I wake up on a Thursday morning in the largest city in Vietnam… Ho Chi Minh City, also known as HCMC or by its former name of Saigon. I am staying at the Mai Phai Hotel which itself is located centrally on Pham Ngu Lao Street in Ho Chi Minh, having arrived fairly exhausted last night following a 5 hour bus trip from Mui Ne. I am feeling better having had a good sleep and am ready to tackle the day. Today’s plan is to explore the city and its museums.
bound go downstairs to the reception desk to firstly arrange to stay for 2 more nights at the Mai Phai Hotel. My receipt for my two extra nights accommodation is VND$592,000. Spending Vietnamese Dong always sounds like you are spending a lot… in reality, it is about AUD$47 for the two nights including breakfast.
Speaking of which, I head down to my complimentary breakfast which is a basic affair but more than adequate to start the day. My onward plans from HCMC include a trip to the Meekong Delta so my first task after breakfast is to make a booking for an overnight trip there. I find a tour that seems ok (on paper) and I make the booking… job done. Now I can finally begin my first day exploring HCMC.
I decide that with HCMC being such a humid place, it might be a good day to economise on effort, foresaking the economics of it. What am I talking about? Hmmm, this basically means I slacked it and got a taxi the short(ish) distance from my hotel to my first stop, the Ho Chi Minh City Museum.
I really enjoyed spending some time wandering the halls of the Ho Chi Minh City Museum which is located in the lovely former Gia Long Palace.
This former palace is now filled with exhibits covering much about the history of HCMC.
Museum done…. Tick.
Next on my Ho Chi Minh City list of things to see is the Independence Palace, also known as the Reunification Palace.
I arrive at the Independence Palace at 12:30pm. Obviously I had not read my handy Rough Guides travel book carefully enough and didn’t realise the Independence Palace was closed between 11:00am and 1:00pm (Doh!). This means a 30 minute wait for it to re-open so I decide to wait in the park located conveniently across the road.
I am not seated long before I am approached by a local touting for business. Apparently he cleans and shines shoes. Not sure why he approached me as I sit there, wearing my light coloured canvass shoes (don’t laugh).
While I don’t think I am a good candidate for a “shoe shine”, perhaps not surprisingly he still seems to think it a good idea and insists he could do them… “Well ok then”. And so, there I was, one Thursday lunchtime sitting in a park in HCMC, Vietnam having my canvas shoes cleaned. There is a sentence I never thought I would say.
We chatted while he very carefully and thoroughly cleaned my canvass shoes, trying and succeeding (kind of) to not get them too wet during the cleaning process. I discovered Mr Shoe Shine (not his real name) lived outside the city with his family and we managed a virtual conversation with the use of gestures and much broken English (by him…not me). With my shoes spotlessly clean(ish) and others, also waiting for the Independence Palace to open now making their way into the Palace, it was time to say goodbye. “Thank you Mr Shoe Shine man”.
I head across the road and enter the impressive looking Independence Palace.
Courtesy of Wikitravel I can tell you the Independence Palace is a restored 5 floor time warp to the 60s left largely untouched from the day before Saigon fell to the North (construction started in 1962 and finished in 1966).
Formerly South Vietnam’s presidential palace, the war ended on April 30, 1975 when tank #843 crashed through the gate. A replica of that tank is now parked on the lawn outside. Be sure to check out the impressively kitschy recreation room, featuring a circular sofa, and the eerie basement, full of vintage 1960s phones, radios, and office equipment, supposedly left exactly as it was found when the North took over.
A very enjoyable visit here.
The next and last stop on my DIY HCMC tour involves a short walk to the War Remnants Museum.
The War Remnants Museum is a largely photographic exhibit displaying many shocking and horrific war images, attached to personal stories of Vietnamese men, women and children. A very thought provoking, sad and confronting experience, depicting the horrors of war on civilians. This is one of the most popular “attractions” in Vietnam. I would certainly recommend a visit.
I have done a lot of walking and sad to say my shoes are all dusty again.
I am exhausted and couldn’t take in any more “exhibits” so I make my way back to my hotel and an early dinner.
After dinner I decide a gander (look) at the shops wouldn’t hurt. The streets in this popular tourist area are buzzing with people. After looking at enough shops with enough souvenirs to sink a ship, I find a spot to have a last local coffee before heading back to my reasonably priced room.
Upon reaching my room, I discover, in addition to its daily clean, I have been left a Moon Cake with a note saying
“Moon Cake for you enjoy festival of Mid-Autumn”.
What nice people! Finally, time for bed and, with a smile still etched on my tired face, I fall asleep. ☺[showmyads]
For previous Vietnam series post see Mui Ne to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam – from beautiful beach to bustling city
For next Vietnam series post see Ho Chi Minh City for a pedicure/manicure/massage and the Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre