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Last updated : Nov 2009
 
Ho Chi Minh Culture Guide
Ho Chi Minh Culture Guide - TravelPuppy.com
For a city as big as of Ho Chi Minh, there are astonishingly only few major venues for cultural shows. There are quite a few small theatres, where smaller companies or groups in town from the provinces perform. The Opera House, Lam Son Square (tel: (08) 825-1563), has ongoing performances and irregular shows by international classical artists. The large Hoa Binh Theatre, near the Quoc Tu Pagoda in District 10 (tel: (08) 865-3353), provides a few small theatres inside the complex and may offer many different shows each night. The Gia Dinh Theatre, 475 Bach Dang, Binh Thanh District (tel: (08) 841-2045), puts on minority music or dance performances and the Ben Thanh Theatre, 6 Mac Dinh Chi, District 1 (tel: (08) 823-1652), hosts drama from visiting performers. There's a central ticket office to buy tickets for shows, and it should be done in person at the respective venue. Some shows provide information in The Guide which is published every month by the Vietnam Economic Times.

Music

Vietnamese music is somewhat jarring to the Western ear, but first-class performances are held every night in many restaurants. Blue Ginger, 37 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia (tel: (08) 829-8676), and Vietnam House, 91/3 Dong Khoi (tel: (08) 829-1623) are worth trying. Irregular shows can be attended at the Conservatory of Music, 112 Nguyen Du, District 3 (tel: (08) 822-5841).

Theatre

Vietnam is well-known for its water puppets. The Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre in Hanoi tour worldwide regularly. Ho Chi Minh City has a makeshift water puppet theatre, the Ho Chi Minh City Puppet Band, 28 Vo Van Tan, District 3 (tel: (08) 930-3496), daily performances are at 0900 and 1400. The Zoo, Nguyen Binh Khiem, District 1, also has water puppet performances (tel: (08) 823-4582). They perform daily at 9.00 am, 10.00 am, 11.00 am, 2.00 pm, 3.00 pm and 4.00 pm; they last only 17 minutes and cost US$1.00. The Opera House (tel: (08) 825-1563), on Lam Son Square, District 1, has regular music, dance and acrobatic shows.

Dance

Dance performances are not as popular in Vietnam as they are in Cambodia or Thailand; however, the shows are seen at many of the restaurants around Ho Chi Minh and at some of the theatres named above. A very good show during dinner is provided at the Cung Dinh Restaurant (tel: (08) 829-2185) in the Rex Hotel. On the banks of Saigon River a few minutes outside the city, Binh Quoi Tourist Village (tel: (08) 899- 1831), provides dance performances every night, the high point is a re-enactment of a minority wedding.

Film

There are a few cinemas and only two show English-language movies in Ho Chi Minh City. They are Diamond Cinema, 4th Floor, Diamond Plaza, 14 Le Duan (tel: (08) 822-7897), and CLB Phim Tu Lieu, 212 Ly Chinh Thang, District 3 (tel: (08) 846-8883).

There have been only a few international movies filmed in Vietnam, one was the acclaimed film Cyclo (1995) which was directed by the French-educated Tran Anh Hung. It's a brutal portrayal of Ho Chi Minh City in the early 1980s. Tran Anh Hung also directed the well-received film Scent of the Green Papaya (1994), filmed in France, is about a pre-war Vietnamese/Chinese family’s decadent lifestyle in Saigon. The first American film to be made in Vietnam since before the war was Three Seasons (1999), directed by Vietnamese-American Tony Bui. The film describes the rise of Ho Chi Minh City and its people from the post-war period and garnered awards all over the world. Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, directed by Phillip Noyce was the first Hollywood film to be made in the country and was Filmed in Ho Chi Minh City in 2001 and released in 2002s.

Cultural events

The most important holiday in the lunar year is Tet, the celebration of the New Year. Preparations are made for the coming year, houses are decorated with peach blossom. Meticulous care is paid to the family altar. Tet occurs on the 1st to 7th days of the first lunar month (between late January and early February). The celebrations begin at the stroke of midnight. In the past, these were extremely noisy as the New Year was marked with huge fireworks. fireworks have been banned since 1995 so drums and tape recordings of fireworks have replaced them.

Literary Notes

  Due to its rich French colonial and wartime history, Ho Chi Minh City has appeared as the background for a number of books. Probably the most famous is The Quiet American (1955) by Graham Greene – the story of an American trying to establish a Third Force, while the French fight the Vietminh. Greene’s novel was written because of his many years spent in Saigon.

 Anthony Grey’s 1982 novel, Saigon, tells the story of Joseph Sherman who arrived as a teenager in 1925 and, drawn back many times, finally left on the last American helicopter in 1975. Even though the author never visited Vietnam, he managed to capture the city completely:‘The white stone wharf, when it appeared, took him by surprise. It ran beside a broad, shaded boulevard of feathery pepper trees, and the sudden sight of European-style houses made him reflect that the jungles, fields and villages through which they’d been moving for the past few hours had remained unchanging throughout many centuries. But there without doubt were the elusive twin spires of Saigon’s cathedral that he’d seen from far off, stationary now and clearly visible, standing sentinel over the wide tree-lined avenues.’

 A touching epic story by Duong Van Mai Elliott is The Sacred Willow (1999), about 4 generations of a Vietnamese family from French colonialism through World War II to the American War.

 The British Labour MP, Chris Mullin, and once a war correspondent in Vietnam, covers post-liberation Saigon in his 1986 novel The Last Man out of Saigon. It tells of a CIA man, undercover as a journalist who stays on after the fall of the city to disrupt the new regime. He loses his cover and spends time in re-education camps and working as a rice-farmer. Here he learns that there are 2 sides to every story and to the war.
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