· Tao Dan Cultural Park
Tao Dan Cultural Park in HCM City's District 1 has long been an entertainment
and recreational venue for Saigonese. With an area of about 10 hectares and more than 1,000 big trees, the park is surrounded
by Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, Cach Mang Thang Tam, Nguyen Du, and Huyen Tran Cong Chua streets. It is an ideal green space for
the people. Truong Dinh Street, which crosses the park, is always shady. The park is open at day and night time to receive
people who want to walk, do physical exercises, sit for relaxation, or read a book. Early every morning, this fresh and green
place is filled with old men, old women, and young people who have gathered to do exercise, walk, practice tai chi, and so
on. Such lively scenes give to Tao Dan Park a strong and youthful life force, and make it a fresh and peaceful space in the
heart of the city.
A secret tunnel in
Gia Long Palace is undergoing some much-needed repair
|A secret tunnel in Gia Long Palace. |
After several years of being left deserted, the secret tunnel under
Gia Long Palace, now the HCM City Museum, is being repaired. In early 1962, when Doc Lap (Independence) Palace, now the Reunification
Palace, was seriously damaged by bombs, then-President Ngo Dinh Diem moved to Gia Long Palace, which was built between 1885
and 1890. Diem ordered the tunnel to be built for his protection.
Lying four meters deep under the palace's backyard and flower garden,
the ferroconcrete tunnel was made to be able to withstand heavy shelling or aerial bombing. Running parallel with the main
building, the tunnel looks like a U-shape corridor. The bottom of the U is 20m long, with six rooms that were meant to be
living rooms; the two wings of the U are staircases connecting to the main building.
The two exits of the tunnel in the backyard, camouflaged as two blockhouses,
and its four entrances in the palace, were fitted with 10-centimeter-thick steel doors. Doors of every room in the tunnel
were made of steel of the same thickness. Each room was equipped with furniture, electric lamps and telecommunications system.
Although rusty, these heavy doors are still intact.
There were some rumors about this secret tunnel in the old regime.
Some people believed that the tunnel had many branches, one of which ran to Cha Tam Church in Cholon (District 5). Thanks
to such a branch, Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu could escape from the palace and hide at Ma Tuyen's house in
The tunnel has no such branches. Only one thing has been confirmed: the tunnel
was used during the last hours of the president and his brother on November 1, 1963. While in the palace, they got out and
went to Cholon, but were killed by the coup deùtat forces.
The management board of the museum refuses to say what the tunnel
repair will be completed for. But if it becomes one of the places open for visitors, the HCM City Museum will become even
1. The staircase in the main hall, where there are metal doors
to the tunnel. This is a favorite setting for brides-and grooms-to-be who want them to be photographed, but few have known
about the secret tunnel.
2. One of the two metal doors in the ground floor leading to the tunnel, which are under repair.
The staircase leading down to the tunnel.
4. The corridor connecting the six rooms in the tunnel, each with its own metal
5. One of the two blockhouses in the rear yard, which connect with the tunnel.
· The First Pedestrian Street
Dong Khoi has been mentioned most about becoming HCM City's first pedestrian
street, but it is Luu Van Lang, a small street on the side of Ben Thanh market, that has that distinction
Officially called Luu Van Lang Shopping Street, this street is decorated
with ornamental trees and special lighting systems. From 6p.m. to 10p.m. from Monday to Friday, and from 5p.m. to midnight
on Saturdays and Sundays, all vehicles are banned on this street.
Only 140 meters long, or about two minutes' walk, Luu Van Lang connects Nguyen
Trung Truc Street with Phan Boi Chau Street. But the street's short length is in contrast with its fame among those Saigonese
who are fond of fashionable clothes and footwear.
The street is lined with shops, from one end to the other. Named Ta Thu Thau before
1975, the street was a place for imported high-end clothes, cosmetics and footwear. It is also a favorite name remembered
by overseas Vietnamese who return to HCM City. Of the old names of shops that still exist, Hoa Loi and Thanh The are among
the most well-known.
