Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon as it was previously known, is a busy city whose streets are full of people and Vietnam’s ubiquitous heavy traffic. It’s also a city that has a European air due to the monuments built by the French after seizing the city in 1859, a fact which has earned the city the nickname of “Paris of the East.”
Spending a day exploring the historic and narrow streets amid the hustle and bustle of the city is an experience that no traveler in Vietnam should miss.
The Saigon Central Post Office is one of the most beautiful colonial buildings in the city. The French influence is indisputable; this is especially so considering that it was designed by the architecture studio of Gustave Eiffel himself in the late 19th century.
It didn't seem too crowded when we visited, but perhaps it's hard to tell since the symmetry and dimensions give a truly colossal aspect to the place. The sensation of space is due mainly to the large skylights in the ceiling which fill the building with natural light. One curiosity of this building is the names written on the columns: Franklin, Ampere, and other scientists who made major leaps in the field of electricity. No one knows why Eiffel chose these geniuses for this building.
The real star of the Saigon Central Post Office is the portrait of Ho Chi Minh crowning the main room. His image can be seen from all corners of the room, leaving little wonder as to why the city now bears his name. There are also some interesting old maps of Vietnam and Saigon and booths with antique postcards.
Oh, and it's free to visit. I recommend spending a decent amount of time here to be able to explore it fully. It's beautiful inside and out and makes for a great starting point before doing some shopping on Dong Khoi.
The War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City offers an overview of Vietnam’s wars with China and the United States. You can find the remains of tanks and airplanes, real torture chambers, famous photos, harrowing videos, and all kinds of media highlighting the horrors or war. It’s worth a visit and will change your thoughts about the Vietnamese people.
The Bình Tây Market is not the most popular market in Ho Chi Minh City, but it is the largest. This enormous market is located in the Chinese neighborhood of Cho Lon in district 6. Like all Vietnamese markets, you can find everything from food (fruits, vegetables, meat, fish) to clothes (textiles, suits, custom shirts, imitation designer goods) and very low prices.
The market isn’t a popular stop with tourists and the prices are very good.It closes early (around 6pm) and the level of activity depends on the hour when you go. Some sections of the market are full of really strong smells like dried fish, spices, and durian fruit.
In Vietnamese, this cathedral is known as Nhà thờ Đức Bà, but it’s more commonly called the Saigon Notre-Dame Cathedral. It was built between 1863 and 1880 from local stone and then covered in red tiles imported from France. It has two 58-meter-tall bell towers and a large rose window originally decorated by famous crystal factories in Chartes which were destroyed during the second World War. The building is currently the second highest in the city, with the title of highest going to the Bitexco Tower.
During the Vietnam War, these tunnels played an important role in the defense of the people against the Americans. A good example of how victory in war doesn't necessarily need superior technology. In these tunnels, anthill-style settlements sprung up, complete with hospitals, kitchens, markets, dormitories, etc. The tunnels were dug simply using shovels, and were perfectly camouflaged among the vegetation of the area, so Americans set up their bases right above without realizing that the Vietnamese were below them, coming at night to steal food and supplies.
Built in 1909, the Jade Emperor Pagoda (Chùa Ngọc Hoàng) is a gorgeous Chinese temple in Ho Chi Minh City and by far the most popular among tourists.
It’s somewhat hidden among the streets and doesn't strike your attention from the outside. The inside, however, is amazing and the whole atmosphere is charged with the smoke and smell of incense.
The interior is somewhat maze-like and full of narrow corridors. If you know how to find your way around, you should go up to the second floor and visit the terrace.
The Reunification Palace, which was previously known as the Independence Palace or Presidential Palace, is situated at the start of Le Duan Street. The Palace was built in 1966 and was intended to be the place of residence of the president of South Vietnam. The palace itself is not amazing, but the tour highlights some of the historical events that took place there, relating to the Vietnam War and culminating with the fall of Saigon.
