HO CHI MINH CITY
Tel: 08 + Pop 5,500,000
In this, the largest of Vietnam’s cities, you’ll see the hustle and bustle of Vietnames life every where, and there is something invigorating about it all. Contrasting images of the exotic and mundane about, there are street markets, where bargains are struck and deals done; the pavement cafes, where stereo speakers fill the surrounding streets with a melodious thumping beat; and the sleek new cafes and pubs, where tourists chat over beer, peanuts, coffee and croissants. A young office worker manoeuvres her Honda Dream through rush hour traffic, long hair flowing, high heels working the brake pedal. The sweating Chinese businessman chats on his cellular phone, cursing his necktie in the tropical heat. A desperate beggar suddenly graps your airm, a rude reminder that this is still a developing city, despite the trimmings.
The city churns, ferments, bubbles and fumes, Yet within this teeming Chinese businessman chats on his cellular phone, cursing his necktie in the tropical heat. A desperate baggar suddenly grabs your arm, a rude reminder that this is still a developing city, despite the trimmings.
The city churns, ferments, buddles and fumes, Yet within this teaming 300 year –old metropolis are timeless traditions and the beauty of an ancient culture. In the pagodas monks pray and incense burns. Artists create masterpieces on canvas or in carved wood. Puppeteers entertain children in the parks, while in the back alleys, whre tourists seldom venture, acuppuncturists treat patients and students learn to play the violin. A seamstress carefully creates an ao dai, the graceful Vietnamese costume that could make the fashion designers of Paris envious.
Actually, HCM City is not so much a city as a small province covering an area of 2019sq km stretchin from the South China Sea almost to the Cambodian border, Rural regions make up about 90% of the land area of HCMC and hold around 25% of the municipality’s population; The other 75% is crammed into the remaining 10% of land, which constitutes the urban centre.
Unofficially the city is still called “Saigon” But officially, Saigon refers only to district 1, which is one small piece of the municipal pie. Southerners certainly prefer the name Saigon, but if you have to deal with government officials, it;s best to use HCMC.
To the west of the city centre is District 5. The huge Chinese neighbourhoid called Cholon, which means Big Market. However, it is decidedly less Chinese than it used to be, largely thanks to the anticapitalist and anti-Chinese campaign from 1978 to 1970, which caused many ethnic Chinese to flee the country – taking with them their money and entrepreneurial skills. May of these.
Refugees are now returning (with foreign passports) to explore investment possibilities and Cholon’s hotels are once again packed with Chinese-speaking Businesspeople.
Officially, greater HCMC claims a population of 5 ½ million, although seven to eight million may be the real figure; The government census counts only those who have official residence permits and probably third of the population lives here illegally. Many of these illegal residents actually lived in the city before 1975, But their residence permits were transferred to rural re-education camps after reunification. Not surprisingly, they have simply sneaked back into the city. Although without a residence permit they can not own property or a business. They are being joined by an increasing number of rural peasants who come to seek their fortunemany and up sleeping on the pavement.
Still, the city accommodates them all. This is the industrial and commercial heart of Vietnam accouting for 30% of the country’s manufacturing output and 25% of it’s retails trade. Incomes here are three times the national average. It is to here that ambitious young people and bureaucrats – From the north and south gravitate, in order to “make a go of it”.
Explosive growth is making its mark with new high rise buildings, joint venture hotels and colourful shops. The downside is the sharp increase intraffic, pollution and other urban ills. Still, the city’s neoclassical and international style buildings, and pavement kiosks selling french rolls and croissants, give neighbourhoods such as District 3 an attractive, vaguely french atmostphere. The Americans left their mark on the city too, at least in the form of some heavily fortified apartment blocks and government buildings.
HCMC hums and buzzes with the tenacious will of human beings to servive and improve their lot. It is here that the economic changes sweeping Vietnam are most evident.
Saigon was captured by the French in 1859, becoming the capital of the French colony of Cochinchina a few year later. In 1950, the author Norman Lewis described Saigon as follows: “Its inspriration has been purely commercial and it is therefore without folly,
Fervour or much osterntation a pleasant, colourless and characterless French provincial city’. The city served as the capital of the Republic of Vietnam from 1956 until 1975, when it fell to advancing North Vietnamese forces.
Cholon rose to prominence after Chinese merchants began settling there in 1778 and, deposite the mass migrations after 1975, it still constitutes the largest ethnic Chinese community in Vietnam.
HCMC is divided into 16 urban districts ( quan, derived from the French quartier) and five rural districts (huyen). Distric 1 is known as Saigon and District 5, HCMC’s Chinatown, is called Cholon.
The majority or places aand sights described in this chapter are located in District 1, unless otherwise indicated.
