Ho Chi Minh City
also known as Saigon is Vietnam's largest city with a growing population of around 8.4 million. This is a city on the go 24 hours a day, where everybody seems to be busy either buying, selling, studying, working or just enjoying themselves. Despite the fact that modern high-rise buildings have begun to dominate the skyline in recent years there are still many fine examples of French colonial architecture in Ho Chi Minh City. The city is crammed full of restaurants and bars ranging from simple pavement stalls where you can buy a bowl of noodles for a few cents to sophisticated restaurants serving fine European cuisine at a fraction of the price you would pay in Europe. Ho Chi Minh City's nightlife has become very cosmopolitan in recent years and there are literally hundreds of bars, pubs, nightclubs and discotheques to pick from for a night on the town. It is also a real shopper s paradise with modern shopping centres and trendy boutiques rubbing shoulders with traditional street markets.
Notre Dame Cathedral
is one of the landmarks among the impressive avenues and open spaces north of Dong Khoi. The huge red-brick edifice with twin spires is placed between two streams of traffic and is a clear reminder that the French once ruled this city. Inside, the decor is relatively austere, but the church gets very full and very lively during services. This peaceful place is perfect for quiet contemplation. Sunday Mass is held at 09.30.
Old Saigon Post Office
is the largest of Vietnam's post offices. It was built from 1886 to 1891 by the great architect Gustave Eiffel. The same architect who gave his name to the Eiffel tower in Paris. The post office is large, open, and with a big picture of Ho Chi Minh overlooking the proceedings. This unique place will remind you of being in a train station.
The Hotel de Ville
is a stroll down from Dong Khoi Street, will reveal more colonial classics like the Continental, Grand and Majestic hotels as well as dozens of tempting boutiques and galleries.
Ho Chi Minh Museum
was once an old customs house, known as the “dragon house”. Now a museum, the eclectic collection features many of the leader's possessions including the Uncle's sandals and his beloved Zenith radio. Most of the signs are in Vietnamese. The museum can be reached by taking a ferry across the Saigon River from the pier at the end of Ham Nghi Avenue or using the bridge on Nguyen Tat Thanh Street.
Ben Thanh Market
is the city s best-known market, where you can buy anything from fresh fruit and flowers to the latest imported electronics and cosmetics. It is located at one of the key intersections in the city center. Inside is a tightly organized grid of aisles, arranged according to product. Clothes, shoes and fabric dominate the front, before giving over to kitchenware, cooked food, fresh vegetables and a somewhat alarming display of seafood and meat, some of it still alive. There is plenty for the visitor to buy, but the main attraction is the way in which the bustling market is still very much part of the city's life and economy. Check our tips for savvy shopping before entering the market.
The former Presidential Palace
is now renamed the Reunification Hall. It is one of the most interesting places to visit in Ho Chi Minh City. This building remains almost exactly as it was on the morning of 30th April 1975 when the Saigon regime surrendered to the victorious liberation forces and the country was reunified for the first time since 1945. Included on the tour are visits to conference rooms, the Presidential Receiving Room, basement tunnels and war room, telecommunications center and the residential area of the former president.
is set in the same park that houses the History Museum. It is worth a visit if you have extra time. Do not expect Western conditions here though. Larger animals such as elephants, camels and hippos could definitely use more space. The reptile houses and aviaries are better with a good array of snakes and birds that you are unlikely to see without visiting remote areas. There is also an aquarium and the gardens are particularly pleasant with magnificent trees.
Xa Loi Pagoda
is a colourful seven tiered pagoda which is revered as it houses a sacred Buddha relic. There is also a Buddhist book publishing centre in the grounds. The pagoda is also of historical interest as it became the centre of opposition to the government in August 1963 when 400 monks and nuns were arrested. Thich Quang Doc, one of several monks to protest by self-immolation, has a memorial around the corner.
The War Remnants Museum
with its thought provoking display of weapons and photographs is also worth visiting. Just inside the grounds of the museum is a water puppet theatre. Despite recorded music this 20 minute show is a rare chance to see this traditional Vietnamese art form. Fighting and footballing dragons and dogs as well as life-like people puppets are brought to life with grace, precision and power on the surface of the water. This professional production by highly skilled artists is well worth a look.
is Ho Chi Minh City's Chinatown; a frenetic commercial center where every building has a shop or workshop on the ground floor. Cholon also has the city s largest market, Binh Tay Market, and some fine pagodas including Thien Hau Pagoda, with its huge incense coils suspended from the ceiling.
The Cu Chi Tunnels
is a popular day trip, two-hour drive Northwest from Ho Chi Minh City, built by Vietnamese resistance fighters during the long years of struggle for independence. The network is extensive, over 200 km of galleries in Cu Chi District alone. Other branches reach as far as the Cambodian border. The site has been specially restored with a small cinema room, guides and displays of all types of taps used by the North Vietnamese fighters.