Besides the Ho Chi Minh Museum and the Museum of Memories of War, the Revolutionary Museum is also worth a visit in the city. Located in District One, it stands in an old colonial-style palace, and offers a tour through the country's revolutionary history. There is a scene with the caption "Independence or Death", which really hits home. Outside the palace, there are helicopters and aeroplanes. Admission is only 15.000VND, and it is open every day. Not to be confused with other museums, this is located at 114 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Trong corner 65 Ly You, in District 1.
Something that never ceases to surprise me in any Asian country are are the markets where you can find any fruit, vegetable and animal that you want. In Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon, you can find markets on almost every block, also selling clothing, imports (especially from China), imitations of famous brands, fish etc...it is a wonderful mixture of sights and smells. The fish is sold completely whole and some still alive. One of the most colourful fruit, although in my opinion with a rather bland taste, is the dragonfruit. I have to admit that it is only the colour that makes it interesting. The dried shrimps and prawns are the best known products, considering the number that are available.
This is a beautifully preserved building dating back to the early nineteenth century. In 1975, it changed its name to the People's Committee. The Vietnamese call this building "Hotel de Ville" but it is a public building that tourists can't access. In front of the main facade is a park with a statue of Ho Chi Minh with a child sitting on his knees, surrounded by charming bonsai plants.
The Municipal Theatre in Ho Chi Minh City, which is popularly known as the Opera House of Saigon or Saigon Opera House, is one of the most iconic buildings in Saigon. It is an opera house which is French colonial in style and was built during the period of French Indochina in 1897. It was built as the official site for performances by the French theater company ve came in order to entertain the legion based in Saigon. It is in Lam Son Square, between two hotels :Caravelle and Continental. In 1998, to mark the 300th anniversary of the founding of Saigon, the municipal government began restoring the facade. During 2008 they also renovated the exterior of the building. About once a month you can see artistic performances in the theatre.
The Cho Dan Sinh market is definitely worth a visit. Not a market where you can get clothes or food, this market basically offers two things: tools (locks, screwdrivers, etc), and military items (helmets, uniforms, boots).
Vinh Nghiem Pagoda / Chua Vinh Nghiem is one of the most important Buddhist temples in Saigon. It is a place of worship where believers make offerings, pray, and honour the memory of their dead in front of the statue of Buddha. It has an eight-level tower, with a statue on each floor. There is some Japanese influence to the architecture, as it was built with assistance from Japan.
The Vietnamese call the lunar New Year 'Tet'. It matches the Chinese calendar and the celebration lasts three days. Many Vietnamese people ve live abroad use this time to get together with relatives. Saigon plunges into chaos with the arrival of the holidays. There are lots of bikes and the streets of Saigon collapse transporting the typical good-luck plants. The celebration makes daytime streets are almost deserted by closing stores because the main celebrations are at night, when a wave of people invades the streets, filling them with music and sights. During these days the Vietnamese believe that the gods return to Heaven to submit their annual reports to the Jade Emperor, and then after they return to Earth after New Year's Eve. During that time the Vietnamese try to protect themselves from evil spirits, putting a bamboo pole with a clay tablet and a piece of yellow cloth in front of their houses. And there are firecrackers throughout the celebration.
This square / promenade is located just a few meters away from the Binh Tay market. The ends of the square are headed on one side by a doorway and on the other by a small kiosk. In the middle, there is a fairly large fountain, with a lovely dragon sculpture. There are usually a lot of homeless people around this place.
At the roundabout of Nga Sau Cong Hoa, during rush hour, you can see the huge amount of traffic that frequents Ho Chi Minh Ciy (Saigon). Thousands of cars, motorcycles, bikes and vans gather at this roundabout every day. The peak times are around 17 to 19 pm 7:30-9 am. I recommend that you take a camera and start shooting photos of things as curious as motorcycles with 5 people or people walking across the roundabout.
The Temple of Le Van Duyet not a place of worship itself, but rather a building constructed in honour of a historical figure - Le Van Duet, a general who helped reunify Vietnam after the Tay Son rebellion in 1800. However, the Vietnamese flock to this temple to burn incense sticks, and pray for the souls of the dead. It is in the Vietnamese architectural style, which can also be seen in many monuments around the city of Hue, the former imperial capital of Vietnam.