If you arrive in HCMC in need of some grooming, head for Tony & Guy Beauty Salon ( central HCMC map; tel 9250664; email: [email protected]; 89c Cach Mang Thang Tam; 8h00am – 8h00pm Mon – Sat, 8h30 am – 5pm Sun) is run by a friendly Vietnamese American stylist, Tony, who trained in Hollywood and New York before moving back to his momeland. The Salon maintains an inter-national standard and prices are reasonable; US$ 7/10 men/women for a wash, head massage, cut, blow dry and finish. If also offers beauty treatments. MUSUEMS
HCMC has several excellent museum , the best of which can be visited on foot. You might also consider renting a bicycle and pedalling around, or perhaps hiring a cyclo to do the pedalling for you.
War Remnants Museum
Once known as the Museum of Chienese and American War Crimes, the museum’s name was changed to avoid offending Chinese and American Tourists. However, the pamphlet, Some Pictures of US Imperialists Aggressive War Crimes in Vietnam,. handed out at reception pulls no punches./
The War Remnants Musuem ( Bao Tang Chugn Tich Chien Tranh, Tel 930 5587; 28 D Vo Van Tan strl admission: 10,000vnd; open 7h30am – 11.45am & 1h30 pm – 5h15pm daily) is now the most popular museum in HCMC with western Tourists. Many of the Atrocities documented here were well publiciesed in the west, but rarely do Westerners have the opportunity to hear the victims of US military action tell their own story
US armoured vihicles, artillery pieces, bombs and infantry weapons are on display out side. There’s also a guillotine – used by the French on Viet Minh “ Troublemakers” Many photographs illustrating US atrocities are from US sources, including photos of the infamous My Lai Massacre. There is a mode of the notorious tiger cages used by the South Vietnamese miliitary to house Viet Cong (VC) prisoners on Con Son island. There are also pictures of deformed babies, their defects attributed to the USA’s wides pread use pf chimical herbicides. An adjacent room has exhibits of counter revolutionary warcrimes that were committed after 1975 by saboteurs within Vienam. Counter-revolutionary warcrimes what were committed after 1975 by saboteurs within Vietnam. Counter revolutionaries are portrayed as being allied with both the USA and Chinese imoerialists. Despite the relative one sidedness of the exhibits, there are few musuems in the world that drive home som well the point that war is horribly brutal and that many of its victims are civilians. Even those who supported the war would have a difficult time not being horrified by the photos of children mangled by US bombing and napalming. There are also scenes of torture – it takes a strong stom ach to look at these. You’ll also have a rate chace to see some of the experimental weapins used in the war, which were at one time military secrets, such as the flechette.
The War remnants museum is in the former US Information service building, at the intersectuon with D. Le Quy Don. Explnations are in Vietnamese, English and Chinese. Though a bit incongruous with the museum’s theme, water puppet theatre is stagee in a tent on the museum grounds.
Museum of Ho Chi Minh City
Housed in a grey, neoclassical structure built in 1886 and once known as Gia Long Palace. The Museum of Ho Chi Minh City ( Dong Khoi Area Map; Bao Tang Thanh Pho Ho Chi Minh, tel 8299741, 65 Ly Tu Trong str, addmision US$1, open 8am – 4pm daily) is a singularly beautiful and amazing building.
The museum display artefacts from the various periods of the communist struggle for power in Vietnam. The photographs of anticalonial activiests executed by the French appear out of place in the gilded 19th centery ballrooms, but then again the contrast gives a sense of the immense power and coplacency of the colonial French. There are photos of Vietnnames peace demonstrators in Saigon Demading that US troops get out and monk who made headlines whorldwide, when he burned himself to death in 1963 to postest against the policies of President Ngo Dinh Diem.
The information plaques are in Vietnamese only, but some of the exhibits include documents in French or English, and many others are self- explanatory if you know some basic Vietnamese history (see History in the Facts about Vietnam chapter). The exhibitions cover the various periods in the city’s 300 year history.
Among the most interesting arterfacts on display is along, narrow rowing boat, with a false bottom in which arms were smuggled. Nearby is a small diorama of the Cu Chi Tunnels, The adjoining room has examples of infantry weapons used by the VC and various South Vietnames and US medals, hats and plaques. A map show communist advances during the dramatic collapse of South VIetnam in early 1975. There are also photophraphs of the liberation of Saigon. Deep beneath the buildng is a network of reinforced concrete bunkers and fortified corridors. The system, branches of which stretch all the way to Reunification Palace, included living areas, a ketchen and a large metting hall. In 1063, President Diem and his brother hid here before fleeing to Cha Tam Church. The network is not currently open to the public because most of the tunels are flooded, but if you want to bring a torch, a museum guard might show you around.
In the garden behind the museum is a soviet tank and a US Huey UH 1 Helcopter and anti-aircraft gun. In the garden fronting D; Nam Ky Khoi Nghia is more military head ware, including the American – built F-5E jet used by a renagede South Vietnamese pilot to bomb the Presidential Palace on 8 April 1975.
The museum is located a block east of Reunification Palace.
