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  • Writer's pictureMary Ann Issac

Ho Chi Minh City-The ultimate travel guide!

Updated: Aug 28, 2020

Let’s start at the basics! There are some spots that no-one who visits Saigon misses, and you just have to go as well! This area in District 1. boasts of beautiful French architecture, remnants of French colonisation from the late 19th century. This area is also one of the most crowded, and has the most number of tourists at any given time.

1. Saigon Post office

The yellow colonial building is still a functioning post office, but has a section of souvenir stalls to cater to the large number of tourist footfall. Sending a postcard back home as a souvenir from here is one of the most popular things to do.

Check out my Practical guide to Vietnam for information about the currency, buses, taxis, domestic travel, visas, & more!

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Saigon Post office & the grounds of the Notre Dame

2. Notre Dame Cathedral

A minute's walk (rather almost opposite it ) from the Post Office is the beautiful Saigon Notre Dame. Its official name is Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. It was built in 1890 by the French colonists.

3. Saigon Municipal Opera House

Also known as The Municipal Theatre of Ho Chi Minh City. It was also built by French colonists. There are some fabulous shows on most days of the week here. Do plan ahead to be in town to catch a show -you won’t regret it. Tickets can be bought from their website. It is beautiful when lit up at night as well.

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Saigon Opera House

4. Ho Chi Minh City Hall

This is a stunning French colonial building built between 1902-1908. Public are not allowed access, but the area outside it is beautiful with gardens and cobbled streets, making it perfect for a stroll, and lovely photographs. At night it is lit up, making it even more photogenic.

If you are in Ho Chi Minh City only for 24 hours-Check out my 24 hour guide to Saigon!

5. War Remnants Museum

To learn of Vietnam’s painful past it is important to visit this museum. I wouldn’t recommend taking children here as the exhibits from the American war are difficult even for an adult to look at. There are images also of victims of Agent Orange the defoliant chemical & herbicide that was used extensively by the Americans.

But I highly recommend you go here to understand the effects of the war that is still prevalent in the lives of many Vietnamese.

6. Reunification Palace & Museum

This is a much easier museum to visit, and to me, not as important, as like most political museums- it gives the visitor access to war rooms, tunnels, meeting rooms etc.

7. Ben Thanh Market

This is the most popular market for a tourist to visit when in Ho Chi Minh city-so it obviously is touristy in terms of its prices- so go there prepared to haggle to get a reasonable price for whatever it is that you are buying. Having said that, it is a one stop shop for all your needs, and gives you an experience of a traditional marketplace in Vietnam. There are food stalls here too so try some local cuisine while you shop.

For a detailed shopping guide to Ho Chi Minh City, click here!

Now comes a few that aren’t on all the lists you see.

8. Cafe Apartments

Ho Chi Minh City’s old apartments in recent years have been converted to hip cafes and boutiques, while still housing some residents. One such building is the centrally and strategically located Cafe Apartments overlooking the Nguyen Hue walking street. It has a range of boutiques, cafes and restaurants, each of its interiors worth the ‘gram’, making it the ideal spot to relax after a hectic day of shopping/sightseeing.

Try and get a seat in the balcony of whichever restaurant or cafe you choose to people watch!

The building has an elevator for which there is charge applicable- but that can be redeemed with the bill at wherever you are eating. But I prefer walking up the narrow stairs to explore what each floor has to offer before I make my choice.

There are other such apartments in town-To know about other Old Apartments click here

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The Cafe Apartments

9. Nguyen Hue walking street

I love coming here! In the evenings, this is the best place to just sit, relax, and people watch, or even to take a break. It is cool and windy in the evenings and the place is lit up and abuzz with locals and tourists making it one of my favourite places to be in Ho Chi Minh!

10. Go on a Coffee trail

You can’t go to Vietnam and not try their coffee! Every 100 metres there is a cafe, so even if you are trying to avoid it, it will be difficult to get away from it! When you are there, you have to try all the different types of coffee they are famous for- Egg Coffee, Coconut Coffee, Vietnamese coffee (with condensed milk) served iced or hot, and other more recent creations.

11. Rooftop bars

There are many popular rooftop bars here which grant expansive views of the city lit up at night. Some have very attractive offers during their happy hours, so google and find one that is right for you.

12. Chinatown

Saigon has a large Chinese community, and their enclave here is the largest in Vietnam, and boasts of interesting architecture. Do make a visit here if you have the time. To know more about Chinatown in Ho Chi Minh City, click here.

13. Jade Emperor Pagoda

A taoist pagoda built by the Chinese community of Ho Chi Minh city in 1909. It is also known as Phuoc Hai Tu or Luck Sea Temple. The temple has sculptures of Taoist heroes and is elaborately designed with intricate carvings.

14. The Burning monk monument (Thich Quang Duc Monument)

The monument of Thich Quang Duc, was built in honour of his self immolation on 11 June 1963. He drove down to Saigon from Hue, sat down in a lotus position while a colleague poured gasoline over his head. He set himself on fire.

In the 1950’s though almost 90% of the population was Buddhist, the President of the country, Ngo Dinh Diem was a Catholic, and enacted discriminatory policies favouring catholics and neglecting Buddhists in roles of public service, military promotions, land allocation, and in the business sector, making the Catholic Church the largest landowner at the time.

After the ban on hoisting the Buddhist flag on the birthday of Gautam Buddha was placed, discontent was at its highest, and 9 people were killed in the ensuing protests.

Thich Quang Duc self immolated as a protest against the discrimination and to urge the president to restore religious equality amongst his citizens.

It was only in 2010, that this rather unassuming monument was built, at the same corner where he died.

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The statue of the Burning Monk

15. Bui Vien Street (Backpacker street)

It is also known as Pho Tay meaning European street, owing to the number of europeans or foreigners who inhabit the street during their stint in the city. There are plenty of accommodation options on this street and on the by-lanes( mostly budget accommodation and hostels), but I would not recommend staying here, as it is extremely noisy, and it will be very difficult to sleep. But if you are here to party the nights away, there is no better place to stay!

It is crowded and music doesn’t stop till the wee hours of the morning. It is a place where locals and foreigners alike come to party and relax. The street is lined with restaurants & bars, and by 7pm, cars are restricted entry, and it is a ‘walking street’.

When in Ho Chi Minh, do make it a point to visit!

16. Tan Dinh church

Known as Lady pink, it is also a church from the French Colonial times. It was completed in 1876, it is the second largest church after the Notre Dame cathedral in Ho Chi Minh City. The most attractive feature of this church is obviously its candy pink exterior! People who know of the church come from all over just to photograph themselves with the pink church!

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Tan Dinh Church-so pretty in Pink!

17. Book Street

Located right next to Saigon Post Office, this charming cobblestone street lined with bookstalls, is missed out by most people who visit. Though most of the books sold here are in Vietnamese, it is a good place to buy some souvenirs. A few stores sell popular English titles. There are restaurants and cafes here as well, so if you need a break from the sightseeing, this is a good place to take a break.

Hope you found my guide to Ho Chi Minh City- do let me know your thoughts in the comments below!


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