Ho Chi Minh City
Popularly known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City in southern Vietnam is the largest city and the financial and cultural capital of the country. Ho Chi Minh City is a fast-paced city deeply rooted in its cultural roots whilst quickly having adapted to the demands of urbanisation. Here you will find ornate temples and olden shrines of various faiths standing side by side alongside towering skyscrapers and shopping malls. Tan Son Nhat International Airport, which is the busiest airport in the country services Ho Chi Minh City.
Overcoming a turbulent period in its past with its peak at the Vietnam war, Ho Chi Minh City has since grown leaps and bounds to become arguably the most iconic tourist destination in the country. There are several historical attractions such as the Cu Chi and Ben Dinh Tunnels which are remnants of its war-torn past. Other places of interest include the Notre Dame Cathedral, Saigon Opera House and Central Post Office which were built during the rule of the French and brilliantly showcase classical French architecture. These prominent tourist spots are located in District 1 of the city, all close to each other.
Local markets such as Ben Thanh and Binh Tay offer visitors a wide range of handicrafts, textiles, electronics and bric-a-brac souvenirs. Catering to more modern and lavish tastes, Ho Chi Minh City is home to many eccentric shopping malls, fine dining restaurants and glitzy nightclubs as well.
Things To Do In Ho Chi Minh City
1. War Remnants Museum
Opened to the public from 1975, the War Remnant Museum is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Vietnam and is visited by millions of people every year. It came in on the 10th spot on the list of top international museums in 2018. The museum has over 20,000 artefacts and items on display, documenting Vietnam's gruelling, painful and heroic struggle for independence. Each of the carefully preserved war memorabilia serves as a reminder of the horrors of war, and stand for why we need to advocate for peace.
2. Reunification Palace
No one visits Vietnam and leaves without taking a look at the Reunification Palace. The palace is associated with the Fall of Saigon because of the tank that crashed through its gates and ended the Vietnam War in 1975. The palace seems to have frozen in time since, and features the same antique furniture and telecommunication devices that were used then. Reunification Palace is a historical monument with a backstory seeped in the darkest days of Vietnam’s past. A tour of Vietnam is incomplete without a visit to this historical monument, also known as the Independence palace.
3. Central Post Office
Possibly the grandest post office in the subcontinent, the Saigon Central Post Office is a spectacular remnant of French Colonial history that attracts thousands of tourists every year. Built int he late 19th century during French colonialism, the building has distinct Renaissance and Gothic architecture with its looping arches and elaborate marble flooring. Sending a postcard from the still-functional post office is an absolute must. This beautifully constructed building stands tall as a reminder of Vietnam's colonial past and rich cultural history. People throng it in large numbers, not just to send letters and post, but also to marvel at its architectural grandeur and design.
4. Cu Chi Tunnels
One of the most iconic attractions of the city, Cu Chi Tunnels were a part of the extensive underground network in Vietnam that was used by the Vietnamese Congress as a hideaway during the war. An extensive 250 km labyrinth of tunnels containing entire cities inside, they were constructed purely by hand and simple tools. Initially, the tunnels were used during the French colonial rule but were later expanded and used more than ever during the Vietnamese War against America. Visitors can now go through some of the safer parts of the tunnel, which have been widened and lighted up for ease.
5. Bitexco Financial Tower (Saigon Skydeck)
Bitexco Financial Tower is the famous skyscraper of Ho Chi Minh City and the fourth tallest building in the country. The 262 metre structure is inspired by the shape of a lotus, and boasts of top-notch facilities such as entertainment, office, retail and fine dining. Saigon skydeck is an observation deck located on the 49th floor and offers a stunning 360-degree view of the city.
6. Ben Thanh Market
A visit to Ho Chi Minh City is incomplete without a few hours spent shopping at Ben Thanh Market. One can find everything from cheap clothes, textiles, souvenirs, electronics, accessories to the the best of Vietnamese street food. During daytime the market sells fresh produce and groceries but the evenings are filled with enticing scents of wok-fried noodles and barbecued meat.
7. Notre Dame Cathedral
The most famous religious landmark in the city, the Notre Dame Cathedral was constructed by French colonists between 1863 and 1880. The cathedral features Romanesque architectural features, with a distinct red-brick aspect, stained glass windows and twin bell towers measuring 58 metres. A statue of Virgin Mary stands tall in front of the church.
