Ho Chi Minh – Paris of Asia

Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon is populated by more than 10 million people making it Vietnam’s largest and most chaotic city.

Hard to believe what started as a small fishing village is today the heart of Vietnam’s dynamic and booming economy. Located on the Saigon River, constant streams of cargo ships and passenger boats run between HCMC, Southern Vietnam and Cambodia making it a busy commercial and passenger port. Traffic between the port and Mekong Delta carries some 13 million tons of cargo onboard 100,000 waterway vessels every year.

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Famous for the pivotal role it played in the Vietnam War, it’s also known for its historic French colonial landmarks. Known as “Paris of Asia” with its wide, elegant boulevards lined with tall evergreen trees, HCMC brings more tourists to the area than Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi. You can easily walk around HCMC visiting the Reunification Palace, City Hall, the Opera House, City Post Office and Notre-Dame Cathedral. The Majestic Hotel, also from the French colonial era, along two other hotels in Ho Chi Minh, the Rex and Caravelle hotels, was where American officers and war correspondents in the 60’s and 70’s rendezvoused.

HCMC with its eclectic mix of modern skyscrapers, oriental style pagodas and food stalls forms a dynamic urban area. Back when HCMC’s level of luxury exceeded that of Hong Kong and Bangkok, it was known as the Diamond of the Far-east. HCMC’s architecture and lifestyle, in addition with its Vietnamese qualities, is a mix of American and Chinese, historical and modern and with one of the world’s highest population densities, has the craziest traffic in the world.

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With over 3.5 million motorcycles in the city causing gridlock and polluting the air, it is intimidating and scary to watch the locals cross casually where there are no crosswalks or traffic lights. The pedestrians have trust that the chaotic motorcyclists will avoid colliding with them as they move forward, making a decisive path to the other side. The hordes of motorbikes move like water in a stream around a stone. So when crossing it is best not to be erratic, keep moving steadily, no stopping, but don’t move too quickly. This allows the Vietnamese people to move around  the pedestrians. There is the constant sound of honking and beeping horns, everywhere you look there are people eating or preparing food.

Dong Khoi street is full of fashionable boutiques, coffee shops and restaurants. On the streets, down alleyways the continual aroma of coffee, fresh baked bread and sometimes not so wondrous things waft in the air. There are women wearing conical bamboo hats on the streets selling drinks and carrying bamboo poles balancing baskets of food or fruits.

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You have unlimited choices for things to do in Ho Chi Minh, so enjoy it at your own pace, from the 21st century skyscrapers, the sophisticated designer malls and the incense filled temples. At the centre of the most beautiful intersection of HCMC is the Notre Dame Cathedral, a connection between the physical and spiritual life of the people. Built by the French from materials imported by France the cathedral was built on the highest land. Also with French influence, the Opera House, built in 1897 is surrounded by new shopping malls and hotels. Another French inspired building, the city’s striking Post Office, right across from Notre Dame was built in 1886.

The former Presidential Palace is now the Reunification Palace and thousands of tourists photograph the palace from the front gate. Cho Lon, HCMC’s Chinatown is the oldest, most mysterious part of the city. You could easily spend a whole day here, starting at Binh Tay Market where you can find a bargain lacquerware items like a boxes, trays or vases. The other market not to miss is Ben Thanh Market, a cluttered pocket of stalls where you will find everything imaginable. Wandering along the tiny, packed stalls gives a great insight into modern Vietnamese life. Outside the building flowers, produce and meat is sold.

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A generation ago the city was in turmoil, today it’s a seamless blend of worlds. Not impeccably tidy like Singapore, or ubiquitous of the urban slums of India, but a unique discovery of commerce and culture.

Is Ho Chi Minh on your radar? How do you think you’d handle crossing the roads?

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21 Responses

  1. Photographs were awesome i really loved it
    we planned to visit this by this month
    Thanks for the information given…i ll reply back once im on my visit

  2. I would be PETRIFIED to cross the street in HCMC. My friend was telling me that she took so long trying to gather the courage to step off the sidewalk that a little old Vietnamese woman took pity on her, grabbed her hand, and led her across. The Chinese temples and the market stalls remind me a lot of Penang. That one skyscraper on the far right of your city skyline shot is very interesting architecturally.
    Michele {Malaysian Meanders} recently posted…Tibetan Monks Debate at Sera MonasteryMy Profile

  3. Always thought Hanoi was the Paris of Asia. Do like Vietnam and it’s diversity. Really need to get back there in 2017

  4. Frank says:

    Jeez. I hope you were on the sidewalk when you took that photo of the mopeds barreling towards you 🙂

    We’ve never been to Vietnam but it’s on the list.

