Going Through The Tourist Ritual in Saigon… Part 1

Unlike other overseas trips where I would usually make concrete plans what I’d do, this Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) trip was one that was quite relaxed with no detailed itinerary. Yes, I still did a bit of homework on the must-see sights in the city, but I didn’t pen them down into a physical time-table to follow through. Therefore, rather than write my HCMC posts on a chronological / day-by-day basis this time, I shall adopt a different style. I will compile what I’ve done in HCMC & write them in the same post, if they fall under the same category. 🙂

Generally, I like to head to places where locals frequent & enjoy when possible when in a foreign city. However, I am a tourist after all in a completely foreign territory like Vietnam. So it’s inevitable that I also went through the usual tourist route. 😛

On day 2, after lazing around in my cosy hotel room for a long while, I set off for a visit to the oldest market in Saigon – Ben Thanh Market, in the late morning. As the oldest market in the city, developed informally as far back as early 17th century by street vendors gathering together near the Saigon River, Ben Thanh Market is an important symbol of Saigon. Located in the city centre, the market is also at the roundabout junction that we pass by daily on our way out from hotel to other destinations in the city.

around-ben-thanh-market

The market building we all see today has existed since 1912 after the original building was destroyed by fire in 1870 and rebuilt to become Saigon’s largest market. It’s a pity I didn’t manage to take a photo of its main gate with the name, because that is situated in front of the busy roundabout junction. I don’t know how I could get through the heavy traffic to stand on the tiny roundabout for photo-taking. 😦 Regardless of when you visit, the market is always crowded with people. It’s not difficult to understand why. Being the largest & oldest market in HCMC selling fruits, vegetables, dry goods & souvenirs etc, it’s natural that this market gets the most attention from locals and tourists alike.

Stalls selling a myriad of goods in the market

Stalls selling a myriad of goods in the market

I spent about an hour or so walking the numerous small lanes in the market to soak in the lively atmosphere at Ben Thanh. Frankly, it got somewhat tiring after a while when I kept hearing the repeated chanting of the same old “Miss, T-shirt for sale. Cheap!” & the likes of it from the stallholders. I had wanted to get some local street food from the rows of food stalls here, but there weren’t as many tantalising stalls as I had imagined. Most of the food stallholders looked worn out from idling around with hardly any customers. I also couldn’t understand what they were selling since the menus were in Vietnamese without pictures. Hence I dropped off the idea of eating here. No souvenirs bought at all too, until the next day when I returned with my friend in the late afternoon. Probably it’s more fun when you are doing bargain shopping together, which heightens the shopping mood. Haha

1 thing I missed out was to experience its night market that open after 7 pm daily. The surrounding streets will be closed off to vehicular traffic from that time, & outdoor food stalls will be set up thereafter. I thought it was a good way to experience the Vietnamese way of alfresco dining. 😛 Too bad we had to leave the place though we saw the stalls being set up on day 3 evening, as we had wanted to go for a massage near our hotel.

After checking out Ben Thanh Market & its surroundings, I continued on foot to other major tourist sights in District 1, towards direction of Notre-Dame Cathedral etc. Along the way, I stumbled upon this unique French architecture with an Oriental style building along Ly Tu Trong.

hcmc-museum-1

Curious, I entered the gate of the Museum of Ho Chi Minh City & bought my ticket (15,000 VND per foreign visitor, about S$0.95) at the little ticket booth (which looked more like a guard house btw). There is an additional price to pay if you wish to take photos in the museum. I think it was 10,000 VND (about S$0.65) but I couldn’t be sure as there was no receipt, & I saw people commented online that it costs 50,000 VND more. While I did wonder how would they be able to check if you will be taking photos inside (since no one checked my bag etc), I still paid the additional sum.

Originally known as the Gia Long Palace, the building was built in 1885 – 1890, intended for use as a commercial museum exhibiting native specialities, but it became the Cochinchina governor’s palace. Having gone through turbulent times in Vietnam, the palace became Revolution museum of Ho Chi Minh city in 1975, and later renamed as Museum of Ho Chi Minh City on 13 December 1999.

hcmc-museum-2

The building is quite big but there weren’t too many exhibits. There are 2 floors of exhibitions showcasing the history and culture of Vietnam. Apparently, there is an underground air raid shelter in the building, but I didn’t see any entrance to this secret shelter. Of course, there was also a section with displays of the wartime artillery during Vietnam War. Although I couldn’t remember most of the things learnt from the informative boards, I think what struck me was the close relationship & similarities Vietnam has with China. I don’t remember the details but I just have this memory from the many exhibits displaying the local lifestyle, clothing, culture of the past.

hcmc-museum-3

Outside the main entrance of the museum, there are some display of the fighter jets & artillery tank being used to defend the country during war. To tour the whole museum compound, it took me barely 1 hour or so.

It’s a pity that the large historical space wasn’t fully utilised to let visitors gain more in-depth understanding of the history & culture of Saigon. I guess maybe that is why this museum isn’t highly ranked on top sightseeing spots in the city. Visit if you have time or pass by, like me. Although the museum isn’t air-conditioned, it’s still a good place to hide away from the heat & humidity out there in the city! 😉

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