Vietnam #4: The Streets of HCMC

Vietnam #1: It’s a Long Ass Flight to Vietnam
Vietnam #2: The Best Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City
Vietnam #3: A Lesson in History and Propaganda

Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) is a fascinating city. It is a hodge podge of new and old, decrepit and shiny. It is fast-paced and buzzing with the sound of motorbikes going every which way. I have never seen traffic like in HCMC. Traffic rules? Nope. There doesn’t appear to be any, except honk your horn and do what you want. Wait, is that a red light? None of the drivers seem to notice – or care. Crossing the street is like navigating a minefield – keep your eyes wide open and pray.

Before we settled on Vietnam, I read a bunch of negative reviews of the country from unfriendly locals  to annoying scams to overly aggressive vendors. I was so rattled by these reviews, we almost changed our plans. I’m glad we didn’t.

I enjoyed HCMC with its raw energy, cheap prices, and more than its fair share of history. Did some people try to scam us? Sure. But even when we fell for it, the prices were so cheap, it was still way cheaper than anything we would pay in the U.S. or Europe!

Yes, the vendors were aggressive, but no different from their counterparts in similarly poor countries in South East Asia and South America. If anything, the vendors (at least in South Vietnam) were pleasantly aggressive – always telling me how beautiful I was before making their hard sell. And we found most locals perfectly friendly and helpful.

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The insanity that is HCMC traffic. When the streets get too crowded, the motorbikes simply take to the sidewalks!

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Fascinating tidbit: The Vietnamese wear masks because they don’t want to get tanned. They view pale skin as a sign of beauty. I guess I have that going for me.

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Lisa made a friend. Turns out it cost us 150,000 VND when our new friend insisted we buy an extremely overpriced coconut.

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Apparently, sidewalks are not meant for people to walk on. They are meant for parking motorbikes. Silly me!

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No matter the age, two wheels are the preferred mode of transportation in Vietnam.

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A man sitting outside the War Remnants Museum

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A beautiful flower outside the War Remnants Museum

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Vietnam is covered in these amazing trees with roots that seem to go on forever. This one was on the grounds of the Reunification Palace.

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This is a standard scene in HCMC – vendors sitting on plastic stools cooking, selling, hawking, etc.

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Lunch break. Many shops and museums are closed during lunch hours while everyone goes on break.

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Nap time! I could get used to this life.

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The towering Vincom Center houses a massive shopping center filled with American brands, a supermarket, and a food court.

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The Vietnamese carry everything on their bikes – including these fishing nets.

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A family that rides together, stays together. It is completely normal to see two or three – sometimes even four – people on one motorbike, including brand new babies.

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Four people, one bike!

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HCMC’s opera house (called the Municipal Theatre of HCMC) was built in 1897 by a French architect. It is a classic example of French colonial influence on Saigon.

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Saigon’s Central Post Office was also a product of French colonialism, built between 1886-1891. Today, it is a major tourist attraction.

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Ho Chi Minh City Council caps off one end of Nguyen Hue – a wide, charming boulevard that stretches all the way to the Saigon River.

Fire drills are a fascinating HCMC phenomenon. Sure, we’ve all participated in the occasional fire drill. But in HCMC, they take their fire drills very seriously. They actually combat simulated fires, complete with hoses, water, and all the works. As we were walking down charming Nguyen Hue, we stumbled upon this very real looking fire – except there was no fire. It was just a drill.

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We made our way to the Bitexco Financial Tower, HCMC’s soaring, lotus-shaped skyscraper. At 861 feet, it is the tallest building in HCMC and third tallest in Vietnam. The observation decks offers 360 degree views of HCMC.

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Afterwards, we walked along the Saigon river.

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Our final HCMC stop was the Ben Thanh Market, a sweltering, crowded away of stalls selling everything and anything you can possible want or not want. The covered stalls allow for little circulation, and I felt like fainting after walking around in HCMC’s 90-plus degree weather all day. But if you can handle the heat – and the smells – it is an interesting place for people watching and cheap (worthless?) souvenirs.

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14 thoughts on “Vietnam #4: The Streets of HCMC

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