Monday 12 December 2011

Ho Chi Minh City - Where The Past Meets The New

The memories of conflict live on even while the city is flourishing

In the Vietnamese metropolis that was once known as Saigon but is now called Ho Chi Minh City, it is hard to ignore the motorcycles that occupy the streets. They clearly outnumber all other forms of vehicles and it is common for motorcycles to take two of three lanes on the road. All the same, there are seldom accidents or traffic jams as vehicles make way for each other. 

Similarly, Ho Chi Minh City has a mix of cultures. The eastern vitality of a rising city co-exists with the legacy of a former French colony. This can be seen in the wide streets, old buildings and the fact that baguettes are served during breakfast. Some of the buildings such as the Opera House, Notre Dame Cathedral and Central Post Office retain the essence of the French colonial past.

The Notre Dame Cathedral with its ornate design and twin towers is an iconic spot and a popular backdrop for tourists posing for memorable snap shots. It is difficult to imagine a post office as a tourist attraction but the scenic exterior and attractive interior make the Central Post Office a draw for visitors. 

The Ben Thanh Market near the city centre is the place to look for all kinds of souvenirs and local products ranging from t-shirts, handicrafts, shoes, bags and costume jewellery. It is a shopping magnet for those in search of a good buy and the place is alive with the sound of people bargaining for a good deal. 

Not surprisingly, a number of attractions in Ho Chi Minh City are based on relics of the war that dominated the country’s recent history. 

The Reunification Palace, also known as the Independence Palace, has many rooms located over several floors with displays of art and furniture from the 1960s. There is a replica of a tank that crashed through the gates in 1975 which signalled the end of the war and brought about reunification of the south and north parts of Vietnam. 

Not far away is the War Remnants Museum, a building which houses memorabilia from the war such as tanks, planes, bombs and photographs of the conflict from the past.

Another landmark associated with the war is the Rex Hotel. It was the site where foreign journalists would gather for media updates. From the rooftop, there is a spectacular view of the city. 

Outside of the main city, one of the popular sites for visitors is the Cu Chi Tunnel, which is a network of underground chambers spanning about 250 kilometres toward the Cambodian border. The tunnels functioned as command centres, hospitals and storage for supplies during the war.

On the way back to Ho Chi Minh City, one can stop by the Tay Ninh Holy See, also known as Cao Dai Temple. There are nine levels to the temple, which characterize the nine steps to heaven. The altar has a globe with an eye signifying the all-seeing third eye. It is the spiritual centre of the Cao Dai religion that has many followers in the Indochina region.

Practical information:

Ho Chi Minh City is sunny from December to April and rainy from May to November but the year round temperatures range from 21 degrees to 34 degrees making it a suitable destination to visit all through the year. 

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