Three Perfect Days: Ho Chi Minh City - United Hub
Hemispheres

Three Perfect Days: Ho Chi Minh City

By The Hub team , September 18, 2015

Story by Cain Nunns | Photography by Christian Berg | Hemispheres, September 2015

Saigon (as the city is still known by locals) has had a tough life. Its buildings reflect the various cultures that have intruded over the centuries—Chinese, Cambodian, French, Japanese, American. Its history can read like a laundry list of wars. The city's troubled past, however, does not diminish the optimism of its people. This is especially true now, as the Vietnamese economy surges and Ho Chi Minh City finds itself in the midst of a massively ambitious urban renewal project. Yet, as Graham Greene understood, the quality that makes the place truly special is timeless—an almost mystical intensity that permeates “the colors, the taste, even the rain."

Day 1 Graphic

In which Cain experiences an architectural Reverie and wanders Saigon's markets and back alleys

Saigon (as the city is still known by locals) has had a tough life. Its buildings reflect the various cultures that have intruded over the centuries—Chinese, Cambodian, French, Japanese, American. Its history can read like a laundry list of wars. The city's troubled past, however, does not diminish the optimism of its people. This is especially true now, as the Vietnamese economy surges and Ho Chi Minh City finds itself in the midst of a massively ambitious urban renewal project. Yet, as Graham Greene understood, the quality that makes the place truly special is timeless—an almost mystical intensity that permeates “the colors, the taste, even the rain."

If anything sums up the transformation of Ho Chi Minh City, it's the Reverie Saigon. The hotel, which opened this year, occupies the upper 13 floors of a 39-story glassy block in District 1, an area where the French Colonial architecture is rapidly being overshadowed by a huddle of high-concept skyscrapers and shopping malls.

Trinh Dinh Le Minh, FilmmakerTrinh Dinh Le Minh, Filmmaker

The Reverie's interior, contrived by a consortium of Italian designers, is an emphatic expression of these changes, an almost surreal clamor of colors, textures and styles. In the florid reception area stands a large gold and emerald clock that the concierge informs me is worth about half a million dollars.

After a bowl of rich Vietnamese beef stew at a poolside table, I head out to find Nguyen Hue, a broad promenade flanked by French Colonial buildings, bars, boutiques and galleries. North of here is Lam Son Square, once the beating heart of French Indochina and now a shopping and selfie destination. It's noon, the time of day when the city begins to wilt, when the park benches are filled with snoozers and the locals pack the cafés in search of relief.

One of the more notable of these refuges is inside the Hotel Continental, a wicker-and-linen spot that has always drawn a motley crowd, from opium dealers to American journalists to British spies. Graham Greene was a regular there and used it as a backdrop for his novel The Quiet American. But I've opted instead for a tipple at Broma, a rooftop bar swarming with good-looking locals. Getting up there involves climbing a narrow, twisting staircase, and I'm sweating by the time I reach the top. Considerably more composed is Trinh Dinh Le Minh, a young filmmaker who recently returned from living in Austin, Texas. We sip Old Fashioneds and discuss My Apartment Block, Minh's documentary set in the building in which his parents live alongside a cast of colorful neighbors. The film found success at U.S. film festivals, but Minh insists that there's only one place he could have made it. “In America, I couldn't get 30 families to open up their lives for six months," he says. “But here, everybody said yes."

“I like the diversity and openness of this city. This is like New York, where we all gather—some to start a business or make money, all to follow their dreams." —Trinh Dinh Le Minh

I say goodbye to Minh and head off to take a look at the nearby home of the Ho Chi Minh City People's Committee, a government building dating from the early 20th century, with elaborate detailing and a multiturreted design that exemplifies the so-called Tropical Baroque style. From here, I make my way deeper into the city, past crumbling villas and sparkling offices, high-end watch shops and a guy selling knockoffs from a bamboo basket, past the pho woman, the xe om (motorcycle taxi) drivers dozing under banyan trees, the chattering money changers, the flower vendors and silk sellers.

I grab a café sua da, an intensely strong iced coffee with condensed milk, and sit on a bench outside Saigon Notre-Dame Cathedral, beside a statue of the Virgin Mary. Local lore has it that she once shed tears, luring the faithful from around the world to come experience the miracle. I touch the Holy Mother's cheek. Not a drop.

