Saigon – Ho Chi Minh City

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Allambie Orphanage is based In Ho Chi Minh City.

Ho Chi Minh City was renamed immediately after the communist from North Vietnam takeover South Vietnam in 1975, but is still often referred to and known as Saigon. Ho Chi Minh City is the largest city in Vietnam by population. Ho Chi Minh City is located in the southeastern region of Vietnam, 1,760 km south of Hanoi

Ho Chi Minh City is a metropolis on the move – and we’re not just talking about the thousands of motorbikes that fill the streets. Saigon, as it’s known to all but city officials, is at its most dizzying a high-octane city of commerce, romance and culture that has driven the whole country forward with its limitless energy. It is a city that takes your breath away and has so much life and vitality visitors cannot help but be swept along on a journey that they will always remember.

Saigon has a population of over 9 millions people; on many streets, it is common to see houses with the ground floor converted into a business front while several families share living areas on the upper levels. You will walk through timeless alleys to ancient pagodas or teeming markets, past ramshackle wooden shops selling silk, spices and baskets, humble street stalls and food sellers selling anything from grasshoppers to coconut candy to hot bowl of noodle soup. And then before you know it you have turned on to a street corner were you are fast-forwarded into the future where sleek skyscrapers, designer malls, gourmet restaurants and minimalist bars greet you. The ghosts of the past wars and governments live on in the churches, temples, former GI hotels and government buildings that one generation ago witnessed a city in turmoil, but the real beauty of Saigon’s urban collage is that these two worlds blend so seamlessly into one.

Getting around Saigon

The best way to get round Saigon and see all its hidden treasures is by motorbike. In Saigon they have Motorbike Taxi (Honda ôm). These are motorcycles that you just wave down and jump on the back to be transported anywhere in the town most of these motorbike men do speak Basic English. If you want to get to your destination a little bit faster and cheaper then this is the way to go. However some of these motorbike taxi drivers do drive like Kamikaze pilots, weaving in and out of traffic, blasting their horn at anything and everything that moves and ignoring intersection lights and one way signs. So if you’re brave enough then the motorbike is the most enjoyable way to see Saigon.

You can of course flag down a car taxi and jump in and be driven slowly and comfortable with aircon to your destination. A few years ago the mode of transportation was just the ubiquitous “cyclos” Sadly these are becoming rare since they have been banned from many streets, a cyclo is a kind of a three-wheeled peddled vehicle with a large seat in the front for the paying passenger. Though with the passenger seated up front, this does mean that you see the traffic head on which can be very scary and exciting all at the same time.

Weather in Saigon.

Saigon has two seasons, the wet and the dry season. The wet season usually starts in May and ends in November. The dry season is from December to April. The months between November and February are generally the most comfortable for travelling these months the temperature is still a bit cooler, but you don’t get the rains associated with the wet season. If you do travel in the rainy season make you pack a good water proof coat as when it rains it pours down heavy like a miniature waterfall and will soak you right through.

 

Vietnamese Food

Vietnamese cuisine must be on one of the healthiest cuisines in the world. The main dish is rice, fresh vegetables and herbs, the average Vietnamese meal consists of a bowl of rice combined with a serving of meat, a side dish of vegetables and herbs, spring rolls and a small bowl of soup.

If you are fond of soups, Vietnam also has a number of exquisite soup meals the most famous is Pho, a beef noodle soup with a rich clear broth.

Banh Mi

This baguette sandwich filled with greens and a choice of fillings, including pate and freshly made omelets, is so good it’s been imitated around the world.

Places to visit

There is so much to see and do Saigon that no matter how long your stay it will never be long enough, but there a few place that you must see and Ben Thanh Market is one of them.

Ben Thanh Market is a hugely vibrant and colourful market and is situated in District 1. Ben Thanh Market is always filled with the sounds loud voices as people bargain and negotiate.

The best thing about Ben Thanh Market is that most of the sellers can communicate in English to some degree, and even if they can’t there is always the calculator to help smooth over any language difficulties.

Ben Thanh Market does have an excellent range of brand name clothing, shoes, handbags and jewellery and of course fake everything. The fun of the market is to barter with the stallholder and never accept their first offer. When the doors of Ben Thanh Market close at about six in the evening, the night market starts up outside.

Spilling over into the neighbouring streets, the night market is just as vibrant as the inside market, filled with clothes and shoe stalls and a dozen or so semi permanent restaurants.

It is a colourful location where you can rest in the cool evening air and try some Vietnamese food and unwind after a long hard day’s shopping or sightseeing. It is also a brilliant place to people watch and socialise.

Cu Chi Tunnels.

