Ho Chi Minh City was known as Saigon until as recently as 1978 when it was renamed after the much-loved Vietnamese leader, President Ho Chi Minh. There is no denying that this bustling city is a major tourist magnet, attracting over 70% of all tourists to Vietnam.
About Ho Chi Minh City
The city is renowned for being highly developed and highly populated. The city can cater for anything that you want; sightseeing, shopping and some serious partying. You can find all the modern brands and fast food outlets in this forward thinking city, urban city.
Behind the bright lights and blaring horns the city is also steeped in history. Ho Chi Minh is widely regarded for its pivotal role in the Vietnam War and its traditional French colonial architecture. The Notre Dame Basilica is most noteworthy in this regard as it was built entirely of materials imported from France.
Ho Chi Minh City has a vast array of shopping destinations, markets and street food stalls. You will find anything from high-value, luxury goods to souvenirs and trinkets. The busiest and most vibrant street market is the sprawling Ben Thanh Market where you can browse the stalls and pick up some amazing bargains. The market continues into the night and you can spend the evening snacking on street food and people watching – this market really is the heart of the city.
This city is vibrant, fast paced and full of energy. You can find the most luxurious hotels and restaurants as well as a funky, laid back backpacker area. Fill your days with sightseeing and visiting the many points of historical interest. The city never sleeps in Ho Chi Minh and your stay will pass in a dizzying whirl – enjoy it!
Ho Chi Minh City international airport, Tan Son Nhat, is the largest airport in Vietnam and is used by a multitude of large airlines, predominantly flying to other Eastern Asian destinations. The airport is located just 7Km out of the city and a taxi to the Pham Ngu Lao backpacking area should costs around $6.50.Top Tip:The road to the airport can get exceptionally busy so the journey usually takes at least half an hour. Make sure you leave plenty of time before your flight!
The main train station, Ga Sai Gon is located fairly close to the city center in District 3. You can either book tickets at the station or pay a few dollars extra and pay through a booking agent. If you want a specific train or type of seat then it’s worth booking in advance – the trains can get very busy.
If you are taking the route from Ho Chi Minh City to Nha Trang then treat yourself to a ride on the Golden Express train. This train costs slightly more but is considerably more comfortable and luxurious than the normal trains.
There are several bus stations dotted around the city so if you book a ticket through an agent make sure that you go to the right bus station. Ben Thanh bus station is located right outside the Ben Thanh market in District 1 and covers most routes to other local districts.
If you want to travel further afield then try Mien Dong bus station in Bình Thạnh, this is the largest coach station in the area and has many long distance bus routes.
Tourist buses also leave from outside the Sinh café in district 1.
The bus from Danang to Ho Chi Minh takes around 25 hours and the train a mere 16 hours.
War Remnants Museum (28 Vo Van Tan, Dist. 3)
Formerly known as the Museum of American War Crimes this exhibit is both thought provoking and controversial. The museum houses several floors of themed rooms and be warned, some of the images are distressing.
Whilst the term ‘war crimes’ has been removed from most of the exhibit descriptions the displays are very one-sided and should be taken with a pinch of salt. There are also a large numbers of anti-war and propaganda artworks that include strong use of emotive language throughout. One room is entirely dedicated to the American use of Agent Orange, napalm and phosphorous bombs. The horrific impact that these chemicals had on some Vietnamese citizens is still visible to this day.
Outside the museum is a substantial collection of artillery, armor and military aircrafts for you to browse around and take photographs with. It is sombering to comprehend that these are the actual machines that were used to kill people in war, they almost look like giant toys when you are next to them.
Ticket prices start at $1.20 and you can easily spend a few hours perusing the exhibits. Regardless of your views on war this is certainly an important place to visit to understand the impact that the war had on the development of Vietnam as a whole.
Motorbike Sightseeing Tours
Ho Chi Minh City is vast and it can take considerably longer than you expect if you are exploring on foot. The best way to see the city, especially if you are limited by time, is with a motorbike tour.
Firstly, don’t worry – you aren’t driving! Riding a motorbike in Ho Chi Minh is not for the feint hearted. Even the most hardcore of bike riders can feel nervous negotiating the thousands of speeding mopeds amidst the deafening honking of horns. Instead a professional local bike rider will drive you around, all you need to do in hold on tight and absorb the exciting sights and smells as you zip along. It’s pretty thrilling and will certainly get your heart rate up!
There are never-ending lists outlining the various types of motor bike tours available but they all generally take around 4 hours and cost anywhere between $35 and $50 per person. You can book tours at your hotel or at any tourist stall and also online. You can compare tour prices but remember that sometimes you get what you pay for and better quality tours tend to cost a little more.
