Ho Chi Minh City – The Metropolis in the South of Vietnam

Our visit

We visited Ho Chi Minh in January 2020 for a week. In addition to a very nice trip to the Mekong Delta, we spent most of our time during our stay crisscrossing the city, seeing many of the sights and getting our first glimpse of life in the metropolis of millions.

In the first part of this post you will find a summary of the history of the city, based on which we would like to look at some attractions of Ho Chi Minh City with you. Then we clarify a few questions of everyday life, namely where you can live well, eat and shop.  

History of Ho Chi Minh – from Prei Nokor to Saigon and today.

To understand Ho Chi Minh City today, it is important, to get to grips with the country’s history. In hardly any other country in Southeast Asia are the traces of colonization, imperialism, and the scars of the proxy wars of communism versus capitalism are as fresh as here. At the same time, Vietnam is currently undergoing a breathtakingly rapid development from an agricultural developing country to a modern industrialized nation. to a modern industrialized nation.

The Beginnings of Ho Chi Minh City

The earliest settlements in what is now the region of Ho Chi Minh City date back to the Khmer, an ethnic group that is still represented in today’s Cambodia is still represented. The kingdoms and territorial affiliation changed in the centuries several times. The actual power-political affiliation played for the fishermen in the then still very inaccessible region, however, hardly played a role in everyday life. Even the first name of the settlement Prei Nokor. meant nothing more than village in the forest. Only When the region at the beginning of the 15th century into the Empire of Angkor. was incorporated, which also produced the famous complexes of Angkor Wat the city first experienced a heyday as a transshipment port for Cambodian and later Cambodian and later international merchant ships.

The Empire Period

From the 17th century, the Vietnamese gradually conquered little by little the region. Here, it first became part of the Nguyen princely territory. At this time, the city also received the name Saigon.  

At the end of the 18th century, the Tây Sơn Rebellion occurred in Vietnam. The initial peasant uprising gradually developed into a nationwide civil war in which pretty much everyone from princes, powerless imperial dynasties, hill tribes, Chinese merchants and peasants tried to improve their position. The result was, on the one hand, the perennial Tây-Sơn imperial dynasty. On the other hand, the Prince of the Nguyen Principalities Nguyễn Phúc Ánh had to entrench himself in Saygon for several years. He later defeated the Tây-Sơn and became the founder of the Nguyễn imperial dynasty. Saigon became his administrative center in the south while the more northerly City of Hue remained the capital….

The Colonization of Saigon

The victory over the Tây-Sơn. however, was to be won by Nguyễn Phúc Ánh only with the military help of the French. This, however, simultaneously brought about the next historical chapter: the French colonial period. On February 17, 1859, the French occupied Saigon under the pretext, that Emperor Tu Duc, by now the 4th emperor of the Nguyen dynasty, was persecuting missionaries. persecuted. In 1862, the city finally became the capital of the French colony of Cochinchina, which encompassed southern Vietnam and parts of Cambodia.

Saigon was built in this period entirely remodeled along the lines of French cities. Swamps were drained, a railroad line was established, and cafés, boutiques and numerous representative houses were stomped from the ground. Money for this came from the beneficial port of the city, with which goods from the region were shipped all over the world. the world. While the colonialists literally lived like God in France, the Vietnamese population was oppressed. Especially in the 1920s and 1930s it came therefore again and again to strikes of the workers.

The Second World War and 1st Indochina War

Then, in 1941, the. Japanese captured Saigon during World War II. After the armistice in 1945, nationalist forces took over nationalist communist forces Việt-Minh took over in Vietnam. Rule. This process, which would go down in history as the August Revolution ended with the revolutionary Hồ Chí Minh proclaiming the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in Hanoi. Republic of Vietnam, of which he also became the first president.

British troops were sent to Saigon, to disarm the Japanese soldiers who remained there. However, they helped the French back to power there, who immediately reinstalled colonization. reinstalled. This resulted in the first Indochina war of the communist north of Vietnam against the colonized south of the country. The French had to surrender in 1954. Despite the capitulation, France had managed to install a well-meaning government in South Vietnam. South Vietnam. Vietnam remained divided into North and South Vietnam. Saigon became the capital of South Vietnam.

The 2nd Indochina War or Vietnam War

Instead of resulting in the end of the war. this division directly into a civil war in South Vietnam, in which the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam, also known as the Vietcong, with support from North Vietnam, fought fought against the South Vietnamese government.

As all the U.S. and some other Western powers feared that all of Southeast Asia might fall under communist rule should the North of Vietnam prevailed, they became increasingly involved as supporters of South Vietnam. The situation escalated visibly when the United States, after a skirmish North Vietnam directly after a skirmish at sea, and Russia and China became involved. and China became involved and supported North Vietnam. The situation escalated more. The fighting even spread to the neighboring states of Laos and Cambodia. expand.

After the U.S. suffered defeat after defeat in the inaccessible terrain, it negotiated a cease-fire beginning in 1973. The U.S. troops were completely withdrawn, and in exchange, North Vietnam released the U.S. prisoners of war. The last foreigners were evacuated from Saigon in a large-scale large-scale evacuation operation called Operation Frequent Wind flown out by helicopter within a few days. With invasion of Saigon by North Vietnamese troops on May 1, 1975, the Vietnam War ended.

