Vietnam and Thailand were destinations Inna and I always wanted to visit. The countries are right next to each other, Thailand is a major travel destination, Vietnam has lots of history, and both are super cheap and beautiful. So for our year of travel, we knew we were coming to this part of the world.
We started our Vietnam/Thailand travels Vietnam’s largest city: Ho Chi Minh City. If you haven’t heard of this city, that’s probably because up until 1976 (the end of the US’s involvement in the Vietnam War), the city was named Saigon. The city is still called Saigon by many, but the official name has changed to Ho Chi Minh City.
First thing we noticed in Ho Chi Minh City: the transportation situation. Specifically the motorcycles; there were so many, it was insane! Way more than Sturgis, and the riders were crazy. Running red lights, driving on sidewalks, driving the wrong direction, nothing was off limits. Also, the drivers never stopped or slowed down for pedestrians, trying to cross the street was like playing Frogger in real life.
Crossing the street was pretty scary our first day, but once we got the hang of it it actually became fun.
Bird’s eye view of an uncontrolled intersection. All of Vietnam was like this, but Ho Chi Minh City was the worst.
The motorcycles were the first things we noticed but the first thing we did was eat pho. Pho is Vietnamese noodle soup and it is so good, one of our favorite soups in the world. We had pho all throughout Vietnam, but it was best in Ho Chi Minh City, by far.
In addition to pho, all the food in Ho Chi Minh was good. We mostly had street food, meat on a stick, that sort of thing, and even weird meats like crocodiles and frogs were delicious. Vietnams’s other major street food was Banh Mi sandwiches, which consists of Vietnamese food in a French bread roll. These sandwiches were so cheap and were sold on every street corner, they made for great snacks or even entire meals!
Most of the street food we had was from this food fair, which we were lucky enough to visit four times on our visit. Every time we tried something new, and every time we loved it.
One thing that struck us about Ho Chi Minh City was its lack of skyscrapers. The above picture captures almost every skyscraper in the city, a surprisingly small amount for a city with 8,000,000+ people. This was especially true after coming from Kuala Lumpur, a city with tons of skyscrapers despite having a million less people.
Ho Chi Minh may lack skyscrapers but it doesn’t lack grand buildings. Most are from its colonial era, when Vietnam was ruled by the French. The above building, the city’s central post office, is one of the finest examples of French architecture in Vietnam.
Here is another of Ho Chi Minh’s French buildings. This building, named Notre Dame, was modeled after Paris’s Notre Dame Cathedral and is generally considered to be the grandest church in Vietnam.
The final grand French building in Ho Chi Minh City is City Hall. Above left is City Hall with a statue of Ho Chi Minh in front, and above right is Ho Chi Minh Square, where I took the picture on the left.
This, building, known as either Independence or Reunification Hall, is Ho Chi Minh City’s most famous post-colonial era building. This was the home of the president of South Vietnam and was built during the Vietnam War, after the colonial era Norodom Palace was destroyed by rebels. Today, this building is not used much.
Minus lots of Vietnam War relics, which we will cover in another post, Ho Chi Minh didn’t have much besides food and architecture. But we did find this beautiful park, a peaceful oasis right in the center of the city.
Here are a couple mineature figurines in the park. These were popular throughout Vietnam.
We may be done exploring Ho Chi Minh City, but we’re not done with this post! For the New Year is upon us and we celebrated it here. It was crazy, and tons of fun!
It’s New Year’s Eve and the crowds are coming. And we thought the motorcycle situation was crazy before…
We brought in the New Year at Ho Chi Minh Square, which had tons of activity. Like City Hall above, lit gorgeously all night.
Near the center of Ho Chi Minh Square, outside the city’s opera house, was this Vietnamese concert. The music was cool although not our favorite, but the dancing and lighting were awesome.
Finally, this DJ concert was at the far end of Ho Chi Minh Square (somehow, despite being so close to the Vietnamese concert, the music from the two did not overlap). They played Western music here (mostly American) and the mix was awesome, everyone was rocking out and having a great time.
Fireworks at midnight. There weren’t many because a couple days prior the government decreed no fireworks this evening (they felt spending money on fireworks was disrespectful to the poor and homeless in the country). Lame Vietnam, lame.
Despite the lack of fireworks, Inna and I had an amazing New Year, cheering and celebrating with all the Ho Chi Minh locals. We hope your New Year was as awesome as ours was; we know it’s several months late but happy New Year everyone!
With this, we come to the end of our Ho Chi Minh City visit. If you’re wondering about the city’s Vietnam War destinations, we visited two major ones: the War Remnants Museum and the Cu Chu Tunnels, and we describe these in our post on the Vietnam War. But up next in this country, we continue through the south, our next stops being a French mountain town and a seaside resort popular with Russians.