Editor's note: The story is written by Amélie Huynh Le Maux, a journalist and content creator in positive impact, art and culture, and authentic communication.
It is in response to the 'Ho Chi Minh City Goes Global' contest, an open forum for readers to contribute their ideas and solutions to raise the position of Saigon - Ho Chi Minh City in the international arena.
It was edited by Tuoi Tre News for clarity, consistency, and coherence.
The contest is co-organized by Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper and the Ho Chi Minh City Department of External Relations to prepare for the celebration of Vietnam's National Day on September 2.
We all agree that Ho Chi Minh City needs a clear brand and international image.
As a foreigner with Vietnamese in-laws, I have come to love this vibrant city and call it my home. Friends and family from my mother country came to visit and fell in love with Vietnam too, but not really with Ho Chi Minh City. For them, it was only a stopover city with an international airport, and the starting point of adventures in ancient cities and wild nature, or of beach holidays.
I agree, this is a bit harsh. Ho Chi Minh City has much to offer, namely amazing street food, innovative bars and restaurants, hidden cultural gems, and much more. This is what makes us love Ho Chi Minh City as residents, for we have time to discover this vibrant city, to be amazed by new venue opening, to be dazed by the growth of our city, and to be electrified by all the daily opportunities. Sadly, this is not what people feel when they come to visit it, and they quickly shy away to escape this overwhelming city.
So, what makes a city more than a stopover? What makes you stay when you are on holiday? What stories do we want people to share when they describe Ho Chi Minh City to their friends? Even better, what makes people want to live there?
Personally – and this is also true for visitors or friends living here – the only reason that makes me stay one week in a European or Asian city is art and culture.
So I imagined what would be the ideal one-week experience of anyone spending time in the future Ho Chi Minh City, if it transforms into a dynamic creative and cultural hub:
Day 1 / Went directly to check the art district of Ho Chi Minh City. We spent hours in art shops, galleries and taking pictures of urban art. A blast! Must come back to buy presents!
Day 2 / Booked a tour to explore the hidden beauty of the city, a nice way to enter the den of local artists. Loved it! Amazed to discover the contemporary art scene of Vietnam! At night, we attended a great live show by an international band we adore at the Ho Chi Minh City Opera House.
Day 3 / Mandatory visit! Spent hours in the gigantic 'Intercultural Museum for Contemporary Arts,' located in a big, renovated building. The best way to understand Ho Chi Minh City's mixed culture and check emergent Asian artists.
Day 4 / Took a break from contemporary art to hunt for hidden and traditional cultural treasures. My feet hurt like crazy, but it was worth it! Especially when we discovered the Temple of Ten Thousand Buddhas.
Day 5 / Surprise! My husband secretly registered for an urban art tour! A local street artist unveiled the underground side of the city. We even got to meet other artists working on a mural! Now I can leave Ho Chi Minh City without regrets!
Day 6 / We spent the whole day focusing on food! We already tested a lot of street food, so we leveled up the game with a cocktail bar and a fusion restaurant. Wow! Did not think Ho Chi Minh City had these kinds of innovative venues! Evening was also great as we went to the Opera House to see the amazing A O Show.
Day 7 / It was supposed to be our day off, but we had so many things on our must-see list that we wandered in the city again! Thanks to the street artists we met the other day, we spent this last day in a pop-up exhibition organized by young local artists.
Time in Ho Chi Minh City has flown by. Eager to come back for more cultural blast and arty encounters! Ho Chi Minh City is not the city I expected, the reality has blown me away! A new Asian cultural spot!
Some cultural aspects of Ho Chi Minh City are already present. However, to reveal the cultural beauty of Ho Chi Minh City, you need to dig a bit deeper, and stay informed of new arty events or projects. As we do not have a dedicated platform or guide to gather all cultural information, this is difficult for visitors to navigate in Ho Chi Minh City's cultural scene. I can tell you this is tremendous work. Believe me, I have been sending a weekly cultural newsletter called Wander & Wonder as a voluntary activity from 2016 until recently.
On the other hand, the large-scale cultural activities listed in the 'ideal Saigonese cultural week' would require setting a common and clear objective for policymakers together with all creative communities: transforming Ho Chi Minh City into a cultural hub. This could be achieved thanks to dedicated areas/spaces, infrastructures actively supporting art and culture development, as well as dedicated international communication.
As Vietnam is implementing its national strategy for the development of Vietnamese cultural industries to 2020 with a vision to 2030, Ho Chi Minh City could play a tremendous role in the cultural branding of the whole country.
To finish, I would like to add a few words about urban art. This art holds a special place in my heart. As a street art lover and advocate, I strongly believe that urban art can foster innovative solutions to turn Ho Chi Minh City into a smart and global city. Because a smart city is not only a digital one, but also the integration of collective intelligence. Urban art is known to play a key role in improving life for the local population – engaging communities, beautifying urban areas, or positively impacting traffic safety, among other examples.