Constructed by the French in the 19th century using rose-colored bricks shipped from Marseille, the neo-Romanesque cathedral is the heart of the city's Catholic community. Today, its twin 200-foot bell towers provide a counterpoint to the city's bristling office towers and also offers shade to the shoeshine boy and the woman selling Hello Kitty balloons.

Solitude and splendor at the Vinh Nghiem Pagoda, the largest Buddhist temple in SaigonSolitude and splendor at the Vinh Nghiem Pagoda, the largest Buddhist temple in Saigon

I cross the street to the Saigon Central Post Office, entering a wrought-iron barrel-like interior that is unmistakably the work of Gustave Eiffel, whose influence is evident throughout Vietnam. At a long counter, I find Duong Van Ngo, an octogenarian former postal worker who volunteers as a translator, handwriting travelers' messages in a variety of languages. I hand him a postcard and ask if he'd write “The eagle has landed" in Vietnamese.

“That's it?" he says, sounding disappointed.

“Um, could you also write it in Russian? And French?"

“There you are, sir," he says a few seconds later, handing the postcard back to me with a smile.

Next, I head south to Ben Thành Market, a crush of handicraft vendors, souvenir sellers and snack hawkers. Droves of tourists move from stall to stall, haggling badly. The scents of jasmine and lemongrass fill the air. An elderly woman in a conical hat eyes me before I reach her stand. “Fruit?" she chirps, pronouncing it friiiiit?

Saigonese are obsessed with freshness. Two markets occur here daily, one for the lunch crowd, the other for dinner. I try a few perfectly juicy dragon eyes (the lychee-like longan). “Too old!" I say to the woman, clutching my stomach in a parody of pain. “Oi gioi oi! Dien!" (“Oh my God! Crazy!") she replies, swatting me with a long stick usually used to chase flies away.

The Lady Hau, a restored rice barge, sails the Saigon RiverThe Lady Hau, a restored rice barge, sails the Saigon River

I wave goodbye to the chuckling fruit seller and say hello to Duc, a xe om driver, who takes me to Quan An Ngon, a street food–themed restaurant located in a lemon-colored colonial building. I feast on excellent egg, shrimp, pork and bean-sprout pancakes; pounded shrimp hash on sugar cane; and water chestnut for dessert.

Just down the road I find the neoclassical Ho Chi Minh City Museum, a former governor's residence with grand ballrooms that now contain exhibits detailing Saigon's history. I wander among the old maps, typewriters used to punch out historical documents and dusty ceramics for a while, then head out to explore a bunch of decommissioned military equipment interspersed with six-foot Frosty the Tiger rubbish bins.

A short stroll west takes me to Independence Palace, a sprawling Brutalist edifice once described by The New York Times (improbably) as the sexiest building in Southeast Asia. The 19th-century residence became the home of South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem after the French left in the mid-'50s. In 1962, Diem's own air force bombed it, and before the palace was rebuilt, the president had been done in by other members of his armed forces.

b\u00e1nh x\u00e8o at Quan An Ngonbánh xèo at Quan An Ngon

I tiptoe along the building's eerily quiet hallways, peering into barren conference halls and reception rooms decked out with shag carpets and horseshoe bars of the kind Sinatra used to lean against. Outside, beyond a rolling lawn, are the gates that were smashed by a North Vietnamese tank during the fall of Saigon, one of the most iconic images of what people here call “The American War."

At Minh's suggestion, I'm dining tonight at Pho Ha, in the shadow of the Bitexco Financial Tower. Built to represent a budding lotus—a signifier of purity, faithfulness and awakening, and the national flower of Vietnam—the building symbolizes Saigon's role as an engine of prosperity. We tuck into large amounts of chicken pho and sticky broken rice, serenaded by a group of young performers. Their leader, sporting a Mad Max hairdo, strums an acoustic guitar. “We are laid-back because Saigon's sun and rain allows everything to grow," Minh says, reclining in his chair. “It's always been an easier life in the south."

Day 2 Graphic

In which Cain goes café hopping and gets a taste of both Vietnam's tumultuous past and its soothing present

I make my way out of the Reverie and into a deluge—marble-sized raindrops fill the air with the musky scent of ozone. Out on Dong Khoi, the Golden Mile, a woman appears selling cheap umbrellas. I hem and haw over the selection. Snoopy? The “Channel" knockoff? I decide on a vivid yellow Pikachu number with a pink handle.

