Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
Under the French, Ho Chi Minh City was called the “Pearl of the Orient”. Ho Chi Minh City, situated in the southern part of Vietnam, is still called Saigon by most of the natives. Ho Chi Minh City is the biggest city in Vietnam with hundreds of rivers and canals.
The wide Saigon River, which takes a huge turn from the east of Saigon, links the city with the sea. Unlike Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City may lack charm and elegance, but the city with its essential French colonial character has enough to draw your attention. The city’s colonial villas, wide avenues and a lively cafe society remind you the days of French dominance.
Over the last 10 years, Ho Chi Minh City has experienced a spectacular change in its cityscape. The once low-rise landscape of the city’s central area, District 1, is now marked with shining skyscrapers including high-rise apartments, international hotels and companies. This bustling, vibrant, industrial hub of the nation is the biggest city of Vietnam as well. Saigon is also the cultural center and economic capital of the country.
The city is well connected with rest of the world through air routes and sea and thereby draws huge foreign funds in the fields like oil, gas, agriculture, textiles, and marine products. However tourism contributes a major part of the government’s revenue.
The city with its teeming metropolis mingled with the elegance of ancient culture, gives you a microcosmic view of the entire nation.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
Mostly tourists and travelers start pouring in since November and they continue their tour in the city throughout March. While your stay in Ho Chi Minh don’t miss out on the fun and celebrations in the Tet Festival in either late or early January.
Ho Chi Minh seems to be easier to visit most of the time of the year but spring time invariably seems to be the best time to visit. The average temperature in Ho Chi Minh tends to remain around 28 degrees.
Flights: Most visitors will arrive at Tan Son Nhat International airport located about 4 miles from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) serving both international and domestic flights. And from the airport you could reach the downtown by taxis costing around 5 USD.
Train: The Thong Nhat Express train runs from Saigon to Hanoi serving nearly all of the major cities along the coast. The travel time from HCMC to Hanoi by train may take up to 30 hours, but many people prefer to stop along the way in Hue, Danang, Nha Trang, etc. There is also a tourist train from HCMC to Phan Thiet.
Bus: Ho Chi Minh city is a great starting and ending points for open tour buses that go up the coast towards Hanoi. The two main bus stations in HCMC includes: Cholon or Mien Tay.
WAR REMNANTS MUSEUM
This museum exhibit crimes committed by the Americans during the war. It contains countless artifacts, photographs and pictures documenting American war crimes. Such documents illustrate the killing of civilians, spreading of chemicals, torturing of prisoners and the effects of the war on the north.
Photographs of the famous My Lai massacre, human embryos, genetically deformed babies and innocent civilians being tortured can be seen on display. An array of US armored vehicles, artillery pieces, bombs and infantry weapons are displayed in the courtyard. You can also see a guillotine used by the French to de itate troublemakers in the riots of the 1920s and a model of the famous tiger cages used by the South Vietnamese to house VC prisoners on Con Son island. The War Crime Museum basically reveals a different side of the stories about wars – the innocent victims of modern warfare.
A new attraction in the city is Saigon Skydeck, an observation platform on the Bitexco Financial Tower, which at a height of 262m (860ft), is the tallest building in Ho Chi Minh City. Inspired by the shape of a lotus bud, the Vietnamese national flower, the glass and steel covered building symbolizes the new Vietnam. The observation deck is on the 49th floor and offers stunning views of the city and Saigon River. Read More…
Admission price per single entry:
Children (4-12 years old) Senior and disabled: 130.000VND
VINH NGHIEM PAGODA
The largest pagoda in Ho Chi Minh City is a blend of modern influence and traditional Japanese and Vietnamese culture. It is home to a sanctuary and a seven-floor, 40-metre high tower. People come here to pay homage to Siddhartha Gautama, Buddha himself, and Samantabhadra, the Lord of Truth and Manjusri. Make sure to leave time to visit Vinh Nghiem Pagoda when sightseeing in Saigon.
Saigon’s Vinh Nghiem Pagoda was built between 1964 and 1971 based on the design of architect Nguyen Ba Lang. The area of the complex is somewhere in the range of 8,000 square meters. Look for the 25-metre tall Devotee Relic four-story Tower, built in 1982, situated behind the pagoda. The Japan-Vietnam Friendship Association of HCMC constructed the Kwan-Yin tower.
