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Posts tagged ‘Ho Chi Minh City’

Old Saigon, New Ho Chi Minh City

Call it Saigon. Call it Ho Chi Minh City. To me this capital is the perfect example in Asia of past meeting present, of capitalism and skyscrapers descending on a city. During the first five minutes of walking around in HCMC, I spotted an older woman wearing a traditional hat crossing the street with an old building and gleaming new one in the background:

To use a bit of a cliched phrase, HCMC was a bustling metropolis. There were plenty of motorcycles and traffic. I found HCMC interesting, but I think the skyscrapers and traffic reminded me a bit of Jakarta, so I wasn’t crazy about the place or smitten the way I was with Hanoi. Would it be a good place to live? Based on the dining and night life scene I saw, I think so. But tourism-wise, I found three days to be enough.

Like almost everywhere I’ve visited in Asia (Laos being the exception) malls and designer brands like Burberry have firmly staked out their spots, including in the beautiful buildings around City Hall (so much for stringent communism?):

The War Remnants Museum was our first stop of the trip. Old American planes and helicopters sit in the outdoor courtyard and Vietnamese men missing arms approach tourists with piles of books for sale. The museum focuses on the Vietnam War and the atrocities that occurred during the war. Told, of course, from the Vietnamese perspective, so don’t expect something approaching a balanced account. One quote that I noticed several times came from a famous American:

“We of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations who participated in the decisions on Vietnam acted according to what we thought were the principles and traditions of this nation. We made our decisions in light of those values. Yet we were wrong, terribly wrong. We owe it to future generations to explain why.” –Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense

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Vietnam Eats

Before I write about Hue and Ho Chi Minh City, I wanted to make everyone hungry. I traveled to Vietnam ready to eat and I had a list of recommendations from Princeton in Asia fellows living in country, so I was ready to go (see the end of this post for a full list of restaurants and addresses).


Vietnamese food is full of fresh herbs and vegetables, so it was a terrific break from the deep fried fare of Indonesia. On our first day in Hanoi we stopped by Quan An Ngon (18 P Phan Boi Chau). This was a wonderful place to sample many different street foods without the potential dangers that come with eating on the street. Up first was a delicious Vietnamese version of papaya salad topped with plenty of peanuts and a nice tangy dressing with hints of fish sauce. I’ll be trying to recreate this dish at home.

Next we tried a lotus root dish. Lotus root is meaty and when combined with shrimp and other ingredients in a sweet dressing it’s hard to distinguish it.

Any trip to Vietnam isn’t complete unless many portions of spring rolls are eaten. We tried streamed rolls (below) and wrapping our own rolls (photo at the top of the post). The fresh spring rolls we wrapped included pieces of star fruit and banana as well as shrimps, greens and a nice dipping sauce. Most American grocery stores now carry spring roll wrappers in their Asian food sections.

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