With as much dignity as I can muster, I take the short walk to the Au Parc café, where the Apple-user set flutters about, munching on sheep cheese. I sit at a table outside and order a goat cheese and arugula salad—a nod to the French influence here—and a banana shake. In the park across the street, barbers have hung mirrors on trees, and they're being put to use by a small crowd of girls clad in ao dai, Vietnam's silky national dress. “We love beauty pageants," my waitress says, watching as the girls line up to have their picture taken.

Dustin Nguyen, ActorDustin Nguyen, Actor

My next stop is the Catina Café, a coffee shop set above art galleries and silk shops on Dong Khoi. Dustin Nguyen, Johnny Depp's co-star on the '80s TV show “21 Jump Street," meets me on the balcony. “This is Saigon. Look out here," he says, gesturing at the street below. “The orange sellers and the rich—a mix of everything. There's no separation." To truly appreciate the city, he adds, you need to be in the thick of it. “It's a town that needs to be walked. You won't get anything in the back of a car."

Nguyen, whose family fled to America at the end of the war, in 1975, first returned about eight years ago, following a Hollywood career that included roles in Little Fish, with Cate Blanchett, and Oliver Stone's Heaven & Earth. “There is no glass ceiling in Vietnam," he says. “Here I write, produce, direct and act." Coming home also offered Nguyen the opportunity to rekindle an old flame. “You either love or hate Saigon, and I love it," he says. “There is an energy here that's hard to replicate."

We chat over coconut juice from the nut until Nguyen has to leave for a location scout on the coast. I grab a cab and head west to District 3, where leafy boulevards accommodate excellent eateries, restored colonials, hip new boutiques and an increasing number of tech startups looking for rents that are less crushing than in neighboring District 1.

“Saigon is like a child getting on its feet for the first time: Finding its steps but eager to show the world what it can do. There is a sense of focus on living now—A chaotic atmosphere that works through a resilience that has stood the test of time and hardship." —Dustin Nguyen

My first destination is the War Remnants Museum, a blocky, gunmetal gray building surrounded by jet fighters, Chinook helicopters and U.S. tanks. The exhibits inside include war photographs, weapons and a fine selection of reconstructed torture chambers. This, by the way, is the most visited museum in Vietnam.

From here, I walk a block northeast to Ly Club, a cream colonial mansion transformed into a fusion eatery that marries French techniques with local produce. On the redbrick patio there are water features, large linen parasols and diners in expensive aviators. Inside, sweeping arches, contemporary Vietnamese art and oversize armchairs create an air of opulence.

I'm here to meet an old friend, Ed Hollands, a software executive and on-and-off resident of the city. “I've never met people who live for the day more," he says of the Saigonese. “There is a toughness to these people, but there's also a celebration of life. This city is an open canvas. You can paint your own painting."

Street food vendors at Ben Th\u00e0nh MarketStreet food vendors at Ben Thành Market

We dine on a Vietnamese tasting menu: sea bass salad with onion and basil; grilled spring chicken with honey sauce and deep-fried sticky rice; fried chive flowers and steamed banana cake; all washed down with a couple of perfectly chilled Argentine chardonnays.

Bloated and buzzed, we head northeast, down Dien Bien Phu, a considerably more sedate setting than its namesake battle, which drove the French out of Vietnam once and for all. Many of the city's streets are named after battles, or the people who fought them.

We walk through Le Van Tam Park, where we “borrow" badminton rackets from some kids playing without a net. Ed misses four shots in a row before raising his arms in triumph: “YES!" The kids ditch the game and bombard us with questions, which becomes a kind of game—one that requires Ed and me to concoct ever more absurd answers. “I'm from the moon." “I'm here to build a water park." “I'm a professional badminton player."

Finally the kids peel off, and Ed and I walk in silence to one of Saigon's most stunning and important locations: the Jade Emperor Pagoda, a century-old temple built to honor the Heavenly Grandfather, a benevolent immortal who holds dominion over gods and man.

A fighter plane at the War Remnants MuseumA fighter plane at the War Remnants Museum

We enter by the coral-pink gate, beneath rampant dragons and blue-green tiles. Inside, coils of incense hang in the air, lit by streams of sunshine. Buddha statues stand over offerings of beer, soda, mandarins and guavas. Cinnamon-robed monks glide around. Ed lights three incense sticks, touches them to his forehead and bows three times before depositing them in an urn. “Got a big deal coming up," he explains.

