Last month, my husband’s soccer team had a game in Ho Cho Minh City, and — as is my habit — I seized upon the opportunity for a family excursion. The game was HOT for my midwest genes, but the post-game feast hit the spot. A Southern Vietnamese extravaganza, complete with fresh and fried spring rolls, vegetables, shrimp, sweet rice desserts, and…Budweiser, some of which is now made in Vietnam (who knew?).
HCMC is a thriving, rapidly-changing metropolis growing on top of a lush cityscape full of tree-lined streets and tidy parks. This trip, I mostly glimpsed HCMC life in between tourist spots, but I loved what I saw. I hope to return for leisurely days strolling the streets, sitting in the parks, and sipping coffee as the city flows past. (Hopefully when it’s not quite so hot!)
It was Memorial Day weekend, and throughout the my stay, I couldn’t help but think about the historical significance of the city — and the transformative power of the passage of time. These thoughts stayed with me throughout the weekend as we visited some of HCMC’s historic sites.
Cu Chi Tunnels
I didn’t want to travel all the way to HCMC without a boat ride on the Saigon River and a visit to the Cu Chi tunnels, leading me to discover Les Rives Luxury Cu Chi Tunnels Speedboat Tour. I can’t recommend this tour highly enough. Les Rives picked us up at 7:00 am at our hotel and drove us to the river, where we boarded our boat. The boat was lovely – the charm of a small Mekong delta riverboat but with a smart, modern layout. As we cruised up the Saigon River, we enjoyed lovely vistas of riverboats, fishermen, barges, bridges, homes, and water hyacinths as far as the eye could see.
After about an hour, we reached the entrance to the Cu Chi tunnels. Only a short walk from the dock, our tour guide started with a brief history of the tunnels, explaining that they were first built during the French resistance movement and later expanded during the Vietnam war. At the end of the conflict, there were tunnels running over 70 miles.
Today, the tunnels are a war memorial run by the Government of Vietnam. Amazingly, many of the tunnels remain and are now open for tourists. According to our guide, the tunnels have been expanded to accommodate larger tourists, which is pretty incredible give how small they remain (see below – those are my feet).
I’d heard a visit to the Reunification Palace was a must-do in HCMC, but I was skeptical. Unnecessarily so. It was time well spent. We enjoyed a leisurely tour of the grounds, complete with Southern Vietnamese tanks, airplanes, and beautiful old trees–a strange dichotomy–and the palace. I’m not normally a huge fan of modern architecture this was fabulous. It was amazing to walk through the huge, open, breezy hallways where so much history unfolded. Seeing the palace featured in this image of a North Vietnamese tank crashing through the gates at the fall of Saigon, which I’d seen in so many Vietnamese history books, was profound.
You’d think being an American would attract negative attention, but that just wasn’t the case. Fellow Vietnamese tourists so were friendly that we spent part of the tour mobbed by Vietnamese tourists trying to take pictures of us – not the museum! They were far more interested in my daughters’ curly blonde hair than the historical sites. Wow. What a difference 40 years can make.
Next up? Saigon Snacks – A Weekend in HCMC