Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, is Vietnam’s largest city and a bustling blend of the old and the new. For instance, visitors to this city will find both elegant shopping malls and old-fashioned markets crowded with stalls selling a dizzying array of local handicrafts and tantalizing street food.
Ho Chi Minh is also home to a large number of pagodas and temples, as well as to historical sites such as the Cu Chi tunnels (though located in a rural district far from the center and not listed here) that were used by the Viet Cong guerrillas to move around under the city during the Tet Offensive. An overview of other less famous but equally fascinating tourist attractions in Ho Chi Minh City:
Like the Ben Thanh, the Binh Tay Market offers a lot of a little of everything, including fresh produce and local handicrafts. The Binh Tay Market is located in Saigon’s Chinatown area and is actually a distribution hub for many of Saigon’s clothing and food items, so visitors may discover that some of the items available in the hundreds of the market’s stalls may only be for sale to wholesalers. Visitors who arrive at the Binh Tay Market early in the morning may get a chance to peruse the fresh food items that are available in the outdoor “wet market,” including fish and produce. There is also a food court in the Binh Tay Market where visitors can sample local delicacies and street food.
This elegant building, which is also known as the Municipal Theatre of Ho Chi Minh City, was completed in 1897 and designed by French architect Ferret Eugene. So it’s probably not surprising that the Saigon Opera House bears some resemblance to the Petit Palace in Paris, which was built during the same year. From the time it opened until 1955, this 800-seat structure provided entertainment for French colonists. But then in 1956, the Vietnam government began using the structure for its Lower House of Assembly. It wasn’t until 1975 that the beautiful building was once again used for its original purpose. Although the Saigon Opera House is not technically open to the public for visits, anyone who wants to see the interior of this stunning building can do so by purchasing a ticket to a performance.
This small pagoda was built in 1909 by Vietnam’s Cantonese community and is one of the city’s most interesting sites. It is also known as the Tortoise Pagoda because there is a pond in the temple’s courtyard that is filled with turtles. The Jade Emperor Pagoda contains some fascinating items, including a statue of the Jade Emperor and an idol of the goddess of fertility, Kim Hua. Besides a popular tourist attraction in Ho Chi Minh City, this is also a working temple, so it is typically bustling with activity and its air filled with the scent of burning incense.
When the 68-story, 262-meter (859-foot) high Bitexco Financial Tower was completed in 2010, it became the highest building in Vietnam. Today, its Sky Deck, which is located on the 49th floor, is a popular tourist attractions in Ho Chi Minh City where visitors can enjoy amazing 360-degree views of the city and of the Saigon River. The Bitexco Financial Tower has two restaurants on the 50th and 51st floor that also provide amazing views of the surrounding area. In addition, this skyscraper is famous for being the site of the Bitexco Vertical Run in which competitors race from the lobby to the Sky Deck. Another unique feature? This tower’s helipad is not located on its roof like on most buildings. Instead its helipad cantilevers from the 52nd floor.
For those searching out the best shopping and dining experiences in Saigon, Dong Khoi Street is the place to go. This street is home to elegant old colonial buildings, high-end boutiques, famous brand-name stores, lovely cafes and restaurants and luxury hotels. Some of the more well-known buildings on this street are the Opera House, the Saigon Central Post Office, and the Notre Dame Cathedral. The well-known Givral Café, which had been a popular fixture in the area since the 1950s, can also be found on Dong Khoi Street, but it is not the original structure. That building, which had been a popular gathering spot for international journalists, photographers and writers during the Vietnam War, was demolished in 2010. Now a new Givral has opened up close to the original location.
The Ben Thanh Market is filled with a large number of stalls where visitors can pick up inexpensive souvenirs and local handicrafts. But this bustling market isn’t just for tourists. It is also where the locals shop for their daily needs, including produce, coffee and clothing. For the best deals, though, it is important that visitors compare prices and to also bargain with vendors before purchasing items. The Ben Thanh Market, which was built in 1870, is also an excellent place to enjoy Vietnam’s local street foods. At night, the indoor stalls in the Ben Thanh Market close, but the surrounding area livens up as restaurants and outdoor stalls selling various goods open for the evening crowd.
The Saigon Central Post Office is not just a stunning building; it is also one of Ho Chi Minh’s oldest structures. Construction on this building, which was designed by Gustave Eiffel, began in 1886. This concourse of this grand building features several painted maps, and there is also a mosaic of the country’s former president, Ho Chi Minh, at the end of the large hall. This building, which features an elegant high vaulted ceiling, a beautiful tiled floor, and old-fashioned phone booths, is an actual working post office and is free to visit. There are also shops in the Saigon Central Post Office where visitors can purchase postcards and other souvenirs.
The Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral, which is located in District 1, is arguably Ho Chi Minh City’s most famous landmark. And with its two tall bell towers, it is definitely one of its most visible. The cathedral was originally built between 1863 and 1880 and was constructed on a site where a Vietnamese pagoda once stood. All of the materials for the red brick Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral were imported from France. For many years, it was known as the Saigon Church, but then in 1962, the structure was elevated to a basilica. Its name was also changed to Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica at that time, and it also became the chief cathedral for the country.
Designed by architect Ngô Viết Thụ, this property was once the home and workplace of the President of South Vietnam. In 1975, a North Vietnamese tank crashed through the main gate, effectively bringing the controversial Vietnam War to an end. Today, Independence Palace, also sometimes called the Reunification Palace, is a historic landmark that appears almost frozen in time. In fact, two of the tanks that were involved in the original seizure of power still remain on the grounds and a replica helicopter can be found on the building’s roof. In addition, the rooms have been preserved in their late 1960s, 1970s style. There are also many interesting sights in this five-story building, including a bunker basement that features a warren of tunnels and a telecommunication center.
This museum offers Westerners a different view of the Vietnam War than they are probably used to hearing and seeing. The War Remnants Museum, which opened around 1975, was originally called the Exhibition House for U.S. and Puppet Crimes. That name was changed to the Exhibition House for Crimes of War and Aggression in 1990 before finally being changed to its current moniker in 1995. Most of the exhibits in this museum are related to the Vietnam War, but there are also some dedicated to the first Indochina War. Outside are US armored vehicles, artillery pieces and infantry weapons on display.