It was completed in 1966; the present Hoi Truong Thong Nhat was the former Independence Palace. It was designed by Western-trained Vietnamese architect Ngo Viet Thu. In 1868, the Norodom Palace (original name) was built for the French Governor-General of Indochina. A striking modern architecture was built when the original buildings were damaged by bombs. Rebuilt in 1962, it comprises of a ground floor, 3 main floors, two mezzanines and a terrace for helicopter landing.
The palace includes many tastefully decorated rooms such as the reception room, the cabinet reference room, the study rooms, the credentials presentation room and the banquet room. It also has a basement with a network of tunnels connecting to the telecom centre and war room and one of the longest tunnels which stretch all the way to the Revolutionary Museum. The grounds outside contain one of the first tanks to burst through the gates of the palace to signify the end of the Vietnam War as well as the fighter plane which dropped further bombs towards the end of the war. Independence Palace was renamed the Unification Palace to denote the spirit and strong will for national independence and reunification.
HO CHI MINH MUSEUM
Once a French shipping company known as Dragon House Wharf, the Ho Chi Minh Museum hosts an eclectic collection of the former leader’s possessions. On display are Uncle Ho’s sandals and radio, among other items. Twenty-one year old Nguyen Tat Thanh, later known as Ho Chi Minh, began his struggle for independence here. The museum is open every day except Monday. It is closed Friday mornings.
Ho Chi Minh Museum is located on Nguyen Tat Thanh Street in Saigon’s District 4, at The Dragon House Wharf. Built in 1863 and originally called Nha Rong, the museum sits at the junction of the Ben Nghe Channel and Saigon River. Thus far over 10 million visitors have enjoyed the pieces on display at the Ho Chi Minh Museum.
Inside the famous Ho Chi Minh City (or Saigon) of Vietnam, there stands a more than 100 year-old building of the “Revolutionary Museum”, which was formerly the palace of the Cochin-china Governor, and then the office of the Imperial Delegate of the King’s special envoy.
Visiting the museum, tourists will have a thorough understanding of the heroic, historical and heart-rending struggle against the French and American invaders of the Vietnamese in general and Saigon’s people in particular.Particularly, there are images relates to the General Uprising in the Mau Than Spring (1968) and the historical Ho Chi Minh campaign (1975) to liberate the Country.
JADE EMPEROR PAGODA
Put this atmospheric Cantonese pagoda, built in 1909, at the top of your HCMC temple visiting list. The Jade Emperor, heaven’s gatekeeper, watches over an incense-filled room while hidden chambers harbour woodcarvings and altars depicting scenes from Taoist and Buddhist myths. One hall houses the go-to deity if you’re seeking fertility and the upstairs section represents heaven and features the goddess, Kwan Ying. The Jade Emperor Pagoda is located at 73 Mai Thi Luu in District 3, Saigon.
The temple, AKA the Tortoise Pagoda, was constructed in 1909 by Saigon’s Chinese population. The pagoda is a photographer’s paradise that features ribbons of aromatic incense smoke, robed monks, artful carved figures, Buddha sculptures and a turtle pond. Even if you’re not the praying kind you owe it to yourself to check out the Jade Emperor Pagoda. It’s a cheap taxi ride to the temple from central Ho Chi Minh City.
Also known as the Museum of Vietnamese History, the History Museum of Ho Chi Minh City was built in 1929 and was originally called the Blanchard de la Brosse Museum. In the span of years between 1929 and 1956 it mainly exhibited ancient art collections of a few Asian countries.
The Museum was renamed Saigon National Museum after 1956 and was called so till 1975. Post 1975 the museum was expanded and has been called the Museum of Vietnamese History since then. The museum exhibits its collection in two parts:
Part One exhibits the history of Vietnam from the times when the area was first settled (about 300,000 years ago) to 1930 – i.e. when the Vietnamese Communist Party was born.
Part Two: Displays showcase various themes like that of historical characteristics of southern Vietnam such as Oc Eo culture, ancient culture of the Mekong Delta, Cham art, Ben Nghe – Saigon, ethnic minority groups in Vietnam etc. Ancient pottery of a few Asian countries is also housed in this area. The museums also stores a number of important relics in a separate storage are.
