“From August 1964 to December 1972, the US Army used its Air Force and Navy to attack North Vietnam, obstructing the flow of resources from the North to assist the South in its war of resistance to gain national independence. The courage shown in fighting of both soldiers and civilians of North Vietnam was clearly reflected during this period by numerous photos documenting their life in work and fight. A number of US aircraft were shot down in the North, resulting in the death and detention of many American pilots. However, with Vietnamese inherent tradition of tolerance and humanity in mind, the Party, government, people and military of Vietnam took care of American prisoners of war with their whole heart and goodwill…”
My visit to the War Remnants Museum began just a few minutes ago but I can already tell there is going to be a different tone to this history recap from the one taught in school. Good or bad the biggest lesson I’m going to leave Ho Chi Minh City (HMC), formerly and locally called Saigon, with is that this city has some of the best food in the world. Taken from the hollywood hit The Other Guys, “My waistline’s furious.” Back to the history lesson…Think I need to read some books on Vietnam War before I begin to talk about the merits, or lack thereof, of that war.
HMC is one of the few cities in Vietnam with Uber. I had heard enough about to taxi scams that this was my obvious choice for taking the one hour ride from airport to hostel. You will immediately notice a couple things about HMC upon rival. The first, and easily most fascinating, is how alive the streets are. I’m not talking cockroaches and rats of Bangkok alive… I’m talking how many people are driving, mostly scootering, through the streets. It is complete madness and I am shocked I did not see a single accident. I literally spent the whole car ride trying to figure out if there is a system here.. Do the horns mean someone is driving poorly? Or the flashing lights some sort of warning? By the end of the trip I am convinced people just try to get from point A to point B and the more you lay your horn the better.
There’s two main attractions to see on your visit to HMC. First stop in the city is the War Remnants Museum. As you can tell from the excerpt in the introduction, it has a different tone than what you’re used to. The entrance has many tanks, artillery, planes and such that were recovered once the Americans left on the Fall of Saigon. You can easily spend a few hours here. There are many graphic photos, especially those showing the current side effects citizens are experiencing from the commonly used wartime herbicide, Agent Orange.
The other main attraction just outside of HMC is the Củ Chi Tunnel. You can organize a tour through your hostel or hotel. A general rule of thumb, if you want to be with a group of younger backpackers do hostel but if you have your own group do some Trip Advisor research on tour companies. The tunnels are a very impressive underground network that were used not just for ambushing soldiers but also for housing, cooking, and other aspects of ordinary life. The Củ Chi portion is just a small fragment of a network that extended nearly the entire country. If you are not claustrophobic, see how long you can make it through the tunnels. There’s a 100-meter section (I made it 50-meters). More so to avoid being stuck… these were not built for someone of my height.
Many others will visit HMC and make a one or two day trip to Mekong Delta. I heard mixed reviews on this trip from several backpackers and was short on time so didn’t make it out. But if you do want to see the MEK, do research on tour companies. I am sure it is fascinating to see the Delta, where much of the war was fought, and visit the floating markets.
My recap on Saigon is not complete without highlighting the overwhelming availability of amazing food. Everywhere you walk are stands with people selling Banh Mi, Pho and other Vietnamese dishes. Two street food stalls I highly, highly recommend are Banh Mi 37 Nguyen Trai and Banh Mi Hoa Ma. Grab a beer from a nearby stall and a small red stool and enjoy the food street side. You can find more information from the following food guide to Saigon.. I’m sure the others on this list are worth checking out too: https://migrationology.com/vietnamese-food-guide-saigon/. I’ll just stick to pictures for my commentary.
Saigon is a big city with some incredible restaurants. I, however, was more in the mood for street food and beer so I could study the wacko scooter drivers. The last stop on my trip was the Ben Thanh Market. Drink a beer or two before so you can put up with the constant yells from vendors to come into their store. If you are up for the challenge, though, you can walk away from this market with some great stuff. Great in the sense of cheap, not quality, of course.
If you’re in the mood to rent a scooter and live to tell about it, I’d suggest doing so in a smaller, less busy part of Vietnam. For me, it would be up in the mountains at a peaceful town, called Da Lat.