As we get off the train in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon and the former capital of South Vietnam, we heard the sounds of the loudspeakers as they announced the daily messages to the locals. The sounds of the city can be overwhelming to anyone who is used to peaceful, quiet surroundings. People shout to be heard over the buzz of the 3 to 5,000,000 motorbikes, pedal bikes, motorbike taxis and the odd automobile that are on the road, along with the industrial & construction cacophony. No wonder we were warned to bring ear plugs!
Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) was known as Saigon until 1975, when North and South Vietnam merged to become what is now Vietnam. Saigon got its name from the French during their occupation (the colony of Cochin china, then later named the independent state of South Vietnam) from 1955 to 1975; after Saigon was taken over by North Vietnam the name was changed to honor Ho Chi Minh, the deceased communist leader. HCMC is now the economic center and the largest city in Vietnam with over 7 million people.
After we checked into our hotel we hailed a taxi and managed to squeeze the four of us into the little sedan. We were warned before getting to Saigon (HCMC) about the taxis and which ones to avoid. For the most part the taxis are fairly honest and trustworthy, but there are the odd ones that will overcharge people, especially unsuspecting tourists. The HCMC government is trying to put a stop to the crafty taxi drivers who are stealing people’s money. The taxis we were told NOT to get into were the “Taxi Du Lich”, which means ‘Tourist Taxi’. Our safest bet was to hire a taxi that the locals are using.
Our taxi ride took us to the War Remnants Museum. This museum is dedicated to the past wars and American war crimes in Vietnam. Included along with many army vehicles, planes and equipment we saw a lot of photographs and newspaper articles on the crimes against the local people, all made by American soldiers.
About a block and a half from the museum is the Reunification Palace. Formerly called Independence Palace, this is the building that was finally taken over by the Northern Forces, and Viet Cong, on April 30, 1975. This was the day that North and South Vietnam ‘re-unified’ by Lê Duân and the Americans retreated from the war, thus marking a huge failure in the American’s military history.
After wandering around the museum and the hall we just had to visit the two very futuristic buildings in downtown Ho Chi Minh City: the Bitexco Financial Tower and the Diamond Plaza. The Tower is a 68-storey office and shopping building that has 16 high speed elevators on site. On the 47th floor visitors can purchase tickets to go out on the observation deck. Three floors above is a helipad that sticks out the side of the building.
The Plaza is a huge complex with two buildings, one 15-storey, and the other 22-storeys. This monstrous building is surprisingly a luxurious shopping complex.
Our second day in Ho Chi Minh City was jam-packed with a tour of the Cu Chi Tunnels. These tunnels were created by the Viet Cong to remain undetected in the city of Saigon during the Vietnam War. These tunnels were basically an underground city with living quarters, hospitals and communication & supply routes. Even though the tunnels have been widened for tourists, they are very cramped; this attraction is not recommended for visitors who are claustrophobic.
Entrance into tunnels
The all-day trek at the tunnels was exhausting so we just stayed in a relaxed. We had to get everything ready to go to the Mekong Delta in the morning, which we are all really looking forward to.