Note: We were in Vietnam nearly a year ago, it just took me a long time to post this.
The last stop in our backpacking trip through Vietnam was Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon). A city of 7 million people and nearly as many motorcycles and scooters (or so it seemed). The traffic was impossible to avoid, with almost every street choked with vehicles and the noise of engines creating a constant hum. We spent a few days in HCMC, including New Year’s Eve, and used the city as a base to explore the Mekong Delta and the Cu Chi Tunnels.
Ho Chi Minh City has more in common with Hong Kong than Hanoi. With a mix of modern skyscrapers, colonial French architecture, and Western-style shopping malls, it was impossible to tell you were in a Communist country.
A lot of the interesting things to do in HCMC center around the Vietnam War (or the American War as it is known in Vietnam). We took a day trip to see the Cu Chi Tunnels and spent a few hours touring the War Remnants Museum. Both were excellent.
The tour through the Cu Chi Tunnels certainly had a theme park edge to it (especially the shooting range where you can pay to shoot AK47s), but it was still amazing to see the tunnel systems that the Vietnamese created and lived in during the war. I definitely felt claustrophobic crawling through the tunnels, even though they’ve been widened and lit for tourists.
The War Remnants Museum features a series of exhibits, mostly showcasing the atrocities committed against the Vietnamese people during the war with the Americans. It is interesting to see the war from an alternate perspective. It’s a sobering experience, and some of the the images are disturbing, especially the ones dealing with the effects of Agent Orange and napalm.
The other interesting tourist site is the Reunification Palace, the former home of the South Vietnamese government which has been preserved in its original state from the day that North Vietnamese tanks came crashing through the gates to end the war in 1975.
We spent New Year’s Eve in Ho Chi Minh City. We didn’t know if there would be a big celebration, as the Vietnamese calendar is the same as the Chinese one and the start of the year (Tet) wasn’t until February. However, we were told there would be fireworks downtown. We wandered from our hotel, following the masses of people until we found a spot with a good view of the skyline where everyone seemed to be sitting around and waiting. When midnight struck, nothing happened and the crowds around us didn’t seem to care. They were just hanging out, and in retrospect it might have been just a normal Saturday night for them. We could hear fireworks in the distance, and see the reflections on the buildings. We tried to get closer, but we were several blocks away and the streets were crowded with people.