Thursday, January 28, 2010

Shopping, Sights & Snacks in HCMC, Vietnam

The wife and I made a short visit to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) last weekend. We took time off on Friday and Monday, so it was kind of a long weekend. The reason for the trip was to attend the wedding of one of my Vietnamese colleagues. We stayed at the Sheraton Saigon on Dong Khoi Street (in District 1). This is at the centre of HCMC, and from there we were able to wander around the main shopping areas, visit some of the prominent sights and also enjoy some Vietnamese snacks.

Here's a short visual documentation of our trip, for those who haven't yet been and may be contemplating a trip to Vietnam. Believe me, it's a very charming country.

The first photo shows the Sheraton Saigon hotel (the one on the right). Very comfortable and truly excellent service. The other tall building is actually another well-known hotel - the Caravelle. It was prominent during the American War (which is how the Vietnamese refer to the conflict we usually call the Vietnam War), when Western journalists and diplomats used to base themselves there. There's a particularly well known rooftop bar.

The next photo (above) shows the HCMC Municipal Theatre, popularly known as Saigon Opera House, one of the city's landmark buildings situated on Le Loi Street. HCMC was formerly known as Saigon. Even though the name change was imposed in the mid 1970s after "the fall of Saigon" when North Vietnamese forces took over the city and "reunified" the country, the locals ae still fond of using the old name Saigon. This beautiful structure was completed in 1911, under the supervision of French architects. Besides being a theatre, it was once also used as the South Vietnam government Assembly House. These days it hosts Vietnamese theatre and music performances.

Next you can see yours truly with Uncle Ho (i.e. Ho Chi Minh, the much revered leader who reunified Vietnam). This statue is in a small park in front of the grand HCMC People's Committee headquarters or City Hall, which you can see a part of in the background. Unfortunately during this period, the building facade was undergoing some renovations, so there were scaffolding everywhere.

There are numerous architectural influences from the French Colonial period in Saigon but probably none are more French than the Notre Dame Cathedral ! This 19th century neo-Romanesque structure has two 40-meter towers that can be seen from all over HCMC and is the centerpiece of the city’s government quarter skyline. I read somewhere that this Catholic cathedral originally had stained glass windows, but those were destroyed during WWII and never replaced. (For keen eyed shopaholics, Diamond Plaza in the background houses a modern departmental store).


This is the front of the General Post Office, a grand building just adjoining the Notra Dame Cathedral. If you think it looks nice outside, just take a look at the interior (below) ...

Shoppingwise, there are many department stores,branded shops (Gucci, Milano, etc) and souvenir outlets in HCMC. But we like to go to where local products are sold. And the best place for this is Ben Thanh Market.

The next few shots were taken within Ben Thanh market.

You have seen some of the architectural influences of the French in the previous photos. Vietnam was part of French Indo-China for many years, and even up to WWII. It was only after the famous Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954 that the French forces were finally expelled by the Viet Minh communist revolutionaries under Ho Chi Minh.

With any occupation by a foreign power, I'm sure there were many issues and hardships. But one less documented but positive influence that the French left behind was in the area of confectionery. I truly believe that in Vietnam you can find some of the best croissants and pastries in Asia. Feast your eyes on the display below !

They taste fabulous. I kid you not !


PengYou said...

Thumbs up!

Nelson Wee said...

The sights and sounds and well the mouth-watering croissants certainly come alive in this post!