Ho Chi Minh City (named Saigon until 1975) is the largest city and the economic heart of Vietnam. It is a very young and very dynamic city. Most expatriates choose to settle there rather than in Hanoi because the climate is more favorable and the job offers are more numerous. Tân Sơn Nhất in Ho Chi Minh City is the largest airport in Vietnam which receives more than half of the passengers from all Vietnamese airports and more than 60% of international passenger traffic from Vietnam. In order to get from the airport to the downtown center, you can use SASCO Travel airport taxi transfer as well as buy 4G SIM card online to connect to the internet while staying in HCMC.
HCMC is also the gateway to the Mekong Delta and beautiful islands such as Phu Quoc and Con Dao in southern Vietnam.
A few lines on the history of HCMC
- Before the 17th century, HCMC was originally a Khmer fishing village called “Prey Nokor” (the city of the forest). It became a Vietnamese settlement town under the leadership of the Nguyen imperial court in Hue.
- During French colonization, it was the capital of Cochinchina and then that of French Indochina.
- At the end of the Indochina War, Saigon became the capital of the Republic of Vietnam.
- After the liberation of Saigon by the communists in 1975, the city was officially named Ho Chi Minh city. Nonetheless, many Vietnamese continue to call him “Saigon”.
- Ho Chi Minh City – the complete guide to planning your trip
- When to visit?
- What to see and do in and around HCMC?
- 1. Walk in the Dong Khoi street and its surroundings
- 2. Attend the AO show
- 3. Nguyen Hue pedestrian street
- 4. The Reunification Palace
- 5. Visit the Vietnam War Remnants Museum
- 6. China Town and Temple of the Heavenly Lady
- 7. Visit the museum of medicinal plants Fito
- 8. Walk to Ben Thanh market
- 9. Visit the Jade Emperor Pagoda
- 10. Taste typical dishes from HCMC
- 11. Shopping at HCMC
- 12. Cu Chi tunnels
- 13. Cao Dai religion in Tay Ninh
- 14. Mekong Delta
- 15. Relaxing on Con Dao Island, Phu Quoc Island, Nha Trang, and Mui Ne
- 16. Nam Cat Tien National Park
- Some travel tips at HCMC
When to visit?
The best time to visit Ho Chi Minh City is during the drier months of December to March when temperatures range between 21°C and 34°C. Many like to visit during the Tet Festival (Vietnamese New Year) in late January or early February. The whole country joins in the festivities and it’s a colorful spectacle, but prices are higher and getting around may be difficult due to the large numbers of people traveling.
May to September sees frequent showers with monthly rainfall levels of 200 to 300mm during this period. The rains tend to come in short bursts, so it’s possible to still enjoy sunny days during these wet summer months. Just be sure to bring an umbrella to avoid being caught out.
What to see and do in and around HCMC?
1. Walk in the Dong Khoi street and its surroundings
Saigon Times Square, the third tallest skyscraper in HCMC, is located on this street. It is home to the 6-star The Reverie Saigon, one of the best hotels in the world, and the boutiques of Gucci, Dolce & amp; Gabbana, Bottega Veneta, etc.
A walk in the street in the shade of the big trees is very pleasant.
If you like to walk, it is easy to visit the main attractions of the city on foot, from Dong Khoi Street.
- The Cathedral of Notre Dame de Saigon: built in the 19th century on the model of the Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral but of smaller dimensions.
- Saigon Central Post Office is right next to the cathedral. It was designed by Gustave Eiffel in the 19th century before becoming the pride of the city.
- Saigon Opera House: is also a building inspired by French architecture, from the Paris Opera Garnier. It was designed in 1900 by architect Félix Olivier.
- The Reunification Palace, the War Museum, the Ben Thanh Market, the Museum of Fine Arts, etc
2. Attend the AO show
It’s an acrobatic and musical performance in a splendid setting. Acrobatics, dances, and music are used to tell about everyday Vietnamese life. Tickets cost from 20 to 46 €. The shows take place in the Saigon Opera House.
3. Nguyen Hue pedestrian street
This is a pedestrian street very well known to HCMC. The street is particularly beautiful one week before the Têt festival when it is decorated with thousands of colorful flowers coming from the Mekong Delta.
In the afternoon, there are often small shows organized by young Saigonnais. A stroll in the street is therefore relatively pleasant. Besides, young people prefer to admire the city from above, in one of the nice cafes in building number 42 on the street, called the paradise of cafes.
