Monday, July 12, 2010

Escape and explore Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam

A vacation is a great escape from the drudgery of everyday life. So even if it is for a short break, it’s time to say Goodbye Vexation and Hello Vacation. Where better to go than Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam just an hour’s flight away.

Notre Dame Cathedral front side, Ho Chi Minh (Sai Gon), Vietnam

An intoxicating mix of colonial past, ancient civilisation rich in tradition and culture, architectural splendour, exotic food and friendly locals makes Ho Chi Minh City (HCM) an ideal getaway.
On the banks of the Saigon River, the Khmer people established a civilisation extraordinaire — having warded off invasions, won a war against a superpower and constructed a city of commerce. It’s a tale of courage under fire, a saga of people prevailing against the odds.

Earthly beauty

From old colonial wonders to gleaming skyscrapers, HCM gleams at night. Home to almost seven million people, the city is the financial and economic hub of the country. During the day, HCM grips you with its heady scents and stupefying sights. A lingering aroma of jackfruit and coffee fill the air everywhere you go.

It’s a city of gaiety; you can inevitably sense its soulful presence everywhere you wander — in the various lanes, cafés, and markets and in the eyes of its smiling people.

The best place to stay is in District One. It is dotted with prominent tourist attractions Some famous hotels here include Hotel Continental, Rex Hotel, Hotel Majestic, Grand Hotel, Park Hyatt Saigon, Riverside, New World and Sheraton Saigon.

City highlights

There are many ways to commute here, but a good way to see HCM is on foot.

The Vietnamese are very amicable and hospitable. Asking for directions is never too hard. With its wide boulevards and magnificent French villas, HCM is truly the Paris of the Orient. Some examples of splendid French architecture include the General Post Office, Reunification Palace, City Hall, the Municipal Theatre and the Notre-Dame Basilica.

Begin your tour around the city by visiting the History Museum. It houses an incredible collection of artifacts from Vietnam’s 2000-year history.

The museum also houses a water puppet theatre. The show about mythical goddesses, dragons and talking fish goes on for about an hour and will enchant the kid in you.
Outside, hop on a colourful cyclo. The ride is sure to bring peals of laughter and excitement as you go sightseeing.

Architectural beauty

One of the most interesting spots is the General Post Office, the biggest in Vietnam.

Built in the early 20th century when Vietnam was part of French Indochina, its interior is a sight to behold. Resembling a European railway station with a huge clock in its central pavilion, this fascinating building is an outstanding display of design influenced by the Renaissance era. The elegant interior with its glass canopy and huge ceilings will charm your senses.

General Post Office, Ho Chi Minh City, VietnamGeneral Post Office, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Attracting tourists to its neo-Romanesque style architecture, the Notre-Dame Basilica was anointed by the Vatican in the 1960s when an archbishop was assigned to Saigon. Its red bricks were imported from Marseilles which still glow bright until today. Do not fail to walk around this magnificent structure that has survived WWII.

Chinese influence

Next, stop by Cho Lon, HCM’s Chinatown. Built by Chinese immigrants in 1778, Cho Lon meaning “big market” is a riot of colours where Ben Thanh Market is situated. This shopaholics’ paradise needs haggling skills. Patience will find you great buys in footwear, bags and accessories.

For a dash of “fabulosity”, walk along Dong Khoi Street; a paradise of high-end fashion stores like Gucci and Louis Vuitton.

Apart from the Roof Top Garden Restaurant at the Rex Hotel, one of the best places to dine is at Ben Thanh. Numerous sidewalk restaurants serve authentic Vietnamese food; deep-fried fish and spring rolls are some of their specialties. Also, try the dragon-boat dinner cruise and enjoy glittering views and scrumptious seafood.

A few kilometres out is the revered Emperor Jade Pagoda, known for its symbiosis of Tao-Buddhist traditions.

Although entrance is free, a donation will be appreciated. Whilst there, don’t forget to purchase a few birds to be released as offering to the Gods.

Explore & excite

If you have kids, escape to Suoi Tien Amusement Park. The park that includes a zoo and a man-made beach features a beautiful waterfall. It displays the spiritual imagery of the Vietnamese people through sculptures of dragons, lions, turtles and the phoenix.

No trip to HCM is complete without experiencing the Cu Chi tunnels; a labyrinth of underground tunnels leading all the way to Cambodia. Built by the Viet Cong, these tunnels played a vital role in the Vietnam War.

Only a 30-minute drive from the city, the 121km complex network of tunnels is a war memorial park. If you are up to it, crawl through the tunnels and sample the simple food of the Viet Cong fighters.

Also, fire off an assault rifle at the shooting range for an adrenaline rush.

Visit this captivating city — pleasant surprises await around the bend.

Source: the star

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