During its history, Ho Chi Minh City went by various names and is still often called by its former name Saigon. It is the largest city in Vietnam and has the atmosphere of a real Asian megapolis. Just as in Hanoi, culture addicts will find intriguing museums here, and the city center sports some really fine examples of modern architecture. However, the real charm of Ho Chi Minh lies in its curious mixture of ultra modern and ancient. Old temples and French colonial buildings stand side by side with 21st-century skyscrapers, making Ho Chi Minh an exciting city well worth a visit. There are several great places within an easy reach from Ho Chi Minh City, some of the historical interest and some offering great excursions for nature lovers. We recommend that you spend at least a week in the area to be able to explore all its highlights and immerse yourself in its special ambiance.
Things to see and do in Ho Chi Minh
War Remnants Museum
Vietnam has had a long and troubled history of colonialism, communism, and war. The Vietnam War (here known as the American War) of the 1960’s left the country devastated, and it’s still very much alive in the consciousness of Vietnamese people. Many visitors come to Ho Chi Minh to get a better understanding of this controversial period of history. The War Remnants Museum is a powerful reminder of the horrors of war and with its excellent Vietnamese and English captions, it is highly informative. It displays a huge collection of photographs and posters showing the terrible effects of war on civilians, as well as various weapons, bombs and other artifacts from the war.
The Reunification Palace also known as Independence Palace is a curious piece of 1960s architecture and is considered as a symbol of the end of the Vietnam War. It used to be the residence of the President of South Vietnam during the war, and it was here that in 1975 the president handed over powers to Viet Cong, thus ending the war. Today, the 200-dong banknote of Vietnam has an image of the Palace. The building is open to visitors except during official meetings and receptions.
Jade Emperor Pagoda (Phuoc An Hoi Quan)
This exquisite temple is dedicated to the supreme Taoist god (the Jade Emperor or King of Heaven, Ngoc Hoang). It has lots of small rooms to explore, beautiful woodcarvings and Buddha statues. Despite the crowds of tourists visiting, the place somehow has a calm and peaceful atmosphere. We should keep in mind that this temple is a functioning religious site, and besides the tourists, there are a lot of devout worshippers, so a respectful behavior is expected.
Notre Dame Cathedral
The Notre Dame Cathedral, a fine example of a Neo-Romanesque style Catholic church from the 19th century, has recently got some extra fame when the statue of the Virgin Mary was reported to have shed tears. The report has not been confirmed, but the building with its nice bell towers, beautiful stained glass windows, and peaceful garden make it a spot worth visiting nevertheless.
Binh Tay Market
Binh Tay is the largest traditional market in Ho Chi Minh City. Unlike some other markets in the city, it is not so much targeted at tourists as at locals, which makes it a more authentic and exciting place to discover. It takes a bit of a drive from the city center, but its great ambiance and colorful array of goods make the effort worthwhile. The market is divided into sections each specializing in a different product, and you are sure to find everything you want, including calm places to take a rest and food stalls selling traditional Vietnamese street food as well as Chinese-inspired treats.
Tao Dan Park
Tao Dan Park is the most popular public park in Ho Chi Minh, a green oasis in the heart of the city with nice flower beds and tropical trees. It’s ideal for a walk and hangs out and for getting a glimpse into the locals’ lifestyle. Hundreds of people do their daily exercise here, play badminton, practice yoga or tai chi, you can even join in! A famous local spot is the “bird café”, where elderly gentlemen enjoy their morning coffees with their caged birds. The gate to the park is quite impressive and there are other things of interest inside: you can find miniature replicas of Nha Trang’s Cham Tower and Hung King Temple hidden among the trees.
The Mekong Delta
From the air, the delta of the Mekong River, with its network of several tributaries and hundreds of manmade channels, looks like a sort of Eastern Venice. Visiting the Delta is a popular day trip from Ho Chi Minh City and for a reason. The scenery is just amazing with rice paddies and fruit orchards all around. The Delta is often called the “rice bowl of Vietnam” or even the “rice bowl of the Universe”. Most of the population of Vietnam relies on this area for its rice, and the quantities produced allow Vietnam to be the third-biggest rice exporter in the world. The floating markets of the Mekong Delta are also very popular and not to be missed.
The Cu Chi Tunnels
The Cu Chi Tunnels, a 155 miles long tunnel system that was used by Viet Cong as a hiding spot, has been preserved and turned into a war memorial park. The park contains an exhibition of American bombs, rocket launchers and weapons used during the war, and you can crawl around in the tunnels, which are really narrow and have bats in them just above your head, so are definitely not meant for claustrophobics. The secret entrances to the tunnels and the bamboo traps are really fascinating, but the real highlight to most is the Shooting Range, where you are given the opportunity to shoot real ammunition from weapons used in the war.
Until a few decades ago Mui Ne was just a sleepy fishing town on the Southern end of the Eastern coastline of Vietnam. It has since then developed into a major tourist destination and a real kitesurfing paradise. You can reach it with a four-hour drive from Ho Chi Minh City. It has wonderful beaches, but most of them belong to beachfront accommodations, so it’s not an ideal destination for backpackers.