Ho Chi Minh City, widely known as Sai Gon, is the second biggest city of Viet Nam. The city is an important hub for commerce and culture that has driven the whole country forward with its endless energy. Wandering through timeless alleys, you encounter an astonishing change in scenery from ancient pagodas, teeming markets, past ramshackle wooden shops selling silk, spices and baskets to sleek skyscrapers or at designer malls, foodie restaurants and minimalist bars. Whether luxurious hotels or affordable guesthouses, classic restaurants or humble street stalls, stylish boutiques or busy outdoor markets, Saigon has it all.
WHAT TO SEE
Notre Dame Cathedral
Your trip to Ho Chi Minh City would be incomplete without a visit to the Saigon Notre-Dame Cathedral. Officially known as Basilica of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, the cathedral is situated in the downtown of Ho Chi Minh City and built in between 1863 and 1880 by French colonists with imported materials from France. It has two bell towers, reaching a height of 58 meters. The cathedral is wrapped by bustling streets. Many tourists to Ho Chi Minh City head straight to Notre Dame Cathedral as their first stopping point of interest, and with good reason.
The Reunification Palace is one of the holy triumvirates of attractions in Ho Chi Minh City’s downtown in District 1 along with Notre Dame Cathedral. The 12 hectares and the five-floor building consist of 100 rooms and chambers decorated with the finest modern Vietnamese arts and crafts. Surrounded by Royal Palm trees, the main building of the palace stands out for its modern architecture, typical of the 1960s. Walking the empty hallways and the maze-like bunker system in the basement make it one of the city’s most intriguing spectacles!
Ben Thanh Market
Being a bustling market in the daytime and a social center after sunset, Ben Thanh Market is absolutely a must-see attraction of the most dynamic city of Viet Nam. The market has something for everyone, from handicrafts, textiles, “Áo dài” and souvenirs to delicious local cuisine. Formally established by the French colonial powers after taking over the Gia Dinh Citadel in 1859, it was developed from informal markets created by early 17th-century street vendors gathering together near the Saigon River. It was then destroyed by fire in 1870 and was rebuilt to become Saigon’s largest market. In 1912 the market was moved to a new building and called the New Ben Thanh Market to distinguish over its predecessor.
Another interesting tourist attraction worth exploring in Ho Chi Minh City is Suoi Tien. This is an amusement park in District 9, Ho Chi Minh City, which opened since 1995. The park has many entertainment areas. The landscaping and attractions in the park illustrate the country’s history and legends, such as Au Co and Lac Long Quan, the over-the-top Buddhist statues with decorations, as well as the battle of Son Tinh and Thuy Tinh in Vietnamese story (The Mountain God and The River God). There is an artificial seawater pool located in the park for sea-bathers and also a dinosaur garden. It is a long drive to get to the park, with 15km south of Ho Chi Minh City, it is a perfect place to hang out with friends you're your family. Suoi Tien is also known as the first water park devoted to Buddhism, specifically the Southeast Asian animistic form of Buddhism.
Vietnam’s Historical Museum
Located at 2 Nguyen Binh Khiem Street, Ben Nghe Ward, District 1, in Ho Chi Minh City, the Museum of Vietnamese History is an ideal destination for those who love to learn about Vietnamese history. Occupying an area of more than 2,000 square meters, the pagoda-like museum traces the country’s history with displays of cultural and ethnological significance from all periods. The first one exhibits the history of Viet Nam in prehistoric time, from ancient time to the 1930s when the Vietnamese Communist Party was born. The second one showcases various themes of historical characteristics of southern Viet Nam such as ancient archaeological artifacts, Cham sculptures, an extensive ceramics collection and displays from ethnic minority groups in Viet Nam.
Thien Hau Pagoda
Another interesting place worth exploring in Ho Chi Minh City is the Pagoda of the Lady Thien Hau, so-called Thien Hau Pagoda. Situated on Nguyen Trai Street in the Chinatown district, Chinese style temple is dedicated to Thien Hau, the Lady of the Sea, known as a traditional Chinese goddess not specifically Buddhist or Taoist. The pagoda was originally built as an expression of gratitude by 19th-century Chinese immigrants for her protection during their initial trip to Saigon by sea. While the pagoda itself isn’t the largest or most elaborate in the city, it is unique for amazing incense. Every pagoda in the city has a pot for incense burning, and some hang incense from the ceiling, but here they take it to the next level. The pagoda is also outstanding with the elaborate dioramas that decorate the roof and walls. Made from porcelain in the early 1900s, the dioramas depict several different scenes, such as duels on horseback and fighting in arenas.
