Our last few days in Vietnam were spent in Ho Chi Minh City, and while it was an enjoyable few days, we enjoyed the rest of Vietnam more. Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) was named Saigon before the war, but was renamed after ‘Uncle Ho Chi Minh,’ the revolutionary communist leader after the ‘reunification’ of the country.
The first night in HCMC Cara wasn’t feeling great (whoo-hoo questionable street food!), so the rest of us wandered out of our AirBNB to find some dinner. The first place we stopped was a hopping place spilling out onto the sidewalk and seemed like a great place to grab a bite. Ironically the busiest and biggest place on the street had zero English speaking staff and we ended up with a few beers and some random food. We really weren’t sure what we were getting, and the beers ended up being warm and they brought around big ice chunks and dropped them in your glass. They even changed them out for you periodically, keeping a nice fresh chunk of ice watering down your drink. After a disappointing first dinner, we struck off down the street the other direction to hope for a better result and just get a little more food.
We were waved into a little street side table and cart grilling something that smelled delicious and thought we would give it a shot. We laughed that maybe this random street vendor would know more English than the entire staff of a large restaurant, and what do you know, he spoke pretty good English! We got another round of beers and then the food just started showing up. We didn’t order anything, and ended up with more food than fit on our table. The little pork patties were fantastic, and everything else was pretty tasty too. The basic meal was meat, greens, sprouts, and some pickled veggies with rice paper to wrap it all up in.
The next morning we went to the War Remnants museum, which is a large museum with all sorts of photos and stories from the American War of Aggression (the Vietnam War). The hardest part was all of the photos and stories about the after effects of agent orange, and overall it was a very sobering experience. It is always interesting to get the other side of the story, although Cara and I felt that the story here brushed over all the details of the actual interaction between South and North Vietnam during the war, which is some of the history we would have liked to learn, and what happened after the US left the country. After the museum we grabbed some dinner at an open food stall area, which was like a much smaller version of the hawker stalls in Singapore.
We spent the next day touring some of the Cu Chi tunnels outside HCMC, which were some of the major operating areas for the Viet Cong. The tunnels are tiny, and many of the ones that you can go in have been widened for western tourists, so it’s hard to imagine the conditions during the war. The tunnel network was extensive in Cu Chi- the entire network connected to the Saigon river and even to Cambodia. The network is over 250 km long, and the Viet Kong even tunneled into many of the American bases nearby to use them for attack. The jungle traps we were shown were pretty scary- and even though all of the jungle we were in was new growth (due to agent orange), it was still extremely dense and we couldn’t imagine anyone trying to fight there.
After the tours, we explored the Russian Market near our apartment (more on that in the next post!) and got some more delicious Vietnamese food.
Our last day in HCMC we went to see the old post office, got some more coffee, had one last bowl of Bun Cha at a highly rated place (still not as good as in Hanoi), and had one more meal at a street side restaurant. We’ll miss the food and the friendly people in Vietnam!