The 75-mile (121 km)-long complex of tunnels at Củ Chi has been preserved by the government of Vietnam, and turned into a war memorial park. The tunnels are a popular attraction, and visitors are invited to crawl around in the safer parts of the tunnel system. Some tunnels have been made larger to accommodate the larger size of western tourists, while low-power lights have been installed in several of them to make traveling through them easier. Visitors may also sample a typical simple meal the Vietnamese fighters would have eaten. Visitors can examine the display of lethal booby traps, or if you have always wondered what it would be like to fire a military style machine gun, you can fire a range of weapons at the gun range.

 

Other places to visit and see

Reunification Palace

Municipal Theatre –  also known as the Opera House,

City Post Office

State Bank Office

City People’s Court

Notre-Dame Cathedral

Today, the city’s is still adorned with wide elegant boulevards and historic French colonial buildings. There are also Some of the historic hotels are the Hotel Majestic, dating from the French colonial era, and the


and Caravelle hotels are former hangouts for American officers and war correspondents in the Vietnam from 1960s & ’70s.

Mui Ne

Is a hidden gem in Vietnam; this is because with its beautiful peaceful beaches, lack of traffic and beautiful sand dunes, Mui Ne provides the wary traveller with peace and quiet, and a place where you can get away from the hustle and bustle of crowded inner city life just by travelling 3 hours in a car.

Áo Dài

The Áo Dài is Vietnamese national dress and most people would agree that it is one of the most beautiful national dresses in the world.
The Áo Dài basically consists of a full-length dress worn over loose fitting trousers. The dress is tight fitting around the chest and is split down the sides from the waist down, creating a front and a back panel. This simple shape and flowing design gives the whole outfit a very slim graceful look. And while this basic shape is fairly standard, the Áo Dài allows for a lot of personal individual variation in the finishing of the final garment and in the pattern of the material. There are many Ao Dai shops where you can go and choose the material and design and have the whole dress made tailor-made to you shape in matter of a couple days.

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Dalat
Located in the central highlands, Dalat, with its milder climate and picturesque landscape is the perfect escape from the unforgiving heat of Saigon.
A popular honeymoon spot for Vietnamese, it retains its local charm and the sense you are in real Vietnam, not just another holiday destination.
There is so much to see and do in and around Dalat: Elephant and Datanla waterfalls, Cable car, Motorbike Tours, The Night Market, Silk factories, Coffee plantations, the breath-taking countryside, hills and windy roads, the list goes on.
There are not many bars in Dalat, which is quite refreshing in itself, but easy to find are the pool halls and street games of Chinese chess which are ongoing throughout the day and night!
dalat

 

Danang
Located approximately halfway up the eastern coast of Vietnam sits Danang.
Danang is the third most populous city in Vietnam and brings with it a variety of good beaches; however they do require a motorbike or taxi to visit as they are located outside of the city.
A popular choice for some expats tired of the Saigon heat, Danang offers numerous teaching opportunities as well as a wide choice of dining and socialising locales.
Just a short distance to historical Hoi An, Danang has proven to be both a good holiday destination and a place to base yourself permanently while choosing to take regular weekend short breaks to discover either the central highlands or coastal Vietnam.

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Hanoi
Based in the north of Vietnam the capital, Hanoi, is a wonderful city to discover.
It has many lakes, cathedrals, restaurants, the affordable beer hoi street cafes, numerous shopping opportunities and the awe-inspiring Ho Chi Minh mausoleum to entice the intrepid city bound traveller. Buying a map and hiring a motorbike or just walking is the best option to get off the beaten track in this city.
Although its reputation for not being as friendly as Saigon has deterred some from visiting Hanoi, I never found this to be true and can recommend it to anyone whether you stay in the city for a week  or use it as a stop off while venturing on to Sapa, Halong Bay or inland to Mai Chau.

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Hoi An
Historical Hoi An is situated 25km south of Danang on the eastern coast of Vietnam.
With its eclectic mix of new and old, Hoi An truly is an adventurers city. The architecture dating back many centuries serves as an ideal back-drop to the bustling markets and trading that takes place on a daily basis in this river city. From markets to riverside cafes to historical shops and museums to street food to nearby beaches, Hoi An offers everything and a little bit more to anybody willing to tread the cobble stone paths.

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Mekong Delta


A trip to the Mekong Delta is guaranteed to introduce you to the lifestyle of the real Vietnamese. It is alternative in that most life is centred on or in very close proximity to the Delta waterways themselves.
It is possible to avoid staying in the towns of My Tho or Can Tho and take the option of a home-stay in Ben Tre, which is highly recommended. You will be treated like royalty during your stay and providing you enjoy seafood, fruit and especially coconut, you will never go hungry!
Your hosts will either take you or treat you to an expedition on the waterways and you will visit local villages selling village specific products as well as visiting the floating market.
This is truly a must visit location and I am sure one you will recommend to all your friends – just don’t forget your mosquito spray!!

Mekong