When you visit Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam it’s an absolute sensory delight. Of course, the food is a highlight, yet, it’s the diversity in culture that are truly fascinating when you explore the various cities throughout Vietnam. And let’s not forget the experience of visiting a communist country, which provides a truly eye-opening glimpse into a unique way of life.
Oh and did I mention the currency is called the Dong? We may have shared many juvenile conversations asking for more ‘Dong’. (yes I do have the humor of a 13 year old boy)!
We began our travels in the southern city of Ho Chi Minh (Saigon as it was formerly known), and slowly worked our way up to Hanoi and Halong Bay. Ho Chi Minh City is the largest and most vibrant city in Vietnam located in the south, and it has a French Colonial vibe. You don’t have to be in the country long before you see the scars from the Vietnam War.
Our hearts were heavy as we learned that even years after the war had ended, Vietnam remains deeply divided on the issue. The communist propaganda is a stark reminder of the powerful emotions that still surround the conflict. We couldn’t help but feel empathy for the Vietnamese people, who obviously still grapple with the aftermath of this painful war.
If you really want to understand what the Americans were up against during the Vietnamese War, I’d suggest you visit the Cu Chi tunnels. We decided to forgo the big tourist group visit to the tunnels, and instead hopped in a taxi to explore on our own.
We stopped along the way for refreshments consisting of $2 Pho and 50c beers, and found a local guide to give us a personal tour of the tunnels.
The Cu Chi tunnels are a huge network of underground tunnels located in the Cu Chi District of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). They consist of 155 miles of tunnels and chambers.
At any given time, thousands of Viet Cong troops would live inside these tunnels, only emerging at night to surprise attack the Americans, tend to crops or gather more supplies. At various points during the war, the Viet Cong would live underground for months at a time, not even seeing daylight.
We were able to actually walk through certain parts of the tunnels. I was super nervous going in as I hoisted myself through a teeny opening in the ground, covered in leaves. As I lowered myself down about 15 feet underground to the deep stairs and narrow entrance it felt scary for someone who was slightly claustrophobic.
The tunnels are incredibly narrow, and the ones we passed through had been widened for easier access. I can’t imagine what the tunnels that had NOT been widened felt like, since I was hyperventilating at this point. We walked through an original tunnel that was 35 inches tall and only 16 inches wide!
I’m not gonna lie, it was a freaking nightmare down there, and it was hard not to panic being immersed in darkness, crawling on your hands and knees through a tiny tunnel. Seeing the various booby-traps used by the VietCong was eye opening and it was quite frightening to think they were used on humans during this lengthy war.
There’s also a gun range outside where Tom was able to shoot an AK-47.
I’d highly recommend visiting the Cu Chi Tunnels, however if you are claustrophobic in the slightest, it’s very uncomfortable.
Ho Chi Minh City Hall or Saigon City Hall was built in a French colonial style for the city of Saigon (back in the day). It was renamed after 1975 as Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee when the war ended. The traffic is insane around the square (and in most of Ho Chi Minh actually), however once we were inside the grounds we found a peaceful place to sit and watch the world go by.
There are restaurants and cafes framing the gardens, and a statue of Ho Chi Minh in the garden. This building is another excellent example of the French colonial architecture in Ho Chi Minh City.
The Reunification Palace, formerly known as Independence Palace, gained historical significance in 1975 when a North Vietnamese tank smashed through its gates, marking the end of the Vietnam War.
Food and drink in Vietnam is incredibly inexpensive. Our family of four would typically spend no more than $10 per meal, which included spring roll appetizers, beer (think 50c beers everywhere), cokes and dessert. In fact we really had to try hard to spend $10 per meal. We fell in love with Pho, which is Vietnam’s national dish. It’s a noodle soup consisting of broth, rice noodles called bánh phở, a few herbs, and meat, primarily made with either beef or chicken.
The aroma of pho wafts through the streets of Vietnam, making it nearly impossible to resist. We found ourselves constantly drawn to the next pho restaurant or market, and before we knew it, we were enjoying this delicious dish every single day of our trip.
The War Remnants Museum was a highly anticipated destination for us. The experience of visiting museums in Vietnam is fascinating, given the one-sided version of events, and the selection of photographs and displays used. These exhibits definitely felt like they veered into the propaganda territory.
Vivid propaganda posters are sold in the stores and are posted on the streets, and it’s a solemn reminder of the damage that was done during the war.
Overall, when you visit Ho Chi Minh City, you are promised a memorable experience filled with unique cultural and historical insights.
I’m a travel and health writer, digital and brand consultant, breast cancer survivor, and supermom to two active boys! I keep it real and share stories of raising teenage boys, family life after a cancer diagnosis, and family travels around the world! Each story is shared with my dry, and sometimes naughty sense of humor.