A Vietnamese whirl! Visit Ho Chi Minh City as the West End hit musical Miss Saigon celebrates 25 years on stage
- Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) played a pivotal role in the Vietnam War
- Viet Cong tunnels remain near the bustling stalls and street restaurants
- Miss Saigon, set there during the war, is celebrating its 25th anniversary
Ho Chi Minh City — known as Saigon until the end of the Vietnam War — is a vast contradiction. Despite communist rule, its teeming residents are enthusiastic capitalists offering an Aladdin’s cave of goods from tumbledown shops.
Whole families work night and day preparing mouth-watering Vietnamese food in thousands of impromptu pavement restaurants, providing the most delicious street grub in the world.
As it happens, Miss Saigon, the musical, is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, and a performance was shown across UK cinemas on October 16.
Bustling: Small-scale capitalism thrives in communist Ho Chi Minh City
WHERE TO STAY: Despite its ramshackle appearance, anarchic traffic and jumbled shops, the city has benefited hugely from investment in hotels from the former enemy America.
The colonial Saigon Grand Hotel has added a 20-storey new wing but I stayed in the old part, where rooms cost about £104 per night. Budget hotel Ace (£23 per night for a double) would be a cheaper alternative.
EATING AND DRINKING: Whizz to the 20th floor of the Saigon Grand and get an outside table at the Terrace Café. Enjoy a pre-dinner cocktail for 100,000 dong (about £3.50) and admire the view of the Saigon River far below.
For a sublime Vietnamese meal, book Maxims in Dong Khoi Street, where you will feel more of a native. The trendy Vietnamese younger set congregate at The Deck on the west bank of the river.
SHOPPING HEAVEN: The My Hoa Night Market on Cao Thang Road is essential. With 250 stalls lining the street there is an amazing range of cheap designer goods. You must haggle. A friend and I joined forces to beat down the cost of three Mulberry purses to 2.2 million dong — that’s £25 each. Were they genuine? What do you think?
GETTING ABOUT: Take a tour aboard a former U.S. military Jeep. The powerful vehicle scythes through the seemingly suicidal stew of motorcyclists.
WHAT TO SEE: Notre Dame Cathedral and the Re-Unification Palace, built by the French. The latter became the HQ of the beleaguered puppet presidents installed by the Americans.
Nearby is the former U.S. Embassy where thousands of terrified Saigon residents shook the gates, begging for entry as the last U.S. helicopters fled in 1975.
Show-stopper: West End extravaganza Miss Saigon is celebrating its 25th anniversary
WALK THE WALK: Make your way to the Jade Emperor pagoda where Buddhists offer incense, food and prayers. Nearby is the Vietnam War Remnants Museum, which provides a harrowing chronicle of the death and destruction inflicted on the Vietnamese.
EXPLORE THE VIET CONG’S TUNNELS: Viet Cong guerrillas hid and fought in a warren of tunnels just outside the city. You can go underground and see how they evaded the might of the U.S. Marines.
On display are the horrific man traps used to kill the enemy, including hidden pits filled with razor sharp pointed bamboo sticks. You can also indulge in target practise with M60 carbines and machine guns used in the war.
Travel Facts: Plan your own break in Vietnam