The History Museum is aptly named. In addition to preserving history it will also probably go down in history as one of the most interesting museums in Ho Chi Minh City
NOTRE DAME CATHEDRAL
The twin towers of the beautiful, Neo-Romanesque architectural red-brick Notre Dame Cathedral have been a familiar landmark in Ho Chi Minh City since the 1880s. In front of the cathedral in a small garden lies a delicate statue of the Virgin Mary.
The interior of the cathedral is rather plain, unlike most French cathedrals, with no stained glass, but it offers a cool respite from the heat outside. It is also an oasis of calm from the incessant traffic that circles the cathedral. There is still a significant Christian community in the south of Vietnam and church services are well attended.
THIEN HAU PAGODA
Also known as Chua Ba, this beautiful Saigon pagoda was built by the Chinese in the early 19th century. It is one of the most active temples in Cho Lon and has an otherworldly atmosphere owing to the smoking rings of swirling incense and majestic interior furnishings. It is dedicated to Thien Hau, goddess of the sea and protector of sailors.
Easily one of the most favorite tourist attractions in Ho Chi Minh City, Thien Hau Pagoda is located on Nguyen Trai in Cho Lon. Be sure to keep an eye out for the porcelain dioramas that decorate the roof and walls. The dioramas depict duels on horseback, arena fighting and dragons and turtles. Interesting, Saigon’s Thien Hau Pagoda is dedicated to a goddess, Thien Hau, who is neither specifically Buddhist nor Taoist.
It said that Thien Hau can travel over the oceans on a mat and ride the clouds to wherever she pleases. Her mobility allows her to save people in trouble on the high seas.
CU CHI TUNNELS
Cu Chi is an “Underground village” with its labyrinth totaling more than 200 km. The main tunnel is 60 – 70cm wide and 80 – 90cm high. The structure has either a delta shaped or vaulted ceiling, above the tunnel is a layer of earth about 3 – 4m thick, enough to sustain the weight of 50-tonne yanks or heavy artillery as well as the destruction of bombs up to 100kg. Although it is an underground communication network, the tunnel is enlarged here and there in to rooms large enough to hold large meetings, a medical station or art performances. That are the reasons why Cu Chi Tunnel became legendary during the 1960s for its role in facilitating Viet Cong control of a large rural area only 30 to 40km from Saigon.
Although it is an underground communication network, the tunnel is enlarged here and there in to rooms large enough to hold large meetings, a medical station or art performances. That are the reasons why Cu Chi Tunnel became legendary during the 1960s for its role in facilitating Viet Cong control of a large rural area only 30 to 40km from Saigon. Read More…
Visit the Mekong Delta to understand why it’s called the rice stock of Vietnam, why a sampan tied to a coconut tree can evoke nostalga. There you will find the simplest people, who would not care much about the luxury life of the city. Just walk idly in My Tho or Vinh Long or Can Tho and discover daily life of the Vietnamese on the river and arroyos, taste the sweet and fresh coconut juice and smell the particular fragrance of the rice paddies. Further down to Soc Trang, the mysterious Khmer culture is hidden behind the gate of Hinayana temples.
The Mekong River with its intertwined branches will lead you from one surprise to another. The hospitality of the people is the most impressing. They welcome you like relatives coming home. Mekong delta is not also the biggest fruit gardens of Vietnam. Food here tastes different from other places. Beside the common food the local dishes also comprise of snakes, tortoises, bats and eels.
GIAC LAM PAGODA
Giac Lam pagoda (also known as Cam Son, Cam Can or Cam Dem pagoda) is an oldest pagoda in Ho Chi Minh city. This is an auspicious destination for people not only Buddhist but also other religions because of its holy, history, architecture.
Entering the main gate, we will see a big shinning white statue of bodhisattva under a tall, great Bodhi tree which was brought from Sri Lanka. This tree can be considered as an unbreakably close relationship between Vietnam’s Buddhism and other countries.
The main building of pagoda is constructed in rectangular shape, measures 65m in length and 22m in width. It combines 3 large rooms: the main ceremonial hall, the dharma preaching station and the meal hall. In general, there are 98 pillars carved 86 phrases and placed surround temple.
