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HCMC – Saigon to everyone else

Series: Trip: Christmas 2015 - my first northern hemisphere Christmas

Vietnam was part of my growing up. The Vietnam War was on the TV news every night and on the front page of the newspaper every morning. My first political activity, as a schoolboy in my bright blue blazer, was to join in an anti-Vietnam War Moratorium march down King William Street in Adelaide. I left my Moratorium badge on and got sprung by my mother who happened to be on the same bus I caught home. (She didn’t disagree with the politics – just thought you didn’t need to protest.)

a building with many windows and a tree

Way back in 2003

The first time I visited Ho Chi Minh City – (Saigon) was way back in September 2003.

We wanted a break. I’m not sure why we chose Vietnam, other than we had friends who had visited, and we love Asia. This was about to be one of our first (the first of many) ‘flop & drop’ holidays. I can’t remember whether I read Graeme Green’s The Quiet AmericanInvalid request error occurred. and that inspired the holiday, or if it was to refresh my knowledge of the history of Vietnam after we had booked the holiday. I usually read around a future destination. (Mickaeli read Anna KareninaInvalid request error occurred. before we went to Russia – but that is a story for another time.)

We Stayed at the Hotel Majestic on the shores of the Saigon River. We had a suite of faded early 1990’s elegance, but with one of the best hotel breakfasts I’ve ever experienced, and an amazing roof deck. We flew on for a week of real flop and drop at the Evason Ana Mandara. Then it was the only international hotel in Nha Trang – which is now inundated with chain hotels.

a building with a green wall and cars parked on the side

City flop & drop

Back in our 2003 visit, my biggest memory is of going to a restaurant with an aquarium under the floor, having our waiter take us to a nightclub, drinking way too much and watching young Vietnamese have baskets of bonbons and whiskey bought for them by older men. It was a good night.

This visit was after an exhausting trip to London to experience a northern hemisphere Christmas with friends; to Cornwall to see relatives and to Tromsø to see the Northern Lights.

We stayed in a suite and really only left the comfort of our room or the pool for a daily walk. Saigon had certainly changed in the last 13 years. High rise buildings, Cartier and other designer shops, not to mention buildings with living walls.

We didn’t do night life this time, but more classic attractions:


a clock in a building

General Post Office

2 Công xã Paris Bến Nghé Quận 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

The external yellow stucco is eye catching, and the main vaulted hall, complete with maps is beautiful and full of hustle and bustle. It’s good to see a building still performing its original service.


a building with a flag on the front

Independence Palace

135 Nam Kỳ Khởi Nghĩa, Bến Thành, Quận 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

This is the standout for me. A 1960’s Palace, designed by a Vietnamese modernist architect. It is sumptuous, beautifully furnished, has its own cinema, ballroom, operating theatre, and of course kitchens and cold rooms. Out the back is a helicopter on the roof! The 1960’s furniture is amazing, and some of the lacquer work is remarkable. Reputedly the palace is ‘as it was left’ in 1975. In the photo gallery above, there is an interpretive panel about the design and architect.


a statue of a man with flowers on a podium

History Museum

2 Nguyễn Bỉnh Khiêm, Bến Nghé, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam

At the center of the foyer is Father Ho, but the museum is worth a visit. It concentrates on historical treasures and has a find collection of artifacts, including beautiful ceramics, as well as the more anthropological. It’s not huge, but worth a visit, and it’s in the Botanic gardens.

This is not all there is to see. I highly recommend the War Remnants Museum – but I warn you it is harrowing, though refreshing to see the narrative being told by someone besides the USA.

Saigon (which is what everyone actually calls the city) has the advantage of being colonised by the French – well at least from a food and beverage point of view – this is an advantage. You can get good coffee (although the preference is for cold sweet milky coffee), great pastries, and dine at some great French restaurants.

Our choice was Trois Gormands (39 Trần Ngọc Diện, Thảo Điền, Quận 2, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam). I won’t go into detail, but we had a delicious, and inexpensive meal, and someone had a birthday. Next up – the flight home.

a small cake with a lit candle

More stories from this trip

Other Posts in the Series
<< Not all Hotels are the same – Intercontinental Asiana, Saigon – the second time aroundVietnam Airlines HCMC to Sydney >>



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