    Frank (bbqboy)
    Frank recently posted…A Daytrip to Nikko (Japan)My Profile

  5. eileen g says:

    we skipped HCM city when we were there. Hanoi was crazy enough! Still, if you can survive crossing the street I’m sure there are plenty of worthwhile things to see and eat.

  6. All those mopeds, scooters, and motorcycles! Crossing the street in HCMC was definitely a challenge in trust. Great article Lyn! #wkendtravelinspiration
    Jim ~ ReflectionsEnroute recently posted…Family Christmas Traditions You Can Take On Vacation With YouMy Profile

  7. Looks very nice! Vietnam is on my list 🙂
    beatravelling recently posted…Best New Discovery: Dessert CafeMy Profile

  8. David says:

    You’re not wrong, there’s plenty to do in HCMC. I quite liked the view from the Bitexco Tower there. Even though I had been in Vietnam several weeks, the traffic in HCMC did give my pause, it’s definitely next level crazy. Would like to go back and get a chance to see even more. Your photos are really great, nice one! #wkendtravelinspiration
    David recently posted…Comment on Exploring Austria’s Wachau Valley by Sam H TravelsMy Profile

  9. I’m just back from Vietnam but didn’t go to HCMC, we stayed in the north and centre as time was limited. The last time I was there was 20 years ago when it didn’t have any high rise towers and Dong Khoi street was full of art galleries and souvenir stalls. Your photos of the old French buildings and markets are lovely and surprisingly crowd free, I’m impressed! #citytripping
    Phoebe | Lou Messugo recently posted…Hoi An: the very best of Vietnam?My Profile

  10. I have been to HCMC and made it across the roads – just! I loved the city – it is so vibrant, colourful and I found the history fascinating. This post brought a few memories back. Thanks for sharing. #citytrippong

  11. Point on:) I love this city…. next time I am going, I am tagging along my Vietamse friends:)

  12. Some lovely photos of the city. We spent 3 night in HCMC a couple of years ago and really enjoyed it. It does have some nice French colonial architecture although is pretty hard to compare much else of the city with Paris,. We stayed in an apartment and got woke up early each morning by the neighbors chickens 😉 But I really enjoyed the old hotels, many of which have rooftop bars that we enjoyed. We were in Vietnam for a while so got used to the traffic somewhat, you just sort of have to step out and keep moving forward; we found that this miraculously seemed to work! Would love to return to Vietnam!
    Jessica @ Independent Travel Cats recently posted…A Guide to Attending the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in New MexicoMy Profile

  13. I really want to go to Ho Chi Minh city so great to see your photos and read your post! Vietnam has been on my bucket list for a while and we had to cancel a planned trip there. The traffic situation does terrify me…especially with young children but it seems like they have their own system going on! Thanks for linking #citytripping

  14. Such gorgeous photos – and I’ve always heard how busy the city is, but those shots just bring to life quite how mad the traffic is. It amazes me anyone gets across the road at all! Having said that, Vietman is high on my bucket list… #citytripping
    Cathy (MummyTravels) recently posted…Five things to do in Bandung with kidsMy Profile

  15. Alex says:

    Woah – that traffic is mental!!! Well, it wasn’t on the radar but it certainly is now, it sounds amazing! And I bet the food selection is to die for. Sold. #citytripping
    Alex recently posted…Neighbourhoods Of Venice – The Best One For You?My Profile

  16. Ahila says:

    The motorbikes are crazy in HCM city. I haven’t seen so many bikes rushing at each other at traffic lights anywhere else. During my brief visit to the city, I spent most of my time on Dong Khoi street, where the traffic is more decent, so thankfully didn’t have as many encounters of crossing the streets.
    Ahila recently posted…Special Six: Memories of DelhiMy Profile

  17. Lydia C. Lee says:

    I liked Ho Chi Minh – we had a lot of fun there. A lot of the funky restauarants and bars are hidden away (look up is my tip!!)

  18. Lolo says:

    Wow Ho Chi Minh looks pretty but all those mopeds look absolutely crazy!! #CityTripping
    Lolo recently posted…Cochem & the Reichsburg CastleMy Profile

  19. We are hoping to visit Vietnam next year on our way to Australia (we are moving to Brisbane) – loved this post and the photographs give a real taste of what we can expect. Will pin it for future reference. Thanks #citytripping

  20. I like the comparison with Paris, it does sound rather glamorous and makes me want to visit for the amount of restaurants and attractions
    Suze – Luxury Columnist recently posted…The Baglioni Hotel Luna – A Charming Stay at Venice’s Oldest HotelMy Profile

  1. December 23, 2016

    […] this bustling metropolis is a major trade centre. The scenery driving along the Saigon River into Ho Chi Minh City is a landscape of small village, rice fields and oil and rubber trees. There are many historic […]

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