Vietnam & Cambodia
By Rhianna Coote
4 July 2019
This was my first ever long-haul trip and wow, what a way to start! We flew with Vietnam Airlines, the 4-star airline operating out of London Heathrow Terminal 4.Read more
Once just a small fishing village, occupied by the Khmer people and known as Prey Nokor, Ho Chi Minh City is Vietnam's largest and most exciting city, with a population in excess of seven million and one of the highest population densities in the world. Ho Chi Minh is a vibrant place with a rich cultural history. The city remains in transition since its traumatic experiences during the Vietnam War.
The city was known as Saigon under French colonial rule - a name which a majority of locals still use for their city. The design of the city was heavily influenced by the French - wide boulevards and grand historic colonial buildings can be seen across the central districts. Notre Dame Cathedral in Ho Chi Minh City was built by the French in the 19th century with bricks that were shipped in from Marseille.
The former presidential palace played a significant role during the Vietnam War and has been preserved as it was in 1966.
The museum first opened in 1929 and has a unique and varied collection of artefacts from 2,000 years of recorded history in Vietnam. Among the many celebrated items is a statue of the Buddha that has 1,000 eyes and 1,000 arms.
The city has a rich collection of beautiful temples, the most celebrated of which is the Emperor Jade Pagoda. The lavishly decorated temple is designed with influences from southern Chinese architecture.
Ho Chi Minh's Chinatown district is located on the far side of the Saigon River, away from the main part of the city. It is the oldest part of the city, with a particularly mysterious feel. It is also where you are likely to get a true glimpse of 'normal' life in Ho Chi Minh, particularly at the Binh Tay Market, which is busy throughout the day and can be quite manic in the morning.
The famous Cu Chi Tunnels are an underground network, heavily used by the Viet Kong army during their war with the USA. At their peak, the dense network of tunnels covered an amazing 155 miles (249 kilometres) in the Cu Chi area alone, and at their very longest the tunnels stretched from the outskirts of Saigon to the Cambodian border.
Parts of the complex were several storeys deep, filled with trapdoors and living areas. The conditions in the tunnels were never ideal, but at times they verged on appalling; sickness was rampant in certain sections of the tunnels on many occasions. Yet their importance in helping the Viet Kong avoid detection, win the war, and achieve reunification cannot be overestimated; and as such they are today revered by many of the Vietnamese people. The tunnels have now been enlarged slightly, to make them more easily accessible for the many visitors who come to what is almost a place of pilgrimage today.