Being a city embracing both traditional and modern beauty, HCMC is an ideal destination of interest for every generation with different characters. Throughout its long history, HCMC appears to be not only a modern and dynamic city but a cultural and historical one as well. That's why i chose to go to this country for my 2nd travel photography trip to mark the end of year 2010 !!!
Hired a taxi from the airport to the hotel. I was told that taxi rates are very reasonable in HCMC, as long as you get a reputable company and the meter is used. Vinasun & Mai Linh are the largest fleets in the city and reliably honest, with meters that start automatically after the car has moved about five meters.
Blindly queuing for taxis may cost one, so better look for the taxi wardens usually standing around the queue line (Mai Linh wardens are in green shirt green tie, Vinasun warden are in dark green shirt maroon tie), and they will radio the taxi for you.
Finally reached Liberty Central Hotel located at 179 Ler Thanh Ton Street, strategically in District 1, HCMC. The hotel opened its doors just 9 months ago. I must say that it's a very good hotel, modern, clean, in a very convenient location. Good service, excellent breakfast, terrific value for money !!!
Made my way to Dong Khoi Street which is the main shopping street in the city. You'll find the famous Notre Dome Catherdral and the huge central Post Office at the other end of this street. The side streets off Dong Khoi, as well as Nguyen Hue Boulevard which runs parallel to Dong Khoi are also full of shops.
There are plenty of ways to begin shopping in HCMC but many people chose to go to District 1 for its many fine shops, particularly in Dong Khoi Street, where designer shops sit cheek-by-jowl with boutiques, galleries, antique shops and jewelry stores.
HCMC's post office (Buu Dien) is a great example of French colonial architecture, was designed by Eiffel of Paris Eiffel Tower fame in the 19th century. The beautiful Central Post Office across the road from the Notre Dame Cathedral is one of the best looking colonial public buildings in Ho Chi Minh City. The Post office, doesn't sound like a place to visit unless you want to buy some stamps, but here, in Ho Chi Minh city, it is a place worth a mention and visit in and outside.
There are some polished wood phone booths of old, beautiful !!! People can also make overseas phone calls from the PO using their credit card or by paying a certain fee in of the booths.
The post office building's front has a big clock hung over the entrance way.
The Notre Dome Cathedral is one of HCMC’s most outstanding landmarks. It is such a magnificient building located at the Paris Square in the downtown area of HCMC, attracting not only Catholics but also most tourists for its neo-Romanesque style architecture and a sacred atmosphere.
Inside the post office (Buu Dien), you'll see two historical maps, one is "Saigon and its environments" and "Telegraphic network in South Vietnam and Cambodia".
For a different souvenir to take home from the post office, i bought some stamp sets. There was a big array to choose from, ranging in reasonable prices.
HCMC is a city that churns, ferments, bubbles and fumes. The streets are a jumble of street markets, shops, pavement cafes, stands-on-wheels and vendors selling wares spread out on sidewalks. It's impossible not to be infected by its exhilarating vibe !! :-)
As the most active city in Vietnam, HCMC offers an excellent variety of clothing, ceramics, ethnic fabrics and lacquered bamboo. Once you are in HCMC, you will surely get spoilt for choice of shops.
If you are here, i can assure that you will much desire shopping in the city though it is not really a shopping heaven. Why? Because of the mass quantity, the good prices and last but not least, the hospitality of numerous Vietnamese charming female sellers at several markets such as The Ben Thanh Market & Cholon (Big Market, or also known as Chinatown) !!
What does Cholon mean? It's actually China Town inside Ho Chi Minh City. It is the name of the Chinese district (District 5) in Ho Chi Minh City (or Saigon), the largest Chinatown district in Vietnam. It comprises several markets, in which Binh Tay Market is the central one. Today, Cholon has become part and parcel of every itinerary to this significant city !!!
In the day, Cholon is bustling with buyers and sellers trading goods. Binh Tay Market, one of the most important markets of Ho Chi Minh City, is located inside Cholon. It can be said that nothing is not sold here. Tourists getting around this famous market town mostly can find here anything they may think in mind !!!
