The Hidden Charm of Saigon!

On our recent short holiday,?we had the pleasure to visit Vietnam,?where the colours are more vibrant, where the landscapes are more beautiful, where the beaches are more sunny,? where the history? is more gripping,? where the cuisines are more delightful and? where most people live life in the fast lane.

{Welcome to Vietnam say these lovely dolls ?attired in the traditional Ao Dai (National Dress) }

Vietnam has plenty to offer to those who are travel-crazy and love adventure :-

  • From the radiant green fields and sleepy villages in MEKONG DELTA,? to white sandy beaches of? PHU QUOC ISLAND,?
  • From palaces, pagodas, temples and tombs of? HUE, to attractive landscapes of colonial villas, gardens, lakes and rolling hills of DALAT
  • From the mosaic of rice fields and bamboo groves of MAI CHA,? to the limestone islets of HALONG BAY,
  • From the city of lakes & soaring dragons HANOI,? to the mountainous terrain of SAPA,
  • From canals, bridges, pagodas & temples of HOI AN,? to the museums, gardens, river cruises and tunnels in SAIGON

Peace Memento in marble ?after the war (L); I captured? this newly wed couple posing in the garden near the church (R)

After a pre-trip research,? we went with HANOI, SAIGON, HALONG BAY and a trip across the border to CAMBODIA on our agenda;?? but then due to time constraints bound ourselves only to SAIGON;? with a determined;? ?We will come again to Vietnam? in our minds.? We went there expecting the unexpected,?? ready for an adventure and an escape from the daily humdrum of life,? and SAIGON sure delivered it to us.

Shady trees and greenery lining the roads??(L); And the Woods were lovely, dark and deep…

At the Cu Chi Tunnels..our Scottish friend in one of the tunnel openings…

Frog legs anyone ?????…vendor wearing the Non La (Conical Hat) PS. I hand carried 2 of em home

We slurped down steaming pho in street stalls,? braved head-on traffic in a cyclo,? wandered aimlessly in paddy fields,? took a midnight cruise on the Saigon river,? nearly got stuck in Cu-Chi tunnels,? got ourselves tailored suits for a song,? swam in blue waters and? lazed on sandy beaches.

Come along with me and discover the hidden charm of Saigon with this Photo-essay on Saigon,? now known as HO CHI MINH CITY,? but still popular by its maiden name of SAIGON?..

Our first encounter was with a taxi-driver asking us a half million Dongs for a ride to the city from the airport.? Made us feel rich;? till we realized that a half a million Dongs was peanuts.?? We haggled like only Indians can ;),? and happily agreed for a ride for half the cost;? only to realize later that we were ripped.?

A night scene..this City never sleeps!!!!!….the Bitexco Financial Tower in the background?

{I wondered how they could sell dry shrimp and sweets from the same corner?fishy huh ? !!}?

One of the many French imprints left behind ?The City Hall (L); Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica(R)

Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica

The Basilica was constructed between 1863 and 1880 by French colonists.? All building materials were imported from France and the outside wall of the Basilica was built with bricks from Marseille.? These bricks have retained their red colour till today. The total height of the Basilica to the top of the Cross is 60.5 m.

A view of the interior & a plaque showing ?1880? as the construction date?

Side view of the basilica (L); Manicured? gardens near the Cathedral (R)

A peep outside from one of the windows of the Cathedral?

It is said that the garden in front had a bronze statue of the Bishop of Adran leading Prince Canh, (the son of Emperor Gia Long ) by his right hand.? This statue was made in France. However it has now been removed and a Notre Dame statue made with granite in Rome was installed in 1959.

Our guide mentioned to us that during October 2005, the statue was reported to have shed tears,? i.e. tears reportedly flowed down the right cheek of the face of the statue.? The rumors were squashed by the then religious leaders.

The Opera House

The Saigon Opera House is a sheer example of yet another French Colonial architecture in Vietnam.? Built in 1897 by? a French architect, the 800 seat building was recently restored in 1995.

City Hall

Ho Chi Minh City Hall was built in 1902-1908 in a French colonial style for the then city of? Saigon.? It was renamed after 1975 as Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee. Illuminated at night, the building is not opened to the public or for tourists. A statue? of the namesake is found in a park next to the building.

The Illuminated City Hall

Reunification Palace

Reunification Palace? formerly known as Independence Palace,?? built on the site of the former Norodom Palace, is a historic landmark in Vietnam.? It was designed by architect Ngo Viet Thu as the home and workplace of the President of South Vietnam during the? Vietnam War and the site of the official handover of power during the Fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975. It was then known as Independence Palace, and was the site of the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, when a Army Tank crashed through its gates.

War Museum

The War Remnants Museum remembers one of the bloodiest conflicts in world history.? Equipment? On display are various military equipment and machines used during the war.?

There is a ‘Huey Helicopter, a F-5 Fighter, a? M48 Patton Tank and an A- attacker bomber.? In one corner is located a building which? has ‘Tiger Cages’ where prisoners were kept, a guillotine used to execute prisoners and some unsightly preserved human fetuses deformed by exposure to dioxin.

{Devon going ddddddhhhhh..dhhhhh?;}?

{You know what these are ..right ?}?



{After effects of ?Agent Orange? on the environment}?

{Tiger Cages used to keep POWs}

Shame on you America !!!!!??Innocent Victims of Phosporous Bombs (L); A guillotine?..rusty now?but menacing nevertheless (R)

Other exhibits include graphic pictures covering the after-effects of Agent Orange and other defoliant sprays used by the Americans.

