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Ho Chi Minh City (former Saigon), notes

presented by Michael Palomino (2013)



Arriving in Ho Chi Minh City you will get the impression: Over 7 million persons have to organize themselves without tube, without express trains. 95% of the dwellers are more or less poor and can only afford a motorbike. That means, HCMC is in an intermediate stadium, is not a bicycle town any more, but is not a blocked car town yet.

In March 2013 Ho Chi Minh City was a motorbike town with a far distributed bus net, with mostly roofed bus stations, but these public buses are driving so lazy like a bike, and bus lanes are missing, and with these conditions the public bus net is not at all attractive.


Traffic in HCMC
-- motor bikes are dominating in a dwelling area of over 7 million inhabitants con peak hours from 7 to 8:30 and 16:30 to 18 hours with motor bikes like avalanches making a hellish noise
-- sidewalks are more and more narrow for installing more traffic lanes
-- sidewalks are traditionally uses to park the motor bikes
-- often only 1.5 m are left of the sidewalks but also these are blocked with motor bikes or there is a lamppost blocking the sidewalk
-- crosswalks are sometimes blocked by crash barriers in the middle for a "more fluent" traffic
-- motor bikes use often also the sidewalks, and thus some parks have protected entrances by blocking bars and chains. Thus also people in wheel chairs have no access to these parks

-- road cleaning machines do not exist, but all is cleaned by hand yet
-- there is no belt highway and the main traffic is passing the two main streets passing the center
-- also a town's tunnel is not existing but a motorway tunnel under Sai Gon River connecting the 1st with the 2nd district
-- big pedestrian zone is missing
-- bikeways are missing
-- parks are always more little and not bigger because corrupt government is erecting certain buildings in the park

Traffic in HCMCTaxi drivers in Ho Chi Minh City
-- most car taxis are with air condition and are painted in an unremarkable color white with green stripes
-- taxi drivers often make a rest sleeping in their car
-- motor bike taxis are much faster but sometimes also a little bit an adventure
-- some web sites are warning from fraud by taxi drivers in Vietnam with too high fees or with detours etc.
-- when I wanted a taxi I was always with a map of the town so it was always clear where I wanted and where the taxi driver has to go, but the taxi drivers - like all Vietnamese - are not "strong" reading maps
-- sometimes taxi drivers are pretending they would know everything but they don't know much, for example where is which museum, and then it can happen that a taxi driver in HCMC is driving the tourist to the wrong museum. This happened to me, but this was not a big mistake because also the "not wanted" museum was a bullseye
-- during a trip to a museum I had to indicate a shorter way to a taxi driver because he obviously did not know that a little road was usable in both directions...

Public traffic in HCMC
-- bus lanes are missing
-- there is no net card, no daily ticket, no magnet card, and any route has to be paid one by one
-- a speed boat is the only fast public traffic in HCMC and is for example connecting HCMC passing Sai Gon River with the port town of Vung Tau about 120 km more in the east lasting 75 minutes starting with the company "Hydro foil" from Bach Dang Peer for 10 dollars
-- from the town of Vung Tao ships are starting to the island of Con Dao every second working day where old prisons of colonial times and of Vietnam War and Diem times can be seen. Unfortunately there was no indication on which working days the ships are starting because tourist offices are only selling tourist flights to Con Dao
-- there are more speed boat tours to Mekong Delta, jungle tours and sunset tours
-- speed boats are also going Sai Gon River upwards to Cuchi with the tunnel system of Cuchi (company: Saigon River Express)
-- other public traffic is NOT existing on the rivers of HCMC, also pedestrian ferries and pedestrian bridges are missing, and therefore the complete potential of public traffic on rivers and a big part of the potential of pedestrian traffic is lying idle in HCMC

-- train traffic is stuck in the dimension of colonialism. The access to the main station of HCMC for example has only one track and when a second track will be built houses have to go
-- a train travel from HCMC to Hanoi along the coast line is 36 hours, say web sites.

Finances in HCMC
-- Vietnam suffers a catastrophic inflation and Dong currency is always less worth (it seems that only government members have accounts abroad without inflation). IN March 2013 one "U.S." dollar was 20,614.00 Dong. In normal language this meant
1 Dollar = 20,000 Dong
10 Dollars = 200,000 Dong
100 Dollars = 2 million Dong

-- money machines in Vietnam are sometimes limited, but somewhere will work always some credit card systems. As a tourist with European credit cards not every card can be used with every money machine. Thus one has to try out several money machines during some hours for finding out which bank and which money machine is the best for the personal credit cards. Some money machines only accept VISA credit card, others also VISA Plus card and maestro card. Some money machines are limited with 1 million Dong, others with 5 million etc.

Finance traffic in Vietnam: Western Union is badly limited
-- Western Union in Vietnam only permits sending money within Vietnam
-- sending money abroad is prohibited, also when the money is from the own foreign account coming from the money machine
-- sending money abroad is only permitted when the money is provable from a Vietnamese account where money from abroad is coming in.

This limitation in finance traffic prohibiting sending money abroad of also little sums is very painful and is blocking any familiar connection crossing the national border. For example I could not pay my rent abroad and could not support friends abroad and thus I left Vietnam earlier than wanted.

Telephone traffic in HCMC
-- anybody can have a mobile phone in Vietnam, but calls abroad are not possible with it
-- I did hardly see any telephone shop in HCMC. That means that connections abroad are very limited in Vietnam and practically can only be managed by Internet. But the population of Vietnam is mostly illiterate concerning Internet.

Internet in HCMC
-- Vietnam has not many Internet cafés like other countries, and most people in Vietnam cannot understand ANYTHING about Internet until today (2013) which is very sad because this gap of wisdom can be shut very easily, but it seems that Vietnam government wants this like this.

