Asia / Vietnam

A Postcard from Uncle Ho!

“An avalanche is a large amount of ice, snow, and rock falling quickly down the side of a mountain. They are extremely dangerous. While there are many different types, we can place them into two broad categories; Loose, and Slab”…

Wait a minute! How about the natural phenomenon of a “human avalanche” occurring in all the big cities of Vietnam? The uncontrollable force of nature gathering all the people of the city and their motorbikes as it descends. You are about to experience Vietnam at its most dizzying. Fasten your seat belts please!

Even though the name of the city was changed as part of the victory of the North over the South to honour its great leader – Ho Chi Minh, most of the Vietnamese still call it by it’s old name – Saigon. Funny fact. When something is crazy, insane and unorganized we call it “Saigon” in Polish. For us, “Saigon” equals a total chaos. Kill me, I don’t know where did we take it from but I find it extremely cool and it describes the atmosphere of the city very well. In brief. Saigon is… intense!

Greetings straight from uncle Ho! We are in Saigon and I’m writing this postcard-post inside the beautiful building of the Central Post Office – Buu Dien. Beneath a long, domed roof, Ho Chi Minh smiles at me from a huge portrait – Welcome to my city! – he seems to be saying. Off topic -> I recommend you reading Ho’s biography – his life was full of The Wildest Tales!

You will like or hate Ho Chi Minh city (no love from me – I left my heart in Hanoi). I’ve heard mixed opinions about it, so I was curious to see what was all the fuss about. Let’s be clear. Saigon doesn’t have Hanoi’s charm, its beautiful, mesmerizing streets and all the culture. It’s different. Somehow it feels more familiar, being just like all other big European cities.

Huge buildings, wide alleys, parks (not enough!), bars and restaurants – if it was Europe I would be like “nah! I hate it”, but we are still in Asia so the food is going to be outstanding, the SPAs better than anything you could get in your country and the history is there waiting for you to learn, discover and absorb. 

I don’t need anything else to be happy when I visit big cities so I buy Saigon as it is. Loud, cosmopolitan metropolis, a bridge between Europe and Asia, a city somewhere between sunrise and sunset. Ho Chi Minh City. Don’t let other people discourage you to go there!

Saigon Central Post Office, constructed between 1886-1891, is now one of the main attractions in the city. There is a real post office inside as well as some souvenir shops.
The building was constructed during the French domination in that region (you can say that from the way it looks). Have a look inside to spot beautiful marble floor, the paintings (and uncle Ho!) or even the old telephone boxes.

Saigon is a financial center of Vietnam. It’s a city of commerce that has driven the country forward with its pulsating energy. For young Vietnamese people it’s where the magic happens. Like american dream for polish people, but in Asia. You can make a career here. It’s amazing how the city grew and developed after the war. It took around 50 years for noisy honking to completely deafen the echos of the war.

HCMC can lull you into a false sense of security. It’s so European, so safe… and then one careless step and you find yourself inside the eye of a hurricane! Watch out – when it comes to the traffic jam, uncle Ho, from friendly old man can turn into your biggest enemy!

Personally, I love traffic in Vietnam. It gives me a thrill. An adrenaline rush. Especially when we have to navigate between motorbikes trying to get that perfect shot. Observing Saigon’s streets it’s like being a part of a big cat walk. I don’t care about Channel or Prada, give me that Hello Kitty helmet!

HCMC is not all about insane traffic, although I have to admit that after coming back from the Mekong Delta where chirping insects were some sort of alternative music, we are shocked. We arrived by bus from Can Tho. As soon as we get out of it we were hit by the wave of heat. It was a brutal knock-out. April is an incredibly hot month. We wanted to get to our hostel as soon as possible but being stingy we didn’t want to go by cab. We found a local bus. It took us probably a good hour more than a taxi ride, but the adventure was there! We got to our hostel just to leave our stuff and we are out to see what does the city have to offer.

Vietnamese ultimate fashion to cover your face when you drive is also practical – the air in Saigon is very polluted. 
Just look at that baby!!! He looks like a little cute batman!
Traffic jam in Saigon is like an avalanche – unstoppable! 
The best was to see whole families on motorbikes – such a great view!

Saigon is not Hanoi. Hanoi has enchanting streets, they will amaze you. In Saigon… well… they can kill you at best. 🙂 However if you are looking for some cool neighbourhoods go to Ben Thanh – the oldest market in the city. Our hostel is just around the corner so we head there straight away full of hopes to fill our stomaches. Our wishes came true, as they always do in the local markets.

In Ben Thanh you will find all the things you don’t need, so stay focused! Follow the route to the food hall. Once you get there you can just go wild and try all the fruits and amazing dishes Vietnam has to offer. Papayas, mango, dragon fruits… you name it! On the mission to get the best out of it we spent there a bit longer that we expected so…

we had to skip other things planned for that day. 🙂

Now let’s talk about what to do in Saigon that is not so pretty but you must visit. Even though Saigon doesn’t have many tourist attractions, it doesn’t matter. It treasures the history. You won’t escape it, so face it and go the War Remnants Museum for a moving history lesson. I’ve already mentioned it in my previous post that I didn’t know much about the war before coming to Vietnam and I was ashamed of it. It’s an integral part of Vietnam’s identity. That’s why I was keen to learn more about it and visit the museum. It was the highlight of my day. A very sad highlight, indeed.

The consequences of this tragic war still affect the daily life of  Vietnamese people. The most shocking section was the one dedicated to Agent Orange and its horrific after-effects. Almost fifty years on since the end of the Vietnam War, people in Vietnam with severe mental and physical disabilities still feel the lingering effects of the chemical weapon used by the Americans. Around Saigon there are a few orphanages for the children born so severely disabled that they could not be cared for by their families.

Agent Orange is one big tragedy made of many small tragedies, all man made. It is heart-breaking to learn about it, not to mention visiting. It was definitely the most emotional moment of my trip.

We’ve been walking all day long and Saigon really exhausted us. What’s the best place to go when your whole body is aching? Of course it’s a SPA. It was a pure bliss as I haven’t had a better massage in my life. I could actually move to Saigon for that lady! When it’s time for dinner we go back to the market. After the sunset the streets around it are opened only for pedestrians and you can enjoy even bigger variety of food. Even though Saigon does look like every other European big city, the food is still authentically Vietnamese – yummy and cheap. Tomorrow we head back to Hanoi. We don’t have enough time to visit Cu Chi tunnels – but hey, it could be a good reason to come back. I haven’t got enough of Saigon yet! Our next stop is Sapa, but the meantime greetings from Uncle Ho!

Anna&Mario

A sizzling mix of old and new. The neo-Romanesque Notre-Dame cathedral, built between 1863 and 1880 by French colonists and a modern building behind it. What a contrast!
Old propaganda posters on the streets of HCMC.
Ho Chi Minh City is not a place for those of you who are crazy about beautiful architecture, however it treasures the history of Vietnam – and we all should learn about it. 
For some of you Saigon will be another ugly, big city. We liked it and I wish we had 1 extra day to explore it a bit more.
The city has completely different vibe than Hanoi. It’s like a bridge between Europe and Asia.
You may hate Ho Chi Minh City but you can’t deny – the food here is awesome and surprisingly cheap as for such a modern metropolis.  
Night market – we came here for a dinner and we were not disappointed by the food. I think that HCMC is a city that has a lot of cool places, but you can only find them when you are a local. As we are thinking of moving to Asia next year who knows – maybe Saigon will be our next home?