March 31, 2018
March 18, 2018
Ho Chi Minh City (formerly called Saigon) was yet another pleasant surprise for us in Vietnam. We were expecting it to be very similar to Hanoi, but it turned out to be a more modern and cosmopolitan city, with its fair share of skyscrapers standing next to old buildings, and with more to offer in terms of international restaurants, cafes and shopping options.
The Independence Palace (also called Reunification Palace) used to be the headquarters of the presidency of South Vietnam during the Vietnam war. The North Vietnamese army took it over in April 1975 and that event marked the end of the war. The huge building is now open to the public and you can see the previous offices and meeting and reception rooms used by the South Vietnamese president until the capitulation. In the basement you can visit the war and communications rooms, still containing the equipment used in those days.
The War Remnants Museum is theoretically dedicated to the independence war from France and to the US-Vietnam war, but practically almost all displays relate to the war with the US. In the courtyard of the museum there are a few tanks, jet planes and a helicopter used by the US army during the war. While the museum is as subjective and propagandistic as all other similar displays we’ve seen in Vietnam, visiting it is a sobering experience, and it does make clear the effects the war had on the population, both in the time of active fighting and in the years that followed after its end, through the effects of the agent orange poison used by the American army.
The Fine Arts Museum, although listed as a major attraction by travel guides, was a bit of a disappointment for me. If you have no idea about Vietnamese art when you go in, you come out with almost as little knowledge as you had before. Explanations are extremely sparse and only the titles of the works of art are translated.
The observation deck on the 49th floor of the Bitexco Financial Tower is a great place to get an overview of Ho Chi Minh City. Unfortunately you can’t go out into the open air – you’re constrained to staying behind windows, some of them less clean than others, which makes taking photos a bit frustrating. But the views, especially at sunset, are nonetheless spectacular.
And while we’re talking about views from above, naturally Daniel and I had to go at least once to a rooftop bar here in Ho Chi Minh City. We went to the Air 360 Sky Lounge, which is very close to the place we were staying. The photos are not great, since they’re made with my phone because I forgot to bring along our photo camera… But the bar was really great and a lot of fun – on the evening we were there, they put on a dance show, a fire show and even a short fireworks display. The cocktails were not cheap, but very good, so we spent a really fun evening there, observing the young and hip locals who were clearly also having a lot of fun.
Or when we went shopping in a very much improvised mall, and, at one stand, Daniel tried on about 30 pants – and none of them fit! The local lady trying to sell her stuff there was very patient and just laughed with us.
We have a few days left until our flight back to Switzerland and our allowed stay in Vietnam is running out, so we’ve been thinking for a while now about what to do in the remaining about 10 days of our trip. And our final choice is… to go to Japan for the cherry blossom season! Japan is not exactly around the corner from Vietnam – we have a 5-hour flight to get to Tokyo from Ho Chi Minh City. But according to this year’s forecast, the cherry trees should be in full bloom towards the end of March, which matches perfectly with the days we have left. So, although we’ve been to Japan before, we’re now flying to Tokyo and hoping that the cherry trees bloom while we’re there – I think it would be a once in a lifetime experience to be in Japan for the cherry blossom season. Fingers crossed!