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Published: August 8th 2019
Central Post Office
The stunning interior of a post office.
Our hotel room is on the 20th floor with a view over the river, but that wasn’t high enough to dilute the constant sound of horns below all through the night. In the morning, it looked very overcast outside, but it wasn’t until we got to nearer the ground that we saw just how heavily it was raining. We still went out, armed with our raincoats, but the rain stopped almost immediately as we left the hotel.
Our first stop was the Ben Thanh Market and to say that that was full-on would be putting in mildly. From the moment we walked in, “You want shoes?” “You want bags?” “You want scarves?” “You want watches?” “You want purses?” “You want t-shirts?” “I show you Gucci.” “I show you Nike.” “I show you Calvin Klein.” “Why you in here?” Good question! After a short time we had bought what we wanted and we couldn’t take it anymore, so we got the hell out of there before I ended-up screaming at someone.
There are a few things that make Ho Chi Minh City very different from Hanoi, including the roads, the traffic, the buildings, the architecture, the shops, the people, the
Ben Thanh Market
You want, you want, you want?
hotels, the green spaces and the temperature. Alright, there are a lot of things, but most significant is the attitude to things like the war, communism, the Americans and the name of this city. There is a view that it was, is and always will be Saigon.
Now, I’m extrapolating that from what evidence I have, but that evidence does seem particularly strong on the last point. This is Saigon, not Ho Chi Minh City. That name is everywhere. And Ho Chi Minh is not portrayed here as that character of virtue that he is in the north.
There seems to have been more politics on this holiday than when we went to Washington DC (see Democracy is Closed
It is also very apparent that it’s a lot richer here. As we were walking around we passed a lot of very upmarket hotels and a lot of very upmarket shops with the likes Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Rolex. They didn’t seem to appreciate it in the Rolex shop when I went in and started to haggle over the prices and didn’t accept that I had seen them much cheaper in the market.
Much of the city seems to
The architectural influences are lost of us.
be a building site. There are numerous high buildings being built, on top of the many that have already been built, as well as what looks like an underground transit railway. Many of the old French colonial buildings also seem to have scaffolding all over them, including the Notra Dame Cathedral.
One particularly impressive building is the central post office, which is impressive both inside and outside. Inside, it looks more like colonial railway station than a post office. A million miles away from those little efforts that are tucked away at the back of WH Smith shops in the UK.
There was a huge portrait of Ho Chi Minh hanging on the central wall dominating the space.
The Central Post Office also contained a lot of market stalls, which we particularly enjoyed as we could walk around them without being hassled the whole time. It was so much more civilized.
The attitude to pedestrian crossings is the same as Hanoi. A green light to pedestrians is basically just to give a confidence boost, to embolden you to go for it. It makes absolutely no difference to the traffic what so ever, but you can take
Main State Room
Not a communist committee room.
the moral high-ground as you are run down by a swarm of mopeds, cars and lories.
That said, you’re not much safer on the footpaths anyway as they are basically shortcuts for the mopeds, unless they’re completely blocked by other parked mopeds. They’ll even hoot their horns at any pedestrians who may be innocently walking along, oblivious that they are in the way.
We went to have a look around the Independence Palace. This was built in the 1960s, after the former residence of the French Governor had been blown up during one skirmish or another. It felt like the kind of palace that the communists would have built, as it was very utilitarian, functional and rather bleak. There was nothing ornate or opulent about it.
Underground was a bunker where much of the Vietnam war was coordinated and monitored from. For a bunker, it didn’t seem very far underground. It was from this building, in 1975, that the president was evacuated by helicopter from the rooftop helipad, as the North Vietnamese tanks broke through the front gates. “Liberation forces” as most of the captions seem to refer to them.
There is another Museum of Vietnamese
The Bitexco Financial Tower, featuring the Saigon Skydeck
History in Saigon, which we had not planned to visit given that we had already been to one in Hanoi (see For Once It’s Not The British Empire They Despise
). It may, however, be interesting to go there to see if there is an alternative take on that history or whether it also follows the same script as the north.
We had walked past the Saigon Skydeck earlier in the day and we booked a table at the café on the 50th floor for an evening meal (in preference to the restaurant, which seemed to specialise in western food only). It was stunning. We had a table right by the windows and a fantastic view looking back down on our hotel and over the Saigon River. The Vietnamese food was excellent as well.
Afterwards, we were able to walk down a floor to the Skydeck itself, but we were just in time as there was only five minutes left until it closed at a strangely early 9.30pm.
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