Formerly known as Saigon and Prey Nokor (at different times), Ho Chi Minh City was re-named after the country’s revolutionary leader (and the first leader in North Vietnam) Ho Chi Minh. It is the largest city in Vietnam with a population of 8.1 million(although it’s not the capital – the honour goes to Hanoi).
With an expansive and rather tumultuous history going back to the Nguyen Dynasty and then French Colonial rule, Ho Chi Minh City is a very interesting and unique city to visit.
Some things you’ll see here will make you marvel at the sheer resilience of human beings, others make fascinate and intrigue you, quite a lot will delight you and others will leave you shocked at how human beings treated each other (no. 1, below, is one those places that does that to you).
Here are 10 places you have to visit in Ho Chi Minh City.
1.) War Remnants Museum
The war in Vietnam is something that should not be forgotten, and the War Remnants museum pays tribute to what happened during this 30 year period. Within the grounds of this intriguing complex, you can learn about the history of the war (from the Vietnamese point of view) and see actual relics such as tanks, weaponry, and aircraft that were used during the conflict. Furthermore, there is a plethora of information about tactics (almost always gruesome) used by both sides and leave shocked (and saddened by the impact that has been left from the wars). It’s a sombre visit but one that you absolutely have to do to get a truly balanced picture of Vietnam’s history.
2.) Cu Chi Tunnels
Throughout the Vietnamese War, the Viet Cong employed an extensive network of tunnels to move around the countryside undetected by their enemies. Soldiers could spend long periods of time underground in often extremely small spaces. The Cu Chi tunnels are the best-preserved example in Vietnam and they are fully open to the public to explore. Apparently, you can crawl through the tunnels but if you’re claustrophobic, you might wanna give that part of your tour a miss.
3.) Bitexo Tower
This colossal tower is the tallest in Ho Chi Minh City and serves a dual purpose – a.) as an office block and b.) as a tourist attraction with its fantastic sky-deck. As I learned shortly after we visited, try to arrive with a solid zoom lens – the view is incredible and you’ll want your camera to be able to make the most of it!
At 262m tall, the Bitexo Tower offers unparalleled views of the city and the Song Saigon River. Sunset at the Sky-Deck is an unforgettable experience and it is advisable to try and visit the tower during these hours.
4.) Reunification Palace
More commonly known as Independence Palace, this national landmark was the home of the South Vietnamese President during the Vietnam War. Additionally, this was the site of the end of the Vietnam War when a tank crashed through its gates during the Fall of Saigon. Today, tours of the palace are available and you can see the various rooms that have been reconstructed to contain their original furnishings whilst in use. This complex provides an interesting look at the Vietnam War and how the conflict was managed.
5.) Binh Tay Market
Whilst Ben Thang Market might be more well-known, Binh Tay Market caters to the locals and provides a more authentic experience for tourists. Held within a beautiful French Colonial building within Chinatown, this market sells pretty much anything and everything!
The (hundreds of) stalls are bursting with colours and a visit to the market is guaranteed to give you sensory overload. Fresh fruit and veg, poultry, meat, and seafood are sold in huge quantities here by the local vendors to the locals. This is definitely the place to visit if you’d like to see local Vietnamese life in full flow.
6.) Notre Dame Cathedral
As you would expect, the beautiful Notre Dame Cathedral was constructed by the French during its colonial period and is one of the few remaining Catholic churches in the city. This stunning creation was built in bright orange stone and features an ornate front façade with twin bell towers. The interior, by contrast, is quite plain, but a striking feature here is the 3D tiled floor that runs down the central aisle.
7.) Mariamman Hindu Temple
Hindu Temples are often bursting with color and the Mariamman Temple follows suit perfectly. The main tower of this temple features a multitude of Hindu figures all created with painstaking detail and bright vivid colors. As the only remaining active Hindu temple in Ho Chi Minh City, this site is hugely important and offers a fantastic look into an alternative religion.
8.) Jade Emperor Pagoda
As one of the most important shrines in the city, the Jade Emperor Pagoda is a fine example of Buddhist architecture. Within this charming temple, there is a series of ornate shrines dedicated to various religious deities such as Kim Hua, Jade Chua Ngoc, and Kuan Yin. Each deity has its own shrine and is surrounded by colorful figures of women and children left as offerings by the locals and pilgrims. This beautiful temple is a great place to visit to understand a little about the Buddhist religion in Vietnam.
9.) Cao Dai Temple
The Cao Dai Faith is an amalgamation of several other denominations including Christian and Islam and the Cao Dai Temple is the main structure where its followers worship. This beautiful building is bursting with color and features a series of bright wall sculptures, whilst the interior has a stunning amount of decorations. Many columns are adorned with dragon sculptures and colourful patterns line the floor space, whilst the floor is covered with symmetrical tile artwork. Long story short – it’s intricately pretty and totally worth a visit.
10.) Lam Son Square
The area surrounding Lam Son Square is highly prestigious and is considered to be one of the high-class areas of Ho Chi Minh City. If you are looking to enjoy the high-life, this downtown area is the place to be – Here you will find a variety of designer shops, swanky cocktail bars, and 5-star restaurants to splurge your well-earned cash in!