8. Saigon Opera House
Saigon Opera House is a gorgeous venue to enjoy some of the best creative performances in the country. Also known as Municipal theatre, the building is a great example of French Colonial architecture and looks especially alluring in the evenings when bathed in soft lights. Ballet, classical music, concerts and traditional plays are all performed here.
9. Fine Arts Museum
Fine Arts Museum in Ho Chi Minh City is one of the most popular art centres in the city, which aims at preserving, collecting and displaying contemporary as well as traditional artworks. The yellow-and-white building combines French and Chinese elements, and houses a variety of paintings and sculptures. Oil, lacquer, silk and ceramic works are found next to ancient Champa relics.
10. Jade Emperor Pagoda
Jade Emperor Pagoda is a spectacular Taoist shrine in Ho Chi Minh City. Built in 1909 by a migrant Cantonese community, the primary deity here is the 'King of Heaven' Chua Ngoc Hoang who regulates the entry of souls in the afterlife. The grotesque fate that awaits sinners is intricately carved on the temple's walls, which is often remains shrouded behind incense smoke.
11. Saigon River
The most iconic landmark of Ho Chi Minh City, Saigon River offers a glimpse into the various facets of Vietnam like no place else. A cruise or boat ride on the soothing river will take you around the village life, underground military tunnels, stunning skyscrapers and local life in the Mekong Delta. Most tours include a stopover at riverside markets where one can buy handicrafts.
12. Tao Dan Park
The perfect getaway from traffic noise, Tao Dan Park features 10 hectares of beautiful Sao Den trees and walkaways to revitalize you. The park is filled with locals exercising, and also houses a sporting club that draws children to it. A well-known bird cafe inside Tao Dan attracts numerous bird owners to relax with their pets.
13. Ho Chi Minh Museum
The Ho Chi Minh Museum is documents Ho Chi Minh's life through mementos, photographs, and official letters, providing a glimpse into the fascinating life of the founder of modern Vietnam.
14. Suoi Tien Theme Park
Suoi Tien Theme Park can be described as the Disneyland of Vietnam. Located in district 9, the amusement park features the usual rides, restaurants, and experience zones, but with a Buddhist touch. The decor consists of dragons, Buddha, and Vietnamese gods. One House of Horror takes you through the various levels of Buddhist Hell, while a waterslide emerges from the beards of Buddhist sages.
15. Giac Lam Pagoda
Gia Lam Pagoda is a beautiful religious attraction situated in Phu Tho Hoa region of Ho Chi Minh. Established in 1744, the temple is set amidst a lush garden, where a tall bodhi tree shades a statue of a bodhisattva. The main shrine is surrounded by precious wood pillars coated with gold inscriptions, and houses an imposing statue of Amitabha Buddha.
16. Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theater
The Golden Dragon Water Puppet theatre is one of the best places to witness the magic of Vietnamese water puppetry.The shows offer a fascinating insight into Vietnamese culture and tradition. Puppets perform local folktales on a 'stage' of water, with live musicians play traditional instruments on the side. Dragons, fairies and all kinds of mystical characters grace the stage.
17. Mekong Delta
The Mekong Delta in south-east Vietnam is one of the world's greatest river regions. The delta is a hive of activity and is an important transport and agricultural hub. Known as the 'rice bowl of Vietnam', it has lush rice paddy fields, colourful fruit orchids, enchanting villages, and floating markets. More than half of Vietnam's need for rice and fish is supplied by the Mekong. Enriched by the Mekong River, the region is teeming with forests and a variety of wildlife. The forests are home to various animals and birds and, if explored well enough, lead to bunkers and other remnants of Vietnam's past wars.
18. People's Committee Building
Ho Chi Minh City Hall or People's Committee Building in District 1 is both an iconic landmark as well as an administrative institution. The structure was designed by French architect Gardes, and features embossed statues of women and children and bas-reliefs on the outside. During evenings, the building lights up with LED lights and provides a great photo-op. However, the hall isn't open to the public as it is used for government purposes.
19. Botanic Gardens
The Botanical Gardens in Ho Chi Minh is one of the finest gardens in Asia, and is ideal for a leisurely stroll under the Tung and So Khi Trees. In addition to the plethora of plants and ferns,the picturesque area features over 20 types of orchids and 34 species of bonsai.
