Monday, June 13, 2016

Ho Chi Minh City: our first impressions about vietnam


The first thing that comes to mind when we think of Vietnam are images of forests, rice fields and a crowd of people riding bicycles, in other words, the classic stereotype of Southeast Asia. But great was our surprise when, getting off the plane in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), we found ourselves with a modern and cosmopolitan city, that still maintains an undeniable traditional touch that can be seen in every corner of the city.

It doesn’t matter where you go you can always find street stalls selling all kinds of local food, generally served by women wearing the traditional conical straw hat. The contrast between the food carts and skyscrapers, with its huge mirrored walls, cannot be greater.

After a brief search (perhaps not so brief...), Deia found a modern and very bright apartment located right in the heart of the backpacker district. After unpacking and showering (more than necessary after traveling almost a day!) we’re ready to venture out to HCMC streets.

Only a ten minutes’ walk from our guesthouse was the central market of Ho Chi Minh City, or rather "what used to be" the central market of HCMC, since now more than half of their stalls is dedicated to selling clothes, shoes and all kinds of souvenirs at "tourist prices". At the other half you can still find traditional activities such as greengrocers, butchers, fishmongers and traders selling all kinds of spices, coffee, tea, and of course, the food court.

We couldn’t miss the opportunity to experience a local delicacy, and so we sat at one of the many food stalls to taste "Pho", which is perhaps the most well-known and Vietnam’s most famous dish. In essence, it is a noodle soup (usually made of rice noodles) served with meat and vegetables and topped with fresh green leaves. The perfect balance between sweet, salt, sour and spicy is something unparalleled, not to mention the incomparable and so oriental flavor of umami (for more info don’t forget to google it!).

The Vietnamese cuisine is certainly something serious!

The French influence in Vietnam can be appreciated in every corner of the country, especially in big cities filled with Neoclassical, Art Deco and Art Nouveau buildings and facades. What most caught our attention was the great number of churches in the country, being the Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon the most important of all. The Neo-Gothic building with sober decoration is one of the city's biggest attractions.

And right next to the Cathedral is the Post Office, which still functions as such, but is also packed with booths selling all sorts of knick knacks to tourists.

About 40 km from downtown HCMC, in the village of Cu Chi, is an extensive network of underground tunnels. Built between the 60’s and 70’s these were used by the Viet Cong guerrillas as communication routes, hospitals, storage of weapons, ammunition and food as well as a refuge during the war, which lasted over 20 years.

The Americans never suspected neither the size nor the complexity of the tunnels that formed a network connecting the entire country. A good example of this can be seen in Cu Chi, where a portion of the channels passed under one of the American army bases, which was constantly sabotaged by the Vietcong’s.

The tunnels form a true underground city with different floors, barracks with a command center, hospital, cafeterias, kitchens and bedrooms. The tour concludes with a brief demonstration of some of the traps and pitfalls used as a defense against the American army, followed by a tasting of boiled tapioca, one of the few available provision during the time of war, since it was possible to be grown underground.

We will never forget the experience of getting in and literally "crawling in” the tunnels of Cu Chi. It was only 50 feet, enough to cause a mixture of claustrophobia, anxiety and despair that is engraved in our memories forever. And after the visit, we have even more respect and admiration for this resilient people, which stood firm and strong more than 20 years of constant shelling, hiding and defending themselves in these and other tunnels in the country.

Here we leave some videos of our visit to Ho Chi Minh City.


Vietcong´s Tunnels