Travel Anecdotes – Saigon Snippets

Ho Chi Minh Thoughts

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HCM was the last city we visited in Vietnam. After having first arrived into the unique atmosphere of Hanoi, then moved south to the melancholia of Lang Co and the ubiquitous Hoi An, HCM felt somehow closer in temperature and feel to other capital cities of South East Asia with mushrooming sky scrapers and more 70s type buildings. Of course, once we went to the historical parts of the city which was dotted with period colonial properties and boulevards, its French-Indochina heritage became crystal clear, but overall its fair to say that HCM was more congested, polluted and ‘mainstream’ than its northern siblings. Here’s a list of our brief encounters..

 

What we saw

Notre Dame

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The Notre Dame Cathedral in HCM was initially constructed for French colonialists in the 1800’s. It looks totally different than the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris we thought, though building materials for the church were apparently all imported from France. It is located downtown, and opposite the Post Office. To me it looked more similar to the Notre Dame Cathedral in Ottawa (pics here) with it’s two twin towers and circular carvings in the main facade.

Post Office

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Ho Chi Minh Post Office at night

The Post Office was under construction though we did manage to have a visit during the day. Also built by French architects in the late 1800s, the Post Office is supposed to be a mix of Gothic and Renaissance architecture. Inside the property the walls are adorned with huge maps of the Indochina territories at the time. There is also a very interesting souvenir shop inside with good quality local memorabilia. It’s a post office with character.

 

War Remnants Museum

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I think for anyone who is interested in understanding the world we live in and what we hope for in the future, this museum is an important reminder. It is certainly history told from Vietnam’s perspective as they make no mention of the victims of the other party to the conflict but focus mainly on victims of crimes perpetrated by the US Army and SVA, but still, the evidence they displaced are based on some body of facts and it was painful and unfortunately, still continuing in many parts of the world. I came out of this feeling more conscious of our responsibility as citizens of the world.

Where we shopped: Duy Tan

This shop was close by to the famous market Benh Thanh market (we just did a quick spin here – it’s basically a less exciting Chatuchak Market with stalls of repetitive items). But I wanted to peer into Duy Tan because I was trying to look for a better curated quality of local good such as lacquer bowls, plates and serving dishes, notebooks, cushion covers, magnets, serving cutlery etc. I bought a notebook, magnets, postcards, a serving bowl and a mug, and it cost about 40USD. On the pricier side but I thought it was worth it given the quality. Worth popping over after having made the mandatory rounds at the nearby market.

Where we snacked: Khanh Casa Tea House

This was just a cute rest stop to enjoy the whimsical French inspired ambiance (Louis chairs, sewing table table legs), yummy cakes and smoothies. We had walked for ages throughout the main sights of the day and stumbled into this by accident. You can sit at the balcony upstairs as we did to get some fresh air and people watch below.

Where we stayed: Hotel Nikko

It’s a 5 star outfit set on a beautiful property with slick Japanese technology, efficient design and service e.g. automated lavatory & clever drainage for the tub etc. Breakfast was super in terms of variety & choice with Japanese & Korean options. Shuttle service to the heart of town was well scheduled and the driver was very accommodating with additional requests. It deserves the high regard of its patrons. I do take issue with Ren Spa which I think should be improved to match the standard of the Niko brand. The two masseuses in the room were chatting throughout our treatment, they did the massages in a hurry with no sense of respect and patience for their clients. Our masseuse for instance did not have the courtesy to cover me with a towel as I climbed on the spa bed which I have never experienced in all my many spa experiences whether with 5 star or 1 star establishments. We also did not receive 1 hour as we paid but 50 minutes despite coming well before time to ensure we started on time. I left a review reflecting this shortcomings and received assurance from the management that these issues would not be repeated.  Apart from Ren spa I do however rate Nikko Hotel overall and would recommend it.

Final Words

If we were given only one place to visit in Vietnam and within a limited scope of time, we would probably choose Hanoi for it’s political history or Hoi An for its unique beauty. (also within a short distance to Da Nang and Lang Co, all of which we found very enjoyable). It’s not that HCM isn’t a great place to visit, but we found it a bit more generic with less ‘only in xxx’ encounters. If you have a week to explore Vietnam then of course, you should pencil this in your itinerary but if you have an extended weekend for your first visit to Vietnam, then perhaps try Hoi An or Hanoi first. As for us, it completed our Vietnam adventure for 2014 very neatly and we enjoyed learning as much as we can about the country from North to South.

 

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