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Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Vietnam Vacation - Ho Chi Minh City

Heard that Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, was becoming vivacious, so piqued our interest to visit and see for ourselves. Had wondered how this traditional, once too laid-back city has transformed, and to what extent. However, when we stepped off the plane, we saw alot of tall buildings in the distance, and professional-looking executives were all over the place. In fact, it was rather delightful to learn that there were a lot of French Colonial style buildings around the city and also, French restaurants, since they used to be under French control.

I have stayed at the Amara Hotel Saigon and New World Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City before - both recommended, depending on where your preferred location is.  The latter hotel has a casino in it, so those seeking to try their luck at winnings may be duly occupied.

Transport-wise, there are plenty of cabs available. The roads are filled with scooters as these are the main mode of transport for their people there - manual workers as well as office workers in executive wear, alike.

For upscale shopping, one may like to check out Thuong Xa Tax (Saigon Tax Trade Center) located at District 1. This is where one could find malls and stores selling clothes, accessories, books and crafts. I did not see anything suitable as I thought the style of the clothes, accessories and crafts were not my kind of style...the designs were stll leaning very heavily on the Vietnamese intricate patterns.

Many tourists and locals love the Ben Thanh Market as well - a large marketplace in central Ho City Minh City (District 1, as well), housed in yet another gorgeous French-styled building, boosting rows of vendors selling foodstuff, souveinirs, textiles and clothes.

One is rather spoilt for choices for food here.

Let's not talk about the pricey ones like Ly Club, Temple Club and Le Jardin etc - there are lists that potential diners could search for, online. Fine dining and French / French-Vietnamese Fusion restaurants are readily available in most areas.

For traditional Vietnamese food, one may like to try the Pho (Vietnamese soup noodles) - two recommended locations would be Pho Hoa and Pho24 - tasty soup noodles, tender beef and healthily infused with an assortment of vegetables such as mint leaves, beansprouts etc.  Vietnam is also famous for its Broken Rice dishes - I did not get to try, but heard its crispy and tasty. Finally, the spring rolls - either deep fried ones containing pork, shrimps and vegetables or fresh ones containing just shrimps and vegetables - are equally tasty and healthy food for thought.

It is not recommended to try their curry though - the sweet curry made me feel funny after eating it - not funny due to sickness, but felt kind of nauseous.

My personal favorite was the Cruise Dinner onboard one of the large vessels and dining on the scenic and romantic Saigon River. Different cruises served different cuisines - we went up on all three and finally settled for the one that served Chinese cuisine (craving of the day) along with the best music. There were live performances during dinner comprising of fire-eating shows and dancing. It was very entertaining.

There are also a number of cafes and bars scattered around - it depends on whether one is seeking for refreshers or more hardcore chilling out. Try Windows Cafe (Park View) at District 1 - a lavish, three-storey modern-esque building devoted entirely to serving its patrons - drinks or food, all welcome.

Cultural Infusion
For those who love cultural and historical pursuits, worry not, Ho Chi Minh has plenty to offer you in this aspects as well.

There is a score of museums around - such as the Vietnam History Museum, Vietnam Fine Arts Museum and War Remnants Museum - I've been to all three, but the one that left the deepest impression was the latter. The warplanes actually looked very intimidating and creepy, and I kept having this odd fear that they would suddenly leap to life and come at us. Maybe I was just spooked by the war stories and deaths associated with it thus why.

In lieu of museums, there are also many fine arts galleries along the rows of shops. While some of the art pieces may be replicated or distributed all throughout the city, they were all really rather impressive works of art. I wanted to buy one of the Marilyn Monroe ones, but was afraid it would be too big for both carrying around and for the spot I intended to hang it at.

Tourist  Attractions
Finally we have come to the end - touristy spots in Ho Chi Minh City! There was a half-day city tour that we had embarked on, and brought to a Pagoda, a Notre Dame Cathedral, and the Post Office - all apparently places of interest to tourists, showcasing the different religious beliefs of the Vietnamese.

One may also wish to visit more adventurous spots such as Cu Chi Tunnels - an elaborate and immense network of underground tunnels.

Then the Reunification Palace - showcasing the grand halls and living quarters of the high-ranking government officials - this parliamental place, also the downfall eventually. When we were there, our tour guide informed us that these businesses were now being conducted in Hanoi.

Of course, there is also the Saigon Zoo for the superbored or animal lovers. It was a rather ill-maintained zoo with mediocre living conditions for the adorable animals trapped within. The admission tickets were dirt-cheap though, so who could complain...

Overall, Ho Chi Minh City is a rather vivacious city indeed, and a lovely experience.

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