Hoa Loi (No. 47 Luu Van Lang) has a history of almost five decades-since 1958-as
one of the best confectionery and biscuit shops in Saigon. Hoa Loi also sells processed food such as dried fish and shrimp,
prawn crackers, and milk crackers. In the 1980s, Saigonese frequented Hoa Loi if they wanted to have a gift for relatives
abroad. Nowadays, Hoa Loi has lost its "monopoly" but it remains a reliable address.
Thanh The, on the corner of Nguyen Trung Truc and Luu Van Lang,
used to be a luxury restaurant for the well-to-do and elite Saigonese before Vietnam reunited in 1975. Thanh The's specialty
is bun suong tom (rice vermicelli with shrimp), which can be eaten with French pat‚ chaud (hot pie). Thanh The Restaurant
is part of Thanh The Plaza where jewelry is sold. Therefore, gentlemen, just a few more steps and you'll be able to choose
a gift that most women long for-but it'll be expensive!
· Ben Thanh Market
What Saigonese know and don't know about their city's most familiar market-Ben
"If we don't have it, you don't need it." The two authors of Lonely Planet's travel guide to Vietnam
use this sentence to describe Ben Thanh Market. "The legendary slogan of U.S. country stores applies equally well here," they
say. In Vietnam, a song composer compared the market with the hustle and bustle of life. "Life is as busy as Ben Thanh Market,"
The Ben Thanh management board says the name stems from the fact that at the beginning the
market was near a wharf (beán) of Gia Dinh Citadel (thaønh).
Almost a century ago, in 1907, the construction
of Ben Thanh Market was approved by the city council. Construction was under way in 1912 and it was completed in 1914. During
World War II, the market was bombed by the Allied forces and heavily damaged. It was given a revamp in 1950.
Thanh Market has the best location among all the markets in HCM City. On an area of over 13,000 square meters, the market
is separated from the adjacent blocks by four streets. Its north side borders Le Thanh Ton Street, the east side Phan Boi
Chau and the west side Phan Chu Trinh. The south side faces Quach Thi Trang Square.
The market has
four main gates and 12 subordinate ones. The main gates are named after their directions-east, west, south and north.
have an idiom that says "thöôïng vaøng haï caùm" (which literally means from gold to bran). All the things between the two
are available at Ben Thanh Market. In addition, up to a hundred stalls sell dishes from throughout Vietnam.
The arrangement of the 1,500 stalls and shops are too complicated to be described briefly.
Shop owners are required to show prices for their goods. However, shoppers should bargain to get lower
prices. In many cases, the prices shown are not the real prices. The management board says price competition will not allow
a shop to quote prices much higher than those their next-door competitors offer.
Not all people
go to Ben Thanh Market to shop. Some go there out of curiosity. Foreign visitors account for a considerable proportion of
the visitors. The management board says every day the market has 15,000 visitors. Japanese tourists make up the bulk of foreign
Foreign visitors can use English to communicate with shopkeepers. Some of the sellers
can speak French, Chinese, Japanese or Korean. A foreign shopper shouldn't worry about the language barrier because every
shop there has a calculator. So, bargaining is done by using the calculator.
During the past few
years, Ben Thanh Market has become a safe place. Harassment, quarrelling, pickpocketing and robbery seldom occur inside the
market. Its 40-strong security force is ready to intervene.
A fire alarm and firefighting
system was installed recently. The market has reservoirs and more than 100 fire extinguishers at different places. Four backup
light columns, powered by separate sources, are installed for emergencies. The market has a total of 16 gates for entry and
There are two rows of restrooms, that is, toilets, inside the north side of the market.
market will have a basement in the future to increase the area for stalls. Parks will be constructed on surrounding blocks
to allow visitors to visit the market and stroll in the adjacent pedestrian quarters.
· Bonsai Boat Cruise
|Women in Ming costumes welcome guests on board of the Bonsai Boat for a party last
Every evening when dark-ness pervades HCM City, the Bonsai Boat starts its cruise
from Bach Dang Wharf for Vietnamese and foreigners to enjoy the scenery along the Saigon River together with buffet dinner
and live entertainment.
