One Way to do Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City)

A favourite port of call when cruise ships visit Vietnam is Saigon, now officially known as Ho Chi Minh City,  though in matter of fact the nearest docking point for Saigon is the port of Phu My: some 66 kms and  just under a 2 hour road journey away.

 

Making the journey, however,  is well worth the effort and this particular review will hopefully give an insight into what one can expect to see in a city that played a pivotal role in the Vietnam War.

 

Cruise ship visitors have a number of options. They can take a fully inclusive ship’s excursion, can book a ship’s ‘On your Own’ transfer or take one of the many local operators tours booked privately.

Saigon is one of Vietnam’s largest and most historic cities and the most visited city in Vietnam with over 6 million visitors in 2017.  Apart from its role in the Vietnam War it’s also known for its French colonial landmarks, including Notre-Dame Cathedral, made entirely of materials imported from France, and the 19th-century Central Post Office.

This review is written with the purpose of giving an overview of what should and can be seen in a day and the good news is that seven of the major sites (Nos 1 – 7 on the map below) are situated centrally and within reasonable walking distance of each other…

 

 

So having arrived at what seemed the most popular ‘drop-off’ point, The Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon…

…there is no better place to commence the tour.

Construction of the cathedral was completed in 1880 after some 3 years work. It has two bell towers, each reaching a height of 190 feet.

All the original building materials were imported from France, though many interior  tiles have since been made in Ho Chi Minh City to replace the tiles that were damaged by the war…

 

There is no charge for entrance and an interior visit is highly recommended.

Opposite the cathedral is another iconic building from the French era, the Saigon Central Post Office…

 

Constructed between 1886-1891 it is now a major tourist attraction. It counts both Gothic, Renaissance and French influences in its architecture and, as with the cathedral, an internal visit is a must…

Of special note are two painted maps that were created just after the post office was built. The first one,  located on the left side of the building, is a map of Southern Vietnam and Cambodia entitled Lignes telegraphiques du Sud Vietnam et Cambodge 1892 which translates to “Telegraphic lines of Southern Vietnam and Cambodia 1892″…

 

The second map of greater Saigon is entitled Saigon et ses environs 1892 that translates as “Saigon and its surroundings 1892”

 

Those being guided will no doubt, at this stage, be shown one of Saigon’s unofficial historical landmarks…

Viewed from the square in front of the cathedral, and circled in red on the above photograph, framed by the blue glass of the Vincom Centre, is the infamous ‘secret CIA Building’…

A block away from the Notre Dame Cathedral, on the right of the Post office Building,  on Ly Tu Trong road, will give one a better view.

Though not exactly  spectacular at first sight,  turning the clock back 44 years to this  photograph shows why this  particular building  is so iconic…

The above photograph was taken on April 29, 1975.

From the cathedral square a short walk of 3 blocks along Dong Khoi Street, past the Vincon Centre…

…will reach the Saigon Opera House…

Retracing one’s footsteps one block as far as Le Thanh Ton Street and taking a left turn will reveal the old Hôtel de Ville de Saïgon…

…now known as Ho Chi Minh City Hall. My apologies for the city works interference on the day of our visit.

Adjacent to  City Hall is probably the most famous Saigon hotel, The Rex…

Once again please excuse the works in the area, most of which is due to the construction of the Ho Chi Minh City Metro, a rapid transport system that is due to come into operation in 2020. The hotel is well worth a visit…

It was made famous during the Vietnam War when it was hosting the American Military Command’s   daily conference, derisively named Five O’Clock Follies by cynical journalists.

However, its rooftop bar was equally famous as a well-known hangout  for military officials and war correspondents alike…

*****

Just to illustrate the extent of the works for the new city subway, this following photograph was taken from the Rex Hotel Rooftop Bar…

At this juncture, unless flushed with time, a decision needs to be made.  One can visit the Bến Thành Market, which is a good walk along Le Thanh Ton Street or, my recommendation, (most Asian markets look the same to me) head for the best Saigon has to offer, the Independence Palace….

…probably the most iconic featured building during the fall of Saigon –  when the two tanks crashed through the palace gates…

Access is available to the Independence Palace and I would highly recommend that a visit be made, in my book it isn’t just about the exterior…

*****

 

*****

*****

Another extremely popular visit with tourists is the War Remnants Museum…

 

*****

*****

*****

 

*****

*****

*****

 

Should time permit there is one other place well worth a visit, the Jade Emperor Pagoda…

To reach the Pagoda…

…I would certainly recommend taking some form of taxi transport or, for an element of fun, a trishaw ride, as the Pagoda is a fair walk from the Independence Palace.

The Jade Emperor Pagoda, also known as Tortoise Pagoda, is one of the most important shrines in Ho Chi Minh City. Built at the turn of the 20th Century by a community of Cantonese who migrated from Guangzhou province in Southwest China, this pagoda is a fine representation of Mahayanist branch of Buddhism that is practiced widely in Vietnam.

The pagoda is a living and working shrine very much in use by the locals…

…with worshippers coming and going, and while the temple can get busy its dimly lit halls and narrow passageways lend an atmospheric feel to the place and add to its charm.

The small moat on the exterior also attracts many visitors as it is a recognised shelter for turtles who are also worshipped and fed…

 

No review of Saigon / Ho Chi Minh City would be complete without a mention of the  other military tourist attraction, the Tunnels at Cu Chi…

The tunnels of Củ Chi are an immense network of inter-connecting tunnels that served as an operational  base for the Viet Kong during the Vietnam War…

 

The tunnels served as communication and supply routes, hospitals, food and weapon caches and living quarters for numerous North Vietnamese fighters. The tunnel systems were of great importance to the Viet Cong in their resistance to American forces, and helped to counter the growing American military effort.

Hourly talks are offered by Viet Kong veterans…

…and guided tours of the underground tunnels…

*****

including displays of how access to the tunnels were camouflaged…

Now you see me, now you don’t…

…while above ground there are many displays covering all aspects of life affecting the tunnels, including man traps…

…and displays of weaponry…

…recovered at the end of the war.

 

Summary

That concludes this review of what are the main sites to be seen in what can be an amazing city to visit.

History has not been kind to Saigon, or indeed Vietnam, and for the visitor there is much to learn. There certainly is plenty to see around this buzzy metropolis and as the development of  a more modern transport system progresses so will the ability of visitors  to pack so much more into their day.

An opportunity to explore Saigon should not be missed. Good Morning Vietnam…

 

 

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Disclosure to potential conflict of interest:

It is common throughout the travel industry for travel journalists and many cruise bloggers to be provided with complimentary cruises for the purpose of their reviews.

Solent Richard has no ‘conflict of interest’ as he is not an accredited journalist, he pays for his cruises, and is happy to confirm that all his reviews are his own given without fear or favour.

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