Climate in HCMC (former Saigon)
Traveling time is the dry season between October until March. From march the number of rainy days is consequently rising: March 1.9 rainy days, April 5.4 rainy days, May 17.8 rainy days. Climate is sticky. Rain is falling in July and August regularly between 4 and 8 pm.

Architecture in HCMC
-- tourist hotels have a good standard of middle-class, and most hotels in Vietnam also have an elevator (which is mostly missing in Thailand), but in Vietnam mosquito nets are missing
-- locals are living in narrow streets and lanes, often deadlocks, and everybody is controlling everybody here and there is an incredible atmosphere of controlling like in Thailand with Thai population because there is no teaching of sexuality and love
-- HCMC is said to have a backpacker's area (Pham Ngu Lao) where also motor bikes can be rent for 10,000 Dong (5 dollars). But this is only worth after 2 years of stay when the plan of the town is well known.

Hotels in Vietnam also have an "escort service". The information was that it begins with 70,000 Dong...

Vietnamese women are often living with the tradition of a long traditional dress in which they hardly can move fast. And this will be also the habit in the night - they don't know much about the night because there is no education for night life, very sad, or only in secret brothels.

Gastronomy in HCMC (former Saigon)
-- most street restaurants and snack stands in the streets of HCMC are offering a little children furniture with baby chairs and baby tables, absolutely unpractical, but Vietnamese are accustomed to it - by any reason I don't know
-- only good restaurants in hotels or for tourists have normal furniture for adults - by any reason I don't know - it's inexplainable
-- expensive Vietnamese restaurants have NO offer in English, and thus a tourist probing the folk's kitchen cannot probe anything because the waitor also does not speak English...
-- Vietnamese mostly only drink little alcohol because by the wars during decades they are living in a harsh discipline yet and have a great solidarity.

Language in HCMC
Vietnamese was transcribed into a Latin scripture by "Christian" missioners, and this Latin scripture is official today. Spelling and additional signs are rather complicated. Walking with a little language book can provoke much sympathy with Vietnamese people, and people want to teach spelling at once because spelling in the book is often indicated in a wrong way (like in Thailand). But one has to make attention because Vietnamese from North Vietnam have another spelling with many words than South Vietnamese, and therefore learning Vietnamese can be very, very complicated...

Museums in HCMC

-- opening times of museums in HCMC are very bad with a lunch break almost in any museum
-- some museums in HCMC (for example the Women's Museum) have partly only texts in Vietnamese and this is very sad because the message is missing for any tourist.

War Museum about Vietnam War
Criminal "U.S.A." with it's chemical war with Agent Orange and other Agents destroying jungle and harvests brought a huge amount of data which can hardly be presented in a museum. War Museum shows only some aspects of Vietnam War. The visitors are hardly reading the texts, and therefore the message is hardly transmitted. Unfortunately there is no book about the museum, no guide book, and also no big leaflet, and this is more or less unintelligible because this would be a stable income for the state and a demonstration of solidarity for Vietnamese population.

War Museum in HCMC was founded in 4 September 1975 and was renamed several times: It was called
-- first "Exhibition House for US and Puppet Crimes"
-- then from 1990 on "Exhibition House for Crimes for War and Aggression"
-- then (after the retreat of Vietnamese troops from Cambodia) in 1994 the "U.S." embargo was lifted against Vietnam
-- and since 1995 the museum is called "War Remnants Museum".

The structure of War Museum in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC)
-- war museum contains a museum court with some war "tools" like original tanks, helicopters, arms, bombs and air planes, but a B-52 is missing unfortunately
-- at the entrance of the museum's building there is a stand with handicraft where Agent Orange victims are selling who have only a little damage, for example a little hyposomia not hindering selling and assistance work with clients
-- every Saturday and Sunday also more damaged Agent Orange victims are presented there, with an assistance, for example a pianist without eyes, a hyposomia person with deformed and missing bones etc.
-- the first big hall in the 1st floor shows connections of Vietnam War
-- in the second floor are the hall with Agent Orange victims with touching texts and photos, and there is also an exhibition about more connections of Vietnam War with rifles, mines etc.

In 1945 Vietnam had an independence war against French colonialism, but already since 1945 "U.S.A." were intervening with financial support and weapon deliveries.

Ho Chi Minh Museum
-- Ho Chi Minh Museum has a wonderful terrace with a view on Sai Gon River, and the entry really is not only worth the museum but also the romantic museum's terrace
-- Ho Chi Minh Museum also has a very rich gift shop with tourist books about Ho Chi Minh City also with a map of the town, and with handicrafts, very beautiful.

Women's Museum in HCMC
Ho Chi Minh City has also a "Women's Museum", and this is really something special in the world. This museum is honoring women of Vietnam with a general section with clothes, jewelry and activities. And in the upper floor Vietnamese women are honored who have helped during Vietnam War, for example transporting goods and weapons, or women pioneer troops for ferries and bridges, cooking and caring and healing etc. The museum is huge and unfortunately some texts are only in Vietnamese so the message is lost for the tourist.

Also the Women's Museum has got a big terrace with a view over the big museum's court with a monument for a special Vietnamese woman who was resisting against racist French colonialists in a very special way: Vo Thi Sau. Also the street has her name where the museum has got it's site.

Medicine museum
-- medicine museum in HCMC is a jewel and does not only contain medicine but also contains a little collection of Yoni and a huge ceramic collection with medical vessels
-- additionally this medicine museum contains many wonderful wooden carvings.

Ton Duc Than Museum
-- politician Ton Duc Than was one of the politicians with Ho Chi Minh
-- the museum contains a rich collection of objects and photos of Ton Duc Than, but also a very important hall with photos and texts about prison island of Con Dao.

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