Within a few minutes of entering Ho Chi Minh City, one is immediately taken by the overwhelming energy that pulses through its vibrant streets. In this busy city, recognized as the economic heart of Vietnam, the old and the new come together in a dizzying mass of life and bustling activity. From the neverending parade of motorcyles and street carts, to the looming skyscrapers that dominate its impressive skyline, Ho Chi Minh City is a dynamic gem of a destination, and a phenomenal last stop for this three month Photo Tour adventure.
We said goodbye to the Toum Tiou I this morning and immediately began our tour with a visit to Ho Chi Minh City’s Chinatown. Our first stop was Binh Tay Market, one of the city’s busiest markets and main distribution hubs. With hundreds of stalls to peruse in this multi-sectioned space, you can purchase anything from a freshly made lunch to bulk orders of sandals, clothing, backpacks and shark fin. Walking through the market was a bit of a sensory overload, with new sights, smells and noises filling the atmosphere at every turn. This chaotic environment is one of the many charms of Vietnam, as we would soon discover throughout the day.
A short drive then took us to Thien Hau Temple, a tranquil Chinese temple located in the heart of Chinatown. Dedicated to the goddess Thien Hau, protector of sailors and goddess of the sea, the interior is gorgeous and unexpectedly ornate. Colourful dioramas made of porcelain line the upper sides of the courtyard walls while whimsical spirals of incense (that burn for two weeks) hang suspended from the ceiling. Three statues dedicated to Thien Hau line the main altar, and dispersed in the temple are visitors who have come from all over the country to pray for their families. No doubt, the quiet ambiance of this stop made for a calm break from the otherwise chaotic rhythm of the city:
Lunch today, being my last day in Vietnam, was naturally a heaping bowl of pho, a delicious noodle soup prepared with savoury broth, rice noodles and all the toppings you desire, from sliced meats and beef balls for purists, to tripe and tendon for those with more adventurous tastebuds. With additional bean sprouts, fresh basil and hot sauce, the result is absolute perfection, as evidenced by my giddy excitement which remained in tact until the very last slurp.
After a brief stop at another restaurant specializing in spring rolls, we made our way to the Reunification Palace, one of the most important and iconic buildings in the city. Despite its sterile concrete exterior, this palace is a must-see simply for its centrality to Vietnamese history and politics. It was here in 1975 that the Vietnam War came to its dramatic conclusion, when massive tanks crashed through the palace’s main gates and South Vietnam finally surrendered, putting an end to decades of conflict. Prior to this series of events however, the palace served as the residence for South Vietnam’s president, making it the political heart of the city. Since the 70s, the palace has remained relatively unchanged, which made our visit feel a bit like stepping into a time capsule. Throughout our tour, we explored everything from elegant meeting rooms and offices to gaudy entertainment spaces like the president’s home theatre and bar. Walking through the palace was like taking a walk through history, and it was absolutely fascinating.
Our tour around the city continued with two legacies left behind from Ho Chi Minh City’s French colonial past: the Notre Dame of Saigon Cathedral, whose bright red exterior is owed to bricks imported from Marseilles, and the city’s Post Office, designed by Gustave Eiffel in the late 19th century. This post office was probably one of the most extravagant ones I have ever seen. With its high arched ceilings, gorgeous tiled floor and bright yellow façade, I felt like I was stepping into an ornate European train station!
In the evening, after a lovely meal at the hotel, I went out and explored Ho Chi Minh City for one last time with my guide. After sunset, the city radiated a new, vibrant energy that was more than fitting for a Saturday night. Hordes of people flooded the streets, lined up at restaurants and bars, while teenagers clustered in packs at the city’s main square. The entire walk felt bittersweet. While I was thrilled to see this side of the city, my excitement soon gave way to the realization that this would be my last night of the Photo Tour and my last night exploring a completely new place and atmosphere… but, as they say, all good things must come to an end, and no matter how hard I try to deny it, that sad truth applies to this adventure as well.
While I am soon on my way home to Vancouver, there is no doubt in my mind that this summer cruising with CroisiEurope will linger in my memory for years to come. There is honestly no better way I could have imagined spending my summer, and I am forever indebted to those who have made this journey possible! To the staff at CroisiEurope who have supported me every step of the way, to the many crew members that I have met on-board, and of course, to you, the readers who have followed along on this amazing journey, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for being part of an unforgettable summer. It was an experience that far exceeded my expectations, and one that has given me countless memories to cherish for a lifetime.
Until next time, friends… I wish you a life full of breathtaking travels and adventures!
All the best,