Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Gate leading into an alley

By the time I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City from Da Nang, I only had a couple of days time to explore. And being a city with a population of 10 million, I definitely didn’t get the chance to see everything I wanted! But I had to make due with the time I had.

I checked into my hostel, The Like Hostel, after a quick bus ride from the airport. It was pretty nice - tucked into an alley in District 1, it offered relatively quick access to many of the places I wanted to visit. It also featured a fun rooftop bar that provided free breakfast in the mornings.

Lower level of the rooftop bar from above

An artsy photo of the lower level of the rooftop bar, as seen from above

Once again, as I walked through the streets away from my hostel, it struck me how crazy Vietnamese traffic can be. Among those 10 million people, there are 8 million motorbikes, leading to absolute chaos in the streets!

Traffic at a roundabout near my hostel

Traffic at a roundabout near my hostel

With Vietnam being a historically war-torn country, it’s no surprise that Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) hosts the country’s most famous war museum, the War Remnants Museum. I decided to wander in on the afternoon that I arrived. Outside, the museum displayed several variations of tanks, aircrafts, and other war machines that were used by the Americans during the American / Vietnamese war.

Helicopter at the War Remnants Museum

An American helicopter on display at the War Remnants Museum

Near the vehicles, the museum had an exhibit on some of the methods of imprisonment and torture that Vietnamese people were subjected to by the French. One such method was the tiger cages, constructed from barbed wire to be so small that all the prisoner could do was lie on the ground for days on end. Pretty harrowing and eye-opening to be able to see them in person.

Tiger cages

Tiger cages made of barbed wire were used to imprison soldiers and political prisoners

The inside of the museum featured various exhibits on the French imprisonment of Vietnamese political prisoners and on the recent war. However, by far the most powerful exhibits were those on Agent Orange, a toxic gas that was dumped across huge swathes of land, causing deplorable health problems and birth defects for several generations of Vietnamese people. I didn’t take any pictures of the exhibits, and it’s not something I’d really want to upload to this blog, but know that it was a very sobering experience to see the effects of those chemicals on people.

That night I decided to wander to the Ben Thanh Market, a market close to my hostel that moves outdoors at night. As nice as it was to wander, all of the markets I’d seen in Vietnam were starting to blend together! And, unfortunately, the thing that made this one stand out was the augmented presence of mosquitos. Honestly pretty amazing that I’d managed to avoid them until now.

Ben Thanh Market at night

Wandering the Ben Thanh Market at night

The next day was - shocker - more war history! But somewhat less depressing. I took a day trip out to the Cu Chi Tunnels, about two hours outside Ho Chi Minh City by car. The tunnel networks span around 250km, and housed Vietnamese soldiers that would pop out of the ground to surprise their enemies. They’re also incredibly tiny, at a height of 80cm and a diameter of merely 50cm. Thankfully, the 100m stretch that they let us crawl through had been expanded slightly for tourists!

Crawling through the Cu Chi Tunnels

Despite the tunnel being widened for tourists, it was still hard work to climb through!

At another point on the tour, they showed off several types of booby trap designed to blend right into the ground and catch American soldiers off guard. Despite the simplicity of the traps, the sharp metal spikes certainly looked very effective!

Booby traps for American soldiers

Booby traps disguised in the ground to catch and kill American soldiers

Finally, there was an optional shooting range. They were selling bullets by the 10s, at a rate of 60,000 Dong per bullet for the more expensive ones (AK47, etc). I’d never shot a gun before, and decided to give it a try. It’s one thing to see it in movies, but it’s another thing entirely to actually experience the sheer speed and power with which the bullets ripped through the dirt piles 50 metres away. I definitely don’t feel the need to shoot one again!

Holding an AK47 at the shooting range

The sound of the gunfire was deafening and the power of the bullets was something to behold

And so it came to my last day in Vietnam! I decided to take it easy, visiting a cafe in the morning and then the city’s tallest tower, the Bitexco Financial Tower, in the afternoon. The view was pretty great, and it was cool to get a bird’s eye view of the crazy traffic below. Definitely a nice way to wrap up my trip before I headed to the airport to catch my overnight flight.

View from Bitexco Financial Tower

Bitexco Financial Tower provided sanctuary from the chaos below

Vietnam ended up being a wonderful country, and I liked it even more than I could have imagined. I definitely want to return someday, and hopefully I’ll get the chance to see more of Southeast Asia as well. But for now, you can check out where I went next on my New Zealand master post.

Want more? Check out an overview of my Vietnam trip here!

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