Majority of tourists to Cholon is lured by this vast goods-covering market town, one must pop by at this Saigon-Cholon to explore !!
No one ever shopping here can deny that the range of merchandise in HCMC is truly interesting !! And yes, bargaining is considered the most common way too buy things in HCMC. Some often relish bargaining, others hate it. Yet, it is not that much complicated if you think of it as a a harmonious Yin-Yang balance. You want the item and the seller wants your money. Yin-Yang! The maximum price you are willing to pay is the value of your desire for the item. The minimum price the vendor is willing to accept is the value of their desire for your money.
Bargaining is simply a search for the Yin-Yang balance between your desire and the seller's. Frankly speaking, any item without a price tag can be bargained down to two thirds of its initially quoted price. However, should the items have price labels, there is almost no bargaining.
Sitting in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City is the Hotel Majestic which overlooks the Saigon River. This boutique hotel is one of the city’s renowned landmark. Room rates are definitely expensive, especially during the X'mas festive season, therefore i did not opt to stay at this hotel, though it was one of my shortlisted accomodation venues.
This multi-floor Diamond Plaza, in District 1, is where you can find cosmetics, leather goods, ornaments, footwear, fine wooden artworks, clothing by Vietnamese designers and interior decoration materials.
Billed as the "Entertainment Capital for Tourists" Allez Boo has been a favourite hang out for travellers and tourists since it first opened in 1997. With its tropical, bamboo and thatch decor, open and airy atmosphere and friendly welcome, Allez Bo, this little corner eatery is certainly one of the busiest and most popular bars & restaurants in the Pham Ngu Lao / De Tham backpacker area, patronised by tourists and expatriates alike.
Allez Boo serves affordable one-plate meals and a good selection of Vietnamese and faux-Western in an open-air corner bar. With a wide range of beers, shakes, spirits and cocktails, the bar is also a great place to kick back, relax and watch the world go by !!! :-)
The Ben Thanh Tourist market is the main shopping area in Ho Chi Minh City. Here hundreds of stalls sell a wide array of goods from souvenir shirts to fine silk to cashew nuts. Housed in a massive space and it will take shoppers hours upon hours looking and buying bargains. Primarily because of competition from nearby stalls, it is quite common sight to see shopkeepers chasing and trying to convince customers who might not find prices cheap enough. Some even resort to holding on to the hand or arm of customers. Usually shopkeepers give discounts if you buy a large quantity of goods.
I snapped quite a lot of B&W street photographs of HCMC, enjoy viewing them !! :-)
Managed to find the Hard Rock Cafe in HCMC ! Hard Rock Cafe HCMC is located at 39 Le Duan Avenue, District 1 in the Kumho Asiana Plaza, a new upscale complex for shopping and entertainment. This cafe is less populated and is less frequently visited by the tourists as well as the locals. If you are into western music then this is the place to be. At the Hard Rock Cafe, a music in bar you would get to hear the most popular songs western songs of renowned artists.
It is worthwhile to mention here that the Hard Rock Cafe HCMC needs to raise its standards to compete with the other music in bars, dicotheques and nightclubs of this city. The cost of the drinks offered by this music in bar is within one's budget.
In the cities of Vietnam, the Highlands name graces a chain of modern coffee houses that still maintain the essence of Vietnam's unique coffee culture. This rich Vietnamese style iced coffee treat on a hot day, or the post brandial espresso-based latte at the end of a meal are accomodated in this range along with every style from East or West.
Saigon Centre is located on the corner of Pasteur and Le Loi streets. This modern office building also has three floors of shops in its base. The ground floor has 3 cafes and a golf shop. The second floor is largely devoted to children's items and a supermarket, while the third floor is mostly home furnishings. Most of the shops sell goods imported from Thailand (the Thai government trade mission is housed in the offices upstairs).
