Ho Chi Minh City
I set out to discover Ho Chi Minh city. I had met a girl from Poland at breakfast (who also happened to be a lawyer!) who accompanied me till my first stop – the War Remnants Museum, which is about 15 min walk away from my hostel.
The museum deals with the Vietnam War in detail; which served as a learning experience, a real eye opener, for me. It was quite sad to know about the atrocities committed by the US on the Vietnamese people but what was inspiring was Vietnam’s resilience and determination to overcome the French and US imperialism. The museum had on display US tanks, air-force planes, guns and artillery and an exhibition of tragic photographs from the War, including the harmful effects of chemical warfare on generations of Vietnamese.
After the somber experience of the museum, I set out to do some sight seeing. As I walked and walked (and walked some more!), I realized that Ho Chi Minh city grows on you slowly. As Vietnam was under French colonial rule for nearly 100 years, there are many gardens and old buildings in HCMC with beautiful European architecture; and just like European cities, all of the tourist attractions can be seen on foot. I walked a lot today, and managed to see the Notre Dame church (a replica of the original church in France), the grand old post office building (similar to Victoria Terminus in Bombay). I am fascinated by old-school architectural styles, so this discovery was a real treat to my eyes.
I stopped for lunch and had my first taste of the famous Vietnamese cuisine. I had heard so much about Pho, the local version of noodle soup, from my friends and was, therefore, really looking forward to having it. But I guess I had too high expectations which didn’t get met. It was okay.
Post lunch, I went to see the Reunification Palace which was (like everything else) a short walk away. The last president of South Vietnam lived there till 1975, the year in which the North Vietnamese rebels stormed through the gates of the palace with two tanks. That incident is regarded as the one which ended the War, with the South (which was propped up by the US support) surrendering to the socialist North. The palace is preserved just the way it was in 1975 – it was interesting to see the president’s rooms, banquet hall, war room, etc.
On my way back to the hostel (it was late afternoon by then), I treated myself with a visit to the spa, a much needed luxury after all the walking that I had done. On the way thereafter, I also stopped by the Ben Than market, a colourful indoor market with hundreds of stalls selling everything from fresh fish, clothes to local souvenirs.
For dinner I went to a restaurant which, I was told, makes the best pizzas one can find. Although this was the third time I was having pizza (in four days), I was more than happy as I’m a sucker for pizza. There was a live kitchen and the pizza tasted heavenly!
Post dinner, I stumbled upon a lovely street which had the majestic Municipal Hall building (built by the French), a statue of Ho Chi Minh on one end and the Saigon river on the other end. In between there was a walking plaza spanning a distance of 1 or 2 kilometers, surrounded by skyscrapers, hotels and restaurants. The locals and young couples come down here at night to hang out and have a good time. It reminded me a lot of the Wenceslas Square in Prague. Kanna and I had been there in June 2015 for our honeymoon and had fallen in love with the general buzz of that place, something about the air which, to quote Mark Twain, put a “song in every heart; and if the heart was young, the music issued to the lips”. I am so glad I chanced upon this avenue. Now that I have seen the place, I feel a trip to HCMC is incomplete if one doesn’t visit this area. Needless to add, I missed Kanna terribly at this moment. I spent some quiet time by the river, reflecting on what a wonderful day I had in Ho Chi Minh city, overcome with a feeling of gratitude for all the travelling I had done and the amazing experiences I had had.
Chicken Pho, Beef Bahn Mi (stew with Vietnamese bread) at Nha Hang Ngon.
Pepperoni pizza at Pizza 4Ps.
Travelling solo gives you the kind of flexibility to travel on your own terms, which you can never get when traveling with a group of people.
Next up: Ho Chi Minh City – Day 3