Day 3: Saigon – city by day, street food by night
After a typically sumptuous breakfast in the Myst Dong Khoi, we take a stroll along Dong Khoi Street to the Saigon Opera House. From a bomb shelter to housing the parliamentary Lower House, the Opera House has had an interesting history. Restored in 1995 the Opera House has returned its roots and is once again a working theatre. On the way we pass shops selling amazing hand-carved sailing ships of all sizes, from small enough to fit in a bottle to larger than a motorbike.
Next, we stroll to the city’s Central Post Office (right) which, legend erroneously has it, was designed by the renowned French architect Gustav Eiffel (of tower fame). Nevertheless, it’s a fabulous building redolent in recent and not-so-recent history and an absolute must-see.
If you’re lucky you can meet the octogenarian who used to write letters for illiterate locals and still has his own permanent seat at a bench. And you can imagine yourself as a journalist filing war reports from old-fashioned phone boxes, some of which have been converted to secure ATM booths.
And from the square in front, before developers move in, be among the last to see the rooftop which featured in the famous picture (below, right) of the last chopper out of Saigon in 1975.
Moving on, we visit the Reunification (formerly Presidential) Palace, once a symbol of the South Vietnamese Government. It was here on 30 April 1975, that the war ended when a North Vietnamese Army tank crashed through its gates. See the war room, the banquet hall and the presidential office with the unusual gifts received by various presidents from world leaders.
Somewhat quaintly, all Government buildings close for lunch so we will take their cue and head to Pho 2000 to have the famous noodle soup at the very table at which president Bill Clinton dined when he visited Saigon.
Across the road, is Ben Thanh Market – the scene of many anti-war protests and now a thriving market for locals and tourists alike. Sharpen your bargaining skills as you try to distinguish between fake designer goods and genuine ‘knock-offs’.
In the afternoon, continue to the War Remnants Museum. Here, your guide will tell the story of the city’s darkest and most tragic hours during the Vietnam War. Captured helicopters and planes in its courtyard sit alongside a relatively new exhibition showing the punishments and tortures meted out to members of the Viet Cong.
From a real guillotine, actually used to execute prisoners, to ‘tiger cages’, this is an exhibit for those of a stronger constitution.
Inside the main building there is a stunning exhibition of photographs taken by European Press photographers during the war, as well as an exhibit on the effects of Agent Orange that are still being felt today.
After a welcome rest in the hotel, get set for an evening culinary adventure away from the tourist areas and into the heart of the city, where the locals go to eat. These small pop up restaurants are a nightly feature that often disappear during the day.
It is a great opportunity to try all those weird and wonderful foods you see but just are not sure what they are. Pull up a tiny stool and taste a selection of different types of Vietnamese favourites from tasty banh mi baguettes, noodle dishes and flamed grilled barbecue skewers, maybe even rice paper pizza! End the night with dessert from one of Saigon’s best little place for sweet soups.
Meals: Breakfast, Dinner
Accommodation: The Myst Dong Khoi