Ho Chi Minh or known mostly as Saigon by locals is the biggest port and largest city in Vietnam. Its strategic location blesses the town as the business and financial centre of the country, even since hundred years ago. Before Vietnamese settling in the 17th century, this place was inhabited by the Khmers.
In 1859, the French conquered the city and made it the capital of Cochin China in 1862. Within this period, they had built many elegant architectures and large boulevards which you can still see today. Sadly, about 4.5 million inhabitants had to be evacuated during the peak of the Vietnam War in 1969.
It took about 30 years for Saigon city to recover with the current population reach 7 million. Although the government has changed its name officially into Ho Chi Minh, as a form of respect to the Vietnamese Communism spiritual leader, the people reluctant to adopt the same name. That is why today’s city centre is still called Saigon.
Though it took hard times at the past, Ho Chi Minh City today is known as a well-known destination for the vacation. People love to make the visit to enjoy the beauty classic French architectures, sleek skyscrapers and the great culture. Standing in peace with the ornate temples and pagodas creates fantastic harmony especially when you also spend more time to pamper your tongue with delicious cuisines combining the tastes of French, Chines and Vietnamese.
Tourist Attractions in Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City is a perfect example of the time capsule. The current modern buildings make you feel just like today’s people, but the old French architectures seem taking you back to the past. This dynamic city is full of energy and innovation as well as traffic. Still, you can expect for unforgettable adventure by making a trip for a day or two at this main hub of the southern region of Vietnam.
Cultural Sights in Ho Chi Minh City
Talking about culture tourism, Ho Chi Minh has many great places to visit. This old town has temples, museums, theatres and palaces. You can start the trip from the city centre where the beautiful Pariser Plats sitting as the main historical monument in the town. The construction took 6 years to complete from 1877 and created the rich interior decoration.
When you go further, you will find the Reunification Palace which was used as the main residence of the President of South Vietnam in 1962 during the hostilities. It was destroyed completely once but the locals helped the restoration.
Visiting museums is also a must cultural trip in Ho Chi Minh City. One of the popular ones is the Museum of Vietnam War. Unfortunately, this place is not recommended for family vacation.
If you go with children, the best place to go os the City Hall. The Palace may be closed for public but it is possible to wander around its surrounding and watch the beautiful illumination. Alternatively, you can walk on the tunnels Cu Chi which is very unique its complex structures built in the mid of 20th century to served thousands of locals as shelter.
The last but not least, Ho Chi Minh City still has the Chinese quarter Cholon. There is a popular spot named Ben Thanh which is the biggest market, offering the fun of both shopping and hiking.
Nature in Ho Chi Minh City
If you are an avid nature lover, you can find some good places to visit in Ho Chi Minh City. The most popular one is Saigon Zoo and Botanical Garden which is visited hundreds of tourists every day. Some wildlife parks or sanctuaries can also be alternative.
You can visit Can Gio National Park, a UNESCO conservation site located in the rural area of Can Gio. If you still wish for free Wi-Fi connection, the 23rd September Park on Pham Ngu Lao is a great place to take a break from the chaotic streets in Saigon.
Other leafy spots that will keep you away from the sunlight are 3-04 Park on Le Duan and Tao Dan Park on Truong Dinh. Do not forget to take a look at how the officials actively deal with the illegal animal trade by building Wildlife at Risk (WAR) in the Cu Chi District.
Religious sites in Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh or locally known Saigon is a melting pot of two religions, i.e. Buddhism and Catholic. Therefore, you will find many sites resembling those two. Importantly, all of the buildings have amazing architecture as well as great histories, making it worth to have a walking tour.
Here are some popular religious places in Ho Chi Minh City:
1. Emperor Jade Pagoda
Also called as the Tortoise Pagoda, the ancient temple located north of the intersection of Mai Thi Luu Street and Dien Bien Phu Street was built by the Cantonese Chinese around the year of 1909. There is a statue of Taoist God of the heaves made of jade which become the main object of worshipers’ visit.
