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Ho Chi Minh City Holidays

  • Street scene, Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City is a manic, capitalistic hothouse, clogged with traffic, bustling with energy and enlivened by top restaurants, shops and bars. Its streets are evidence of a vibrant historical past with pagodas and temples and a bustling Chinatown. During the 1960s and early 1970s, Saigon, the Pearl of the Orient, boomed and flourished under the American occupation. In more recent times it was the seat of the South Vietnam government until the events that led to the country's reunification.

Today, Ho Chi Minh City is dedicated to commerce and hedonistic pleasures. Officially renamed in 1975, it remains to most the bi-syllabic, familiar 'Saigon'. It is the largest city in Vietnam and still growing at a prodigious rate. It is also the nation's foremost commercial and industrial centre, a place of remorseless, relentless activity and expanding urban sprawl. For the visitor, Ho Chi Minh City is a fantastic place to shop, eat and drink, while admiring its historical past and enjoying its energetic present.

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The core of Ho Chi Minh City is, in many respects, the most interesting and historical. A saunter down Dong Khoi Street, in District 1, the old rue Catinat, can still give one an impression of life in a more elegant and less frenzied era. Much remains on a small and personal scale and within a 100-m radius of just about anywhere on Dong Khoi or Thai Van Lung streets. Dong Khoi, with its many excellent, stylish and inviting boutiques, is the street that most Western and Japanese tourists head straight for to buy Vietnamese silk and traditional dresses.

About 40 km northwest of Ho Chi Minh City are the infamous Cu Chi Tunnels. Dug by the Viet Minh, who began work in 1948, they were later expanded by the People’s Liberation Armed Forces (PLAF, or Viet Cong, VC, and used for storage and refuge, and contained sleeping quarters, hospitals and schools. Between 1960 and 1970, 200 km of tunnels were built. At the height of their usage, some 300,000 were living underground. The width of the tunnel entry at ground level was 22 cm by 30 cm. The tunnels are too narrow for most Westerners, but a short section of the 250 km of tunnels has been especially widened to allow tourists to share the experience.

Tay Ninh, the home of the Cao Dai Great Temple, is 96 km northwest of Ho Chi Minh City and 64 km further on from Cu Chi town. It can be visited on a day trip from the city and can easily be combined with a visit to the Cu Chi tunnels. The idiosyncratic, Walt Disney-like temple, the ‘cathedral’ of the Cao Dai religion, is one of the region’s must-see sights.

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