The heart of Vietnam: Ho Chi Minh
When it comes to the destinations and sightseeing, Ho Chi Minh City (or Saigon) can outrank any South Asian country. It is everything one can ask for, bustling once and quiet the other moment, liberated and developing at one glance but still recovering the numerous wars it had faced bravely. One glimpse of this city and one will understand why it is called the ‘Diamond of the Far East’.
Ho Chi Minh has had different phases over the years which are reflected in its architecture and people. It started as a small village called Prey Nokor which was given as dowry for the marriage of a Vietnamese princess to a Khmer prince to stop invasions. Nguyen rulers ensured the expansion of Saigon but the place was later conquered by France and Spain in 1859. The French with all their panache created building that suited there taste just adding more beauty to it. After the liberation in 1929, Ho Chi Minh became the capital of South Vietnam which was soon followed by the Vietnam War and thus came the “fall of Saigon” or as the communist Socialist Republic of Vietnam refers to it as the “Liberation of Saigon”. This blend of a sad and happy past has left Vietnam with some of the most beautiful landmarks to explore. With a touch of Chinese, American and French, Vietnam is still connected to its roots and has not lost its traits. Far from the shed of the mountains to look over, this city has grown on its own and is still going strong, inspiring every moment.
Saigon has been a tourist attraction for many years now. The exquisite beauty this place holds must have been the main reason why the French left their country and decided to reside here. But the marks they left can take you to Paris. The Notre Dame Cathedral built in the center of the city is a masterpiece representing the same. This red brick building was built between 1863 and 1880 with all the material imported from France.
Adjacent to it is the Central Post Office building which is said to be one of the oldest buildings of the town based Villedieu’s design, a famous French architect. The view of City Hall at night, another French colonial building is arresting and a popular place where people love to take photos in front of the statue of Uncle Ho, after whom the city is named.
To take you back into the core of the Vietnam and to evoke every bit of patriotism into its people, the museums work at their best. The Ho Chi Minh Museum shows the life story of the modern day father of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh and is a beautiful mix of French and Vietnamese architecture. The exterior of the building is reason enough to visit the museum that was once resided by the Uncle Ho himself, the president once who strived to build a liberal nation before he went for exile to America and Europe.
Another museum that reminds of the war savaged Vietnam is the War Remnants Museum that accurately captures the historical essence of that period and depicts the harsh reality. It shows the transitions the country has gone through over the years and the effect of war it still continues to face. The images and the display of cruelties on the civilians that tortured them during the war had brought many to tears.
Reunification Palace or Independence Palace is the place which marks the “fall of Saigon” or liberation of Vietnam when tank #843 crashed through the gates of the building, a replica of which can be seen on the gate. It also comprises of a room full of vintage furniture and equipments which is supposed to look exactly as it looked when the north took ever.
Away from the reminders of war you can always find peace in the spiritual centers of the city and take a dip in the religious sites. The Central Mosque is a building one can never fail to notice when passing by. Built in traditional Muslim fashion, the mosque is a quiet place in the bustling city perfect to read, sit and pray. Right outside the mosque, the halal food restaurants are ever ready to please your palette.
The Vietnamese temples are just as pleasing sight as the mosque. Dedicated to the sea goddess, Lady Thien Hau, Thien Hau Pagoda stands with all its glory with intricate sculptures waiting to be seen. It is a pleasure to watch it from the ceiling above to down to the floor. Built in Chinese architecture, the material itself is imported from China.
Once you enter the pagoda, it is impossible to escape the strong sweet smell of the incense from every corner. The source of this aesthetic smell is the numerous rows of spiral cones of burning incense hanging from the delicately carved ceiling. The protector of the sea voyagers, Thien Hau has three statues and walls covered with red flags with players written on them. It is believed that if the breeze rustles the paper of prayer the prayer drifts to the goddess herself.
Just a little way in the city’s old quarters, the Ben Than Market is the most ideal place to shop with the best street food and shops to provide a bit of Vietnam in each product with the lowest price. From clothes to the ceramic products, the god sculptures, food, vegetables and all sorts of products with fake brand name, you can get it all here. And with the best bargaining skill one can get it all in a desirable price.
This little tour in the city can have the best end by visiting the Cu Chi Tunnels which are about 70 km away from Ho Chi Minh City, a famous war heritage. Built during the French colonial rule by the peasant army with the plan to vanish, this extensive network of tunnel is nearly 500km which was later used during the American War. The tunnels are about 0.5 to 1 meter wide, enough for a person to walk by bending or drag oneself. The tunnels included places from hiding, meeting rooms, hospitals and sleeping quarters to save the people from the bombarding at night. Guided tours are available for tourists to go through the tunnels and have an experience of what the underground life during the American War was like.
A little mix of tradition, heritage, development and patriotism, Ho Chi Minh City is a delightful city to visit with people around who will always pass by with a smile. With beautiful building all around awaiting to tell their secret, the city is a must visit for every traveler.