2. Tan Dinh Church
Tan Dinh Church is a parish church, the second largest one after the Nortre Dame Basilica which was built in the late of the 19th century by French colonists. After the completion in 1876, this church was opened to the public and had gone through some enlargements.
3. Vinh Nghiem Pagoda
As one of the largest pagodas in Vietnam, this site also has traditional Vietnamese style. However, instead of using woods, the construction was made from concrete.
4. Ky Dong Church
The existing number of churches in Vietnam can’t be separated with French influence in the past. One of the great places to worship for Catholic Vietnamese is Ky dong. It has the statue of St Mary at the outside where people usually bring flowers and say the prayers.
5. Xa Loi Pagoda
As the largest pagoda in Ho Chi Minh City, Xa Loi Pagoda was used as the second main office by the headquarters of the Vietnamese Buddhist Association until 1993. It has the highest bells in Vietnam, standing at 32 meters in height with two tons of weight. The surrounding view is also beautiful because visitors can find gardens with a Koi Pon and bonsai trees.
6. Notre Dame Basilica de Saigon
Built by the French colonists, this Roman Catholic Cathedrals is the sea of the Archbishop of Saigon. Coloured in red with two pointed bell towers, Notre Dame Basilica de Saigon becomes a must to see the landmark of the city.
Ho Chi Minh City Food Tours
You have planned to visit many places in Ho Chi Minh or Saigon City, but still, do not know how to fill your empty stomach and empower yourself for more tours? Fortunately, this electric city won’t let you travel in craving. You can always find places to eat everywhere. At least, the followings are what you must try:
1. The classic Pho Bo
It is a type of beef noodle soup which is available at every street corner of the country. If you do not eat Beef, then you can opt to Pho Ga or Chicken Pho. A great place to find this such food is Pho Phuong 25, close to the famous Lunch Lady.
2. Banh Mi
For a quick but still satisfying bite when taking a tour in Ho Chi Minh, you can have Banh Mi or Vietnamese sandwich. It is usually made from a baguette sandwich with pork pate, a variety of cooked meats, sausages, and vegetables and more. Each place may have its own customization.
3. Banh Trang Nuong
Another quick bite you can try is Banh Tang Nuong or rice pancake. you will have a nice crisp of rice paper sheet with the topping like diced vegetables, quail eggs, cream cheese, minced meat and some sauces.
4. Colourful glutinous rice
It is probably something cool you can try at night. The glutinous rice is colourful, very inviting of course, and added with some desserts like coconut cream and desiccated coconut. Unless you are very hungry at that time, make sure you ask for the price first.
5. Goi Cuon
It is Vietnamese Spring Rolls which are available everywhere in Vietnam, including the street vendors and restaurants in Ho Chi Minh. This food is very popular and has huge fans. So, you can enjoy the treat of 4 to 6 rolls before going back to the hotel.
Best souvenirs to buy in Ho Chi Minh
Never say you have just come back from holiday in Ho Chi Minh before you can show others you really bring home some things from this city. Your families, relatives or friends do not need your pictures. They want something real, so you should buy them souvenirs.
Well, fortunately, Vietnamese are so creative. You can find many unique and delightful items like:
1. Ao Dai
Ao Dai is the traditional but beautiful dress which has important meaning in every Vietnamese ceremonial life. Women usually wear it for weddings, festivals and other formal occasions. Commonly made to fit, be sure you can find the right size for the recipients. Visit the Ao Dai Museums on Saigon’s walking streets to get this piece of beautiful dress.
2. Wartime Zippo Lighters
The American war left various stories and inspired people in many aspects including business. US Zippo lighters ware used by US soldiers when serving in Vietnam and randomly found in the market in the 80’s and 90s, left by the fleeing or slain troops. Although it is uneasy to find the genuine ones, you can still get the same effect of the legendary Zippo lighters. Just check out Dan Sinh Market to shop some.
