Talking about Vietnam, the first thing that comes to mind would be the 19-year Vietnam War in the1950 to the 70s. Saigon was the capital of South Vietnam, the base of the anti-communist party, which in the end lost in the Vietnam War in the “Fall of Saigon” as North Vietnam united the country.
Ho Chi Minh City, as a result, named after the communist leader – Ho Chi Minh. It’s impressive to have the city named after a leader. Most people still, though, use the original name of the city, Saigon, in lots of different contexts, and it’s widely recognized.
The War Remnants Museum is a small museum in the city to retain this part of history – historic photos and weapons were on display.
I arrived at Ho Chi Minh City late at night and that time, I decided to just let myself go and didn’t plan ANYTHING at all about any specific spots or location to see.
Although we arrive @ midnight, a lot of travel agents open til midnight in the visitor-packed areas and they offer good deals (if you bargain a bit) for half-day, 1-day or multi-day tours around the city. Due to my claustrophobic character, gun to my head, won’t climb down the Cu-Chi Tunnel. Instead, I wandered around the city for the Lunar new year day and enjoy the bustling city vibe.
The Independence Palace, or Reunification Palace, is located in district 1 in the city and this site witnessed the history of Saigon. Originally served as the former Norodom Palace in the French colonial times, it was the home and workplace of the President of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. Why this site is so importance in this War, because it symbolized the end of the War when a North Vietnamese Army tank crashed through its gate on 30 April, 1975.
Today the tank that hit the gate was still there on display at the main gate. For those who knows (actually, even who doesn’y know) about the Vietnam War, this palace is the very important place to learn about history of this event. In fact, there are quite a lot of secret details behind the facade for your to explore.
The palace was designed by Vietnamese architect Ngo Viet Thu. He studied architecture in Paris and won the first Grand Prize of Rome in 1955. The palace is 4 stories high with a basement, and it’s a magnificent mix of the east and the west.
The palace is opened to public with an audio guide available to vistiors. One great way to tour the palace to joining a guided tour – of which the guide will give an introduction of all the rooms and places. While I was shown all different magnifient rooms in the palace, the cold and dark basement left a lingering impression to me. The basement played a huge part in maintaining communications between the core department and the battles during the war – and many of the communications machines and tools were kept and are still on display. It is also a saferoom for the president in case of attack; and I got tensed just walking through these narrow corridor, as if I was at war.
Vietnam was once ruled by French, and therefore, traces of French culture still remained in this Southeast Asian city – one of the most iconic architecture, would be the Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica, obviously, the replica of the Notre-Dame in Paris.
It was established by the French Colonist and the building materials are transported from France. But to me, I would say, go to Paris and see the real thing…
On the opposite side of the Cathedral is the Saigon Post Office. It is a monumental central post office, completed in 1891, with a vaulted main hall & period finishes.
Behind the cathedral, the Diamond Plaza was the hip, trendy shopping arcade in the city, (but not actually very big) and the city was busy and bustling due to the Chinese New Year Celebration in January. The streets and markets are packed with people and all kinds of festivities and religious rituals were undergoing in the Chinese temples. Walking on the shopping street in the city center, there were satin shops, vintage toy stores, street vendors, and ice-cream parlors serving desserts with a chairlift shaped waffles and a baby umbrella – everything has an old-fashioned 70s vibe – a setting of a Wong Kar Wai movie: ‘in the mood of love’.