At some point, this settlement in the marshes of the Mekong was called Prei Nokor or village in the forest. About 2000 years later, this very village is called Ho Chi Minh City, has about 6 million inhabitants and is one of the most dynamic and up-and-coming cities in Asia. For a long time in between, the city was also known as Saigon or Sai Gon, but after the defeat of the South Vietnamese and the Americans in the Vietnam War in 1976, the city was named after North Vietnamese revolutionary and head of state Ho Chi Minh. Sai Gon is still today the name of the central district with the number 1.
Would Ho Chi Minh have dreamed that?
After almost endless suffering and bloodshed, communism finally triumphed in 1975 and liberated the south of Vietnam and above all Saigon. And today?
Shopping centers are springing up all over the place. Gucci, Armani, Chanel, Versace reside naturally in the city of Uncle Ho, as the great old man of Vietnam is still called affectionate today. The time of the uniformed dresses, the brainwashing and the reeducation camp is fortunately over. The young Vietnamese have become part of the cosmopolitan quest for the smartest clothes, the smartest scooter and the latest smartphone.
Nevertheless, it is worth reading in advance about the seemingly endless tragedy of Vietnam. The early tyranny of the Khmer empire, the long years of French occupation in times of the Indo-China war, and finally the influence of the American GIs during the Vietnam war are history. But all that can be read today from this city, all that you can feel, if you know it. And this is the only way to understand the city map with its tree-lined boulevards, the architecture with its elegance and the unmistakable French role models, the cuisine including the baguette and crepes and the colorful Las Vegas neon signs; no matter what you think about it.
And this is the only way to classify what you visit in the course of the city exploration.
With this knowledge, it is no wonder that Ho Chi Minh City has a cathedral called Notre Dame. That the main post office was built by an architect and engineer named Gustave Eiffel, who also built one or the other tower in Paris. That in the park of the Presidential Palace or today Reunification Palace tank replicas stand, which in 1975 demolished the gates and thus heralded the end of the fratricidal war. That the Thich Quang Doc Monument in the center of the city belongs to the tourist attractions most visited by the Vietnamese, because at this intersection the Vietnamese monk of the same name lit himself to demonstrate against the South Vietnamese dictatorship and thus triggered a political conflagration. Whether one then goes on a tour of the narrow Cu Chi tunnels, over which North Vietnamese partisans carried out their operations, is a matter of taste, especially in view of the comfortable abundance of impressions above the earth’s surface.
2. The people
The Vietnamese writer Viet Thanh Nguyen characterizes his compatriots in his book "The Sympathizer" as the Italians of Asia. The inhabitants of Ho Chi Minh are kind, charming, polite, sociable, mostly cheerful and obviously not vindictive. The relationship with the Americans? "What can I say. That was just how it was then and they only did what they had to ". O-sound of a young Vietnamese woman, telling with a friendly smile. Of course everyone here is fighting for its existence. The unmistakable poverty according to Western criteria, the often extremely simple wooden and sheet metal housing on river stilts or right on the shore, the unsecured social framework conditions - all living conditions that never leave anyone relaxed. But basically the atmosphere of the city is pleasant for every traveler due to the mentality of the inhabitants.
3. The Vietnamese cuisine
Before Viet Nam was more capitalistic, in the late 1980s, restaurants were completely banned because of their decadent effects. Today it is the absolute favorite activity of the Vietnamese to eat and to enjoy and with a great sense of gourmet food, if social advancement allows for it financially. But of course there is also the traditional and absolutely diverse Vietnamese cuisine, not least at the many street stalls and in the innumerable simple, small pubs. Staple food is of course rice, as a grain or as a noodle. The food is varied and always tasty, mostly spicy. The spices and herbs of Vietnam are legendary. In addition to the colonial influences, Chinese, Thai, Lao and other influences from neighboring regions can be felt. It is generally cooked and steamed rather than fried. In addition to chicken, duck, beef and pork, meat is sometimes offered as snake, dog or rat, but this happens less often in the city than in the countryside. The most traditional soup of the Vietnamese is the noodle soup Pho, which is available in the morning for breakfast and in all variations later in the day.
In addition to visiting one of the many gourmet temples, a fine dining river cruise is a very special culinary event. Submits of discreet live music, a menu is served at its best, as the ship is driving gently on the Saigon River and outside right and left on the shore sometimes the skyline of modern Saigon, sometimes the boats and shacks of the Vietnamese people pass by.
Wherever people like to eat, the markets are usually a special experience for all the senses. So also in Ho Chi Minh City. Ben Thanh Market is at the top of every sightseeing list of overseas visitors. No wonder you can see countless tourists here, who not only admire the variety of food, but also walk through the sheer unmanageable range of clothing, jewelry and endless souvenirs. The night market, which takes place in front of it in the evening, has its own special atmosphere, as it does everywhere in Asia. Much less touristy and therefore even more authentic and frequented by locals, Bin Tay Market is in Chinatown. Apparently you can enjoy the best Vietnamese coffee here in the morning at the street vendors.
5. The Opera House
Who would have expected that? After all the turmoil of war, destruction and the years of communist rule (see point 1) in Ho Chi Minh City an opera house! Built in 1897, it fully embodies the style of the colonial era and is an imposing relic of the "Belle Epoque". No matter which cultural taste you have, you should definitely plan a visit. Strolling through these historic rooms, attending a performance and feeling the history within your grasp, gives you a very special feeling of this city and its history. Today it houses the Municipal Theater Ho Chi Minh City, which features a highly varied and culturally rich program, from opera, ballet, modern dance and musicals to traditional shows.
6. Excursion to the Mekong Delta
Both in history and in the present, the Mekong Delta is inextricably linked to Ho Chi Minh City. South of the metropolis, the Mekong ramifies on an area of almost 40,000 square kilometers, before it flows into the South China Sea via inestimable side arms. People work and live in cabins that can often only be reached by boat, or even in the mangrove swamps they live directly on the boats. The Vietnamese living here and the few Khmer people have for centuries made this area the rice chamber of Vietnam, only interrupted during the Vietnam War, where fierce fighting raged here. Today, people live in close association with a large number of sometimes poisonous animals such as snakes and spiders. Pythons are often kept as pets. Before that, one is not as scared as before the ghosts of the deceased. For a visit to the Mekong, take a one-day trip by speedboat from Saigon or a 2-day trip by boat and bus. Or treat yourself to a small cruise on a colonial river steamer.
And finally two tips for activities of a special kind.
Discover Ho Chi Minh on a Vespa.
No one knows exactly how many there are. It is estimated that around 4 to 5 million mopeds and scooters are on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City. Thus, they contribute unmistakably to the face of this city. It is a very special experience to become part of this bustling community. As a passenger on an old Vespa with a stoically left Vietnamese driver you experience a sightseeing trip with completely different eyes.
Chill-out on the Saigon Skydeck.
On the 49th floor of the Bitexco Financial Tower a rooftop bar can be visited offering fantastic 360 degree views of the entire city. This view paired with chilled lounge music and a good cocktail are the best framings to let the impressions of this absolutely extraordinary city pass by.