Also more popularly known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City can be found in Southern Vietnam and it is popular for the role it played during the Vietnam War. The city was named after Ho Chi Minh, the revolutionary Vietnamese Communist leader who was a key figure in the foundation of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in 1945.
My first impression of the city was chaotic, with motorbikes running here and there with no concern for passengers but I have come to realize that the honks of motorbikes as they navigate the roads of the city is what actually gives the city its unique flair. Ho Chi Minh City, I reckon, will never be Ho Chi Minh City without its medley of motorbikes.
Ho Chi Minh is a thriving city and anyone who wishes to travel there should not forget to visit the city’s must-see places.
Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica
The Saigon Notre Dame Basilica or the Basilica of Our Lady of The Immaculate Conception is one of the most iconic landmarks of the city. It is located in downtown HCM and was established by French Colonists. Construction began in 1863 and the church was finished in 1880. The church has two bell towers with a height of 58 meters or 190 feet.
It was a Sunday when we went on our city tour and the basilica was breathtaking. If we had this church where I live now, I will hear mass more frequently. The basilica is beyond beautiful and the reddish-orange bricks give it presence. No wonder there were many couples having their prenuptial pictures taken around the area.
Saigon Central Post Office
The Saigon Central Post Office is one of the most gorgeous in the world. Located in proximity to the Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica, the building was constructed when Vietnam was still a part of French Indochina. You can easily see Renaissance, French and Gothic influences on the building’s architecture. It is designed by no less than Gustave Eiffel, yes the creator of the Eiffel Tower, August Henri Vildieu and Alfred Foulhoux. It still functions as a post office until today.
Although it was a Sunday when we went sightseeing, the Saigon Central Post Office was open and what were we to do? Well, I had this brilliant idea of sending a postcard to myself and it is just what I did. I also bought some stamps (I am a stamp collector). Less than two weeks later I got my postcard and boy was it nice to receive something in the mail other than bills. I think I am going to make this a tradition and send a postcard to myself whenever I travel. Let’s see if I can keep it up.
Ben Thanh Market
Ben Thanh Market is the place to go is you are searching for souvenirs or gifts to bring to friends and family and its iconic landmark is the clock tower. Noisy, stuffy and a bit warm, Ben Thanh is just like your traditional market with vendors displaying their goods and doing their best to get tourists and locals to buy what they are selling; from clothes, dried fruits, nuts and coffees.
I did not buy anything in the market and frankly I found some vendors very rude. Sorry but they have notion that because we are brown and we come from neighboring countries in Southeast Asia, they think we cannot afford what they are selling.
Do not be afraid to haggle. Walk away and they will chase after you and give you the goods at your desired price. A good alternative to Ben Thanh Market is the night market, which starts setting up stalls at around 6pm. The prices are cheaper and the vendors are friendlier.
Cu Chi Tunnels
VND 190,000 for day tour (Cu Chi Tunnels and Cao Dai Temple) and VND 110 entrance fee
For anybody who likes history and wants to learn more about how the Viet cong defeated the Americans in the Vietnam War, the Cu Chi Tunnels is a must-visit. It is a vast underground tunnel network which not only became a refuge to the Vietnamese, it also where they ate, nursed the wounded, planned their strategies and eventually won over the Americans. You can read more about my trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels here.
Hours: 7:30am – 11am, 1pm – 4pm
The Reunification Palaces is deeply associated with the fall of Saigon in 1975. Palm trees surround the palace and rumor has it that walking the halls of the palace will give one an eerie feeling. I am not really sure about the last statement, as we did not really go to the Palace. We were pressed for time so we elected to just satisfy ourselves with the view of the Palace from our taxi window as we passed by it numerous times.
The palace was designed by Paris-trained Vietnamese architect Ngu Viet Thu and is a very good example of architecture in the 1960s.
Saigon Opera House
French architect Eugene Ferret built the Saigon Opera House or the Municipal Theatre in Ho Chi Minh in 1897. It was used as the home of the Lower House Assembly and did not regain its status as a theatre until 1975. It was most recently restored in 1995 and has a capacity of 500 seats.
The Saigon Opera House is even more beautiful at night and the best way to explore it is to see one of the many shows there. On our first night in HCM, we went to see the AO Show in the Opera House and it was superb. It is a blend of traditional Vietnamese elements and Cirque du Soleil. I recommend that everyone who travels to the city see it. It is worth every penny at just USD $30. You can book tickets through a travel agency or just go to the venue directly.
Cao Dai Temple
Cao Dai Temple is located in Tay Ninh, about 2 hours from Saigon. This is the place where the Cao Dai religion was funded. The Cao Dai religion combines elements of Catholicism, Hinduism and Buddhism. The religion’s symbol is the Left Eye of God.
We visited the temple as part of the Cu Chi Tunnel tour and we were able to witness the midday service. Shoes are not allowed inside and of course it is polite to be silent while the devotees are in the midst of service. The temple is colorful and the architecture is just splendid.