Destination: Ho Chi Minh City
|Know the most important attractions in Ho Chi Minh City
HO CHI MINH CITY
HO CHI MINH CITY (HCMC for short), also known as Saigon with around 8 million inhabitants, is Vietnam at its most dizzying: a high-octane city of commerce and culture that has driven the whole country forward with its unlimited energy. It is a living organism that breathes life and vitality into all who settles here.
There are many fine restaurants, stunning hotels, glitzy bars and clubs and shops selling imported luxury goods. The city's architecture has been modernized with Western styles; however, some ancient French buildings are still standing in many places, which make Saigon more charming and unique.
If Hanoi is a city of romance and mellow charms, then Ho Chi Minh is antithesis, a fury of sights and sounds, and the crucible in which Vietnam's rallying fortunes are boiling. An increasing number of cars, minibuses, motorbikes and cyclos make Saigon’s streets and boulevards become tiny and cramp.
The best neighbourhood for the budget travellers to stay is Pham Ngu Lao, where is cheap but reliable guesthouses abound. You can find your full of food here for a really good deal - don't leave Vietnam without not trying cheap street-side Pho’ (a hearty beef noodle soup usually eaten for breakfast) and Vietnamese ice coffee with condensed milk.
The Dong Khoi area is one step up in terms of amenities and prices while Cho Lon ("Big Market"), where the city's ethnic Chinese population is concentrated and is an excellent area for wholesalers and retailers.
One of Ho Chi Minh City's many charms when you've exhausted or been exhausted by all is not far away from HCMC: paddy fields, beaches and wide-open countryside. The most popular trip out of the city is to Cu Chi tunnels, where villagers dug themselves out of the range of American shelling. The tunnels are normally twinned with a tour around the fanciful Great Temple of the indigenous Cao Dai religion at Tay Ninh. A brief taster of the Mekong Delta at My Tho or a dip in the South China Sea at Vung Tau, Long Hai, Mui Ne are also eminently possible in a long day's excursion.
See and Do
Ho Chi Minh has a number of museums, river cruise, historic, cultural and commercial sites, Mekong river excursion where you can visit and learn something about Vietnam War, local life and enjoy the fresh air aboard while you dinner is served.
- Ho Chi Minh City Tour Half Day
- Cu Chi Tunnels Half Day
- Cu Chi Tunnels and City Tour Full Day
- Cao Dai Temple and Cu Chi Tunnels Full Day
- My Tho Mekong Full Day
- Cai Be Floating Market 1 day
- My Tho – Can Tho 2 days
- Can Tho – Chau Doc 3 days
- Dinner on Cruise
HO CHI MINH CITY TOUR
The Reunification Palace is an important site of political and cultural significance, built by the French in 1868 to mark the newly established colony of Indochina.
In 1975 the palace was the symbolic site of the triumphant liberation of Saigon. Vietnam was then reunified; since then the building has been known as Reunification Palace. The five-story building consists of 100 rooms and chambers decorated with the finest modern Vietnamese arts and crafts. The ground floor room has a boat-shaped table that was often used for conferences. Upstairs, a room called Phu Dau Rong was the place Nguyen Van Thieu received foreign delegations. The residential quarters are at the back of the building. On the third floor, there is a card-playing room. This floor also possesses a terrace with a heliport where a helicopter is parked. The fourth floor was used for dancing and also had a casino. The most interesting part of the building is probably the basement containing a network of tunnels, a telecommunication centre and a war room.
Today it is a working government building as well as having areas open to the public. Inside the palace, visiting the private quarters, the president's former office and the War Command Room, you will get a real sense of what happened here and its importance in Vietnamese history.
Centre Post Office
Across from the Cathedral is the famous Centre Post Office. This is another example of the fabulous French design. Its massively high ceiling and numerous wickets speak of another place in time. You can buy some post cards and mail from here.
This magnificent good - looking building started to be built in 1886 and was completed in 1891. Inside the building, there are historical maps, one is "Saigon and its environments" created in 1892 and "Telegraphic network in South Vietnam and Cambodia" created in 1936.
The building was constructed when Vietnam was part of French Indochina in the early 20th century. It has a Gothic architectural style which was designed and constructed by the famous architect Gustave Eiffel of Eiffel Tower fame and has become a tourist destination.
Notre Dame Cathedral
Saigon's Notre-Dame was originally built as a spiritual and cultural representation of the French presence in the orient. It is a place for catholic congregations to perform services and celebrate ceremonies.