20. Can Gio Mangrove Biosphere Reserve
Often called the 'green lungs of the city', Can Gio Mangrove Forest is a wetland biosphere about 40 kms from Ho Chi Minh City. The forest features more than 150 species of flora and fauna, and tourists can explore the swamps to catch a sight of the monkeys, crustaceans and fish there. There is also a restaurant and a swimming pool to refresh visitors.
21. Binh Quoi Village
Bin Quoi Village is a welcome break from the dust and crowd of the concrete jungle that Ho Chi Minh City is. The village attracts hordes of tourists with its spacious rural setting, tropical foliage, clear blue lakes and thatched roofs. Reminiscent of the Mekong Delta, people here are encouraged to try fishing, boating, folk games and the outdoor buffet that serves southern delicacies.
22. Saigon Central Mosque
Saigon Mosque is a beuatiful and serene place of worship in District 1 of Ho Chi Minh City. Built by Indian Muslims in 1935, the mosque features well-maintained white and lime green walls and a shaded veranda. Surrounded by four minarets, there are several Halal stalls close to the mosque that sell tid-bits to devotees.
23. Ho Chi Minh Square
A lovely open space marked by benches, well-trimmed hedges, and a noteworthy statue at the centre, the historic Ho Chi Minh Square is an important area of public assembly in the city. Being in a busy district full of shopping malls, temples, and noteworthy sites from Vietnam’s history, this square offers a small space of silence and tranquillity. Located right in the middle of District 1, Ho Chi Minh square is a scenic attraction ideal for unwinding after a long day. A statue of the namesake president sits at the centre, surrounded by greenery and a couple of pretty benches. In the evenings, the place comes alive with soft lights and musicians.
24. Military Museum
The Military Museum in Ho Chi Minh is one of the few museums whose interior exhibits are not as fascinating as the outdoor displays. The historical attraction is devoted to the 1975 spring offensive launched by President Ho Chi Minh against South Vietnam that led to its capitulation. Weaponry displayed at the museum include Soviet and American tanks that were actually used during the war.
Shopping in Ho Chi Minh City
From traditional markets to high-end malls, the city of Ho Chi Minh is a haven for shopaholics. No matter your budget, there is plenty to shop for in the city. Products and handicrafts come to this place from all over the country to be sold at various department stores, shops, stalls and stands. In addition, one can go souvenir shopping for local crafts such as textile, metalwork, and distinct baskets.
Dong Khoi area houses many such shops, along with Hai Ba Trung, Le Thanh Ton and Le Loi, which are worth visiting.
Try out Khoi Silk at 107 Dong Khoi for silk garments and accessories.
The most popular market among tourists and locals is Ben Thanh Market on Le Loi. The place is packed with quality clothes and souvenirs at very cheap prices. Make sure to hone your haggling skills as prices can go down to 50% but keep your cool. Situated in District 1, the place dazzles as the sun sets and the night market opens outside the building. One can enjoy food at dozens of food stalls there.
Situated in District 6 is Binh Tay Market in Cholon, flocked with people from early morning until early evening. Crammed in the narrow alleyways, the place is full of fake war souvenirs, Ex-military items and exotic food items, although bargaining is a must.
At last, if you are looking for shopping malls, Diamond Plaza on Le Duan and Parkson Saigon tourist Plaza on Le Thanh Ton are among the popular ones.
Nightlife in Ho Chi Minh City
The city of Ho Chi Minh has a dazzling nightlife lined with an array of pubs and bars ranging from dingy ones to murky dark places and posh and premium properties.
Most of the popular ones are dotted in the Dong Khoi area of District 1.
Then there are tearooms and bia hoi (draught beer) vendors that operate until late.
If jazz music is your taste, do not miss out on the Sax n' Art at 28 Le Loi Street, where the renowned Vietnamese saxophone artist Tran Manh Tuan frequents.
One can also enjoy music shows and other grand events at Lan Anh stadiums. Drinks and alcohol are readily available along with many local drinks, which are relatively cheaper compared to the imported brands.
If you are looking for a fantastic experience into the wee hours of the night, Pham Ngu Lao in the district has plenty of cheap beer vendors waiting to quench your thirst.
Best Time To Visit Ho Chi Minh City
The best time to visit Ho Chi Minh City is during the months of December to March. The temperature ranges from 20°C to 32°C. This period marks the dry period in Ho Chi Minh City and the surrounding regions when temperatures are relatively cool during the day and chilly at night.