Chaotic motor scooters, old wizened women with baskets on yokes, high rises rubbing shoulders with eclectic colonial architecture,luxe shops and bustling local markets and ubiquitous street food, Ho Chi Minh city in Vietnam or Saigon as it was called, is a frenetic city with an infectious energy.
We first visited District One which has most of the main attractions. Here is the Neo classical Municipal theatre and the Caravelle and the Continental hotels. The Continental Hotel was the haunt of writer Somerset Maugham and the setting of Graham Greene’s novel.
The Notre Dame Cathedral standing in the heart of the government quarter on Dong Khoi, with a large square in front is dominated by a statue of the Virgin Mary. It is a piece of colonial France with bricks from Marseilles and glass from Chartres!
I loved the General Post Office close by built by none other than Gustave Eiffel. This has an old world ambience with a glass canopy, vaulted ceiling, vintage maps and old-fashioned telephone booths. Send a postcard by snail mail from here to your loved ones!
For a dose of local culture we watched a traditional water puppet show at the Golden Dragon Theatre. The water puppet show dates back to the 11th century and had its beginnings in the delta of the Red River where flooded paddy fields became stages. The stage is set on murky water and the puppeteers are behind a bamboo screen manipulating a complex system of strings and bamboo poles. The shows retell local folk tales whose storylines and humour are universal.
We visited a lacquer factory to see patient workmen using crushed duck’s egg shells and mother of pearl inlay to create masterpieces.
For a glimpse in to the city’s troubles past we went to the Re-unification palace, a 60’s style building which used to be the residence of the South Vietnamese President. This was where the communist tanks stormed the gates victoriously during 1975. There are boat shaped tables, carpets with dragons, regal staircases, receiving rooms with red chairs and heavy drapes.
|Local Transport- cyclos outside the market.|
For our dose of retail therapy we headed to the chaotic BenThanh market which sells cheap material, glitzy ao dais, baskets and crafted bags, even roasted coffee beans. Bargaining is de rigueur here and a great place to pick up laquerware, snake wine, silk and silver jewellery.
Loved this set of Vietnamese musicians in soapstone that I bought! Reminds me of this atmospheric city whenever I look at it....