SOME ACTIVITIES TO DO IN HO CHI MINH CITY
Dinner Cruise on the Saigon River
Escape the bustle of the city and cruise the waters of the Saigon River. Savor a sumptuous dinner, accompanied by live entertainment, while floating past Ho Chi Minh’s enchanting nighttime cityscape.Duration is Aapprox. 2 hours.
Climbing might not be the first thing that springs to mind when someone says Ho Chi Minh City, but a couple of climbing walls are certainly worth a visit if you fancy taking up something new. The wall at 503 Nguyen Duy Trinh in District 2 opens only at weekends, and has nine climbing routes that cater for complete beginners up to advanced climbers. Another option is the wall at Phan Dinh Phung Sport Centre in District 3 (75 Nguyen Dinh Chieu); again, find routes for climbers of all abilities, and even tackle an overhang. Day passes and climbing packages can include the rental of climbing gear.
Golf is big business across Asia. The nearest course to Ho Chi Minh City is the Vietnam Golf and Country Club in Long Thanh My Ward, 20km (12 miles) from the centre. One of its two 18-hole golf courses was designed by US golfing ace Lee Trevino, and visitors can play both during the week and at weekends, as well as make use of the on-site driving range.
Beaches in Ho Chi Minh
The best beaches within reach of Ho Chi Minh City are a fair way out, but public transport provides easy access. Vung Tau is the closest beach at two hours away by bus, although traveling here on a boat along the Saigon River is a better choice. A farther out alternative is the popular beach resort of Mui Ne.
When the Ho Chi Minh heat gets too much, head to the Dam Sen Water Park on Hoa Binh Street in District 11. The popular attraction has giant water slides, a river ride and wave pool, and for the less adventurous there is the wandering river and a massage pool. The water park is particularly popular at weekends and in the holidays.
Vietnamese Water Puppet Show
Vietnamese water puppetry dates back to the 11th century and has changed very little since. Bulky wooden puppets are actually controlled from beneath a pool of water; the performance is accompanied by traditional music. How the puppeteers do their jobs underwater is a well-guarded secret
Although the authentic shows are exclusively in Vietnamese, the tales depict rural life in villages and are easy to understand. Vietnamese water puppet shows typically last for one hour and offer a colorful way to enjoy an ancient tradition.
The Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre is the most popular place to see a puppet show in Ho Chi Minh City. Find the theater at 55B Nguyen Thi Minh Khai in District 1 – east of Tao Dan Park.
Try Vietnamese Pho
No visit to Vietnam is complete without eating your weight in their delicious signature dish: pho. Vietnamese pho is a thin but flavorful noodle soup garnished with bean sprouts, basil, greens, lime, and chilli peppers on the side. The extra ingredients allow people to season the broth to taste. Either chicken, beef, or pork is added in thin pieces, however vegetarian versions are found in tourist areas.
Even President Clinton had to try a bowl of Vietnamese pho at Pho 2000 – a small but popular eatery with excellent food. Find Pho 2000 at the corner of Tran Hung Dao just opposite of the Ben Thanh Market.
SHOPPING IN HO CHI MINH CITY
Shopping in Ho Chi Minh City is pure joy for avid souvenir hunters and shopaholics. Silk clothing, lacquerware, colorful woven bags, silk paintings, greeting cards and hand-embroidered tablecloths are all good value, while getting quality, tailor made clothes is a must-do for any discerning clotheshorse.
Many shops are found along Dong Khoi and close by are Hai Ba Trung, Le Thanh Ton and Le Loi, which are also worth a look. For silk clothes and accessories try Khoi Silk, 81 Dong Khoi.
Busy Ben Thanh Market on Le Loi is crammed with inexpensive but quality clothes and souvenirs. Binh Tay Market in Cholon throngs with people from early morning and until 2300 as a night market, and the gloomy, narrow walkways are crammed with consumer items and exotic foodstuffs.
There are now several very smart shopping malls including Diamond Plaza on Le Duan and Parkson Saigontourist Plaza on Le Thanh Ton.
Shops are generally open seven days a week from around 0800 until between 2000 and 2200.