The first stone for the construction of the church was placed on 28 March 1863. The construction was completed two years later and was called “Saigon Church. However, it was revised by Roman style mixed with Gothic elements and the design would make the church become the most beautiful of all churches in French colonies at that time. There are 2 bell towers in the cathedral, each 57.6 m high with six bronze bells.
War Remmants Museum
The War Remnants Museum was opened to the public on September 4, 1975 – less than 5 months after the fall of South Vietnam… The museum was formerly known as the “Museum of American War Crimes”, but with the normalization of relations with the United States, the name was changed to its current name in 1993.
The museum contains exhibitions related to the American phase of the Vietnam War. The exhibitions are housed in several buildings and the themes are: “Historical Truths”, “Requiem” - (a photo collection taken by war reporters killed during the Vietnam War), “Vestiges of War Crimes”, “Imprisonment System” - (including a model of the Tiger Cages), “Vietnam – War and Peace” - ( a photo collection), “International Support”, “War and Peace” - (a collection of children's paintings) and in the museum yard you’ll find an exhibition of weapon used in the Vietnam War (tanks, planes, missiles, helicopters and more).
Ben Thanh Market
The market was formally established by the French colonial powers after taking over the Gia Dinh citadel in 1859. This market was destroyed by fire in 1870 and 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. The building was renovated in 1985.
Most definitely on the tourist trail, Ben Thanh Market is a landmark nearby the Saigon’s Bus Station.
Ben Thanh supplies everything and more from fresh fruits, vegetables to stationary and power tools, clothes, fabrics, etc. Vietnamese versions of western food halls are very informal. Small stools line the many stalls, most of them occupied by local fast food. And it will be fascinating experience to enjoy your meals with local people there.
Binh Tay Market
Binh Tay Market is the Central Market of Cho Lon – China Town. It was built or at least heavily financial supported by a Chinese businessman named Quách Đàm (1863–1927)
Cho Binh Tay is the main market of Cho Lon (Chinatown). This huge complex sells a mixture of goods and fresh products. You can get vegetables, poultry, bags, fruits, etc. This market is also known as one of the best market for wholesalers and retailers.
Thien Hau Pagoda
The Pagoda of the Lady Thien Hau is a Chinese style temple located on Nguyen Trai Street in Chinatown of Ho Chi Minh City. It is dedicated to Thiên Hậu, the Lady of the Sea. Built in the early 19th century by the Cantonese congregation, this is one of the most popular and richly embellished pagodas in Ho Chi Minh City.
The front courtyard is surrounded by high walls, topped by intricate friezes and carved tableaus. The roof is decorated with small delicately fashioned porcelain figurines expressing themes from Chinese religion and legends. Lanterns and wooden models of Chinese theaters hang over the entrance. The entrance ceiling is more complex, with woodwork and gilt reaching halfway down to the floor.
Inside, the atrium, with its exquisite friezes and reliefs, features giant censers billowing fragrant smoke. The spacious central room has a display case of what seem to be brass clubs with Chinese inscriptions. The walls of this room are covered with prayer flags-red strips of paper on which devotees write their prayers. It is believed that as the breeze rustles the paper, the prayers waft to Thien Hau. The exposed portions of the courtyard contain incense burners, and open the view to the remarkable porcelain dioramas that decorate the roof. The dioramas show scenes from a 19th century Chinese city, and include such colorful figures as actors, demons, animals, and Persian and European sailors and traders.
Banks of hanging incense coils grace the main sanctuary ceiling, while three statues of Thien Hau, each franked by two attendants, preside at the altar. Also hanging from the ceiling is a carved wooden boat that recalls Thien Hau’s connection to the sea.
CU CHI TUNNELS HALF DAY TOUR
The tunnels of Củ Chi are an immense network of connecting underground tunnels located in Củ Chi district of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and are part of a much larger network of tunnels that underlie much of the country.
Cu Chi tunnels famed for being an intricate network of underground facilities through which the Viet Congs launched surprised attacks against Americans in the 1960’s. These tunnels are such an integral part of the Vietnam War. The network can cover over 250 km and tunnels have several stories deep – some of them probably are even undiscovered still…
Cu Chi is actually a rural district 30-40 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh. The most popular tunnels where most tourists go are at BEN DINH, just 50 km from HCMC. Here you will learn the history of the tunnels and also see large maps showing its extensiveness. A few hundred meters of tunnels are available for visiting – most tunnels being only 1.2 m high and 80cm across – and not lighted.