Back outside, we hop on a xe om and head toward Bach Dang Pier, where senior citizens practice tai chi at dawn and families fly kites during the day. We board the Lady Hau, a restored three-deck timber junk that once carried rice on the waterways from Saigon to Cambodia. Sipping cocktails, we snake up the Saigon River, past thatch-roofed houses shaded by mango, jackfruit and grapefruit trees. We skirt District 2, a wealthy neighborhood that houses international schools and expats on hefty expense accounts. It's also the planned site for a flashy new financial and entertainment district.

While devouring plates of fried chili fish with passion fruit sauce, rice pancakes and skewers of barbecued pork and pineapple, we watch the sun set and the city ready itself for another hectic round of nightlife. “Yep," says Ed through a mouthful of lotus salad. “Tough life."

Day 3 Graphic

In which Cain visits an art museum, an ancient pagoda and a bustling nightclub

I start the day with eggs Benedict at the InterContinental Hotel, then head out to Hai Ba Trung, a bustling shopping street festooned with streams of power lines. Every couple of steps I have to jump over a mat bearing knockoff Ray-Bans or dodge a woman selling peanuts, flowers or fruit from a bamboo basket. A few doglegs later, I'm at the Ho Chi Minh City Fine Arts Museum.

Housed in what used to be a wealthy Chinese trader's mansion, the museum has an ornate yellow facade, its entryway flanked by blue-green columns. Inside, I meet Sophie Hughes, a British expat who has had a hand in Saigon's burgeoning art scene for a few years and now runs Sophie's Art Tour.

Nam Viet Hoang, ArtistNam Viet Hoang, Artist

As we file through the high-roofed halls, Hughes tells the stories behind early Vietnamese artists' use of oils and lacquer and how propaganda art was used by both sides during the war—but her job is complicated by my hangover. “There's a real edge to this city right now," Hughes says, amused by my condition. “It's like the Roaring '20s." We stand on a balcony for a while, gazing down on a courtyard containing two statues that are doubling as poles for a badminton net, before I mutter an apologetic goodbye and head outside for something to eat.

There are few cities in the world that can do street food like Saigon. For about $3, I get delicious bánh mì sandwiches and fresh pineapple juice, which I eat while sitting in a '70s-style lawn chair at a small plastic table. Soon, Nam Viet Hoang, a bespectacled artist with a flowing ponytail, pulls up on a Vespa. I jump on the bike and we zip down Hai Ba Trung and through District 3, slowing down to look at the electric pink Tan Dinh Cathedral, its huge jagged spires pranging the sky.

“Saigon is simplicity, a simple place, where I can live a simple life. I don't care about change and development. We hold on to some of the old values—that's why we still call it Saigon." —Nam Viet Hoang

We push on to Binh Tanh, a district peppered with auto repair shops, DVD stores and anonymous clothing boutiques. We cross a bridge over one of the area's refurbished canals, then pull into the nondescript alleyway 86, where we are served coffee by an old Chinese man, one of the city's few remaining streetside coffee pourers.

“Everybody is welcome here, " Viet says. “It's the country's most open place and always has been." To underscore his point, he gestures at the passing businessmen in fancy suits, schoolgirls reading manga comics, chatting women, 50-somethings in tennis outfits and the perpetually smiling Chinese coffee pourer.

Viet heads back to the city, and I grab a taxi to Tan Binh District, a gritty neighborhood that's home to the 271-year-old Giac Lam Pagoda. Visitors stroll around the temple's peaceful gardens or play Chinese chess in the courtyard, but the real highlight is the cemetery, each of its graves marked with a colorful, stylized mini-pagoda.

Dinner is back in District 1, at the Refinery, a trendy bar/restaurant located in a former opium factory (hence the poppy motif above its wooden doors). I have salmon carpaccio, followed by barbecued swordfish, parsley mash and roasted peppers. It's a simple meal, but they do simple so well here. I head out of the restaurant satisfied and happy.

Midday traffic behind Saigon Notre-Dame CathedralMidday traffic behind Saigon Notre-Dame Cathedral

Outside, teenagers straddle motorbikes while off-duty office girls crisscross between cafés. I pause before the Saigon Opera House, a compact, elegant structure built in 1897, now restored to near-mint condition. I pop inside to see the ÀÔ Show, an energetic, acrobatic performance that uses dance and bamboo props to explore Vietnam's history.

The show finishes to riotous applause. “Brilliant, just brilliant. Wasn't it?" says a robustly earnest American with copper hair and searching eyes. Before I can answer, an old food seller in pajamas appears from nowhere, handing me a custard apple on the house.

