After everything we’d learnt about the train from the first two journeys we decided a flight was our best option rather than a train to get to Ho Chi Minh City (or as it’s still known unofficially, Saigon). It was a short hop from Da Nang down to Ho Chi Minh City and so when we arrived in the late afternoon, we managed to hit rush hour! We thought Hanoi was crazy but Ho Chi Minh City was even crazier. It took ages to make the journey from the airport into town as scooters flew around us on all sides and even down the pavements (a technique that had caught us out walking along in a number of places in Vietnam).
Saigon is much more cosmopolitan than the other places we’d seen and felt more like a business/finance centre than a tourist spot. There’s some huge high rises and even what people wear seems to be more aligned with what you’d expect in London rather than what you’d expect in the rest of Vietnam. You can also find all the stores you’d find on Oxford Street and strangely, a whole load that we thought had gone bust – Mothercare for example.
It seems to be a city that works hard and plays hard as the large number of rooftop bars would attest to. It’s quite strange watching the disco lights flash out across the city at night and music blasting out from all the bars at an unreal volume. To make matters worse, the love of karaoke definitely extends to Saigon and so you get to go to sleep with the enthusiastic but generally pretty out of tune singing of some of the patrons of the nearest bar in your ears.
In the end we decided that if you can’t beat them join them and made the most of our last night in Saigon and last night in Vietnam by heading up the impressive Bitexco Financial Tower. There are two options for doing this – one you can pay 200,000 dong each to head up the observation deck, called the Sky Deck on the 50th floor. Alternatively you can head up a couple of floors higher and go for a drink in the Helibar at EON.61. The drinks are really pricey here compared to generally around Vietnam but you don’t have to pay an entry fee so in reality for most people its the best option. There’s really mixed reviews of the place on TripAdvisor but, to be fair, when we were there the staff were really great and even moved us to a window table once one freed up. The view is incredible at night and was a great way to finish our time in Vietnam.
It was slightly disconcerting that on the way back down in the lift, the digital screen had frozen a video which made it look like the building we were in was on fire. I can only presume it’s a fireworks show off the building!
There’s a huge French influence throughout Vietnam and it shows up in the architecture of some of the key sites in Saigon. The buildings are beautiful – the Opera House, Saigon’s Notre Dame and, strangely, the most stunning of all the Post Office.
I’ll start this be saying – we just picked badly, there’s definitely good tourist sites in Saigon and Vietnam. We also skimped on not paying for tour guides in a few places which I think, in hindsight, would have been a good investment. With all that said, we did find that in a lot of the places we wanted to know more and the information provided wasn’t great. One great example was the Ho Chi Minh City museum where there was a load of info on the history of the city and then just a little sign directing you down into an old bunker from during the war. This was really interesting to see but there was practically no information to explain what it was like in there during the war. It has so much potential and perhaps with a guide we’d have learnt more.
It was also really interesting to visit the zoo where aside from the predictable animal welfare concerns, it was weird that a lot of the ‘exotic’ animals were animals that we’d be used to seeing at home like cats (literally they just looked like a tabby cat), goats and deer. There were also amazing animals to see like tigers, elephants, giraffes and Sue’s favourite (not) a King Cobra who was doing his best to check just how secure his ‘cage’ was!