possibilities in Ho Chi Minh City
From City Hall, another short walk takes you to the Reunification
Palace. It occupies the site of the Norodom Palace, an early
colonial masterpiece constructed to accommodate the Governor–general
of Indochina. When the French left, it was taken over by Ngo
Dinh Diem to be his Presidential Palace. It was pulled down
after being bombed by two insurgent South Vietnam Air Force
pilots in a failed attempt to assassinate the President.
Its present building
is hardly up to the architectural standards of its predecessor
– at first glance, the upper floors resemble a sixties-style
multi-storey car park. Inside, it’s a fascination time warp,
little changed since its occupation by the Saigon regime.
Once a Chinese ghetto, Cho Lon rose to be Saigon’s commercial
heartland. After reunification, many Vietnamese of Chinese
extraction started to flee the country fearing reprisals after
their support of the Saigon Regime. Vietnam’s deteriorating
relationship with its huge neighbour culminating in the abortive
Chinese invasion of 1979 turned the river of refugees into
a raging torrent, but even though hundreds of thousands left,
there is still a large Chinese population.
for the highly decorated Chinatowns found in Western cities
will be disappointed – it’s much more authentic than the tacky
tourist attractions in the UK and US. Apart from its continual
commercial activity, tiny shops, massive markets and fascinating
street life, it contains some of the best temples and assembly
houses in Saigon. To do it justice, a half-day would be inadequate.
Named Rue Catinat by the French, Dong Khoi was the quintessence
of Saigon Chic during the colonial period. The world’s beautiful
people of the day would stroll around its boutiques and sip
aperitifs in bijou bars and hotel terraces before dinner in
its many restaurants and brasseries. As the colonial fin de
siècle drew near, the street lost its glitter and with the
arrival of the US Army, descended into a sleaze pit of brothels
Today it has regained
much of its fashionable aura as the centrepiece of District
1. After breakfast or lunch at the Majestic Hotel, a stroll
up Dong Khoi past the Grand Hotel to the Saigon Opera House,
perhaps with refreshment at Maxim’s on the away, is a delight.
If you're a Graham
Greene fan, you'd probably enjoy visiting his haunts and the
locations he used for ‘The Quiet American’.
Take a short detour
into Dong Du, two-thirds of the way up Dong Khoi, and you'll
come across the Jamia Muslim Mosque. There's not much to see,
but the Mosque has a basic dining room at the rear that's
become a very popular lunch venue.