I end the night a few blocks from here, at Lush, a small nightclub decorated with anime prints. I stand on the wraparound balcony and watch the people below. The mood is celebratory, indicative of Saigon's economic surge, but also of this city in general. This is one of the things I love about Saigon—the smashmouth optimism, the sense that the past bears weight only to the extent that it doesn't interfere with today, or our anticipation of the days that will follow.

Freelance writer Cain Nunns attempted to follow in Graham Greene's footsteps, and he's still nursing a nice hangover.


This article was written by Cain Nunns from Rhapsody Magazine and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

Taking action to make a global impact

By The Hub team , January 17, 2020

Following the devastating wildfires in Australia and powerful earthquakes that shook Puerto Rico last week, we're taking action to make a global impact through our international partnerships as well as nonprofit organizations Afya Foundation and ADRA (Adventist Development and Relief Agency).

Helping Puerto Rico recover from earthquakes

Last week, Puerto Rico was hit with a 5.2 magnitude earthquake, following a 6.4 magnitude earthquake it experienced just days before. The island has been experiencing hundreds of smaller quakes during the past few weeks.

These earthquakes destroyed crucial infrastructure and left 4,000 people sleeping outside or in shelters after losing their homes. We've donated $50,000 to our partner charity organization Airlink and through them, we've helped transport disaster relief experts and medical supplies for residents, as well as tents and blankets for those who have lost their homes. Funding will go towards organizations within Airlink's partner network, which includes Habitat for Humanity, Mercy Corps and Americares, to help with relief efforts and long-term recovery.

Australian wildfire relief efforts

Our efforts to help Australia have inspired others to make their own positive impact. In addition to teaming up with Ellen DeGeneres to donate $250,000 and launching a fundraising campaign with GlobalGiving to benefit those impacted by the devastating wildfires in the country known for its open spaces and wildlife, our cargo team is helping to send more than 600 pounds of medical supplies to treat injured animals in the region.

Helping us send these supplies is the Afya Foundation, a New York-based nonprofit that seeks to improve global health by collecting surplus medical supplies and delivering them to parts of the world where they are most needed. Through Airlink, the Afya Foundation will send more than $18,000 worth of materials that will be used to treat animals injured in the Australian fires.

These medical supplies will fly to MEL (Melbourne) and delivered to The Rescue Collective. This Australian organization is currently focused on treating the massive population of wildlife, such as koalas, kangaroos, and birds, that have had their habitats destroyed by the recent wildfires. The supplies being sent include wound dressings, gloves, catheters, syringes and other items that are unused but would otherwise be disposed of.

By working together, we can continue to make a global impact and help those affected by natural disasters to rebuild and restore their lives


Help us (and Ellen DeGeneres) support wildfire relief efforts in Australia

By The Hub team , January 08, 2020

Australia needs our help as wildfires continue to devastate the continent that's beloved by locals and travelers alike. In times like these, the world gets a little smaller and we all have a responsibility to do what we can.

On Monday, The Ellen DeGeneres Show announced a campaign to raise $5 million to aid in relief efforts. When we heard about Ellen's effort, we immediately reached out to see how we could help.

Today, we're committing $250,000 toward Ellen's campaign so we can offer support now and help with rebuilding. For more on The Ellen DeGeneres Show efforts and to donate yourself, you can visit www.gofundme.com/f/ellenaustraliafund

We're also matching donations made to the Australian Wildfire Relief Fund, created by GlobalGiving's Disaster Recovery Network. This fund will support immediate relief efforts for people impacted by the fires in the form of emergency supplies like food, water and medicine. Funds will also go toward long-term recovery assistance, helping residents recover and rebuild. United will match up to $50,000 USD in donations, and MileagePlus® members who donate $50 or more will receive up to 1,000 award miles from United. Donate to GlobalGiving.

Please note: Donations made toward GlobalGiving's fund are only eligible for the MileagePlus miles match.

In addition to helping with fundraising, we're staying in touch with our employees and customers in Australia. Together, we'll help keep Australia a beautiful place to live and visit in the years to come.