3. Non La
Another iconic souvenir from Vietnam is Non La. It is a straw hat popularly worn by the supporting stars of Vietnam films for the last 50 years. Have been also easily found throughout the nation, but the best advice is hunting for a market that only sells Non La. This way, you can find the best bargain, about less than VND 100,000. The plain ones are more preferable and available in the small and heartland markets.
4. Propaganda Art
If you are looking for the souvenir with the higher taste of art, you can find some cold-war era propaganda art. You will be able to find this such gifts throughout the city, especially the touristy areas like Pham Ngu Lao and Ben Thanh.
5. Bamboo Dragonflies
As you can’t bring a live dragonfly home, you should have ones made from bamboo. Vietnamese have this kind of little toy which is so delicate and simply novelties. The bamboo dragonflies are decorated with the hand-made painting. Be careful about the packing because it is very easy to break. But if you can easily get them back in one peace, this little toy will amuse your kids with the graceful balance and gentle motion.
6. Musical instruments
If any of your family members or friends who love music, you can buy them Vietnamese musical instruments. For example flute, rattle or drum. The best place to shop is Saigon’s Music Street on Nguyen Thien Thuat in District 3.
Bracelets always become effective souvenirs. It does not take much space and is easy to carry. The hand-woven bracelets also surely look fantastic. Just visit one of the street vendors where the sellers are parents from the North area of the country selling stuff for their kids’ education. Help them raise the fund to keep their children taking the education, so you will feel more grateful.
8. Hand-embroidered clothes
The hand-embroidered clothes from Vietnam are very unique. Its intricacy and vibrant colour really catch the eyes, making this masterpiece so well-known in the worldwide. Depending on the craftsmanship skill level, the detail can be more intricate. Fortunately, these traditional clothes are offered at fairly cheap prices, allowing you to take some home for kids. Visit Mekong Quilts to shop.
If you are looking for gifts for elder people who love a morning brew, you can bring Vietnamese coffee home. The souvenir will be more elegant and even functional when you also buy a Vietnamese coffee filter. Check out Phuc Long and Shin Coffee to find some inspirations.
10. Ceramics and lacquerware
For some antique masterpieces you can use to create exceptional centrepieces in the living room or kitchen, you can opt for Vietnamese ceramics. They have been known internationally for its durability and quality. Unless you are ready with the endless bargaining, you can directly go to Authentic Home and Amai in District 2.
Although it is less appreciated in the globe, the silk of Vietnam can still become an exceptional gift. It is a suitable souvenir for parents who love working with fine materials. Just buy the raw ones at the Chinese market in District 5.
12. Sand pictures
Instead of taking a painting, you can have a beautiful and tricky ornate such sand pictures. It is available in various sizes and detail levels, allowing you to find ones that meet your budget. However, you must be careful when travelling, because the sudden knocks can shake the sand and leaves the only blurred mess.
Transportation in Ho Chi Minh
You may wish to get around Ho Chi Minh by yourself by renting a motorcycle or car. However, the crowded traffic will be so much challenging. The best way to explore the city is taking public transportation.
There are more than 100 different buses routes offered with the averagely cheap fares.
This transportation mode is the simplest to make a direct trip, especially when you have just landed at the airport.
3. Grab taxies
If you have Grab application, booking the taxes online can be much easier and faster.
4. Xe Om
It is a type of motorcycle taxi where you can jump on the behind of the experienced and polite driver who is willing to take you anywhere you want to go.
Do you want to enjoy the sightseeing in slow motion? The best way is taking cyclos, a three-wheeled cycle where you sit in front of the driver.
Getting around Ho Chi Minh City for the first time can be a bit overwhelming. Once locals recognize you like tourists, they may scam you. That is why you have to be cautious. Whenever taking a public transportation, you should always bring cash on hand and turn on your GPS. You may also need to learn some simple languages to talk with the non-English speaking drivers. It is worth to negotiate the rate. Importantly, stay nice and polite. The friendly and accommodating drivers may even share you many interesting tips and stories about their beloved city.