Saigon, officially named Ho Chi Minh City is a thriving metropolis with an unavoidable western influence offering quite a different experience to Hanoi. Whilst Hanoi seems a city to be savoured with more traditions and obvious traces of the red-tape, Saigon catches up better and faster with the best and worst sides of "doi moi" movements (renovation of the country) following the market economy rules. This is commercial hub of Vietnam , the industrial muscle of the nation. This is the rendezvous of business people and hustlers, whilst not many of them carry visa-versus from Saigon to other big cities in Vietnam.
Towering developments start to break the skyline as multinationals fight for a seat on a plane into the country. Doi Moi and the lifting of the crippling embargo have opened the floodgates to an unstoppable torrent of foreign capital. Now everyone wants to be friends, after all, there is a lot of money to be made. After twenty years of forced sedation, Vietnam is now stirring but Saigon is wide awake.
For many of the inhabitants of Ho chi Minh City, nothing has changed. The streets still swarm with life. People buy and sell things, bargain, cook, wash, sleep, eat, drink, and live on the streets of Saigon. Despite the large amount of money being thrown around, the filter effect is yet to manifest itself and thousands of people have to survive on virtually nothing. Cyclo drivers, often unable to do other work due to government policy, earn next to nothing and are still being punished for being on the losing side. As they bed down for the night n their cyclo, across the road at the La Lai Hotel, the wealthy Vietnamese are arriving in their Mercedes Benz for a night of indulgence.
In one word, Saigon is facing all good and bad things caused by the new movements of Vietnam. It obviously promises lots of interesting things to discover, whilst remains an exciting centre for shopping and hanging around and somehow remind you of its one-time name "the Pearl of the Far Orient.
Cu Chi tunnels
These tunnels are a symbol of Vietnam's continual fight against foreign oppression and imperialism. The tunnel system covers close to 200 km including under what was once a US air base. The tunnels once spanned an area stretching from close to the Cambodian border to the city limits of Ho Chi Minh City . They can be seen to represent the Vietnamese attributes of ingenuity, loyalty, hard work and determination. They were originally constructed to fight against the French in the 1940s, to give a peasant army a means of communication between villages whilst remaining undetected. In 1960 the Viet Cong repaired and added to the tunnels to fight against the South Vietnamese and American forces. The Commander of the American forces in the region held the opinion that the Viet Cong who were responsible for digging them were like human moles. Although the tunnels were mainly designed with a fighting role in mind they also contained a wide array of chambers including field hospitals, meeting rooms and even private offices and sleeping quarters for senior officers. To repel attacks and infiltration, the tunnels contained many elaborate booby traps including concealed pits with bamboo spikes at the base, and mines and crossbows which would be triggered by trip wires. When you visit the tunnels, your guide should point out some of these traps, then look back over your path and try to decide how many of those you would have triggered. Some of the tunnels went under water, with a primitive S-Bend effect where the tunnel would open under the surface of a river, this allowing the Viet Cong to leave the tunnels virtually undetected.
Before entering the actual Cu Chi tunnels, you may see a screening of a propaganda film about them that has some amazing footage. You will then be guided around the tunnels by an English speaking guide. You will only visit some of the tunnels which have been preserved in a state not dissimilar to how they were during the war including those areas used as a field hospital, meeting room and other official quarters. It is also possible to fire an AK - 47 on site for USD 1 a bullet. The firing range closes at 4.30 PM, whilst the tunnels close at 5 PM.