Ho Chi Minh City’s architecture and lifestyle is the reconciliation
between American and Chinese influence, with many dots of modernity yet
without losing Vietnamese traits and as much historical as it is modern.
is definitely the place to visit, for its significance and archival of
Vietnam War. If this building still does not impress you enough, rest
assured that museums are abound and the admission fees are generally
low. Among the most recommended ones are: Ho Chi Minh Museum, Revolutionary Museum and Vietnam History Museum.
If you are tired of talking about the past and want to learn more about the present, District 1
may be the best way to experience a dynamic and booming economy.
Streets and boulevards are lined with tall evergreen trees and you can
easily walk around with a map. Here and there you will see men walking and dressed up like those in the Wall Street, amid women wearing conical hat and selling street drinks. A few notable sights you will spot on the way are the city post-office, Notre Dame church and Ben Thanh market.
It might be a relief for some to know that Ho Chi Minh City is also
considered the best place in Vietnam for entertainment . The three main
amusement parks: Dam Sen, Suoi Tien and Dai Nam are the three complexes
with zoos, sceneries, water and non water games - well-fitted for a family trip. There
is no Disneyland in Vietnam but these complexes do their job: they
replace the fairy tales of Andersen stories with the folk tales in Vietnamese. You play and have fun, while learning about a different culture and tradition.
If Ho Chi Minh has things to win the rivalry against Hanoi, it is the colourful night-life.
Bars are open late and vary in style. Adding to that, Ho Chi Minh has
many tea-houses which hosts live music performance of both Vietnamese
and international artists. For a change, you can also go local for one
night or two, hop into one of the street food stalls, order some drink
and roasted peanuts and chat until midnight (more ideas to spend your night in Ho Chi Minh City).
Ho Chi Minh city by night
--- More -- written and submitted by our visitor, Douglas Thompson
With her back turned on a broad plain that stretches west across
Cambodia, and with the rich Mekong Delta at her feet, Ho Chi Minh City
sits regally on a giant bend in the Sài Gon River.
Bulging with a population of nearly seven million, Ho Chi Minh City, is Vietnam’s largest and most exciting city. While Hanoi is the center of government, Ho Chi Minh City is the nation’s economic heart, and money is on the minds of everyone here (see Our Blog on Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City).
Taxi drivers can recite the latest joint venture regulations, and even
shirt makers stay in touch with their foreign customers by e-mail. Time
is precious, and people are in a hurry, although conversation often
takes a small town tone as bakers and bankers compare their ‘‘inside’’
information at sidewalk cafés.
Long before traffic choked the center of the city, Saigon had already
been christened the ‘‘Paris of Asia’’ for its wide boulevards lined with
stately trees and magnificent French villas. For a moment you may be
fooled by the smells of coffee and baking bread, and by old Renaults
sounding their horns at roundabouts.
The best way of all to see Ho Chi Minh City is on foot.
Most major tourist venues are in District 1, which is fairly compact
and easy to maneuver. Taxis are all metered and very inexpensive. You
can get across town for about $2 or $3. Xe om (motorbike taxis,
pronounced ‘‘see ohm’’) are even cheaper. Cyclos (pedicabs, pronounced
‘‘see-klos’’) carry only one passenger at a time. They are slow and
somewhat uncomfortable, yet more charming and intimate way to experience
the pace of modern Ho Chi Minh City. Unfortunately, they are being
slowly squeezed out central Saigon by traffic.
Most nationalities need visa to visit Ho Chi Minh city, read the visa section for more information. An increasingly popular alternative is to arrange a visa on arrival, which is convenient to those who live far away from an embassy or do not have time to send their passport by post.
Saigon is not a place where you will easily go hungry, regardless of your budget.
A glut of foreign business people with expense accounts has created
plenty of elegant, albeit overpriced restaurants. You will find
everything from enchiladas to dim sum here, although I can not imagine
why anyone but terminally bored expatriates would even bother. Many of
these places are pretentious and offer only passable food.
