Formerly Saigon, Vietnam biggest city changed its name in Ho Chi Minh City after its fall in 1975, when the new communist government decided to honor its leader, actually Ho Chi Minh. The 6 million people living in this area, west of Saigon river, make it a vibrant, though chaotic, place, where tradition is still dominant. Ho Chi Minh is the economic capital of Vietnam, also promoting new cultural trends. Violence and destruction from 1975 are not forgotten, but Ho Chi Minh moved to a new life; streets teem with a multitude of vendors and during the weekends Ho Chi Minh city centre gets full of young Vietnameses hanging around with their bikes. Ho Chi Minh City may lack of charm and elegance, but that's not preventing a green project development, called South Saigon Yacht Park: it is an example on how a new ecologic trend is taking place in Vietnam. It will deserve a visit, as soon as it is completed.
Getting around in Ho Chin Minh
As an eco-minded traveler, you can start to put your thought in practice, by moving around on foot, unless you can put up with the heat. Most of the central district could be reach with easy walks. A vehicle is not recommended, because the traffic is so intense that sometimes either cars or motorbikes (usually with three persons on) are within 50 cm length from you.
It is also possible to rent a bicycle at one the guesthouses or at tourist shop. Taxi are the preferred option during the wet season, while motorbikes taxis are fast but quite scary, and sometimes dangerous. All in all, moving around Ho Chi Minh City is cheap and convenient, and easy too, as long as you are very careful at any crossing, especially in presence of a car or a truck; motorbikes are usually good in moving around you!
Activities, ecotours and wilderness
One of the main activities in Ho Chi Minh City, as well in the rest of the country, is a close encounter with the Vietnamese cuisine. Famous all over the world, it has developed under Russian, French, Chinese, American and Indian influences, being a true melting-pot. Learning how to prepare Vietnamese food could be a very interesting activity, especially if it is done through a cooking class. In this way is also possible to know the culture and the tradition behind any dish.
A popular ecotourism attraction is the Can Gio Island, a wilderness and nature sanctuary, with its mangrove forests and diverse flora and fauna. People go to Can Gio Island to see the Macaques, friendly and playful monkeys, spot the numerous birds, and watch feeding, or feed, the local crocodiles.
Vietnam Discovery arranges trips to Can Gio Island every day, as well as Ho Chi Minh C ity day tours and Cu Chi tunnels half day tours. The latter is a touching, other than claustrophobic, experience, because they are famous to be the intricate networks used by the Viet Cong to launch surprise attack to American soldiers. The '60 are well gone and the war is over, but in Cu Chi tunnels there is still a particular atmosphere. A must see.
Green accommodation in Ho Chi Min
Former Saigon doesn't offer a wide range of green accommodation, but there are still some options for a green traveler. One of these is Cinnamon, a clean, nature inspired hotel; all the rooms are furnished with natural materials and solar panels are used for hot water. Anyway, the city is full of family run guesthouses: very simple and comfortable places, where feeling like 'home away form home'.
Organic Food and Vegetarian Dining
Vegetarian cuisine is easy to found in Asia, and Vietnam is not an exception. Here are some suggestions: Ngoc Tho, An Lac Chay (try their broccoli saut?ed in garlic) and Tib Restaurant. Street vendors have different vegetarian dishes too, so the choice is wide and satisfying.
An incredible wealth of organic food and local products can be found in Ho Chi Minh City night market, such as Cho Ky Hoa, where the food is delicious and really cheap, Cho Lon and Hoa Hung.
Ben Thanh Night Market is the most famous, and for the same reasons some people love it and others consider it too touristic.
Shopping in Ho Chi Minh
It is possible to find everything needed in Ho Chi Minh; the most important thing is to know where to go. Ben Thanh Night Market is the most popular and here any common good is available, like fresh food, tobacco, clothing, etc. Prices are a bit higher than elsewhere due to the presence of many tourists. An Dong is perfect for cheap meals, while Dan Sinh Market is the best for electronics.
If looking for a more particular and unique products, Anupa Eco Boutique use sustainable materials to produce handmade leather products, like bags, jeweleries and clothing. It is located at 17/27 Le thanh ton, district 1.
Photo credit: flickr.com - malingering