Happened to pass by this TIME restaurant at 47 Nguyen Hue Douc, walking distance near the Sheraton in downtown HCMC. The place is long and narrow, like so many establishments here where street frontage is optimum real estate. The place is clean and western-looking with decor in black, white and red. The menu is Vietnamese and the fried seafood rice is to die for. The fish in tamarind sauce is also very good. So are the shrimp dishes. It is well worth a visit and there is a full bar in the rear of the restauraurant.
Pho 24 restaurant serves hearty, delicious traditional beef noodle soup or 'pho' in a smart, clean location - one of a chain expanding fast across the city and country. It's very popular for visitors who want to try the traditional Vietnamese dish but are reluctant to eat at one of the street stalls. It's also popular with the Vietnamese, therefore this is a good recommendation for tourists who want to try out authentic Vietnamese food.
Signed up for a one-day trip (paid USD 8) to the famous Cao Dai Temple in Tay Ninh province and the Cu Chi Tunnels. An air-conditioned bus picked up the passengers from the hotel lobby at 7.45am (very early!!, i had my breakfast at around 7am, i woke up at 6plus on my 3rd day of my holiday!!). There was actually a half-day trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels only but i opted for the one-day trip which included an exploration at The Cao Dai Temple.
It was quite a long insightful bus journey to these places. It took about 3 hours to get out of the city area to the temple first. Along the way, i saw very greenery rice-paddy fields, water buffaloes, rice paper for making spring rolls & we can even get to say "Hello" to the locals. Life at this rural side of Ho Chi Minh is even more simpler than the city area.
According to the tour guide, Tay Ninh is a province in the southeartern part of Vietnam and has an estimated population of 980,000. Tay Ninh is home to Cao Dai religion.
Upon arrival at the Cao Dai temple, i was very impressed by its exterior & interior design. The temple resembles a Christian cathedral in its architecture - two square towers, a long central nave with upper gallery and side aisles. The tour guide explained that Cao Dai is actually a syncretist Vietnamese religious movement that incorporates aspect of Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism and even Catholicism.
The three principal colours of Cao Dai are yellow (for Buddhism), blue (for Taoism) and red (for Christianity) & these appear in worshippers' robes as well as the temple. I saw hundreds of the Cao Dai community sang beautiful hymns in solemn ceremony, wearing these coloured robes. I took a pic of that (see way below).
There are 4 ceremonies with chanting everyday: 6am, 12noon, 6pm and midnight. An orchestra of 10 musicians and a choir of 20 youths lead the service in prayer and hymns. The hymns sound western but the accompanying music is traditional Vietnamese.
Most worshippers are lay followers, who wear pure white robes. Men with the rank of priest and higher have brightly colored robes reflecting their spiritual allegiance: yellow (symbolizing Buddhism & virtue), blue (Taoism & pacifism) or red (Confucianism & authority).
On the way to the Cu Chi Tunnels, the tour guide explained to us through a documentary film in the bus, showing how in the course of 20 years the people dug nearly 200km of tunnels !!
The Cu Chi Tunnel is a huge network of underground tunnels in the Cu Chi district, and part of a larger tunnel network underlying much of Vietnam. It became legendary in the war for facilitating the local guerrillas to win over the American troops.
If you are historians, or simply history-desirers and would like to figure out how hard and heart-breaking the Vietnamese people lived and won over the past war, you should come here and try a real supposed day of the Viet tough life in the underground shelter of Cu Chi by yourself.
For such a meaningful historical value, the tunnel is now absorptive to hundreds of thousands of tourists, particularly foreign ones, to come and explore the heroic and harsh period of the Vietnamese guerillas. An activity approved by the majority of tourists is crawling 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 and booby traps have been clearly marked.
If you are fond of adventure and secret-exploration, this would be of great captivation to you! More importantly, touring Cu Chi, you would learn more about the war and the resilience of the Vietnamese. Hence, just come and explore a hard but heroic and resilient Vietnam on your own, you will surely never regret !!!
A freelance Singapore-based travel photographer / photojournalist. I seek the extraordinary, but finds beauty in the everyday. Life is interesting, capture it.
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