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Ho Chi Minh City remembered as Pearl of the Far East

August 26, 2017 Destination Feature, Headline News No Comments Email Email

“Pearl of the Far East” was the name of the old port city of Saigon-Cho Lon, the name of two of the big settlements at the winding Saigon River, which grew together in the course of time to become Ho Chi Minh City in 1976, due to the memory of Uncle Ho, the former great leader of the Vietnamese people.

Formerly a Khmer port city called Prei Nokor, Saigon-Cho Lon was an important trade city for Vietnamese and Chinese. When German explorer Dr. Adolf Bastian arrived there within a boat sailing down the Mekong River from Phnom Penh in early 1864, he mentioned the importance of the rice exportation to India and on to the European markets. Before the French occupied Saigon in 1859, the city had 50,000 inhabitants, much less than the more than 7.5 millions who are living there now. Actually, Ho Chi Minh City is the largest city in Viet Nam, even bigger than the capital in the northern part of the country Ha Noi.

When arriving at the busy Tan Son Nhat International Airport some 5 km outside the city, it takes only a short time to reach District 1 – still called Saigon – and located right at a bend of the Saigon River. The vibrant heart of the city with its colonial charm is the place to be. Nearly all the famous luxury hotels are there such as the Rex Hotel, Continental, Park Hyatt, Intercontinental, Sofitel Plaza, Sheraton, Renaissance, Majestic and the Caravelle among other smaller boutique hotels.

The elegant Dong Khoi Street is the center of activities with its myriad of handicraft shops and restaurants. It starts at the river and ends at the red-brick built Notre Dame Cathedral built between 1877 and 1883 right in the middle of the city. Nearby is the impressive Central Post Office built between 1886 and 1891! Another old French-style building is the Opera House at the corner with Le Loi Street. The three-storey building has a seating capacity of 1,800 and offers different programs such as concert, drama and ballet performances.

If you up the Nguyen Hue Boulevard from the river, you reach the impressive City Hall – formerly called Hotel de Ville – completed in 1908. There is a small park in front with a sitting statue of Ho Chi Minh, while the Bitexco Financial Tower with its height of 262 m and 68 floors is a central landmark seen from every corner. The biggest market in the city is called Ben Thanh at the end of Le Loi Street, where you can find a lot of different things such as vegetables, fish, fruit, cloths, shoes and electronic goods. Another market is the crowded Binh Tay Market in China Town or Cho Lon.

For the culturally-minded visitor, Ho Chi Minh City offers a myriad of pagodas and temples to visit such as the Vinh Nghiem Japanese Pagoda, Xa Loi, Pagoda, Ngoc Hoang Chinese Temple, the oldest Buddhist temple of Giac Lam, and the two Chinese temples of Quan Am and Thien Hau in Cho Lon. There is also the Saigon Central Mosque and the only Hindu temple still in use dedicated to the Hindu Goddess Sri Mariamman.

Galleries and museums abound. Not miss to visit the centrally located Reunification Palace – airy and open with spacious chambers and modern decorations. Designed for the president of the Republic of Viet Nam until 1975, the modern architecture also features a network of rooms at the basement with a tunnel that stretches all the way to the Gia Long Palace, now known as the Revolutionary Museum. Other museums are the WarRemnants Museum, Museum of Ho Chi Minh City, Fine Arts Museum, and the memorial Nha Rong Wharf Museum with pictures and objects from Ho Chi Minh, who left from here to France in June 1911.

In 1929, the classical “Museum of History” was built within the boundaries of the Saigon Zoological and Botanical Garden, just opposite the Hung King Memorial. It shows the long evolution of the Vietnamese people and displays artifacts from the first human vestiges some 300,000 years ago until the establishment of the Vietnamese Communist Party in 1930. There are also special show rooms of the Oc Eo culture (Funan), Cham art, ethnic groups in Viet Nam, Buddha statues and ancient ceramics.

For visitors with more time for sightseeing, there are tours to book to go from the Hydrofoil Terminal at the Saigon River to Vung Tau, or make an excursion to the Can Gio Mangrove Forest, Mekong Delta, or to the interesting Cu Chi Tunnels. Furthermore, Ho Chi Minh City becomes a city for sports, local and international cuisine, coffee shops, shopping centers for silk, jewelry, and lacquer ware, entertainment venues and last not least, festivals and conferences.

Annually held in Ho Chi Minh City in September, there is the International Travel Expo (ITE HCMC 2017) not to be missed, where thousands of tourism businesses will convene at the Saigon Exhibition & Convention Center (SECC). So for this year, run for the 13th time, join this exclusive “Mekong Region” event that is only open for travel trade professionals on September 7 and 8, while September 9 is for the public. New markets, different partnerships, and fresh business opportunities will wait for you.

Written by : Reinhard Hohler

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