Just before Christmas, I spent a few days in Saigon. Or Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh, as is the city’s official name. Ho Chi Minh City in English.
HCMC. Sài Gòn. What to call it? Locals I spoke with called their city Saigon. Who am I to argue?
My first day in this deliciously chaotic city, I spend mostly wandering around. I explore the evocative War Remnants Museum, I stop for a look at the Reunification Palace (but not entering, that will have to wait for another day), I gawk at colonial architecture, and I spend quite a bit of time and effort dodging the manic scooter traffic and a torrential downpour.
Here are a few snapshots taken along the way; a little Saigon photo gallery.
I was a little girl when war raged in Vietnam. All I remember from the time is the occasional protest march through the streets of Oslo. How could I possibly be in Saigon without visiting the War Remnants Museum? I have to see the war through the eyes of the locals, those who had to endure. It’s necessary.
Propaganda from the winning side? Perhaps. But through the years, I’ve seen plenty of propaganda from the other side. I spend a few hours here. Troublesome hours. I leave feeling furious. Raging.
I need to cool down if I’m to deal sensibly with the traffic. I need tea. Even the cold variety helps.
Saigon scooter traffic: you have to leap through it. Luckily, I played many a game of Frogger during my formative years. My mum would be happy to hear it wasn’t a complete waste of time, after all.
The Reunification Palace, or Independence Palace, is where Saigon fell in 1975 when a North Vietnamese tank burst through its gates. And so ended the Vietnam War, or the American War on Vietnam, as it’s called here. You can tour the palace. I don’t. Not today. The clouds match my mood.
Instead, I continue past the Basilica of Our Lady of The Immaculate Conception, better known as Notre Dame Cathedral…
… and on to the post Office, designed by none other than Gustave Eiffel. More than 120 years old, Saigon Central Post Office is one of the city’s oldest buildings and a good example of the French Colonial architecture. Looks more like a railway station, doesn’t it?
Notice the bright yellow part of the building? Not too popular with locals, it turned out. I can see why. Soft pastels is the way to go with this, I think. Works very well on the postbox, though. Made me happy to pop a postcard in this one.
My final stop is the beautiful City Hall – built in 1908 as Hôtel de Ville de Saïgon.
Conclusion: Saigon is provocative. Saigon is seductive. I want more.
Have you been in Saigon? How did you feel?
PS Over at A World of Backpacking, Tine has a great travelguide to Saigon.