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places to visit in ho chi minh city

Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam, and is a fascinating blend of East and West, with Chinese influence from centuries of dominance, and French design from its colonial past. It is largely unspoiled by modern architecture of the 1970s and 80s, and is now going through a modernization that is making it a rising star in Southeast Asia.

Hanoi makes a fine capital. It has held that title for more than a thousand years, through several invasions, occupations, restorations, and name changes. The Chinese conquered the imperial city of of Dại La in 1408 and renamed it Tong Bình. Le Loi repelled the invaders in 1428 and applied the name of Le Thai To; for his efforts, he received the crown and a slew of legends about his heroic exploits, many centered around the Hoan Kiem Lake in the Old Quarter. The Nguyen Dynasty gave the city its modern name of Ha Noi in 1831, but they had transferred power to Hue by then; it remained there until 1887, when the French made Hanoi the capital of all Indochina. It changed hands again in 1954, when it was ceded to Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh after almost a decade of fighting, and it became the capital of North Vietnam; upon reunification in 1975, it assumed that title for the entire country.

As you walk along the street, you may find that people start talking to you. It is a cultural norm there to make conversation with strangers. They might ask you where you are from and other general questions.
It takes awhile to get used to that. However, there are times when you find this friendliness extremely helpful, such as when you are lost or need help. If a tourist is robbed on the street, other young male pedestrians might try to catch the culprit while female pedestrians help the victim by calling the cops or the ambulance if the victim is wounded.


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places to visit in ho chi minh city

hcm mausoleum photo

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.

The city down south may have his name, but only Hanoi has the man himself, entombed in distinctly Lenin-esque fashion - against his wishes, but that's how it goes. No talking, short pants, or other signs of disrespect allowed while viewing; photos are allowed only from outside, in the grand Ba Dinh Square. Purses are allowed into the tomb, but expect them to be searched by several bored soldiers along the way. Left luggage is handled in a complicated scheme: there is an office near the street for large bags, with separate windows for Vietnamese and foreigners, and a further office for cameras, which will be transported to a third office right outside the exit of the mausoleum. Items checked in at the first office, however, will stay there. Note that the mausoleum is closed for a couple months around the end of the year, when the body is taken abroad for maintenance.



hcm museum photo

Ho Chi Minh Museum

This gleaming white museum and its gloriously ham-handed iconography are the perfect chaser to the solemnity of the mausoleum. The building, completed in 1990, is intended to evoke a white lotus. Some photos and old letters are on display on the second floor, but the main exhibition space is on the third floor. It includes cars crashing through walls to represent the chaos of post-war American capitalism, soldiers charging around with electric plugs, a cave hideout re-imagined as the inside of Ho Chi Minh's brain, and several other postmodern confections integrated with the main story of the man's life and his country's struggle. One of the more informative museums in Vietnam, and perhaps one of the oddest in the world. Guides are available in English, French, Chinese and Russian, but don't bother; the displays are labeled in English and French, and it's hard to imagine the guides doing much other than belaboring the point.




presidential palace photo

Ho Chi Minh's Vestige In The Presidential Palace Area

The exit from the mausoleum takes you right into the grounds of the, uh, vestige, where Ho Chi Minh lived and worked from 1954 until his death in 1969. The nicely landscaped complex includes two of Ho Chi Minh's houses, kept shiny and "as he left them" by the authorities, as well as a garage with two of Ho's "used cars" and a carp-filled pond. The Presidential Palace is also nearby, but it's not always open to visitors.





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One-Pillar Pagoda

Travelers find the One-Pillar Pagoda either charming and lovely or utterly pointless, depending on how many tour groups are crammed into the small grounds at the time of their visit.








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Air Force Museum

There's a decent outdoor collection of Soviet-built MiG fighters, a huge Mi-6 helicopter, and other aircraft; unfortunately they've been exposed to the elements for some time and local kids climb over them.







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Fine Arts Museum

Only party-approved art is shown here and there is no information in English and only little in Vietnamese, but it is an interesting museum at any rate, with pieces such as the wonderful pictures of soldiers on boats depicted on prehistoric bronze drums, Buddhist art, revolutionary art of the 20th century wars, and also some interesting silk paintings.






army museum photo

Army Museum

Vietnam's military history extends back some two millennia, and this museum covers it on four buildings with interesting pieces. Item descriptions on museum exhibits are in Vietnamese, French and English. On display outside are the ubiquitous MiG-21 jet fighter, T-54 tank and many bombs and articles captured on Indochina and Vietnam wars.






museum of vietnamese history photo

National Museum of Vietnamese History

This is a collection from Vietnamese history from about 1000 years back until 1945. Many antiques and the such.









ho chi minh museum photo

Temple of Literature

The Temple of Literature was founded in 1070 and established as the country's first university six years later. The courtyard features numerous stone tablets, each mounted on the back of a tortoise, with the names of graduates







temple of literature photo

Hoan Kiem Lake

A pleasant park in the center of town, within easy walking distance from anywhere in the Old Quarter. It's the locals' favorite leisure spot, and a great place to watch people practicing tai chi in the morning or to sit and read in the afternoon. Hoan Kiem means "returned sword", and the name comes from a legend in which King Le Loi was given a magical sword by the gods, which he used to drive out the invading Chinese. Later, while boating on the lake, he encountered a giant turtle, which grabbed the sword and carried it down to its depths, returning it to the gods from whom it had come. Rumor has it the giant turtles still inhabit the lake.

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