Ho Chi Minh started out as the Khmer port of Prey Nokor, before being annexed by the Vietnamese in the 1690s as part of their effort to administrate the Mekong Delta, and renamed Gia Dinh. It later became Saigon, and was the capital of the French colony of Cochinchina. It was renamed Ho Chi Minh City in 1975, as a tribute to its then-ruler, but residents and visitors alike continue to call it Saigon.
Home to eight million inhabitants and four million motorbikes, Ho Chi Minh City is the commercial centre of the country and offers visitors a whirlwind of excitement that never sleeps. It is, however, a conservative city in which prostitution and associated practices are illegal.
Formerly South Vietnam’s presidential palace, this four storey building was supposedly preserved in its current state, when on the 30th April 1975 Tank 843 bashed down the gate and Saigon fell to the North. There is a replica of the tank on the front lawn, as well as authentic 1960s interior décor, and a propaganda film which recounts the story of the revolution.
People’s Committee Hall
Built in 1908 in French colonial style, this working government building was formerly known as the ‘Hotel de Ville de Saigon’. Although only those on government business can enter, the exterior is majestic, especially in the evening, and the park opposite contains a massive statue of the legendary Ho Chi Minh.
War Remnants Museum
Formerly known as the Museum of American War Crimes, this newly housed museum was opened less than five months after the fall of the South Vietnamese regime. It has a strong message about the futility of war, which is expressed in a variety of exhibits, from jars of foetuses purportedly deformed by the notorious ‘Agent Orange’, through a multitude of gruesome photographs, to the rusting tanks, jets, and cannons captured from the American military.
Hosting performances by the Ho Chi Minh City Ballet, Symphony Orchestra, and Opera, the Opera House is a stunning example of French colonial-era architecture, and one of Ho Chi Minh City’s most distinctive landmarks. Built in 1897 by French architect Eugene Ferret, it became South Vietnam’s Assembly House in 1955 and is only open to the public during scheduled performances.
The History Museum was established in the 1920s as the Musée Louis-Finot, and presents the history of Vietnam from its founding to the current day. Divided into exhibitions presenting the cultural and ethnical diversity of Vietnam’s history, its 2000 metre floor area contains artefacts documenting the ancient culture of the Mekong Delta, Cham art, ancient Asian pottery, and Ben Nghe Saigon art, among many other interesting collections.
Ben Thanh Market
Selling a variety of handicrafts and textiles and housed in one of the oldest structures of Saigon, Ben Thanh Market is a popular place for both tourists and locals alike to enjoy great food and a bustling atmosphere.
Binh Tay Market
Replacing the ‘Old Market’ that was destroyed by fire, Binh Tay Market is the largest in Ho Chi Minh City, selling a wide range of products, usually wholesale. Built in 1928, its architecture is an eclectic mix of French and Chinese influences.
Cu Chi Tunnels
The Cu Chi tunnels are an interconnected network of underground passageways that were used by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. They served as a base of operations, as well as housing the guerrillas and their families, and providing a place for medical care, information relay, and food and weapon caches.
Thien Hau Pagoda
Translated into English as ‘the Pagoda of the Lady of the Sea’, this temple in the Chinese style was built by the Cantonese in 1760 as a symbol of gratitude to the goddess Thien Hau, or Mazu, for carrying them safely across the sea from China. Massive circles of incense that can burn for a month hang in the main sanctuary, and the roof and walls of the temple are embellished with elaborate porcelain dioramas.
Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral
Originally dubbed the Saigon Church, this building constructed by the French colonists between 1863 and 1880 was named the Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral following the installation of a statue of the Peaceful Notre Dame in 1959, and the subsequent anointment of it as Saigon’s chief cathedral by the Vatican in 1962.
Firing Real Guns in the Cu Chi Tunnels
Located just outside the Cu Chi Tunnel network which was a base of operations for the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War, the firing range gives visitors a chance to use a real assault rifle. You can choose from a variety of weapons, including the M-16 Assault Rifle and AK-47 Assault Weapon, and are charged by the bullet with a minimum of 10.
Boat Trip on the Mekong River
A boat trip on the Mekong River is a great way to experience the local way of life, admire the stunning landscape, and enjoy local cuisine. The trip will take you through the Mekong Delta, a vast area where the river empties out into the sea, where you can see the renowned and fascinating Floating Market.