicine Market packed with shops and stalls selling traditional medicine, and the wholesale Binh Tay Market. Also visit Thien Hau Pagoda built by the Cantonese congregation and dedicated to the heavenly goddess.
The highlight of my trip was ferrying to a small island of 6,000 inhabitants, seeing the local “pets,” two of which included a python snake and a monkey, tasting delicious fruits, being entertained by Vietnamese music and singers, and taking a sanpan down the Mekong Delta River to observe the rural riverside lifestyle. If you’re an early riser, you can observe hundreds of floating markets early in the morning hours. My day trip along the Mekong is a day I’m not likely to forget.
From the classiest of hotels to the cheapest hostels, finest restaurants to the tastiest of Pho, choice boutiques to the night markets, HCMC is an emerging city of contrasts worth visiting.
If you’re planning a visit to Vietnam and would like someone to show you around, be sure and contact Thuy at firstname.lastname@example.org. She’s an outstanding English-speaking guide, gives great historical information of the country and is always prompt, courteous and friendly. She was even gracious enough to model for my photos.