The Reunification Palace in Ho Chi Minh City – This is where the Vietnam War ended

The Reunification of Vietnam

 On July 2, 1976, Vietnam was reunited. On that day, Saigión was also renamed Ho Chi Minh City, after the former State president renamed. However, the new capital of the country became Hanoi.

After Saigon was taken over by the North Vietnam, many people left Vietnam as boat people. Others who had cooperated with the United States often ended up in re-education camps. Accordingly the culture in Ho Chi Minh City stagnated.

Only with the liberalization of the economy at the end of the 80s, Ho Chi Minh developed into a financial and Economic center. Also many Skyscrapers characterize the image of the city today.

City Tour of Ho Chi Minh

When you walk through the streets walks, the contrast between colonial-era buildings, the architecture of the Communism of the 1970s, simple more traditional Vietnamese and modern houses such as shopping centers and skyscrapers, but at the same time at the same time you can also see many poorer neighborhoods.

The former fishing village now has a population of over 7 million. About 12 million people live in the entire metropolitan area.

One element that Ho Chi Minh City cannot be imagined without is scooter traffic.At daily rush hour, the streets are clogged with the small motorized vehicles. Partly, the drivers also swerve onto the sidewalks. As a pedestrian, you then have to pay extra attention. During the day, the scooters are crisscrossed in front of the stores and not infrequently block the sidewalks completely.

When the scooters are not blocking the sidewalk, street vendors selling Pho or Ban Mi often do. Fruit, clothing and everyday goods are also sold in temporary markets with small street stalls.

Like Vietnam as a whole, Ho Chi Minh City has a distinct garbage problem. Despite countless street sweepers, trash is often found on the streets and especially in the rivers. Unfortunately, this is a picture that is typical for Vietnam. The topic of environmental protection has not yet reached the population. Nevertheless, it seems that the city is now actively addressing the problem, so that bad pollution tends to be limited to side streets, empty lots or construction sites.

However, sidewalk cafes and impressive squares and buildings also characterize the cityscape. All in all, we certainly wouldn’t recommend Ho Chi Min City as a first stop in Asia, as the city can be a culture shock for tourists. However, if you are not afraid of the city’s downright overwhelming diversity and vibrancy, you can discover a lot on a tour.

Most of the Sights of the city, by the way, are well within walking distance. Who it becomes too strenuous, the can at any time very favorably on a grave (mobility app, cf. UBER) change.

Sights of Ho Chi Minh City

War Relics Museum: The War Relics Museum deals in deals in detail with the horrors of the Vietnam War. The very exhibition shows visitors above all the war crimes committed by the Americans and the consequences of their use of chemical weapons before before their eyes. Accordingly, the exhibition is not for the faint of heart. On the second there is childcare if you have children with you who cannot yet be expected to see the Exhibition can not yet expect.

Reunification Palace: The Reunification Palace. Is a building from the 70s that replaced the old Norodom Palace. The Norodom Palace had been the seat of numerous governments and occupations. In the 60s, a renegade South Vietnamese fighter pilot had destroyed the Norodom Palace while in an attempt to overthrow the hated government. The new building was not the seat of the South Vietnamese government, but also the place where the communist flag was the Vietnam War was officially ended with the hoisting of the communist flag.

Peoplescouncil:The Peoplescouncil is the former. City Hall of Ho Chi Minh City. The building in the colonial style dates from the year 1906. In the meantime, the People’s Committee is housed in it. On the square in front of the building is also a statue of Mr. Ho Chi Minh.

Ben Thanh Market: In the building of 1914 can be found meanwhile numerous stalls which offer mainly clothes and fabrics, but also offer souvenirs and food.

Binh Tay Market: The Bin Tay Market is not unlike the Ben Thanh Market not dissimilar. However, it is located a bit outside the center.

Old Opera House / Municipal Theater: The Ho Chi Minh Opera House. City dates back to 1900. it is a typical building of the Colonial style and holds 500 people. It was designed by the architect Eugene Ferret. At times, the building served as a meeting hall for the South Vietnamese National Assembly.

The Saigon Post Office Headquarters: The building was constructed in. 1891 completed under the direction of architect Alfred Foulhoux. Often However, it is also mistakenly attributed to Gustave Eiffel.  Mainly because of its elaborate facade the combines elements of Gothic, Renaissance and a French influence, it is considered the most beautiful post office building in Asia.

Bitexco Financial Tower: The Bitexco Financial Tower reminds strongly to the Avengers main building of the recent Marvel film adaptations. The building was completed in 2010 and was at that time with 68 stories the tallest building in Vietnam. The office building of an investment company has in the stores on the lower floors and a German dental clinic is also located there. its seat. On the upper floors there is a viewing area that can be reached by an express elevator. Express elevator can be reached.

Landmark 81: The 461-meter-tall building is currently not only the tallest building in Vietnam, but also the tallest in Southeast Asia. In the first four floors there is a public shopping center and a cinema. There is also a sky deck. In addition, there is a café and a bar on the upper floors there is a café and a bar. These can be reached via elevators on the first sock. reach.

