Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Arrive and settle into the hotel.
HCMC is the starting point for this tour, but little time is allocated for sightseeing in this fascinating and historic city. If you havenít spent time here before it is worthwhile to arrive a few days early or stay a few days afterwards to explore it on your own.
|Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) is generally a low rise city with most buildings under four stories, but it is getting increasingly high rise. Because street frontage is at a premium, most buildings are pretty narrow. In the downtown area, there are still a few one-story buildings, with distinctly different architecture -- generally more human scale and decorative. They are probably some of the oldest buildings in the area.|
|The town wakes up early and the streets and sidewalks become full of activity quickly. Around parks, badminton, tai chi and stretching are popular morning activities. Along the sidewalks there are numerous venders. Popular in the morning is "Pho" (noodle soup) which students and workers grab a bowl of on their way to school and jobs..|
|A major attraction is the War Remembrance Museum. It attracts large numbers Vietnamese and foreigners alike. Besides exhibits of military hardware, it has exhibits on journalists who covered the war, information on the aftermath of the war and a peace exhibit.|
|Three of the landmark buildings in HCMC are Reunification Palace, the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Central Post Office. The Reunification Palace was the Presidential Palace prior to reunification. It is the site of a famous photo of a Vietcong tank coming through the gates at the time of the liberation of Saigon. The cathedral and post office date from the French colonial period. The late 19th century cathedral has austere gothic, neo-Romanesque architecture. If you are in the neighborhood, the Italianate post office has a very elegant interior..|
|Strolling through the city always seems to be full of good visuals: In all directions the traffic seem to flow like a water ; sometimes an impenetrable raging torrents, and then there are times and places where it is a gentle stream that you can wade across -- with caution. One of the public service billboards in town cautions against drinking and driving -- the same counsel would be prudent for drinking and walking as well.|
|All though the city is becoming increasingly motorized (and oppressive with noise and air pollution -- on top of the existing tropical heat) there are still elements of grace, simplicity and practicality interjected by bicycles and bicyclists -- but we are biased. There seems to be an infinite variety of items that can be carried and vended from a bicycle.|
|Internet cafes always seem to have a crowd. Computer games and instant messaging seem to be the favorite activities. Maybe this is because accessing any website outside of Vietnam can be tediously slow -- at peak times it took 10-20 minutes for a page to come up.|
|The fanciest buildings (right) are banks, hotels and government buildings. Though it generally isn't treated as an recreation asset, the city is on Song Sai Gon (the Saigon River). It is used for transportation and the banks are packed with water related activity.|
|On an afternoon walk we past both a wedding and the opening of a store. Around the city there are businesses with majestic facades that specialize in producing weddings.|
|It is traditional, when opening a business to hire a lion dancing troupe to scare away the bad spirits and bring good luck to the shop.|
|This is amusing because it is an amusement part with a variety of Buddhist themes.|
|While the city is huge, once you escape it and its satellite communities, which have now largely merged with one another, it is not long before you get a feel for what most of Vietnam is about. In a word, agriculture and more specifically rice.|
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