Most of the Vietnamese restaurants
which cater to the business community are quite Westernized. If you
insist on a crisp, white table cloth, the best of these is Blue Ginger,
housed in a former journalists’ club at 37 Nam Ky Khai Nghia. Viet Nam
House upstairs at 4 Nguyen Thiep Street is under the same ownership.
Both are magnificently decorated. You can expect fabulous service and
Lemon Grass, at 93-95 Dong Khai Street, is a bit more modest and
relaxed, but still fairly good. On most nights, a string quartet
But for those who want to enjoy real Vietnamese food and contemporary
Saigon living, forget about all the tourist restaurants with their white
linens and bloated prices, and instead dine where the Vietnamese do. .
Thanks to cheap food and local whisky everyone makes merry in Saigon
Don't leave Ho Chi Minh City without trying one of the banh xeo
(pancake) places on Dinh Cong Trang Street, one of the most unusual
eating experiences in the city. About one block down this little alley
you will find hundreds of people eating outdoors around an open-air
kitchen. While you may receive a menu which includes a variety of banh
xeo and other specialties, it's just as easy to look at what other
people are having and point. Except for some seafood dishes, the food is
very cheap. Just keep ordering one dish at a time until you have had
The small and sumptuously decorated Phu Xuan offers the traditional culinary specialties of Hue,
Vietnamese cooking’s equivalent of Imperial court cuisine. Unlike most
Saigon, flavors are rich and subtle, and dishes are beautifully
presented. Although a bit more spendy than street food, Phu Xuan is a
wonderful and relaxing place for a romantic supper or a small party. In District 3 at 128 Dinh Tien Hoang.
A final culinary curiosity is the Binh Soup Shop at 7 Ly Chinh Thang,
in District 3. Before North Vietnamese tanks rolled down the streets in
1975, Viet Kong infiltrators used this little dive as their secret
headquarters. While serving up helpings of noodle soup to thousands of
unsuspecting Vietnamese and Americans, cooks and waiters here plotted
sabotage, and ultimately, the fall of Saigon.
Saigon's Top Sights
You may be surprised to know how many tourists put the former American Embassy at the top of their list of things to see in Ho Chi Minh City.
If you are one of them, resist temptation and head first for the
History Museum near the entrance to the zoo. This unassuming, musty
place, with its grimy glass cases, houses a formidable collection of
artifacts from Vietnam’s two thousand years of recorded history. Even a
very brief visit will help put many of the other things you will see as
you tour Saigon in some kind of historical perspective. The museum also
has a water puppet theater and one of the best stocked and most
reasonably priced gift shops in the city.
From the museum, head down Le Duan Boulevard towards Reunification Palace,
the former Presidential Palace occupied for nine years by Nguyen Van
Thieu. Tourists stop at the front gate to snap photos by the thousands,
but few venture inside. You might find yourself practically alone and
wander from floor to floor as though you owned the place. Maps still
hanging in the underground military operations rooms remind visitors how
close the ‘‘enemy’’ was. On the top floor you will find yourself in a
party room with a stage and a huge lanai. Below, lavish reception halls
and office, a gambling room, and a private movie theater are all
self-indulgent and tasteless reminders of why our side lost.
Only a few blocks away the new U.S. Consulate sits on the site of the
former U.S. Embassy. Before it was torn down you could you stand at the
gate it is easy to imagine the helicopter removing a fortunate few from
the roof, while thousands fought and screamed outside the fence. The
building became a scar and was thankfully torn down.
Ben Thanh Market
should be your next stop. Here, you will find practically every staple
commodity imaginable except automobiles and real estate. If consumerism
offers intimate glimpses of how people live, wandering among the tiny,
packed stalls here will give you some unique insights into modern
Vietnamese life. The food court here has delicious and very tasty local
specialties. Produce, flowers, and meats are sold on the sidewalks
surrounding the building.