Operations manager Madlen Ernest says that the double-deck Bonsai Boat usually leaves
the wharf at 7:30 p.m. and then slowly glides through the water for passengers to feel the breeze and see the lit advertising
boards illuminating the river banks.
On one side of the boat is downtown HCM City, where thousands of lights of all types
shine splendidly in various colors from buildings and vehicles.
The other side is quite different though just the river separates it from the heart
of the city. Instead of high-rises, greenery shoots up, and life seems more or less the same as in the countryside at night.
But, things will change soon in that part of District 2, where urban development has started.
Next the boat passes under the Saigon Bridge and beside the villages of villas nestled
under trees in An Dien and An Phu. Then it returns to the wharf in downtown HCM City.
During the scenic one-and-a-half-hour journey, passengers can take a walk around
the traditional royal dragon boat, stopping by the buffet to select their favorite specialties of Vietnam and other parts
of the world.
Ernest says at the dessert corner, passengers can taste a wide selection of sweet
soups made from corn, banana or other fruits.
Guests are recommended to have dinner soon so that they will have more time to take
photos of the riverside scenery later.
A Vietnamese band called Hoa Mai performs jazz, and flamenco and other Spanish music
to entertain guests while they are having dinner or watching what’s going on along the river. On the way back, passengers
can dance to the music.
The Bonsai river cruise is, above all, a relaxing one. To this end, the boat attendants
also provide complimentary head-neck and shoulder massages during the cruise. At a stall of Vietnamese handicrafts, passengers
Ernest says the boat will also invite a calligraphist to portrait guests or write
Chinese characters and an artisan to demonstrate to he, which is the Vietnamese traditional art of kneading colored dough
into animal shapes and other figures.
The scenic cruise including the international buffet, cocktails, live entertainment,
a massage and giveaways.
The Bonsai Boat also organizes lunch cruises from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays
and Sundays with live jazz and classical tunes, scenic sunset cocktail and sunrise cruises, and Vietnamese cooking classes
and lunch from 9 a.m. to noon.
· Mangrove Forest
Only a stone's throw from downtown HCM City, the Can Gio Mangroves, a Unesco-recognized
biosphere reserve, sport untouched nature, as well as a deluxe resort, where you can stay for discovering the beautiful forest
and lakes in the area.
Located on the beach front between Vam Sat and Long Tau rivers, just 65 kilometers
from District 1, Phuong Nam Pearl Resort looks like a palace amidst trees, water and the fresh breeze, radiating a quiet and
Exploring the area starts right in the three-hectare resort that opened early September.
Its swimming pool next to the sandy beach is quite different for example, containing sea water.
The water is pumped into the pool from the sea with a technology that is new in Vietnam.
So when swimming in the pool, people feel as though they are in the sea, but it is even safer because the water is fresher
and cleaner than in the real Can Gio sea.
Near the "artificial" sea is a regular swimming pool for those who don't like the
saltwater. The resort also has a sport complex with courts for tennis, basketball, volleyball and petanque and rooms for table
tennis and billiards.
Surrounding attractions, including Dam Doi (Bat Lagoon), Dong Hoa Beach, Vam Sat
Salt-Marsh and Monkey Isle.
The landscape of Dam Doi is picturesque. Entering the lagoon, tourists will see hundreds
of bats hanging on high mangrove trees, giving the area its name.
At Vam Sat, storks and other birds come from everywhere every day to stay on the
sanctuary's date palm trees. Around April, these birds lay thousands of small eggs.
Apart from looking at the busy coming and going in the trees, tourists may fish and
Besides, the resort offers tours around the Can Gio mangroves. Guides will introduce
more than 150 kinds of plants, mostly mangrove and white cypress trees.
The area's flora and fauna, including 700 species of water fauna, also draws hundreds
of animals, including 137 species of fish and 130 species of birds.