Nguyen Hue Street runs parallel to Dong Khoi Street. It starts at the town hall and goes up to the Saigon river.
4. The Reunification Palace
We will see the tools used in the daily life of the President of the Republic of Vietnam during the Vietnam War.
- Admission fees: 40.000 VND
- Business hours: from 07.30 to 11.00 and from 13.00 to 16.00 every day
- Address: 135 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia street
5. Visit the Vietnam War Remnants Museum
The museum is made up of two parts: one outside where one can see American planes, tanks, cannons, helicopters which were recovered from the battlefields; the other inside, which features numerous photos of war atrocities and abuses committed by the US military.
The photos are tough for young children. Parents can leave them in a playroom during their visit.
- Entrance fees: 15,000 VND
- Opening hours: 07:30 am to 06:00 pm every day
- Address: 28 Vo Van Tan street, district 3
6. China Town and Temple of the Heavenly Lady
China Town is one of my favorite places at HCMC, where the commercial activities are very lively, the colorful streets, the temples and pagodas are numerous and the food is good. China Town or Cholon is a district of the Vietnamese community of Chinese origin.
Cholon was once a city separate from Saigon. The two cities were merged on April 27, 1931, under the name Saïgon-Cholon. This name was reduced to Saigon in 1956.
Once in Cholon, you can’t miss the visit to the Temple of the Heavenly Lady, which plays an important role in the cultural and religious life of the Hoa (Vietnamese of Chinese origin). It is one of the oldest temples in HCMC. It is dedicated to Thien Hau, protector of sailors. Incense hanging in the temple gives us a mystical feeling.
- Address: 710 Nguyen Trai, District 5, Ho Chi Minh Previously, travelers could visit the wholesale market of Binh Tay, in the heart of Cholon. But this 88-year-old market is currently closed for restoration. You can walk down Hai Thuong Lan Ong Street to observe lively commercial activities, taste a good Chinese dish or visit a town hall.
7. Visit the museum of medicinal plants Fito
5km from Dong Khoi Street is the Fito Museum. It includes a ground floor and 5 floors whose decor is mainly composed of wood in the pure Vietnamese style.
Through the establishment’s 3,000 objects of collection, visitors can imagine the methods of examining patients, diagnosing, establishing prescriptions, composing a remedy, etc. carried out by doctors from the time
The museum is the work of the director of the Fito Pharmaceutical Company, Le Khac Tam. He has spent billions of dong and over ten years researching objects and documents relating to traditional medicine.
The visit to this museum is relatively interesting.
- Entrance fees: 120,000 VND / adult; 60.000 VND / less than 1.2m
Ben Thanh is a well-known tourist market. It has existed for over 100 years and is an architectural symbol of the megalopolis of the south.
You can find everything there: souvenirs, clothes, shoes, food, etc. It’s also a good place to practice the art of negotiation.
The prices are higher than in the other places because it is a market intended only for the tourists, the locals hardly ever go there.
It is a hundred-year-old pagoda at HCMC, which hosted US President Barack Obama in 2016.
The pagoda is not large but its decorations are magnificent with wooden statues.
The Jade Emperor and the most imposing statue in the pagoda. Besides, the latter also worships the Goddess Kim Hoa Thanh Mau, the Goddess of childbirth, 12 midwives and nurses. For this, the pagoda attracts many infertile couples or pregnant women who come to pray for their future children.
10. Taste typical dishes from HCMC
You can’t miss good food during your trip to HCMC. You will soon discover that almost all the dishes are sweet. Here are some dishes with addresses to test:
Bánh xèo, Vietnamese pancake
Bánh xèo is the yellow Vietnamese pancake filled with minced pork or shrimp, onions and soybean sprouts.
- At 46a Đinh Cong Trang street, District 1
Phở, rice noodles with beef
- Phở Phượng, at 25 Hoang Sa street, District 1. It is open from 6 am to 9 pm every day. It costs 40,000 VND
- Banh mi Huynh Hoa at 26 Le Thi Rieng street, District 1. It is open from 2.30 pm to 11.00 pm daily. A banh mi costs 35,000 VND.
Hủ tiếu, Saigonese soup
- At 381 Vo Van Tan Street, Ward 5, District 3. This is another soup with broth made from pork bones, much lighter in taste than pho. This soup is served with minced pork, pork liver, shrimp.
Bun thit nuong – Vermicelli with marinated char-grilled pork
- Ms. Tuyen, at 195 Co Giang Street, District 1
“Bun thit nuong” is rice vermicelli topped with marinated char-grilled pork, sliced salad leaves, and cucumber, bean sprouts, basil, white radish and pickled carrots, peanuts, and mint leaves.