20 Reasons to Travel in 2020

By Hemispheres Magazine , January 01, 2020


20. Spot Giant Pandas in China

In 2016, giant pandas were removed from the endangered species list, and China would like to keep it that way. This year, the country plans to consolidate the creatures' known habitats into one unified national park system spanning nearly 10,500 square miles across Sichuan, Gansu, and Shaanxi provinces—about the size, in total, of Massachusetts. —Nicholas DeRenzo


19. Follow in James Bond's Footsteps in Jamaica

Photo: Design Pics/Carson Ganci/Getty Images

When No Time to Die hits theaters on April 8, it marks a number of returns for the James Bond franchise. The 25th chapter in the Bond saga is the first to come out since 2015's Spectre; it's Daniel Craig's fifth go-round as 007, after rumors the actor was set to move on; and it's the first time the series has filmed in Jamaica since 1973's Live and Let Die. The Caribbean island has always had a special place in Bond lore: It was the location of one of creator Ian Fleming's homes, GoldenEye (which is now a resort), and the setting for the first 007 movie, 1962's Dr. No. Looking to live like a super-spy? You don't need a license to kill—just a ride to Port Antonio, where you can check out filming locations such as San San Beach and colonial West Street. Remember to keep your tux pressed and your Aston Martin on the left side of the road. —Justin Goldman


18. See the Future of Architecture in Venice

Every other year, Venice hosts the art world's best and brightest during its celebrated Biennale. But the party doesn't stop during off years, when the Architecture Biennale takes place. This year, curator Hashim Sarkis, the dean of MIT's School of Architecture and Planning, has tasked participants with finding design solutions for political divides and economic inequality; the result, on display from May to November, is the intriguing show How Will We Live Together? —Nicholas DeRenzo

17. Celebrate Beethoven's 250th Birthday in Bonn

Photo: Universal History Archive/Getty Images
Catch a Beethoven concerto in Bonn, Germany, to celebrate the hometown hero's big 2-5-0.

16. Eat Your Way Through Slovenia

When Ana Roš of Hiša Franko was named the World's Best Female Chef in 2017, food lovers began to wonder: Do we need to pay attention to Slovenia? The answer, it turns out, is definitely yes. This March, the tiny Balkan nation about two hours east of Venice gets its own Michelin Guide. —Nicholas DeRenzo

15. Star- (and Sun-) Gaze in Patagonia

Photo: blickwinkel/Alamy

Come December 13 and 14, there will be no better spot for sky-watchers than northern Patagonia, which welcomes both the peak of the Geminid meteor shower and a total solar eclipse within 24 hours. —Nicholas DeRenzo

14. Explore Miami's Game-Changing New Park

About 70,000 commuters use Miami's Metrorail each day, and city planners aim to turn the unused space beneath its tracks into an exciting new public space, a 10-mile linear park aptly named The Underline. Luckily, the Magic City is in good hands: The project is being helmed by James Corner Field Operations, the geniuses behind New York's High Line. “Both projects share similarities in their overarching goals," says principal designer Isabel Castilla, “to convert a leftover infrastructural space into a public space that connects neighborhoods, generates community, and encourages urban regeneration." When finished, Miami's park will be about seven times as long as its Big Apple counterpart. The first half-mile leg, set to open this June, is the Brickell Backyard, which includes an outdoor gym, a butterfly garden, a dog park, and gaming tables that call to mind the dominoes matches you'll find nearby in Little Havana. “We envision the Underline dramatically changing the way people in Miami engage with public space," Castilla says. —Nicholas DeRenzo

Photo: philipus/Alamy

13. Kick Off the NFL in Las Vegas

Photo: Littleny/Alamy

Former Raiders owner Al Davis was famous for saying, “Just win, baby." His son, Mark Davis, the team's current owner, is more likely to be shouting “Vegas, baby!" Swingers-style, as his team becomes Sin City's first NFL franchise, the Las Vegas Raiders. After years of threats and lawsuits, the Raiders have finally left Oakland, and this summer they're landing just across the highway from the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in a 65,000-seat, $1.8 billion domed stadium that will also host the UNLV football team, the next two Pac-12 championship games, and the Las Vegas Bowl. Construction is slated to be finished July 31, just in time for the NFL preseason—and just in time to lure football fans from the sportsbooks to the grandstand. —Justin Goldman

12. Celebrate the Suffragettes in Washington D.C.

All eyes are on the ballot box this year, but the electorate would look quite different if not for the 19th Amendment, which was ratified 100 years ago this August. Many D.C. institutions, such as the National Archives Museum and the Library of Congress, are honoring the decades-long struggle for women's suffrage with exhibits. In particular, the National Museum of American History unveils Sarah J. Eddy's portrait of Susan B. Anthony this March, before putting on a 'zine-inspired show on girlhood and youth social movements this June. —Nicholas DeRenzo

