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Ho Chi Minh City was known as Saigon until its fall/liberation (depending on your point of view) in April 1975 following the American war. The city centre - District 1 - is still unofficially called Saigon by the locals. Vietnam was as closed to the West as North Korea is today from 1975 until the mid 80s when non-American Western investment was readmitted, and American firms were allowed back into the country in 1995. Ho Chi Minh City, named for Uncle Ho, is the largest city in Vietnam with over 6 million inhabitants, but the capital city is Hanoi in the North.

My parents moved to Vietnam in early 2005, having sold up in Aberdeen. I visit around twice a year, and spend a very Vietnamese Christmas out there too. It is hot all year round in HCMC, and although officially there is a rainy season and a dry season, it's more like a rainy season and a "not so rainy" season. Living expenses are very cheap in Vietnam, you can go to a "Bia Hoi" (meaning: fresh beer) and pick up a litre of beer and a plate of prawns for 50 pence or less. Suits me!


City view

The view from the top of a block of flats in District 3, HCMC, looking towards District 1 across the Reunification Palace park.


The infrastructure in HCMC is in need of a spot of redevelopment, but fortunately at the moment most people use bikes, scooters or mopeds, keeping the traffic to a still-moving river as opposed to an all-out gridlock. As will be the case when they all get cars.

Busy busy

Town hall

The colonial French city hall, one of very few colonial buildings left in HCMC. Although Vietnam was part of French Indochina as recently as 50 years ago, there is very little French influence remaining.


Reunification Palace in the centre of HCMC was where the government of South Vietnam handed over power to the North in 1975, after the tanks crashed through the gates and drove up the lawn. The palace was built in the 60s following the destruction of the original French building. You can take a tour for about a pound.

Palace

Inside the palace

One of the halls inside the Reunification Palace, with the Vietnamese star and the ubiquitous image of Uncle Ho.


They still keep a helicopter nicked from the Americans on the roof of the palace, just in case. The red circle marks where the palace roof was bombed by a lone pilot in the run up to liberation.

Drop bomb here

Ho Chi Minh

An arty shot of the statue of Ho Chi Minh and a girl outside the city hall, with the national flag in the background. Ho Chi Minh died in 1969, at the height of the American war.


Modern Vietnamese girls walk past a billboard to Ho Chi Minh and the socialist cause. Note also the images of Lenin and Marx, repeated widely across the country along with the Soviet hammer and sickle.

Sign

Saigon River

The centre of HCMC sits on one side of the Saigon river only, the other side contains advertising and a lot of swamp land, soon to be developed into another city district. This amount of barely-used land right next to the centre of a city this size presents an unusual development opportunity.


Any museum worth its salt in Vietnam will have captured or abandoned American military hardware as an outside exhibit, and the Ho Chi Minh City Museum is no different. This is the Bell Huey helicopter type you see in any Vietnam movie, and an F5 jet.

Weapons of war

Persuasive politics

An exhibit inside the city museum. Revolutionaries didn't give you much choice...


The colonial opera house and the matching arch of the extension to the Caravelle hotel. The Caravelle was where the British and American journalists stayed during the time of the liberation/fall of Saigon.

Opera and Caravelle

Gardening

Gardeners in pointy Vietnamese hats tend to the topiary at the city zoo. They have real animals as well as hedge ones, you know.


Feeding time at the city zoo didn't leave much to the imagination - instead of getting a nice side of beef or bowl of milk, these tigers were lucky enough to have live bunny rabbits thrown through the bars by the zookeepers. Not for the faint of heart, or for people who have a pet called Flopsy.

Run rabbit, run!

Old and new

The cathedral in HCMC was built by the French in 1880s, and still stands today in the shadow of modern offices. My company's Vietnamese office is in the Diamond Plaza shown here.


The Saigon Trade Center is the tallest building in the city and has two restaurants at the top, one where you can buy western burgers and chips for western prices, and another where you can get Vietnamese fare for one-tenth the price.

Trade centre

Backpacker district

The slightly-scruffy backpackers district is where many of the cheap hostels are located, and you can pick up a tour here to Cu Chi or the Mekong for buttons.


A typical Bia Hoi, where a two-tonne tank of beer is freshly brewed daily and a bar-hand's full time job is to sit there and pull pints. Good beer, excellent price, just what's needed in the Vietnamese heat and humidity! Note the tired-looking tourist on the left.

Bia Hoi

Eiffel tower

Student squalor dream...an Eiffel Tower made entirely from empty cans of Tiger beer! <hic>


This Western shop near to the BP compound could have done with a bit more planning when it came to laying the foundations...it's built on a swamp after all.

Wonky

Street scene

Most of HCMC looks something like this; densely packed buildings, traffic and people. This is a road somewhere in the north of the city towards Tan Son Nhat (airport), in the furniture district.


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Copyright © Ross Wattie 2006