HO CHI MINH CITY AND AROUND || ALONG THE WATERFRONT
In colonial days, the quay hugging the confluence of the Saigon River and Ben Nghe Channel provided new arrivals with their first real glimpse of Indochina – scores of coolie-hatted dock-workers lugging sacks of rice off ships, shrimp farmers dredging the oozy shallows, and junks and sampans bobbing on the tide under the vigilant gaze of colons imbibing at nearby cafés. Arriving by steamer in 1910, Gabrielle Vassal felt as if “all Saigon had turned out”. Some expected friends, others came in the hope of meeting acquaintances or as mere spectators. One was reminded of a fashionable garden party, for the dresses and equipages were worthy of Paris itself.” These days the only river traffic consists of hydrofoils bound for Vung Tau, a few tourist boats and a ferry linking Districts one and two, though a tunnel currently being built beneath the river will soon render this obsolete. The tunnel will link with a new four-lane highway along the north bank of the canal, which whisks passengers out of the city towards the Mekong Delta in just twenty minutes.
At the bottom of Dong Khoi, take a left onto Ton Duc Thang. From here it’s only a short skip to Me Linh Square, where a statue of Tran Hung Dao points across the river: it’s a striking image when framed by the tall Renaissance Riverside, the Me Linh Point Tower and the Bitexco Financial Tower, currently Ho Chi Minh City’s tallest building.
The Ho Chi Minh Museum
Where the Ben Nghe Channel enters the Saigon River, a bridge crosses it to an imposing mansion that was erected in the 1860s. Known as the Nha Rong, or Dragon House, this former headquarters of a French shipping company is now home to the Ho Chi Minh Museum – an apposite venue, given that it was from the abutting wharf that Ho left for Europe in 1911. Sadly, the collection within fails to capture the spirit of this man whose life was dedicated to liberating his homeland from colonialism. If you decide to visit, you’ll need to wring all the interest you can out of personal effects such as his walking stick, rattan suitcase and sandals made from tyres (there’s a pair in every HCM Museum in the land; if they were really all his, Uncle Ho was a shoe-hoarder of Imelda Marcos proportions). There’s also a map of his itinerant wanderings and a few blurred photographs of him at official receptions.