As with all tourist activities is Vietnam, make sure that you check out the reviews online and be wary of tour companies with the same name that don’t have the same signage or logos. The Vietnamese are quick to copy anything that has good reviews so you might end up going on a poor quality tour that gets away with low standards because there is a reputable tour company with the same name.
Try to decide what you want from a tour before you go to book it. Sometimes Vietnamese charm means you get talked into something that you didn’t really want! The following are common types of motorbike tours so you can think about what you want in advance:
- Foodie Tour – A visit to a variety of local restaurants to sample traditional dishes and local delicacies.
Night Tour – See the city at night, a blur of bright lights and excitement.
- Sightseeing tour – See the highlights of Ho Chi Minh City in an action packed whirlwind adventure.
- Custom Tours – Do you have a list of places that you want to visit? Then design your own tour!
Top Tip: For a great quality tour delivered by knowledgeable young locals visit triip.me/Vietnam/ho-chi-minh. Find a suitable one to get the best of Saigon.
Cu Chi tunnels
The Vietnamese soldiers used this extensive network covering over 121km of underground tunnels during the war to evade capture. The size of the tunnels are unbelievable, some are so small that it is almost impossible for a fully-grown adult to fit through them. Vietnamese soldiers relied on their naturally slim and agile statures to move through the tunnels.
Whilst ingenious and highly practical the tunnels were almost unbearable; cramped, hot and dark with a limited air supply and no fresh water. It’s hard to imagine how people survived in there!
During the war the Vietnamese soldiers hid in these tiny tunnels during the day, eating, sleeping and even providing medical aid in the hell like conditions. At night they would leave the tunnels through minute, hidden manholes to forage and set booby-traps for the American soldiers.
The Americans were aware of the existence of the tunnels and launched multiple aggressive campaigns to destroy them and force the Vietnamese soldiers out. The attacks had limited success, the tunnels were so well concealed that they were rarely found and even when they were discovered the American soldiers were simply too big to fit through them. Expect your tour guide to make more than one joke about the size of American waistlines – don’t take it personally, it’s meant in jest.
Attempts to gas out the tunnels were also fairly unsuccessful due to the clever air ventilation systems that were built into the tunnels. That said, thousands of Vietnamese soldiers died, both a direct result of the American attacks and due to starvation and sickness.
Half-day tours of the tunnels can be bought from even’ tourist stand in Ho Chi Minh City and the difference between them generally doesn’t differ by much – the actual tour is fairly standardized once you get there. The trips include transport, a guided tour of the tunnels (including the gruesome booby traps), a screening of a propaganda video and access to the shooting range.
The shooting is optional and you pay per bullet depending on what weapon you wish to use. Whilst it might seem like the highlight of the trip before you arrive, the somber talk of war and loss of life may take the shine off firing a weapon by the time to get to the shooting field.Top Tip:There are two entrance points to the Cu Chi Tunnels, the most frequently used being Ben Dinh and the lesser-known Ben Duoc. Ben Duoc is slightly further away from Ho Chi Minh City, however the tours are exactly the same as those from Ben Dinh but they are considerably less crowded.
Cao Dai Great temple (Tay Ninh Province)
Cao Daism is a religion that combines Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Confucianism, Hinduism, Geniism, and Taoism. Meaning ‘High Tower’, Cao Daism was developed in Vietnam is 1920 but not officially recognized and codified until 1926. The combination of so many religions ensures that Cao Daism is still considered the perfect balance of all religions, some consider it the highest or devine religion.
The Cao Dai religious headquarters are located in Tay Ninh and are home to a magnificent holy temple, the Cao Dai Great Temple. Religious scholars and tourists alike both flock to this religious site to witness the spiritual and aesthetically pleasing temple.
The vast sprawling cathedral has four main towers and is decorated with dragon symbols and religious murals, both inside and out. Prayers are conducted four times a day and tourists are welcome to watch the worshippers in their elaborate religious garments.
You can see the different influences from the variety of cultures and religions that contribute to Cao Dai both in the design of the great temple and the practice of worship within. Visit the temple as part of an organized tour if you want to learn more about the history of the building or you can look around yourself.
This site is still an active place of worship so be mindful of those who are there to submerge themselves in study, worship or mediation.Top Tip:You are allowed to take photographs of the Cathedral and can snap photos from the balcony of the religious processions but do not take photos of the worshippers, especially in prayer. You can ask for permission but it is unlikely to be granted.
- Hu tieu Nam Vang (noodles with pork, shrimps)
- Banh canh cua (thick starchy noodles with crab)
- Com tarn suon (Broken rice served with grilled pork chops)
- Oc (snails and shells)
Mekong River Delta (daily tour or multi-day tour), Mui Ne (210km, by bus or train), Ho Coc (121km, by bus), Vung Tau (125km, by bus or hydrofoil), Dalat (300km, by plane or bus).