4 Hours In …

Saigon, as it’s still com­monly known, has meta­mor­phosed into a thor­oughly mod­ern me­trop­o­lis of nigh on 10 mil­lion souls.

Business Traveler (USA) - - TALKING POINT - By Dun­can For­gan

Ho Chi Minh City

1 SOPHIE’S ART TOUR

Once known as the Paris of the Ori­ent, to­day’s Ho Chi Minh City is chang­ing at a pace that would shame the most reck­less of mo­tor­cy­cle taxi driv­ers. Busi­ness tow­ers, of­fice blocks, glitzy shop­ping malls, high-end real-es­tate de­vel­op­ments, ur­ban re­gen­er­a­tion projects, vis­ually stun­ning new bridges… you name it, Ho Chi Minh City has got it and is about to get much more of it.

To put all this dizzy­ing progress in per­spec­tive, English émi­gré Sophie Hughes de­vised Sophie’s Art Tour which looks at Viet­nam’s tu­mul­tuous re­cent his­tory through the eyes of its artists. The time­line of colo­nial­ism, war, Com­mu­nism, then break­neck free-mar­ket de­vel­op­ment is fa­mil­iar to most vis­i­tors to the coun­try, but the art it in­spired is gen­er­ally not. Hughes spent nearly a year re­search­ing the tour, in­ter­view­ing ex­perts, artists and col­lec­tors, and the re­sult is at once a fas­ci­nat­ing in­tro­duc­tion to Viet­namese art and a com­pelling, if not in­spi­ra­tional, his­tory les­son. Tel +84 121 830 3742; so­phiesart­tour.com

2 DAI NAM PARK

Of­ten the Viet­namese are big fans of the “throw lots of stuff at the wall and see what sticks” ap­proach to cre­at­ing fam­ily en­ter­tain­ment. Nowhere is this ethos more ev­i­dent than at this mas­sive theme park about an hour north of Ho Chi Minh City. Here you can ride go-karts, stum­ble around in a haunted house, float in a gi­ant ar­ti­fi­cial la­goon on rub­ber rings and check out one of Viet­nam’s bet­ter zoos, all in a sin­gle day’s ac­tiv­ity. And if you can’t bear to leave the place, there’s the op­tion of bed­ding down for the night in the theme park’s ho­tel, which is housed in­side a replica-sized slice of the Great Wall of China. Tel +84 650 351 2660, lac­can­hdainam­van­hien.vn

3 CU CHI TUN­NELS

De­spite the free­wheel­ing im­age of Viet­nam to­day, for some the im­ages of the con­flict of a half-century ago are still etched deep. A re­minder is lo­cated just out­side Ho Chi Minh City at Cu Chi. Here an in­tri­cate net­work of tun­nels – stretch­ing for over 150 miles in Cu Chi District alone – en­abled Viet Cong fighters to ex­ert their in­flu­ence over a huge ru­ral area deep in the heart of US/South Viet­namese-

con­trolled ter­ri­tory. To­day the de­pleted tun­nel com­plex is one of Viet­nam’s top tourist at­trac­tions. Al­though tun­nels have been ex­panded to ac­com­mo­date the larger size of Western­ers, it re­mains a claus­tro­pho­bic ex­pe­ri­ence and one es­sen­tial to com­pre­hend­ing the fu­til­ity of the con­flict. Viet­nam­tourism.com

4 MON­SOON

A breath of so­phis­ti­cated fresh air near Saigon’s back­packer district, Mon­soon is a wel­come ad­di­tion to the city’s din­ing scene. While the airy set­ting and im­mac­u­late in­te­rior de­sign give it the feel of a top-end venue, the restau­rant stays true to the Asian street din­ing ethos of great food at low prices. With Cam­bo­dian, Viet­namese, Burmese, Thai and Lao­tian of­fer­ings all present, it’s the only place in town where din­ers can mix and match a ban­quet from across main­land South­east Asia. Top picks in­clude a sweet pork curry from Myan­mar and a flaw­less take on Kh­mer fish amok. 1 Cao Ba Nha, District 1, tel +84 8 6290 8899

5 SAIGON AF­TER DARK

Saigon is a city that re­wards those who choose to dig a lit­tle deeper. Off the beaten track you’ll find hid­den mu­sic venues, buzzing en­claves rarely vis­ited by Western­ers, and of course the city’s pièce de ré­sis­tance, its amaz­ing ar­ray of Viet­namese eat­ing op­tions. Saigon Af­ter Dark en­com­passes most of these un­sung draws. Guests are driven around the city’s streets on the back of vin­tage Ves­pas in a voy­age of dis­cov­ery that steers well clear of the usual tourist brochure fod­der. Zoom Café, 169a De Tham, District 1, tel +84 122 299 3585, viet­namves­paad­ven­tures.com

6 CHILL SKYBAR

Saigon’s most op­u­lent skybar wasted no time in es­tab­lish­ing it­self as one of the hottest spots in the city af­ter open­ing in Oc­to­ber 2011. De­signed by DWP Thai­land, the firm be­hind the world renowned Sirocco in Bangkok, the bar jus­ti­fies its lofty rep­u­ta­tion with great cock­tails and good food. The A-list Viet­namese celebri­ties and mod­els who have made this their wa­ter­ing hole of choice may beg to dif­fer, but the real star of the show is the stun­ning view over Saigon, which is ut­terly breath­tak­ing. Tower, 76A Le Lai, District 1, tel +84 8 3827 2372, chill­saigon.com BT

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