Saigon’s Notre Dame Cathedral will be renovated

Cathedral Notre Dame of Saigon: The church, which is also bears the name Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, was opened in 1880. opened. She had to replace a smaller wooden church, which had previously been eaten by termites had been eaten. John XXII (23rd) gave it the rank of basilica in 1965. of a basilica minor.

Xa Loi Pagoda: The pagoda is the largest Buddhist Pagoda of Ho Chi Minh City. It was opened in 1958. The pagoda came in 1963 in the headlines. After a monk shortly before had publicly burned himself in Saigon Saigon to protest the oppression of Buddhists in South Vietnam, the pagoda was government troops violently stormed the pagoda on August 21. In the process numerous monks were killed. Mass arrests of monks followed throughout the country. throughout the country. Saigon was placed under military control and the free press was restricted.

Quan Am Pagoda: The 19th century pagoda is. a Chinese Buddhist pagoda. Especially its unusual architectural style, which combines Chinese, Vietnamese and Taoist elements combines makes them among Followers of the various faiths very popular.

Giac Lam Pagoda: the pagoda dates back to 1744 and is accordingly the oldest building of our small city tour. Thus, it still dates back to the time of the Nguyen principalities.

Food

Ho Chi Minh City has no shortage of cafes. Coffee in Vietnam is generally great.Iced coffee, ca phe sua da and coconut coffee in particular are all must-tries. Typically, however, cafes do not offer food in addition to hot and cold drinks.

Vietnamese cuisine includes many soups, called pho.They usually include meat or fish, vegetables and rice noodles. The meat can be anything -from pork beef and chicken to frog or snail. The Vietnamese are not squeamish about fish either. Besides mackerel and parrot fish, sharks also end up in the soup. Eaten are pretty much all body parts of the animals.

Many noodle dishes are also typical of the region. Here, too, one should not be too squeamish. Chicken feet can also be found in pasta with chicken.

In restaurants for tourists, however, one directs oneself as far as possible according to the taste of the visitors. In addition to typical Western dishes such as burgers and French fries, there is a wide selection of soups, stews, noodles and Rice dishes, whose ingredients have been adapted accordingly.

Another typical Vietnamese dish, has survived from the time of French occupation. As ban mi, there are sandwiched baguettes in restaurants and many street stalls. Typically, these are topped with sausage, cheese, egg, lettuce, tomato and cucumber.

Typical of the Mekong Delta region near Ho Chi Ming City is a air-dried sausage with sugar often sold at street stalls.

In addition, the Mekong Delta is one of the main fruit-growing areas in the country. You can get a wide variety of different fruits in countless street stalls in the streets of Ho Chi Minh.

A street stall selling Pho

Accommodations

Ho Chi Minh City is still very convenient for travelers at the moment. cheap. More than 30€ per night is not necessary even for a comfortable accommodation with pool access not estimate. A bed in hostel in the dormitory gets one already from 3€ per night.

Generally it is worth before booking an accommodation a look at Google Maps to see if there are restaurants nearby with which one could make friends with. In some areas of the city are located mainly very local restaurants, whose food is not everyone’s cup of tea. The touristy districts of Ho Chi Minh City are Ben Thanh and Pham Ngu Lao.

Shopping

There are many small stores selling clothes, souvenirs and handicrafts. Especially Ben Thanh Market and Binh Tay Market are places to go, for those who are looking for vacation souvenirs. Here you can also find many clothes that are copies of current top brands.

However, there are also numerous modern shopping centers that carry international brands as well as luxury brands. Examples would be Saigon Center, Saigon Square, Nowzone Fashion Mall, Sense Market and Lucky Plaza Shopping Center. While in the larger modern malls many expensive branded products are to be found, the smaller us older malls are partly only better markets, with many cheap clothes, many fakes and small stores in which one should absolutely also renegotiate the prices.

The Cau Mong bridge. In the background you can see the Bitexco Financial Tower

The weather and best time to visit Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City is located in the area of tropical climate. Therefore, temperatures vary little throughout the year. The maximum temperatures lie throughout the year between 31-35 degrees, the lowest temperatures are in each case about 10 ° lower. The hottest month is April, the coldest month is December. From May to early November is rainy season. Then it can also in parts of the urban area of Ho Chi Minh City to floods come.

The best time to travel to Ho Ch Minh is accordingly from. Mid-November to the end of April.

On the 24th to the 25th of January Vietnam celebrates the Chinese New Year.

Our conclusion about Ho Chi Minh City

We found Ho Chi Minh City very exciting, due to the many contrasts in the city. At the same time, despite the many tourists who visit it every year, it is not yet so touristy that it would be “easy” to to travel. Those who walk around further distances will at times despair of the traffic or of finding a restaurant that has a menu where you know what you are ordering. There are touristy neighborhoods, but also areas where it is rare to ever see a foreigner.

Whoever has the courage to make his way through the city on foot, the is rewarded with many impressions. However, it may well happen that you sometimes feel a bit overwhelmed.

The traffic in Ho Chi Minh City

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