VAT is included on most items sold and 10% is the standard, but there is no system for foreign visitors to be able to claim this back. However, the duty-free shop on the corner of Nguyen Hue and Le Loi, will allow foreigners to make tax-free purchases of their stock.
DINING IN HO CHI MINH CITY
Saigon is not a place where you will easily go hungry, regardless of your budget.
A glut of foreign business people with expense accounts has created plenty of elegant, albeit overpriced restaurants. You will find everything from enchiladas to dim sum here, although I can not imagine why anyone but terminally bored expatriates would even bother. Many of these places are pretentious and offer only passable food.
Most of the Vietnamese restaurants which cater to the business community are quite Westernized. If you insist on a crisp, white table cloth, the best of these is Blue Ginger, housed in a former journalists’ club at 37 Nam Ky Khai Nghia. Viet Nam House upstairs at 4 Nguyen Thiep Street is under the same ownership. Both are magnificently decorated. You can expect fabulous service and live music.
Lemon Grass, at 93-95 Dong Khai Street, is a bit more modest and relaxed, but still fairly good. On most nights, a string quartet entertains diners.
But for those who want to enjoy real Vietnamese food and contemporary Saigon living, forget about all the tourist restaurants with their white linens and bloated prices, and instead dine where the Vietnamese do. . Thanks to cheap food and local whisky everyone makes merry in Saigon every night.
Don’t leave Ho Chi Minh City without trying one of the banh xeo (pancake) places on Dinh Cong Trang Street, one of the most unusual eating experiences in the city. About one block down this little alley you will find hundreds of people eating outdoors around an open-air kitchen. While you may receive a menu which includes a variety of banh xeo and other specialties, it’s just as easy to look at what other people are having and point. Except for some seafood dishes, the food is very cheap. Just keep ordering one dish at a time until you have had enough.
The small and sumptuously decorated Phu Xuan offers the traditional culinary specialties of Hue, Vietnamese cooking’s equivalent of Imperial court cuisine. Unlike most Saigon, flavors are rich and subtle, and dishes are beautifully presented. Although a bit more spendy than street food, Phu Xuan is a wonderful and relaxing place for a romantic supper or a small party. In District 3 at 128 Dinh Tien Hoang.
A final culinary curiosity is the Binh Soup Shop at 7 Ly Chinh Thang, in District 3. Before North Vietnamese tanks rolled down the streets in 1975, Viet Kong infiltrators used this little dive as their secret headquarters. While serving up helpings of noodle soup to thousands of unsuspecting Vietnamese and Americans, cooks and waiters here plotted sabotage, and ultimately, the fall of Saigon.
NIGHTLIFE IN HO CHI MINH CITY
Ho Chi Minh City is awash with clubs and bars, varying from tiny, gloomy establishments to some very upmarket venues. Most of the nightlife in Ho Chi Minh City s concentrated in District
Imported drinks are considerably more expensive than local ones and alcohol sold in the more upmarket places is even more expensive again. The dress code is generally very relaxed with no restrictions on jeans or trainers.
Bars in Ho Chi Minh City
Perhaps one of the most famous bars in Ho Chi Minh City, the legendary Apocalypse Now continues to attract visitors, expats and locals to its small, dark bar complete with dance floor and pool tables. Be warned, it only gets going late in the evening and at the weekend when the volume really gets cranked up.
2C Thi Sach
Tel: (08) 3825 6124.
This long-established venue is a stylish, sophisticated and cool place to be seen in, popular with locals, expats, tourists and celebrities. Open until late, the bar hosts regular international DJs and party nights and serves a huge range of cocktails. Located in the basement of the Opera House, there is a popular outside terrace.
7 Lam Son Square, District 1
Tel: (08) 3823 3479.
For a quiet drink with great views over the Saigon River, try the rooftop Sky Bar in the colonial Majestic Hotel. The open terrace allows you to watch the busy, intriguing river traffic, particularly the ferries crammed full of cyles, motorbikes and people.
1 Dong Khoi, District 1
Tel: (08) 3829 5517.
