Saigon: A City of Contrasts

January 15, 2017:

This city is amazing!  In addition to the gob-smacking traffic, there are modern skyscrapers towering to the sky, and vendors still riding bicycles laden with their wares.



Our first visit of the day was to the Binh Tay Market, which is the largest daily market in HCMC.  As you know, Jim and I regularly visit foreign markets in our travels, but this market has something for everyone!  of particular interest were all the strange and exotic fruits, including the loved /hated durian, which locals say “smells like hell; tastes like heaven”. So strong is its odor that there are signs in the lobby of our hotel instructing that durian fruits are forbidden in the hotel.  We also toured the fresh seafood stalls, and marveled at the variety of fresh (and some still living) seafood.

Candy stall
The coveted “weasel coffee” (processed by civit cats
The gray things are dried sea cucumbers
Durians and dragonfruit


Shredding coconut into paper-thin pieces


Fresh eels
Live crabs and snails

Then we visited the Hall of Reunification, which used to be the former Presidential Palace. The meeting and living rooms of the former President and his family have been preserved like a flashback to the 1960s, and the two of the tanks which took the Palace in 1975 are still parked on the grounds signaling an attack on the palace. The Presidential helicopter is also still parked on the roof.  Jim was very taken with the architecture which featured very clean and open public spaces.

Hall of Reunification (former So. Vietnam Presidential Residence)
Front entry
Tanks pointing at the Hall
Front lawn with tanks and jet plane visible on the side
New Year’s greetings
Presidential Reception room
Former President’s office (complete with red phone)
Helicopter on roof as if awaiting orders to remove the President

By this time is was raining fairly heavily, so we dashed between the raindrops to snap pictures of the beautiful colonial era Post Office (designed by Gustav Eiffel), and the Cathedral of Notre Dame.  Then it was back to the hotel for an outrageously sumptuous spread for Sunday brunch at the Sheraton, featuring items from a dozen different cultures.  As we drove through the streets of this Communist city, block after block featured huge designer stores from some of the world’s top fashion houses.

Post Office designed by Gustav Eiffel



Rear of building pictured in the classic photo below from the fall of Saigon












A member of the CIA helps evacuees up a ladder onto an Air America helicopter on the roof of 22 Gia Long Street on April 29, 1975, shortly before Saigon fell to advancing North Vietnamese troops.

Saigon-Hubert-Van-Es-Fall of Saigon-Wikipedia, Fair use,

After lunch, we had time on our own, and Jim and I opted to walk to counteract some of the effects of lunch.  The Communist Party headquarters near our hotel is lodged in another former French colonial building, which is lovely.  Then we wandered over to the Rex Hotel, which was a favorite hang out of American and other foreign journalists during the Vietnam War because of its beautiful rooftop bar, which overlooks most of the old part of town.  Naturally, we stopped and had a beverage while we waited for the rain to stop.  In particular, the view to the old Opera House was great, and you could also see the giant excavations for Saigon’s first subway line.

Tet decorations
The Rex Hotel
Communist Party headquarters


Views from the Rex rooftop bar


The Opera House


Saigon Notre Dame Basilica


As we resumed our walk, we noticed an interesting phenomenon:  many, many young women, dressed in their traditional ao dai, had traveled to the main boulevard to be photographed among the flower-bedecked trees there. What a colorful and joyous scene!  After photographing my fill, we had dinner in a very good restaurant, and prepared to experience the amazing temples of Angkor Wat tomorrow.saigon-48saigon-50saigon-61saigon-63saigon-65saigon-66saigon-68saigon-70saigon-79saigon-80saigon-81saigon-98

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