It was a sobering and sad experience after seeing all those graphic images of war and people maimed and innocent children bearing the brunt of war.? At? the end of the tour, I was very disturbed and I counted my blessings once again  and? felt lucky to live in such a peaceful place in UAE.

Saigon Central Post Office

The Saigon Central Post Office is a landmark and famous tourist attraction as it was constructed between 1886 and 1891 .? Worth visiting for its? Gothic architectural style, it was designed and constructed by the famous architect Gustave Eiffel.

The interior of the Saigon Post Office is made up of 2 domes ? one large dome at the main gate and a long dome shown above.? These 2 domes keep the building well ventilated and full of sunlight, which is gladly received by the bus loads of Saigon tourist coming and going.?

Telephone booth @ the post-office. On the opposite end, there’s one booth that is exactly the same but instead of telephones, it contains ATM machines of different banks in Vietnam. Most of them have the Maestro and Cirrus capability.

{Cute little souvenirs for sale at the post office..hubby got himself 2 big stamp albums too}?

{2 Stalinist statues by the sides of the Saigon Post Office. This one the right is a celebration of the Soviet?s space congress which is why you?ll see the little ?space shuttle? by the side. The second image is a typical show of patriotism}??

{I noted that most of the work is done by women..the men are a lazy lot}?

{Vegetable & fruit carving?is it a dragon? or a chicken decide !!!}


Saigon River Cruise

We did a night cruise on a Yatch for a splendid and memorable dining and entertainment spectacle along the Saigon river.? Our tour guide accompanied us and gave us a running commentary of all the sights that passed by.

With live entertainment on deck and several traditional menus to chose from, including Fried Squid & Shrimps with Tamarind Sauce, Saut?ed ?Ox Tail? with Beef,? Steamed Elephant Ear Fish or Red Snapper Hot Pot.? You guessed right,? we chose

Red Snapper Hot Pot (above) and noodles.

The Vietnamese love singing and even our guide entertained us throughout with folklore songs and even some numbers by Elvis?.

{Vietnamese Pho ? a restaurant named Pho 2000 ? is very famous, reportedly as President Bill Clinton had a cuppa there 😉 }

Ben Thanh Market

Built in 1870 by the French, the market was initially called Les Halles Centrales before being renamed Ben Thanh in 1912.? In the morning, you can find there almost everything from dry food to clothes for a reasonable price.?? Rows and rows of shops, segregated by products?.phew.? If you want to try your luck? at bargaining, then this is must visit.? The shops close at 5.00 p.m. and then it is amazing to see that the surrounding area is transformed into a night market full of lights, glamour and food.?

(Mere jhoothey hai Vietnamese??}?

{The Spice Market}?

{I got a colourful version of this for us?}?

{Dry shrimp?they put it in everything?.}


Rex Hotel – Strategically located at the best of downtown Saigon, Rex is a luxury hotel heritage dating back to early 20th century when it was originally opened as a French garage. For over 80 years, the Rex has been as a landmark, as well as a witness of the ups and downs of the city’s history.

Beaches ? we spend a lot of our time on the beaches as they were very clean, had white sand,? crystal blue waters and there were lots of eateries around.? Had issues with my camera and thus could not have pictures;? {there is always a next time}.

Mekong Delta

A two hour trip from Ho Chi Minh City,?? Mekong Delta is a? water city with boats, houses and water markets.? Called as the ‘Rice Bowl’ of Vietnam, due the many rice paddies around.?? We explored Tortoise Island, Phoenix Island, Dragon Island and Unicorn Island and it was a unique experience.?? For Lunch we were taken to a local restaurant on the Island for traditional Vietnamese Food of rice and soup and ‘Fried Elephant Ear Fish’ and rice noodles.? We visited a fruit orchard wafting through the river canals in tiny fishing boats and sampled freshly picked local fruits.? A visit to a coconut candy factory, a lacquer workshop where beautiful articles were made from egg shells, a floating market? and? a coffee factory was also on the itinerary.

We visited a bee-farm and sampled honey, tea, candies and saw the locals performing traditional rural music.

{The grass is green and the roses are red..@ the Mekong rice fields}?

{Our transportation to the Unicorn and Phoenix Islands}?

{The bridge on the river? }?

{Dragon Island..where there were no dragons :)..}?

{From the big boat we hopped to a smaller one ?}??

{We went further down till the palm fronds brushed against our faces}?


{Row..row, row your boat @ your own risk}?

We cycled around the Islands on bicycles (L); Local entertainment? note the musical instruments in the background (R)??

Cu Chi Tunnels

The Tunnels of Cu Chi are an immense network of connecting underground tunnels located in the Cu Chi district of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).

The tunnels were used by Vietnamese as hiding spots during combat and also served as communication and supply routes and living quarters for the guerilla fighters.

A trap door on the jungle floor leads down into the Củ Chi tunnels. Closed and camouflaged, it is almost undetectable.? We took turns to crawl through the tunnels and it was a real claustrophobic experience.?? We continued to drop to lower and lower levels which became progressively more narrow.? Turning back was not possible and all we had to do was trudge along in the dark.?? I nearly had a heart-attack when somebody ahead of us screamed ‘OMG dead end’ !!!!.? We came out dripping with sweat? from head to toe.?? There were more levels to be explored;? and I would’nt even go near them at gun-point,?? I will never repeat the tunnel experience and wondered how the Vietnamese survived more than a day in these conditions in this underground rat holes.

{Not a snake-hole but one of the original the Vietnamese are small built they could easily go to and fro with ease}?

{Steps leading underground}?

{The entrance usually camouflaged ?}?

Author: Judith Serrao- UAE