WHAT TO EAT
Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon is a heaven for food lovers. From luxury restaurants, charming cafeterias to lovely food stalls, you will be surprised at the excellent mix of flavors that come from fresh and simple ingredients. You will see people eating and preparing food anywhere and anytime. On the streets, down alleyways, and in every other “hole in the wall”, food is everywhere and there are hundreds of fine dining options for you. Wandering around the crowded streets of the bustling second largest city of Viet Nam, you’ll smell all sorts of wondrous things.
Pho in Saigon is quite different from that of Hanoi as it is sweeter. Pho is served with flat rice noodles in a beef broth that usually takes several hours to prepare. The broth is usually topped with green and white onions, coriander leaves and bean sprouts. Accompanied with the soup is an array of garnishes that consists of bean sprouts, basil, scallions, lime, chili sauce and sliced chilies.
Place to eat: - Pho Anh, 8-10A Ky Dong, W.9, District 3; Pho 2000, 1-3 Phan Chu Trinh, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City.
Take a walk anywhere in Saigon and you will eventually run into someone selling banh mi. Tasty, filling and most importantly quick to prepare, these sandwiches are perfect for fast-paced Saigon life.
Literally translated as “broken rice”, this hearty dish is a must-try in Saigon. It is usually served with many different meat options such as barbecued pork chop, shredded pork skin, steamed pork and egg patty or fried egg. Diced green onion in oil is sprinkled on the meat and a side of pickled vegetables and sliced cucumber finish the plate. And don’t forget to serve it with a bowl of the ubiquitous dipping sauce.
Place to eat:
- 113 Nguyen Phi Khanh, District 1
- Cali Restaurant, 222 Hai Ba Trung, District 1
- 77 Restaurant, 77 Bui Vien, District 1
Bun thit nuong
Brightly coloured and fresh in flavour, this noodle dish is another great choice for tourist in Sai Gon. Each ingredient is in one bowl. Fresh chopped leaf lettuce, sliced cucumber, bean sprouts, pickled daikon and carrot, basil, chopped peanuts, and mint are served with vermicelli rice noodle and topped with grilled pork shoulder. The sauce is poured into the bowl. Mix it all up and what you have is a taste sensation in your mouth.
Place to eat:
- Co Ba Restaurant, 287/68 Nguyen Dinh Chieu St., District 3
- Ba Tam Restaurant, 299 Vo Van Tan, District 3
- Chi Thong Restaurant, 195 Co Giang, District 1
WHAT TO BUY
Being the biggest city of Viet Nam, there is nothing you cannot find in the streets. It seems to have a specific for everything, from clothes, shoes, handbags, luggage, watches, handicrafts, antiques, fabric, paintings, etc
Vietnamese traditional dress
If you want to bring your family closer to Viet Nam, don’t miss the Vietnamese traditional dress named “ao dai”. With unique design – which is said to make the woman’s body look more beautiful and attractive – “ao dai” is the best choice for your mother and your girlfriends. You can buy ao dai in many tailor shops in Ho Chi Minh City, just choose the type of material you like with your favorite color and beautiful pattern then receive the “ao dai” as your wish within 3-4 hours.
To bring Vietnamese taste back home with you, dried food is the best choice. There are many different kinds for your needs, from the salty, spicy ones to the sweet ones. Try dried squid, dried beef and many different kinds of dried fruit such as jack fruit, coconut or banana – the favorite ones you might miss it when you’re coming back to your home country.
Cu Chi Tunnels
The complex of Cu Chi tunnels is a destination should not be missed in Ho Chi Minh City. It is a huge network of connecting underground tunnels located in the Cu Chi district of Ho Chi Minh City, and a part of a much larger network of tunnels that underlie much of the country.
Located about 30km far from of the center of Ho Chi Minh City, the Cu Chi tunnels were the place of many military campaigns during the war against America, especially the Tet Offensive in 1968. This complex provided vital access and strategic control over the large rural area surrounding Ho Chi Minh City, including hospitals, defense and living quarters. Much of the original tunnel system was destroyed in bombing raids during the 1970s but existing parts have been restored and opened for the tourists.
Ho Chi Minh Museum
Ho Chi Minh Museum is a must-see place in Saigon for all travelers who stop by the city even just a few days. Also known as the Gia Long Palace, it is a historical site and museum in Ho Chi Minh City, built in 1863 and located at The Dragon House Wharf on Nguyen Tat Thanh Street in District 4, just 1km to the City Centre and 6km far from the Airport. The valuable pieces on display at the Ho Chi Minh Museum are Uncle Ho’s sandals and radio, among other items. In the past, the young man Nguyen Tat Thanh, later known as President Ho Chi Minh, started his struggle for independence here.