Ho Chi Minh, previously known as Saigon, is one of Vietnam’s must-see cities.
We were to spend three days exploring things to do in Ho Chi Minh as well as a day from Ho Chi Minh too.
Our first experience of Ho Chi Minh was its clean main streets as we travelled along with the hundreds of scooters.
There are 9 million people in Ho Chi Minh City and 6 million scooters! So, don’t be surprised if you find yourself sharing the pavement with a scooter or two.
Spending three days in Ho Chi Minh is a cultural experience.
Where to Stay in Ho Chi Minh City
We checked into the Sanouva Hotel in the Ben Thanh district, close to many of the places we wanted to visit.
The hotel is only a 3-star but is comfortable and clean with a sumptuous breakfast. However, the breakfast seating is a small area, and at times the extra tables provided were not designed for tall people.
And for you Kiwis and Aussies, an ANZ ATM at its door.
Where to Eat in Ho Chi Minh City
Around the corner from the Sanouva Hotel, you will find Ben Thanh Street Food Market.
This food market has such a wide variety of food stalls with a common eating area. The prices are a lot cheaper than in Cambodia, where the taxes are higher. The food is delicious, and a chance to sit and eat with fellow travellers.
Make sure you try the Rice Paper Pizza (a variation on what to do with rice paper) and Taro Spring Rolls.
And because we do love Halal food, we found a restaurant in one of the nearby streets to savour some local dishes. Halal restaurant food is always flavoursome but oh so slow in reaching the table.
Another option is the Barbecue Garden Restaurant situated near Nguyen Hue Boulevard. It is a beautiful outdoor setting and considering the number of local people at the restaurant, we knew the food must be good.
Only wanting a small bite we chose three kebab sticks each. The waiter returned to our table with the raw food and lit the gas stove. Terry oiled the hot plate, and we were ready to cook with tongs in hand.
Things to Do in Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City is easily explored on foot, especially if you start early enough to avoid the heat of the day. Most attractions open very early to the public.
1. Reunification Palace (formerly known as Independence Palace)
The original building on this site was of French architecture but was demolished after an aircraft raid in 1962 destroyed most of its left wing. President Diem commissioned the replacement building you see today.
Independence Palace became the residence and office of the President of South Vietnam during the American War.
It was here the North Vietnam Army tank crashed through the gates ending the war, when Saigon fell to the North Vietnam Army on 30th April 1975.
Make sure to explore the bunkers underneath the building to see the equipment and rooms used during the American War.
2. War Remnants Museum
The War Remnants Museum (which opens at 8 am) is just around the corner from the Reunification Palace. As you can appreciate, the museum has had many names, with the final name chosen after the end of the US embargo in 1994.
Be prepared to spend a couple of hours here as the museum tells the story from the time of the French in the 1840s to independence celebrations in 1975. We found the photographic exhibition by journalists who covered the war very sobering. This exhibition and the history it displays had us spending most of our time here at the museum.
On the grounds of the museum, you can walk around to view some of the captured American military hardware.
3. Photo Opportunity with a cost
While you may or may not blend in as a tourist or a traveller, the Vietnamese will appeal to your curious nature. So, while we were walking to our next must-see sight, we were stopped and given a photo opportunity to pretend we were local.
The price for this bit of fun was buying fresh coconut. Terry had to try out the old way of carrying goods.
Off now to visit the French architectural buildings, but on the way, Terry had to try out the old way of carrying goods, all for the price of a fresh coconut variant.
4. French Architecture
The French occupation of southern Vietnam in 1867 was the commencement of bringing French architecture to the city.
While early buildings were of wood, brick buildings are some of the popular sights of Ho Chi Minh city :
- Saigon Cathedral of Notre Dame
- General Post Office,
- Saigon Opera House
- People’s Committee Building.
Check out the Post Office telephone booths still being used today for making phone calls.
5. Bitexco Financial Tower
If you are wanting to experience a view of Ho Chi Minh, then the 49th Floor of the Bitexco Tower is the place to visit.
For Terry, it was finally time to succumb to his fear of heights with an elevator ride to the 49th floor in the Bitexco Tower.
Read about Terry’s challenge with heights and how he overcame the fear here.
But before he would purchase his ticket, he needed to ask again:
- “Are you sure it’s the 49th floor, not the 68th we are visiting?”
- ”Are there any glass floors?”(no)
- “How long will the elevator ride take?” (five seconds)
- “Is the elevator made of glass?” (no).
Phew, finally we could purchase the tickets to see the fantastic view of this very large sprawling city.
With the temperature now at 40 degrees Celsius and humidity 74%, we opted to grab a Banh Mi. It’s a baguette fill with Vietnamese salad and meat. They are so delicious and a must-try.
Back to the hotel, where the air conditioning is set at 25 degrees Celsius. We got this tip while travelling in Malaysia. This way, we are more acclimatized when leaving the room to return to the street-level temperatures.
6. Nguyen Hue Boulevard
This evening we checked out the night lights of Nguyen Hue Boulevard. There were lots of people enjoying the pedestrian-friendly boulevard. It was lovely to have a cool breeze dropping the temperature to only 35deg at 8 pm.
Day Trips from Ho Chi Minh
A. Chu Ci Tunnels
Chu Ci Tunnels are remnants of the American War where some Viet Cong soldiers lived as a village while fighting.
To get to the tunnels is a 1.5-hour drive from Ho Chi Minh.
The recommendation is to book a package tour for the transport, a guide and the entrance fee. And if you are interested, only 8kms from the tunnels is the Cu Chi Ethnic Minorities Villages. the drive to the villages is a chance to view more of the beautiful countryside while learning more about the Vietnam people.
B. Mekong Delta
A full sightseeing option is the Mekong Delta in the Ben Tre Province. The drive is about 1.5 hours from Ho Chi Minh city.
Here you can board a local boat at Tien Giang, where you take a cruise among the aptly named Dragon, Unicorn, Turtle and Phoenix Islands.
The cruise will visit a small factory producing handicrafts made of coconut, and a tropical orchard to taste some exotic fruit. You’ll also take a ride on a horse-driven cart along country roads to a garden for a honey-tasting session. But a highlight was taking a smaller rowing boat along the Xep Canal, set amongst a forest of palm trees. Very peaceful.
A delicious lunch at Ben Tre/My Tho is part of the package and is a feast of wonderful food.
To read more about a day trip, click here Mekong Delta.
C. Vin Tranh Pagoda
Vin Tranh Pagoda is a Buddhist temple near the Mekong Delta on the bank of the Bao Dinh canal. The temple was built in the middle of the 19th century But war damage and destruction by mother nature, renovations have continued up until 1933.
Now popular for pilgrims and tourists, a visit can be organized with your Mekong Delta package.
Need more information for your visit to Vietnam
For more information on destinations in Vietnam, click here Visit Vietnam.