After checking out of our rude and awful hotel (and leaving a very honest trip advisor review), we set out to explore Ho Chi Minh City. Luckily, we found another hotel that let us stow our backpacks in their lobby during the day – lucky, because we had no desire to come back to our actual hotel, ever.
We’d already booked our sleeper bus tickets to Da Lat at 22:20 that evening, so we had all day to kill in the city!
HCMC, or Saigon (as it is still called by many), is insane. I have literally never seen so many scooters in one place, even after travelling through Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos. A swarming mass of scooters buzzes through streets, honking and weaving through traffic. The air is thick with humidity and exhaust fumes. Not even the sidewalks are safe – scooters will hop up onto the sidewalk if they think it’s faster than the road, although they always check around the corner to make sure there are no cops first.
Making our way through the chaos, we walked along streets lined with red and yellow banners that alternated the Vietnamese and the communist flags. My favourite juxtaposition was the communist flag right next to a Starbucks, which is basically a symbol for capitalism.
The first sight of the day was a Ho Chi Minh statue – fitting for a city named after him. The statue was pretty alright, but the flower gardens in front of it were stunning! I loved all the different colours and gradients. I had no idea there were so many different kinds of hibiscus flowers!
The area around the statue is really nice as well, in an upscale sort of way. As much as I can’t afford the expensive shops or exquisite hotels, I did really appreciate being in a clean neighbourhood without littered streets or a lingering sewage smell.
Next, we walked by the Opera House. It was fine? It’s in every guide to HCMC, but I wasn’t too thrilled.
After getting two-for-one milkshakes at Swenson’s (chocolate-orange and chocolate-fudge flavour, if you’re wondering), we stopped by the post office – it was also fine. It’s a real, working post office, with lots of hustle and bustle inside. As well as, of course, a gigantic painting of Ho Chi Minh looking down on everyone inside. There were also some souvenirs for sale – we paged through a book full of photographs of the crazy things people carry on their scooters here. My favourite was one guy carrying an entire full length mirror.. how is that even possible?!
Next, we saw the Notre Dame Catholic church. It was built in the late 1880’s by French colonists, and looks very European. It kind of reminds me of the church in my mom’s hometown in Germany, probably because of the red brick. It was closed off to visitors for renovations though, so we couldn’t go inside.
The Ho Chi Minh City museum is a museum that contains a seemingly random assortment of artifacts relating to Vietnam. There were the obligatory exhibits and propaganda concerning the Vietnam War, and a currency exhibit showing coins and bills through the ages. Some coins were thousands of years old, and some of the bills were confusingly large and I have no idea how you’d conveniently fit them into a wallet. Another one of the exhibits was closed off to the public, as they were filming something there with a huge crowd of people watching.
My favourite part was walking into a thick, unmarked door in the hallway, which led us down into the bunkers used during the Vietnam War. We saw the hideout rooms with their huge reinforced concrete walls. They’d left the furniture in tact, so we could walk right into the “living room”. It was pretty cool!
Though a bit lacking in cohesiveness, the museum was a nice break from the crowded outside.
The Bitexco tower is another “must see” in HCMC. To us, it was kind of just an ugly tower.. I later learned that the weird protrusion is a helipad, and supposedly is shaped like a lotus petal? I don’t really see it though. For $10 US, you can ride an elevator to the top. We didn’t do it, but I’m sure the view would be awesome!
Lastly, we saw the Nguyen Hue walking street. We both thought that something called a walking street would be a street without cars and scooters, lined with little shops, food stalls, and things to look at – sort of like the car-free cobblestone streets you find in the centres of many European cities. It was not. It was just a big empty street devoid of anything interesting to look at. During the day, it’s brutally hot and bright from the sun rays reflecting up into your eyes, with no shade whatsoever.
Funnily enough, every big Southeast Asian city we’ve been to has had at least one of these massive useless squares – they’re always empty, probably expensive to build, and take up valuable space. Maybe they’re some sort of status symbol for the government, but c’mon guys – build a park instead! Anything would be more human-friendly than a sad empty square with nothing to see or do.
After walking something like 18 kilometres over the course of the day, we decided we’d had enough of exercise and hung out in a KFC for a bit before boarding our sleeper bus. The chocolate covered soft serve is only 6,000 dong, or 35 cents!
At around 23:00, our bus finally left for Da Lat. We were dead tired after such a long day, but sleep doesn’t come easy when your bed is uncomfortably small and swerving along a bumpy road..