The stunning Sino French style building, which houses the history Museum (Grater HCMC map, bao tang lich sy; Tel; 8298146, Nguyen Binh Khiem str, admission; 10,000d; ope 8am – 11am & 1,30 pm – 4pm) was built in 1929 by the Societe des Etudes Indochinoises. It’s worth a visit just to view the architecture!
The Museum has an excellent collection of artefacts illustrating the evolution of the culturres of Vietnam, from the Bronze-age Dong Son civilization ( 13th century BC to 1st centyry AD) and the Oc-Eo (Funan) civilization (1st to 6th centuries AD), to the Chams, Khmers and Vietnamese. There are many valuable relics taken from Cambodia’s Angkor wat/
At the back of the building on the 3rd floor is a research library ( 829 0268; open Mon- Sat) which numerous books, from the French –c0lonial period, about indochina.
Across from the entrance to the museum you’ll see the elaborate Temple of King Hung Vuong. The Hung Kings are said to be the first rulers of the Vietnamese nation, having established their rule in the Red River region before it was invaded by the Chinese. The museum is located just inside the main gate to the city zii and botanic gardents, where the east end of Dl Le Duan meets Nguyen Binh Khiem str.
Just acroos Nguyen Binh Khiem is a small military museum ( tel: 822 9387; 2 Le Duan str) devoted to HCM’s Campaign to liberate the south. Inside is of minor interest, but some US, Chinese and Soviet war material is on display outdoors. Including a Cessna A 37 of the south Vietnamese Air Force and a US- Built F-5E Tiger with the 20mm nose gun still loaded the tank on display is one of the tanks tat broke into the grounds of Reunification Palace on 30 April 1975.
Fine Arts Museum
The Museum ( central HCMC map, Bao Tang My Thuat, Tel 822 2441, 97 A Pho Duc Chinh; admission 10,000d, open 9am – 4.30pm, Mon – Sat), in this classic yellow and white building with its modest Chinese influence, houses one of the more interesting collection in Vietnam. If you’re not interested in that, just go to see the huge hall with its Air Nouveau windows and floors. On the 1st floor is a display of officially accepted contemporary art; most of it is just kitsch or desperate at tempts to master abstract art, but accasionally something brilliant is displayed here Most of the recent art is for sale and prices are fair.
The 2nd floor has older politically correct art. Some of it is pretty crude; pictures of heroic figures waving red flags, childrent with refles, a woinded soldier joining the Communiest Party, innumerable tanks and weaponry, grotesque Americans and Godlike reverence for Ho Chi Minh, However, it’s worth seeing because Vietnamese artists managed not to be as dull and conformist as their counterparts in Eastern Europe. Once you’ve passed several paintings and sculptures of Uncle Ho, you will see that those artists who studied befored 1975, managed to somwhow transfer their own aesthetics onto the world of their prescribed subjects. Most impressive are some drawings of prison riots in 1973 and some remarkable abstract paintings.
The 3rd floor has a good collection of older art mainly Oc- Eo ( Funa) scuptures strongly resembling styles of ancient Greece and Egypt. You will also find here the best Cham pieces otside of Danang. Also interesting are the many pieces of indian art, such as stone statues of elephant heads. some pieces clearly originated in Angkor culture.
The garden cafe in fron of the museum is a preferred spot for elderly gentlemen to exchange stamp collections and sip iced tea.
Ton Duc Thang Museum
This smal, seldom –visited museum ( Dong Khoi Ara map, Bao Tang Ton Duc Thang, Tel 8297542, 5 Ton Duc Thang str, admission US$1, open 7h30 am to 11.30 am & 1h30 pm – 5pm Tues- Fri) is dedicated to Ton Duc Thang, Ho Chi Minh’s successor as president of Vietnam, who was born in Long xuyen, An Giang provinces, in 1888. He died in office in 1980. photos and hisplays illustrate his role in the Vietnamese Revolution, including a couple of very lifelike exhibits representing the time he spent imprisoned on Con Dao Island./
The Museum is on the waterfront, half a block north of the Tran Hung Dao statue.
Ho Chi Minh Museum
This museum ( Khu Luu niem Bac Ho; Te; 8400647, 1 Nguyen Tat Thanh str, Admission 10,000d, open 7h30 am – 11h30 am & 1h30 am – 5pm daily) is in the old customs house in District 4, just across Ben Nghe Channel from the quayside end of Ham Nghi, Nick named the Dragon house ( Nha Rong), It was built in 1863. The tie between Ho Chi Minh and the museum building is tenuous; 21 years-old Ho, having signed on as a stoker and galley boy on a French freighter, left Vietnam from here in 1911, beginning 30 years of exile in France, the Soviet Union , China and elsewhere.
The museum houses many of ho’s personal effects, including some of his clothing, samdals, his beloved US – made Zenith radio and other memorabilia. The explanatory signs in the memorabilia. The explanatory signs in the museum are in Vietnamese, but if you known something about Ancle Ho you should be able to follow most of the photographs and exhibits.