11. Go for a Ride Through Mexico City

If you want to get somewhere quickly in Mexico City, try going by bicycle. During peak traffic, bikes average faster speeds than cars or public transportation—which might explain why ridership has gone up almost 50 percent since 2007. And riding on two wheels is getting safer and easier. In 2019, the city announced plans to invest $10 million (more than it had spent in the last six years combined) into the construction of about 50 miles of new paths and lanes. Now, you can cycle on a two-mile separated path along the Paseo de la Reforma, from Colonia Juárez and Roma to Chapultepec Park and Polanco. Future plans include a route along the National Canal between Coyoacán (where Frida Kahlo once lived) and Xochimilco (with its floating flower farms). “The goal is to finish the six-year [presidential] term with 600 kilometers of bike infrastructure," says Roberto Mendoza of the city's Secretariat of Mobility. Time to start pedaling. —Naomi Tomky

10. Consider the Mayflower's Legacy in Massachusetts and Abroad

Photo: Thianchai Sitthikongsak

Before they came to America in 1620, the religious separatists now known as the Pilgrims lived in England and the Netherlands. This year, the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower landing will be commemorated not only by those nations but also by a fourth: The Wampanoag, the confederation of tribes that live in New England and whose role in this world-changing event has been at best left out and at worst distorted.

“We're challenging the myths and stereotypes," says Aquinnah Wampanoag author Linda Coombs, a board member of Plymouth 400, Inc., which is planning cultural events such
as an Ancestors Walk to honor the native villages pushed aside by settlers, as well as
an indigenous history conference and powwow (plus an $11 million restoration of the replica Mayflower II).

Kerri Helme, a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag nation and cultural programs manager at Plimoth Plantation, says that “people want to hear the whole story." She notes that it's a commonly held belief that the Pilgrims were welcomed by the natives, when in fact their first encounter was violent, since the English had been stealing the Wampanoags' food.

“The Wampanoag are key players in all of this," says Charles Hackett, CEO of Mayflower 400 in the U.K. “It's a whole other aspect of this history." In England, a Mayflower trail will connect Pilgrim sites in towns such as Southampton and Plymouth, and in Leiden, the Dutch town where the Pilgrims took refuge before embarking for the New World, the ethnology museum will run an exhibit about the natives.

“The most important thing for us, as the Wampanoag people," says Paula Peters, a former Wampanoag council member, “is to be acknowledged as a vital tribe comprised of people that, in spite of everything that's happened, are still here." —Jon Marcus

9. Discover Lille's Design Scene

Photo: Mark Bassett/Alamy

Previous World Design Capitals have included major cultural hubs such as Helsinki and Seoul, so it came as a shock when Lille, France's 10th-largest city, beat Sydney for this year's title. Judges cited Lille's use of design to improve its citizens' lives; get a taste for yourself at spots like La Piscine Musée d'Art et d'Industrie, a gallery in a former Art Deco swim center. —Nicholas DeRenzo

8. See Stellar Space in Rio de Janeiro, the World Capital of Architecture

Rio de Janeiro is renowned for the beauty of its beaches and mountains, but the Cidade Maravilhosa's man-made structures are as eye-catching as its natural features. For that reason, UNESCO recently designated Rio its first World Capital of Architecture, honoring a city that boasts such landmarks as the stained glass–domed Royal Portuguese Cabinet of Reading, the fairy-tale Ilha Fiscal palace, and the uber-modern Niterói Contemporary Art Museum.

"Rio is an old city by New World standards, having been founded in the mid–16th century," says architectural photographer Andrew Prokos, who took this shot. "So the city has many layers of architectural styles, from Colonial and Rococo to Art Nouveau, Modernist, Brutalist, and contemporary." In the case of this museum, which was designed by perhaps Brazil's greatest architect, Pritzker Prize winner Oscar Niemeyer, Prokos was intrigued by how the 24-year-old building interacts with its surroundings. "The upward slope of the museum complements the slope of the Pão de Açúcar across the bay," he says, "so the two are speaking to each other from across the water." – Tom Smyth

7. Join the Avengers at Disneyland

This summer, Disney California Adventure unveils its Marvel-themed Avengers Campus, with a new Spider-Man attraction, followed later by an Ant-Man restaurant and a ride through Wakanda. If the hype surrounding last year's debut of Disney+ is any indication, Comic-Con types are going to lose their fanboy (and -girl) minds. —Nicholas DeRenzo

