Thursday, March 18, 2010

Day 1 in Ho Chi Minh City: Exploring The City Landmarks

by: Mhe-anne L. Ojeda

Since we arrived at dawn, we slept in and took our time and left at around 11 in the morning. To maximize our rather short stay in Ho Chi Minh City, we listed down the places we wanted to see based on our individual preferences and friend's recommendation. With the list on hand, we hired a taxi for 1,000,000 vnd (yes! 1 Million dong! But before you die of shock, please know that in is only P2,312.00 in Philippine Pesos or $50). This may seem expensive for locals who would rather walk (in the middle of a hot but windy day) and for those who likes to ride xe om (moto taxi), bus or take a guided tour, but to me it is all worth it. We are able to control the pace of our travel and get to see the best of Ho Chi Minh City on a comfortable, air-conditioned full-day tour.

Ho Chi Minh City is a fast paced city with a unique mix of French colonial architecture, Chinese influences, numerous temples, venerable pagodas, Soviet-style housing-blocks and historic turbulent past showcased in a number of museums that deserves a visit.

Our idea of exploring the city and it's surrounding's history and culture is as follows:

1. Chua Vinh Nghiem is said to be the tallest pagoda in the HCMC.

2. War Remnants Museum. Formerly known as the of Exhibition House of American War Crimes, the museum housed a rather disturbing display of man's cruelty during the Vietnam (American) War through gruesome photographs, a simulated "tiger cage" prison and jars of deformed fetuses blamed on Agent Orange. Outside, there are helicopters, jets, tanks, and other bits of armament.

3. Chua Duc Lam

3. Giac Lam Pagoda. Built in 1744, this is the oldest and most original of all the pagodas in the city. This pagoda also houses many beautifully carved statues of Buddha, judges, guardians from hell and the Goddess of Mercy.

4. Reunification Palace also known as Independence Palace. Formerly South Vietnam's Presidential Palace, the war ended on April 30, 1975 when tank #843 — a replica of which is now parked on the lawn outside — crashed through the gate. There is also a photo gallery and a propaganda film recounting how the South Vietnamese supporters and American imperialists succumbed to Ho Chi Minh's indomitable revolutionary forces, upon which point the South Vietnamese supporters were forgiven and everyone lived happily ever after. Entrance: 15,000 dong.

5. Museum of Ho Chi Minh City
The city museum displays artifacts from the various periods of the communist struggle in Vietnam.

6. Notre Dame Cathedral. A French-built Catholic cathedral in the city center. Free entry. edit

7. Saigon Post Office is a French- styled post office next to the Notre Dame Cathedral. Built between 1886 and 1891, ochre -colored building has a glass canopy, ceiling fans, and enormous wall maps of Saigon and its surroundings.

8. Thien Hau Pagoda. Dedicated to Lady Thien Hau, the sea goddess, who left two giant turtles to keep an eye on things in her absence. A festival is held in her honor on the 23rd day of the March(by co-incidence is my brother Allan's birthday and the reason for treating him to a travel to HCMC) lunar month. There is a gorgeous sculptures in the walls of the courtyard outside the temple. Free entrance.

9. Ho-Chi-Minh Museum The museum (in a French colonial era building) near the dock of Saigon shows the life story of the modern day father of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh. Entrance Fee: 10,000 dong.

10. Rex Hotel

11. City Town Hall

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