You can also add chảa gio (spring rolls) or nem nuong (grilled minced pork balls). The nuoc cham sauce is served separately, but according to tradition, it should be poured entirely over the bowl.
It is open from 07.00 to 20.00. A bowl “bun thit nuong” costs 45,000VND.
11. Shopping at HCMC
Some markets at HCMC for shopping:
- Ben Thanh market: 30 Phan Boi Chau street, district 1. It is the place of pilgrimage for tourists in search of traditional souvenirs. Ao dai, jade jewelry, chopsticks and bowls of rice are bargained for in this great French colonial structure. In the evening, the two parallel streets turn into a night market.
- Ba Chieu market: 40 Hong Bang street, Binh Thanh District. Located away from the city center, this large market is very popular with locals. You can find everything: fan brooms with multicolored basins, the “food” area with a wide choice of coffee, spices of all kinds, dried shrimp and cuttlefish, etc.
- The An Dong market: 34 An Duong Vuong street, district 9, district 5. The 1st floor of the market is dedicated to textiles, the upper floors offer a selection almost identical to that of Ben Thanh. Prices are more easily negotiable.
Some shopping malls for shopping at HCMC
- Vincom center: 171 Đong Khoi street, district 1 and 72 Le Thanh Ton street, District 1. Good location, convenient for tourists. There is a multitude of boutiques selling clothes, bags, luxury shops and restaurants offering local and international dishes.
- Diamond Plaza: 34 Le Duan street, District 1. It’s also a luxury shopping center
- Duy Tan – Saïgon Artisan: 76A-76B Le Loi street, District 1. It is a boutique renowned for its quality, one of the best souvenir shops in the city. It specializes in lacquer, ceramics, and porcelain.
- The House of Saigon: 16 Thu Khoa street, District 1. It is a 3-story store that offers a good number of homemade products: baskets, shoes, jewelry.
12. Cu Chi tunnels
The visit to the Cu Chi tunnels is relatively interesting and requires half a day.
Is it a huge system of underground tunnels first created by the Viet Minh under French Indochina and then developed during the Vietnam War? The network has reached 250 km in length.
Access to visit tunnels is approximately 40 km from the city center. We often combine the visit to the tunnels with that of the seat of the Cao Dai religion in Tay Ninh.
13. Cao Dai religion in Tay Ninh
Caodaism is a syncretistic religion founded in 1921 by a Vietnamese official. It brings all the others together: Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism and Christianity into one universal religion.
The Holy See of Cao Dai is located approximately 100km from HCMC. It is a beautiful complex surrounded by a fence with 12 doors. You can visit this headquarters and the Củ Chi tunnels in one day.
If you have more time at HCMC, you can visit its surroundings, such as the Mekong Delta.
It is an exceptional region where almost all the activities of the inhabitants depend on the river.
Most travelers spend 1, 2, 3 or even 4 days to visit the Mekong Delta.
From HCMC, it is easy to reach a beautiful beach for lazing around.
- Nha Trang is a 1-hour flight from HCMC. Its beaches are on the list of most beautiful beaches in Vietnam according to Lonely Planet. The sand is white, the waters are turquoise and transparent.
- Mui Ne is a 4-hour drive from HCMC. Its beaches are not beautiful like those in Nha Trang but they are long and you can admire the white and red sand dunes.
- Phu Quoc or the Emerald Isle, the largest island in Vietnam with several beautiful beaches, pearl farms and pepper trees. It is a 1-hour flight from HCMC. You can also get there by speed boat from the Mekong Delta.
- Côn Đảo, a beautiful isolated island almost an hour’s flight from HCMC, where Angeline Jolie and Brad Pitt spent their holidays. You can also go there by speedboat from Soc Trang.
16. Nam Cat Tien National Park
Located a 4-hour drive from HCMC on the road to Dalat, Nam Cat Tien National Park is a good destination for a getaway of a few days.
You can come across monkeys, wild peacocks, deer, bears … and other animals in wildlife rehabilitation centers.
Leave a comment if you have any questions.
Some travel tips at HCMC
- Take care of your belongings. Snatching is common in tourist areas.
- Bring water during the visits
- Bring sunglasses, sunscreen, and a hat before going out on the streets.
- If you get lost, don’t hesitate to ask a local for directions. Most of the locals are nice and friendly.
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