The other place is BEN DUOC which are “less tourists” (less crowded). The tunnels here are still small but some of them have been enlarged to accommodate the tourists and in the tunnels themselves, there are mannequins depicting how life was before during the war – there is a surgery facility, meeting areas, dining halls… And you will learn how the Viet Congs used the tunnels through camouflaging the “cover” with leaves.
CAO DAI TEMPLE and CU CHI TUNNELS FULL DAY
Cao Dai Temple
Caodaism officially established in the city of Tay Ninh, southern Vietnam, in 1926. Đạo Cao Đài is the religion's shortened name, the full name is Đại Đạo Tam Kỳ Phổ Độ.
Just outside Tay Ninh and 60 miles northwest of Ho Chi Minh City is the Great Temple or Holy See, the centre of the intriguing Cao Dai sect. Cao Dai is a syncretistic Vietnamese religious movement that incorporates aspect of Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism and even Catholicism.
The Cao Dai Temple (as it is more commonly known) was begun in 1933 in a unique architectural style that reflects its blended traditions. The Great Temple of Cao Dai closely resembles a Christian cathedral in its architecture - two square towers, a long central nave with upper gallery and side aisles. The altar, an apse and ambulatory are at the opposite end from the entrance, just as in a typical church.
The exterior and interior of the Cao Dai Temple are both extravagantly decorated, incorporating symbols, abstract designs and images of saints. The high ceiling is painted sky-blue with fluffy clouds and the floor tiles have busy patterns. The dragon-encrusted columns that run the length of the nave number 28, representing the 28 manifestations of the Buddha. Seven-headed cobras represent the seven human emotions.
There are four ceremonies with chanting each day: 6:00 am, noon, 6:00 pm, and midnight. An orchestra of musicians and a choir of youths lead the service in prayer and hymns. The hymns sound western, but the accompanying music is traditional Vietnamese.
One of the most memorable sights at the Cao Dai temple is the sea of worshippers who dress in flowing robes and assemble in orderly rows during a ceremony. Men sit on the right and women on the left.
Visitors are warmly welcomed at the Cao Dai Temple and may watch ceremonies and take photos from the galleries. Visitors are only asked to wear trousers or skirts covering the knees, to remove their shoes before entering and to remain as quiet as possible during ceremonies. The noon ceremony always has the largest audience, since most visitors are in a day trip from Ho Chi Minh City.
MEKONG RIVER 1 DAY TOUR
My Tho is well – known for its huge district of fruits: rambutans, longans, dragon fruit, coconuts, guavas, mangos, pineapples; and lots of others.
My Tho is the capital city and municipality of the Tiền Giang Province in the Mekong Delta, about 2 hours south of Ho Chi Minh. It has a population of about 160,000 inhabitants and it is a popular starting point for the one day Mekong Delta tour.
Going by boat, you will have a marvelous time to enjoy a view of the four islets: Dragon, Unicorn, Turtle and Phoenix, where you can enjoy tasting seasonal fruits and listening to the southern traditional music. A coconut candy milk work shop, a horse cart or “xe loi” (wagon pulled by a motorbike) on the country side road, fresh honey or honey tea from a bee farm and lunch with tasty specialty “Elephant ear fish” will be the best highlight for your full day in Mekong River.
Many people like to see the real local life by walking through some orchards, to discover natural canals by rowing boat and to see locals fishing with nets and in the water up to their necks.
The snakes, preferably venomous ones, are usually not preserved for their meat. They are preserved to have the snake poison dissolved in the liquor. However, because snake venoms are protein-based, they are unfolded and therefore inactivated due to the influence of the denaturing effects of ethanol.
There are two varieties of snake wine. A large venomous snake can be placed into a glass jar of rice wine, often with many smaller snakes, turtles, insects or birds, and left to ferment for many months. Snake blood wine is prepared by slicing a snake along its belly and draining its blood into a mixing vat with rice wine or grain alcohol.
For beginners, Vietnamese liquor can be broken into three general categories: quoc lui of the Hong (Red) River Delta; ruou can in the Northwest and Tay Nguyen (Central Highlands) and ruou de (rice wine) in the Cuu Long (Mekong) River Delta. This is one of the Ruou de or rice wine or even called medicinal wine.
Caibe Floating Market
Cai Be, one of the many well-known floating markets in the western region of southern Vietnam, was formed in the Nguyen Dynasty in the 19th century. The Cai Be Floating Market is always busy, bearing all the characteristics of the locals’ life in the western region.
