Ho Chi Minh City is the nuts, the big bad brother to Hanoi – which in comparison seems shy and retiring. Set on the banks of the Saigon River, HCMC has approximately 7 million inhabitants all of whom are darting here there and everywhere, the traffic is a nightmare – there must be tens of thousands of scooters on the roads and I’m pleased we learnt to cross the road whilst in Hanoi as here, it’s much more daunting!
Broken up in to numerous districts, we’re just on the outskirts of District 1 (Dong Khoi, central HCMC,) in the backpackers’ area called De Tham. Our hotel is OK – having being spoilt whilst up near Hoi An, we’ve been brought quickly down to earth – (whereas our last Hotel cost $125US, this one is $20US,) thankfully we’ve bought our earplugs along!
Located here means there’s lots of bars and places to eat – as per our normal routine on entering a new city, for lunch yesterday we went for a good old curry – it was superb as well! Last night we found a bar with half price cocktails so we duly set in for the evening quaffing numerous mojitos and long island ice teas before stumbling out of there to find a Bia Hoi (street stalls selling beer) – we found a great one almost opposite, as well as ice-cold beer, they were also selling freshly cooked crab claws, perfect.
Nearby is the city’s busiest market, Ben Thanh. Having been around for 100 years this vast covered market sells everything you could want and when visiting anywhere for the first time, we always make a point of visiting the markets as soon as a possible as it’s a great place to get a feel for any city and this place was no exception, it was bonkers!
Like all markets this one had a fresh produce section which we wandered through seeing live fish being gutted, live frogs literally having their legs pulled from their bodies (which were discarded) and the still kicking legs placed into a bowl, ready for selling! Feeling hungry(!) we went to the section of the market selling food and quickly found the one selling seafood, ordering fresh clams, snails, crab & scallops we settled in for a very atmospheric lunch amongst the bustle of the market.
We’ve also visited the War Remnants Museum which our Rough Guide states ‘…is the city’s most popular attraction but not for the faint hearted…’ It’s an incredibly moving museum, predominantly photographic in content (though outside is various ‘captured / left behind’ US fighter jets, Chinooks, tanks and big guns of which we took several photos.
The photos are horrific and moving at the same time, not only are they (in places) very graphic it’s the ones detailing the effects of apparently 75 million litres of defoliant sprays (Agent Orange) across the country, which not only destroyed the countryside it ruined the lives of many people not yet even born. There are numerous photos of children born with numerous birth defects and of malformed foetuses. It’s quite shocking to think that this happened in my lifetime – we both came away feeling quite subdued though at the same time amazed that such a country as Vietnam is moving forward at such a pace, particularly given it’s very recent past.
It really is the most incredible place.