There are so many cool and crazy things to do in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) aka Saigon. It is one of the most vibrant, dynamic, and zesty cities of Vietnam situated in the Southern part of the country. Named in the honor of Ho Chi Minh in 1976, the city was formerly known as Saigon, which the locals prefer using even now. Like many other visitors, this city was my entry point to the country.
After a two hour journey from Bombay to Calcutta and almost missing my connecting flight from Calcutta, I finally landed at the Tan Son Nhat International Airport, HCMC at 4 am local time. Contrast to my expectations, the airport was completely deserted probably because ours was the only flight landing at that time. And after being done with the visa formalities finally I stepped my feet on the beautiful Ho Chi Minh City!!!!!! And that was just the start of the joy ride vacation.
War Remnants Museum
After checking in my hostel and having a good first night sleep, I started my day at the War Remnants Museum. The museum stands a shred of live evidence to the Vietnamese war. After being cheated by a local cab driver, I purchased the tickets and entered the museum. The entrance has a large open space, where tanks, fighter planes, and armored vehicles are kept, all in a war-ready condition. The main building has three floors. The ground floor has a big seating area and a large screen that shows documentaries from the war. The atrium connects to many rooms that display pictures from the history of the Vietnam war and the testimonials of the soldiers. The upper floors have large halls depicting the various types of ammunition used and pictorial representations of the aftermath of the war on humans and property.
Entrance Ticket: 15,000 VND= 48 INR= 0.66 USD
Timings: 7.30 am to 6 pm, Monday to Sunday
Barely a ten-minute walk from the memorial is the Independence Palace. Also known as the Reunification Palace, the iconic building was home to the president of South Vietnam till 1975. The structure nests artworks, historical artifacts from the Vietnamese war, and history. The bunker in the palace has a replica of the war room. The palace is closed during government meetings and not accessible to the public on such days.
Timings: 7.30 am to 11.30 am. 1 pm to 4 pm. Monday to Sunday
Entrance fees: 40,000 VND= 129 INR= 1.71 USD
Notre Dome Cathedral
Another five minutes on foot and here I was at the renowned Notre Dome Cathedral. The catholic church was build during French Colonial rule in the country. Officially known as Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of The Immaculate Conception, dozens of tourists flock the place daily. The architecture mirrors a chapel of the same name in Paris. During my visit, as evident in the picture, it was under renovation which is expected to end by July 2020. People prefer sitting across the road in one of the coffee shops and enjoying their ice coffee with the view. The church is closed on Sunday mornings for the tourists.
Timings: 8 am to 6 pm daily.
Central Post Office
The thought that would have bewildered most reading this post is “What’s special about a post office and why should someone visit a post office of all the places????” Well, well, well… The Saigon Central Post Office distinctly stands out as a French build establishment. The large entry doors, the marble flooring, the large portrait of Ho Chi Minh are all just spectacular. It’s more of a melting pot of various cultures than a post office. There are people of different races and ethnicity all under a roof. By splashing a few dongs, you can, rather you should send a postcard back home. I received mine 2 weeks after I reached back home.
No entry fees.
Timings: Monday to Friday from 7 am to 7 pm, Saturday and Sunday 8 am to 6 pm.
City Opera House
Another reminiscence of the French architecture and popularly called the Municipal Theater, is a popular place to get yourself clicked. If you’re an art fan then, the A O Show is a must-attend. Basically a bamboo circus performance, it depicts the folklife of Vietnamese people. Tickets can be purchased online or at the opera house. Frankly, I am not much into arts so I did not attend any concert out here
1 hour show. Tickets start at 500,000 VND= 1600 INR= 21.43 USD
Bitexco Financial Tower
Imagine sipping your ice coffee on the 50th floor, watching the various shades of orange as the sunsets on this magnificent city!!!!!! This edifice is the largest building in Vietnam having 68 floors with a helipad. The SAIGON SKY DECK is an observatory on the 49th floor which gives a 360-degree view of the city. The 50th floor hosts the EON coffee shop, EON 51 is a fine dining restaurant on the 51st floor and the 52nd-floor houses the EON Helibar, which is a very lively pub. I would advise going to the place during the sunset and relish a coffee or a beer…..
