Known to most as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City is a city of contrasts. The pace of life is frenetic, and yet the wide boulevards and parks help the city retain an air of calm. Classic French architecture competes for attention with brand new high-rise buildings. The port hosts vast tankers and cruise-liners while tiny sampans dart around them on the Saigon River.
The eclectic mix of old and new in Saigon is the legacy of the many occupiers of the city since the Khmers used the area for hunting five hundred years ago. When the French took control in the late 19th century, they razed the city and rebuilt it in the image of a European capital. The resulting wide boulevards, elegant French architecture, and leafy ambience remain today, but with a very Asian feel. Sidewalks designed for evening strolls are now lined with food stalls and cafes that spill into the street. The villas left by the French have been converted into the city’s best restaurants, and the wide tree-lined streets are abuzz with motorbikes.
Ho Chi Minh City is actually three cities in one, and the official city limits encompass a vast area stretching nearly from the East Sea to the Cambodian border. However, all the major attractions are in the centre of the city and can be reached easily on foot. A foray to Chinatown requires wheeled transportation, and there is none better than the city’s ubiquitous mode of transportation, the cyclo. All the sights and sounds of the city can be experienced first-hand and at a leisurely pace, making traveling by cyclo a unique pleasure.