Bright Lights, Big City
Ho Chi Minh City never sleeps. Everywhere you look there is color and movement. Vendors engulfed in bright bubbles of balloons or pushing carts heaped with wares; flocks of schoolgirls on bicycles, their traditional white ao dai tunics fluttering in the breeze; cranes spinning high overhead as workers put the finishing touches on newly-risen office towers...
It seems that everyone is busy, buying, selling, studying, and building... You'll find yourself swept up by the city's enthusiasm, charmed by its youthful exuberance at being back in the business of making money. Not surprisingly, Ho Chi Minh City is a shopper's paradise, with trendy new boutiques and modern shopping centres just steps away from traditional open-air markets.
The juxtaposition of past and present is more visible here than any- where else in Vietnam. Gleaming new skyscrapers tower above lavish French colonial villas. Imposing Soviet-style facades stand beside ancient pagodas. Women in traditional dress chat on mobile phones, while old cyclo pedicab jostle for space with bran new BMWs.
This eclectic tableau reveals Ho Chi Minh City's incredible ability to adapt in 1862, the French declared the city, then known as Saigon, as the capital of colonial Cochinchina. The French laid out Saigon's broad, tree-lined boulevards and erected imposing villas and public buildings like the romantic Hotel de Ville (now the seat of the People's Committee), Notre Dame Cathedral, and the central Ben Thanh Market.
Following the withdrawal of the French, in the 1960s and early '70s it was the Americans who influenced Saigon's for- tunes. Full of American soldiers, Saigon became synonymous with risk, rock and roll, and raucous nightlife. In Apri 1975, Communist troops reclaimed the city from American-backed forces and reunified the nation. Saigon's name was changed to Ho Chi Minh City in honor of Vietnam's great freedom fighter and president.
What hasn't changed is Ho Chi Minh City's commercial zeal. A stroll along Dong Khoi Street will take you past colonial-era landmarks and dozens of interesting new boutiques. Then plunge into the covered Ben Thanh Market, where vendors offer everything from fruit and fresh-cut flowers to traditional handicrafts to imported electronics and cosmetics.Or head for Cholon, the city's ancient China Town. Here you will find a fascinating maze of narrow lanes, bustling markets and flamboyantly colorful Chinese pagodas.
When they're not working, Ho Chi Minh City's residents are having fun. Food is a highlight here. The city is packed with eateries, ranging from simple sidewalk stalls to five-star hotel dining rooms. And following two decades of rest, nightlife is once again a priority. Ho Chi Minh City is full of places to see and be seen. Take your pick of pubs, pool halls, live-music shows, evening river-boat cruises, and trendy discos, where hip young people in the latest Hong Kong fashions dance to international tunes.
Ho Chi Minh City provides a rare opportunity to witness a society in transition. Spend a few days here you'll sense the city changing before your eyes. While Hanoi provides a glimpse into Vietnam's ancient traditions, Ho Chi Minh City reveals the nation's dynamic future.