Entry fee: There are no entry fees for the cafe and pub. I paid 99000 VND= 320 INR= 4.24 USD for an iced coffee. The fees for Saigon Sky Deck is 200,000 VND= 645 INR= 8.5 USD
Timings: 9.30 am to 9.30 pm
Ben Than Market
Are you good at bargaining?? Do you like local souvenirs?? Does the shopping bug in you never die???
If yes is the answer, Ben Than Market is your ultimate destination. The market has shops where you can buy bags, handicrafts, clothes, souvenirs and whatnot at reasonable prices if you haggle well. And why not replenish your energy stores with a Banh Mi at one of the food stalls.
Turtle Lake at Night
Located centrally in Saigon, the lake is not the best of the places to go during the day time. But it springs into action after sunset. A place where you can see young couples unfolding their romance and friends having a chat. And why not hog on some food from local hawkers admiring the beauty of this lake. If short of time, you will not regret skipping this place.
The Walking Street
The Walking Street aka the Bui Vien Street. More than a kilometer long, this piece of land never sleeps…..The street is the most craziest place I visited in the entire Vietnam. It is filled with hotels, hostels, pubs, bars, massage parlors, restaurants, street food, coffee shops, and a few souvenirs outlets. The street busts to life post sundown and becomes more vibrant till dawn. The pubs and the bars explode with light and music which can rush adrenaline even in the dead souls. A variety of street foods, the buskers’ performing, and a “lit” atmosphere all enthrall the visitors. It is truly an amalgamation of various cultures. As always said, with crowds come crimes, so beware of pickpockets out here.
The Water Puppet Show
Well most of us might have seen a puppet show on the screen or in person. But how many have actually witnessed a water puppet show. This ancient form of art is unique to Vietnam… The puppets “dance” in water and the air is filled with traditional Vietnamese music played live. As most of the songs are in Vietnamese it is hard to understand the language but the puppet gestures make the story easy to comprehend. The Golden Dragon Theater and Villa Song are the best places to witness the shows.
Tickets can be booked at the theaters, online or even at the Central Post Office. Each show is usually 1 to 2 hours and the tickets cost approximately 500,000 VND= 1600 INR= 21 USD
The Street Food and Coffee Apartment
The one thing I loved about Vietnam is there is food almost everywhere. And the street food has so many varieties. It caters to a seafood lover or someone who enjoys beef or if you are all confused, the humble Pho which is a rice noodle soup comes to your rescue. The popular street food options include the Banh Mi which is a Vietnamese Sandwich, the spring rolls, Banh Trang which is a kind of Vietnamese pizza.
And how is Vietnam complete without coffee!!!!!! The Vietnamese love their coffee as much as they love there culture. In fact, coffee is an integral part of Vietnamese life… So it won’t surprise you if I say HCMC has an entire building dedicated to coffee shops…Try the iced coffee, condensed milk coffee, and of course the famous Egg Coffee.
Cu Chi Tunnels
The Cu Chi Tunnels is an underground network of tunnels built by the Vietnam Congress during the Vietnam War. This is a popular day trip from Saigon located two hours from the city and can try shooting an AK-47.
Ca Dia Temple
This temple is home to one of the youngest monolithic religions called Caodaism. The religion follows principles of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, and Confucianism and was founded in 1926. If religion and culture are something that interests you this is a must-visit place. The temple is a secluded and a very calm place. It is a half-day trip from Saigon and can be clubbed with a trip to Cu Chi Tunnels.
- A to Z of planning a trip to Vietnam from India.
- A day trip to Cu Chi Tunnels and hands on AK-47 experience in Vietnam.
Some other places that can be visited include the Jade Emperor Pagoda, Fine Arts Museum, FITO museum, etc. But I would personally advise taking day trips from HCMC and exploring other places and reserving a day or two for local attractions if you have time constraints.