Clubs in Ho Chi Minh City
This is the largest discotheques in Vietnam located on the third floor of the Windsor Plaza Hotel building, and it has two clubs with resident and guest DJs. The Pacific plays more progressive music and the New York serves up hip hop and R & B. It has a state-of-the-art
sound and light system and there are also karaoke rooms if you feel you want to sing along.
An Duong Plaza, District 5
Tel: (08) 3833 6688.
Located in the backpacker area of Pham Ngu Lau, this neon-lit, split level venue has a downstairs bar with pool tables and an upstairs nightclub with DJs playing dance, pop, hip hop and R & B. At the weekends there is often live music. The club is often jam-packed and is open into the early hours.
187 De Tham, District
Tel: (08) 3836 9575.
International Tourist Club
The International Tourist Club is a well established entertainment complex located in the New World Hotel, which embraces the Catwalk disco, smart, hi-tech karaoke rooms and a chill-out lounge for those who just want to listen to music and relax. One of the most popular clubs in the city, it is a perennial favourite with readers of The Guide.
76 Le Lai, District 1
Tel: (08) 3824 3760.
Live Music in Ho Chi Minh City
Established bar and cafe which rocks nightly with performances of heavy rock music from iconic bands such as Metallica, Bon Jovi and Santana, performed by well-known local bands and international groups from the Philippines. In between live performances DJs play dance, hip hop and R & B.
41 Ba Huyen Thanh Quan, District 3
Tel: (08) 3930 3154.
Several of the larger hotels stage regular performances by local and international bands and this includes the Park Lounge in the Park Hyatt which features particularly good jazz bands from 2000 hrs until midnight every night. One of the smarter addresses in Ho Chi Minh City, dress up to enjoy an evening in this ground floor venue, with floor to ceiling windows.
2 Lam Son Square, District 1
Tel: (08) 3824 1234.
Sax n’Art Jazz Club
Nightly performances by local jazz musician and owner of the club, Tran Manh Tuan, are extremely popular because of his blend of contemporary jazz with traditional Vietnamese influences. It is a small club with an intimate, relaxed ambience and boasts regular appearances from international guest artists.
28 Le Loi, District 1
Tel: 3822 8472.
Vietnamese music is somewhat discordant to the Western ear but excellent performances are held nightly in some of the city’s restaurants. Vietnam House is one of the most well-known venues, which has even hosted world leaders. The restaurant is housed in a classic colonial building on the main shopping street in the city and guests enjoy typical Vietnamese cuisine while they are entertained by traditional folk music.
93/95 Dong Khoi
Tel: (08) 3829 1623.
Classical Music in Ho Chi Minh City
The Opera House is a beautiful colonial building dating from 1899 and is home to the Ho Chi Minh City Ballet, Symphony Orchestra and Opera. It has undergone a serious upgrading and now features a state-of-the-art light and sound system It has regular performances and occasional shows by international classical artists and also features dance, music and acrobatic performances.
7 Lam Son Square, District 1
Tel: (08) 3829 9976.
Dance in Ho Chi Minh City
Binh Quoi Tourist Village
Located outside the city on the Saigon River, the Binh Quoi Tourist Village has dance shows on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, the highlight of which is a re-enactment of a minority wedding. The evening starts with an evening cruise along the Saigon River to the resort where guests are entertained with traditional music and dance while enjoying a typical Vietnamese meal.
1147 Binh Quoi, Binh Thanh District
Tel: (08) 3556 6020.
Cunh Ding Restaurant
There is a particularly good show during dinner at the Cung Dinh Restaurant in the Rex Hotel, with traditional folk dancing accompanied by traditional instruments, such as the Trung used by the country’s ethnic minorities. The menu features imperial dishes from Hanoi and Hue as well as Ho Chi Minh City and the restaurant is decorated in the style of a royal court. Reservations are advised.
141 Nguyen Hue, District 1
Tel: (08) 3829 2185.
Theater in Ho Chi Minh City
Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theater
Vietnam is famous for its water puppets and Ho Chi Minh City has its own water puppet theatre with daily performances at 1830 and 2000. Water puppetry originated in the Red River Delta in the north of Vietnam and was performed by rice farmers. Traditional stories and scenes are performed by the puppets accompanied by music and a Vietnamese narrator. A must-see for all visitors to the city.
55bis Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, District 1
Tel: (08) 3827 2653.