A visit to Cho Lon,
Ho Chi Minh City’s Chinatown, can take an afternoon, if not an entire
day. Like Chinese districts in San Francisco, London, New York and
Bangkok, Cho Lon is one of the oldest and most mysterious parts of
Saigon. Cho Lon means ‘‘big market,’’ and the best place to begin your
visit is at the overwhelming Binh Tay Market. Although it is likely to
be hot and crowded, take your time here. The variety of goods here is
positively astounding and will give you uncanny glimpses into modern
Vietnamese life. Friendly bargaining should save you from 20% to 40%.
Although there are many beautiful pagodas in Ho Chi Minh City, one of
the most interesting is the Nghia An Hoi Quan Pagoda on Nguyen Trai. It
is certainly one of the most lavishly decorated. Enormous coils of
incense hang from the ceiling, looking like great skeletons of Christmas
trees. Stand quietly along the shady wall inside for a few minutes to
observe visitors dropping in for a quick prayer.
If you have an afternoon or two to escape the frenetic pace of Ho Chi MInh City, several nearby places make interesting day trips. Within sight of Saigon Gòn, the Cu Chi Tunnels
are part of an extensive network of underground passages which extend
as far as Cambodia. Built by the Viet Cong, the tunnels played a
strategic role in the Communists’ victory. Since the vast network
included hospitals, kitchens, dormatories, weapons factories and even
classrooms, thousands of guerillas could move themselves and their
weapons undetected for great distances. A section of the tunnels is open
to visitors. If you are small enough, you can try to wiggle through
some of the narrow passageways. Another tunnel system at Ben Duoc was
constructed just for tourists to crawl around in. If that’s not enough
wartime nostalgia, you can even fire a variety of automatic weapons.
Another fascinating day trip is to Tay Ninh, the center of the Cao Dai
religion, which has perhaps two million followers in Vietnam. Cao Dai is
a 1920’s invention which took the best of Catholocism and Asia’s great
religions, plus a dab of Hollywood. (The sect has bestowed sainthood on
Victor Hugo and Winston Churchill, among others.) Visiting the
ostentatious but breathtaking cathedral is the highlight of the trip to
Tay Ninh. The noon worship service is open to visitors has been compared
to a scene from Disney’s Fantasia.
Travel agencies around town offer a somewhat-hurried combination Cu Chi and Cao Dai Temple tour for about ten dollars.
As corny as it sounds, Saigon is a paradise for shoppers.
Beautiful handicrafts and deliciously tacky tourist junk are in endless
supply. If you love to shop and have at least elementary bargaining skills
and a good eye, your money will go a long way and you can enjoy
virtually endless retail entertainment. Your bargaining skills will come
in handy everywhere except major tourist shops. Generally speaking,
anything not marked with a price sticker can be had for about two thirds
the price first quoted.
While there are fine shops throughout District 1,
there are several streets which are especially good for shopping,
particularly Dong Khai, and Le Thanh Ton behind the Rex Hotel. Many
shops here sell jewelry, amber, ceramics, antiques, furniture, silk and
apparel. The stalls along Le Loi Street between Ben Thanh Market and the New World Hotel sell all kinds of war surplus and hardware items.
Lacquerware made here is practically the best in the world and is still a real bargain. Scores of shops around District 1
sell boxes, trays, desk accessories, vases and other lacquerware items.
Rosewood boxes and bowls are especially lovely. These make wonderful
If your friends at home love tacky tourist crap, you are in luck! You
will find an astounding array of toy helicopters made from Coca Cola
cans, fake Zippos and cigarette lighters made from hollow M-16
ammunition, and Good Morning Vietnam T-shirts.
HCMC's tailors are reminiscent of Hong Kong's before the seventies.
Custom made shirts usually take three to four days and cost seven to ten
dollars, not including the fabric.
If you are a Coffee lover, buy enough to fill those empty corner of
your luggage. Vietnamese coffees are among the best in the world, and
very inexpensive. Because Saigonites drink so much of it, the beans on
display in scores of shops around District 1 are always quite fresh.
Whole beans sealed in a plastic bag will last quite well until you
return, and provide a lingering souvenir of your visit to Ho Chi Minh