6. Listen to Jazz in Cape Town

Photo: Eric Nathan/Alamy

Cape Town's natural wonders draw visitors from all over the world, but there's a hidden gem beyond the mountains, beaches, and seas: music. Much as jazz was born from America's diverse peoples, Cape jazz combines the traditions and practices of the city's multiethnic population, creating genres such as goema (named after a type of hand drum) and marabi (a keyboard style that arose in the townships). Cape Town has hosted an International Jazz Festival for
20 years (the 21st edition is this March 27–28), and now UNESCO is giving the Mother City its musical due by naming it the Global Host City of International Jazz Day 2020. The theme of the event—which takes place on April 30, features an All Star Global Concert, and is the climax of Jazz Appreciation Month—is “Tracing the Roots and Routes of African Jazz." During the dark days of slavery and apartheid, music became an outlet through which repressed people could express their struggle for freedom. What better way to mark a quarter century of democracy here than with a celebration of that most free style of music? —Struan Douglas

5. Take a Walk Around England

Many hikers love walking around England—but how many can say that they've truly walked around England? When it's completed, the England Coast Path will be the longest managed seaside trail in the world, completely circumnavigating the coastline, from the fishing villages of Cornwall and the beaches of Nothumberland to the limestone arches of the Jurassic Coast and the sandy dunes of Norfolk. Much of the trail is already waymarked (the 630-mile South West Coast Path is particularly challenging and beautiful), with new legs set to open throughout the year. If you want to cross the whole thing off your bucket list, be warned that it's no walk in the park: At around 2,795 miles, the completed route is 605 miles longer than the Appalachian Trail and about the same as the distance between New York and Los Angeles. —Nicholas DeRenzo

4. Get Refreshed in the Israeli Desert

Six Senses resorts are known for restorative retreats in places like Fiji, Bali, and the Maldives. For its latest location, the wellness-minded brand is heading to a more unexpected locale: the Arava Valley, in the far south of Israel. Opening this spring, the Six Senses Shaharut will offer overnight camel camping, off-roading in the surrounding desert, and restaurants serving food grown in the resort's gardens or sourced from nearby kibbutzim. While the valley is said to be near King Solomon's copper mines, the Six Senses is sure to strike gold. —Nicholas DeRenzo

3. Say konnichiwa on July 24 at the opening ceremonies of the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, which plays host for the first time since 1964.

The Japanese capital plays host for the first time since 1964. This year, softball and baseball will return after being absent since 2008, and four new sports—karate, sport climbing, surfing, and skateboarding—will be added to the competition for the first time. Say konnichiwa at the opening ceremonies on July 24, which will be held at renowned architect Kengo Kuma's New National Stadium. – Nicholas DeRenzo

2. Score Tickets to Euro 2020

Still feeling World Cup withdrawal? Get your “football" fix at the UEFA European Championship. From June 12 to July 12, 24 qualifying national teams will play games in stadiums from Bilbao to Baku, culminating in the semi-finals and final at London's hallowed Wembley Stadium. Will World Cup champion France bring home another trophy? Will Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal repeat its 2016 Euro win? Will the tortured English national team finally get its first title? Or will an upstart—like Greece in 2004—shock the world? —Justin Goldman

1. Soak Up Some Culture in Galway

Photo: Ian Dagnall/Alamy

Galway has long been called “the cultural heart of Ireland," so it's no surprise that this bohemian city on the country's wild west coast was named a 2020 European Capital of Culture (along with Rijeka, Croatia). The title puts a spotlight on the city (population 80,000) and County Galway, where more than 1,900 events will take place throughout the year. Things kick off in February with a seven-night opening ceremony featuring a fiery (literally) choreographed celebration starring a cast of 2,020 singing-and-drumming locals in Eyre Square. “This is a once-in-a-generation chance for Galway," says Paul Fahy, a county native and the artistic director of the Galway International Arts Festival (July 13–26). “It's a huge pressure. There's a heightened sense of expectation from audiences, not just from here but from all over the world." Art lovers will no doubt enjoy Kari Kola's illuminating work Savage Beauty, which will wash the Connemara mountains in green light to coincide with St. Patrick's Day, or the Druid Theatre Company's countywide tour of some of the best 20th-century one-act Irish plays. Visitors would also be wise to explore the rugged beauty of Connemara on a day trip with the charismatic Mairtin Óg Lally of Lally Tours, and to eat their way across town with Galway Food Tours. But beware, says Fahy: “Galway has a reputation as a place people came to 20 years ago for a weekend and never left." —Ellen Carpenter

Read more on this article

Scroll to top