All the goods are transported to the market by rafts and boats. The floating market lies in the Tien River, adjacent to three provinces of Tien Giang, Vinh Long and Ben Tre.
The market is divided into two parts: buying and selling. Rafts and boats are anchored along to both sides of the river. From the floating market, goods are shifted for selling at inland markets or small boats take them for delivery along canals in the Plain of Reeds.
From 3am in the early morning, rafts and boats are crowded because Cai Be is one of the biggest wholesale markets in the region.
On each boat, goods are hung on poles that are called dialectically “cay beo”. Hundreds of such poles point the sky wards. Boats also operate like “taxis,” very convenient for tourists around the region.
Along the criss-crossing canals, people take not only goods of each country side to the market but also their unique cultural characteristics, creating such a beautiful river painting.
MEKONG RIVER 2 DAY TOUR
Cai Rang Floating Market
Together with Cai Be and Phung Hiep, Cai Rang Floating Market in Can Tho City is one of the three biggest in the Mekong Delta. The shops and stalls at these markets are on boats of different sizes.
Cai Rang Floating Market is open all day but it is busiest from sunrise to about 9am. The main items sold there are farm products and specialties of Cai Rang Town, Chau Thanh District and neighbouring areas. Every boat has a long upright pole which is used to hang samples of the goods for sale. Small boats that sell beer, soft drinks and wine, go among the other boats to serve market-goers and visitors. The most common goods sold are fruit. Big boats are the wholesalers, selling fruit to dealers or traders from other provinces. Each boat is carrying a plenty of seasonal goods. Activities at the market will be an excellent occasion for tourists to study the culture of southerners.
To visit Cai Rang Floating Market, visitors can join a tour of the Mekong Delta. On the way to Can Tho, visitors can stop to visit My Tho and take a boat trip to visit orchards, bee farms and coconut candy establishments in Ben Tre. In Can Tho, besides Cai Rang Floating Market, Visitors can visit other places such as Can Tho Market, Ninh Kieu Quay, Binh Thuy Temple, and private tourist gardens.
MEKONG RIVER 3 DAY TOUR
Can Tho is the largest city in Mekong Delta and the fifth-largest city in Vietnam, just behind Danang. Can Tho's quaint riverside location has given rise to a few new, superior and deluxe hotels. And it has become a popular destination for tourists. A visit to the floating markets, the city's massive central market or outlying riverside towns is marvellous and unforgettable.
Can Tho’s climate is harmonized with few storms. It is warm almost all year round. The rainy season here lasts from May to November and the dry season is from December to April. The average temperature is 27 º C.
Can Tho city has three big ports capable of accommodating 10,000 ton ships. It is convenient for loading goods. Its canal network is unique and architectural. The city is well – known in Ninh Kieu wharf, Bang Lang garden, Ninh Kieu port and its floating markets (Cai Rang and Phung Hiep) where items are bought and sold on the river.
Can Tho city has many excellent features and unique culture of southern delta. It is harmonious traditional cultural nuances between Khmer and Chinese people.
Chau Doc sits at the junction of a tributary linking the Bassac and Mekong Rivers and the Bassac River itself. It is an incredibly friendly and bustling city. It has a border with Cambodia, where you can take a boat upstream to Phnom Penh, the capital of Wat Phnom, Cambodia.
Chau Doc locals are very warm and friendly - even the “hug vehicle” drivers or children. English is spoken in most of the foreigner guesthouses and hotels, and most restaurants also have an English menu.
A highlight of a visit to Chau Doc is a boat trip on one of the small paddle boats to visit floating raft houses and fish farms, which will be very photogenic and rewarding at dawn.
A second attraction, just outside Chau Doc, is Sam Mountain - more of a hillock in fact - which has incredible views over the surroundings. The views are absolutely spectacular, so you can combine with a visit to the pagodas around the hill's base.
Chau Doc is also the closest large town to the Vietnamese/Cambodian river border crossing. If you're heading to or from Phnom Penh by boat, you'll pass through Chau Doc, so try to allow for an overnight stay.
DINNER ON CRUISE 2 HOURS
The Saigon River is neither beautiful nor spectacular. But it is the heart of the old French Saigon, and is still a significant element of Ho Chi Minh City.
Escaping from the bustle of the city, you start to cruise the waters of the Saigon River. Then, a sumptuous dinner will be served together with live entertainment “East meets West”; you will hardly recognise that you are cruising pass by Ho Chi Minh’s enchanting night time cityscape.