Ho Chi Minh is the largest city in Vietnam, it was previously the capital of South Vietnam (1862-1954), and formally part of Saigon (until 1976). Saigon has previously been occupied by both the French and Japanese, and was once part of the Kingdom of Cambodia. The area is famously know as battle grounds during the Vietnam War between North and South Vietnam (heavy US involvement), but when the city fell in 1975 to the North, the city was renamed ‘Ho Chi Minh’ after the ruler in North Vietnam. This once former capital was stripped of that title and Hanoi was named the capital of Vietnam.
Despite the history of this city, it has a great deal to offer those who visit. Here 10 things to do in Ho Chi Minh City:
1. THE WAR REMNANTS MUSEUM
Formerly known as the Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes, the War Remnants Museum shows the harsh effects of war from the perspective of the civilian. For most people from western societies our encounter of the Vietnam War was likely very one sided however this museum does well to tell the side of the victims. From the outside of the museum you will find genuine military machines and hardware used during these times, inside you will find information about the war, documents; uniforms worn by soldiers and photographs that really show just what these people went through during the time and more.
2. NOTRE DAME CATHEDRAL
This Catholic cathedral is named after the Virgin Mary, was built by the French between 1863-1880. Located in District 1 of the city, this is one of the most famous buildings; it stands out. The cathedral is designed in the neo-Romanesque style, made entirely of red bricks from Marseille and its two identical 58-metre bell towers, consisting of 6 bels that are still rung till this day. Outside of the cathedral you will find a statue of Virgin Mary, this statue had been rumoured to have shed a tear. The cathedral is a central location and very easy to.
3. CRAWL THROUGH THE CU CHI TUNNEL
This is a must see! Along with the War Remnants Museum, this gives you a great insight to what it was like during war times. I highly recommend having a tour guide in order to fully understand the history, you get to visit an extensive network of underground tunnels that formed the headquarters for the Vietcong guerillas during the time of the Tet Offensive in 1968, the tunnels were a means of communication between surrounding villages and aided the Vietnamese in evading French soldiers. You will get the opportunity to see the layout and the size of the rooms and go down into a few of the tunnels that have been maintained.
4. BONSAI RIVER CRUISE
Board a traditional dragon boat (this dates back to the 19th century) and sail down the Saigon River. See the city lights as you sail down the river, dine in elegance and enjoy the buffet dinner with a beverage of your choice and live music. With Ho Chi Minh as your backdrop what more could you want, this is great night out for couples or even for friends. Make sure to book in advance, prices will vary depending on packages but it’s worth it.
5. VISIT THE GIAC LAM PAGOD
Giac Lam Pagoda is the oldest Buddhist temple in Ho Chi Minh City, built in 1744. The name written on the temple actually means ‘Feel the Woods Temple’. In the gardens you’ll find a bid Bodhi tree, this was gift to Vietnam by a Sri Lankan monk Narada in 1953. You can walk around and admire the beautiful architecture and the gardens around; if you lucky you may be able to catch a Buddhist service.
6. JADE EMPEROR PAGOD
Build in the 20th century, this temple is often regarded as the most important Taoist temples in Ho Chi Minh City. The temple was dedicated to the Taoist god known as the Jade Emperor or King of Heaven/Ngoc Hoang. You can walk around and admire the beautiful botanical gardens where you’ll find a statue of the Jade Emperor. The temple boast beautiful wood carvings and statues of various entities.
7. VIETNAMESE FOOD
Street food is such a good way to try different types of cultural food; luckily Ho Chi Minh City is filled with a vast selection of delicious street food at a very very low price. The city itself is very busy and brings both foreign and local people to its streets. As you walk around you’ll notice how many of the street food places are conveniently located close by on specific streets; whilst some may not offer seating, those that do offer a more relax native approach to dining. Here’s a list of great streets to visit in your search for hunger.
Su Vanh Han Street (District 10)
Vinh Khanh Street (District 4)
Co Giang Street (District 1)
Tran Khac Chan Street (District 1)
Nguyen Thuong Hien Street (District 3)
Van Kiep Street (District 1)
Phan Van Han Street (District 1)
8. VIETNAMESE COFFEE
Vietnamese coffee is definitely a must for those of you who love your daily caffeine fix. Whilst many of you may be used to your American coffee shops or even Italian of French coffee, Vietnamese coffee is definitely unique. Around Ho Chi Minh you’ll find lots of coffee places, pretty much round every corner, but the coolest part is that you can try your coffee in a selection of different ways:
Drip Coffee / Cà Phê Sữa Nóng
Egg Coffee / Cà Phê Trứng
Yoghurt coffee / sua chua ca phe
Coffee smoothie / sinh to ca phe
Black Iced Coffee / Cà Phê Đá
Iced Coffee with Condensed Milk / Cà Phê Sữa Đá
9. TRAVEL TO THE MEKONG DELTA
The Mekong River starts in the Himalayas and flows through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam before it finally flowing into the South China Sea. Many people live along the river and some even live in floating houses. Most people come to the area to visit and experience the famous floating markets, from fruit and veg, to coffee and hot food, there’s lots to be bought. Take a bike tour around the village and get a glimpse into the life of those that live on the delta. I highly recommend going on a rowing boat through the canals if you have time, it’s a great experience, the water is so calm. To really experience and explore you should stay overnight in a homestay, this will give you more time to see a different side to Vietnam.
10. BEN THANH MARKET
Located in District 1, this is probably the most well-known market in Ho Chi Minh, with over 3000 stalls there’s so much to see, buy, eat and drink. Here you’ll be able to get souvenirs, branded goods (cheaper price) and hand crafted and cultural items. The key to going shopping here to haggle, haggle and more haggle! The market is vast so can be a little overwhelming and hard to navigate but it’s definitely a must see. At night the market turns into a great street food location, and who doesn’t want to shop and eat?
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