Vietnam’s biggest metropolis is a buzzing cosmopolitan destination where its French heritage is still on display alongside its traditional oriental charm.
Better known to past generations as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City has witnessed conflict and upheaval throughout its history. Its complex heritage is nowhere better seen today than on the city’s skyline. Look up and you’ll see newly-built skyscrapers towering over 19th century European-style architecture; Buddhist temples alongside cathedrals; even modern coffee shops next door to traditional tea houses.
The city’s most historic district, District 1, lies on the western bank of the Saigon River. It is here that you can walk around the Reunification Palace, the Central Post Office and the Ho Chi Minh Notre Dame Cathedral. When Saigon was a French colony, its occupiers made their mark on the city and the impressive 19th century architecture in this part of town is testament to that European influence. Nearby, you can enjoy a stroll through Tao Dan Park or head north to visit the Jade Emperor Pagoda. Visitors still flock here to this day, and you’ll find many fine hotels amid the attractions.
For a more relaxed atmosphere away from the centre of the city, spend some time at the Dam Sen Water Park and the surrounding park complex. Further afield, explore the Chi Chi Tunnels used in the Vietnam War. Modern-day Ho Chi Minh City may have transformed dramatically, but the scars of the war are still felt, evidenced at the War Remnants Museum which attracts more than half a million visitors each year and is among the most visited spots in the country.
When night falls, take advantage of the cooler conditions and explore the centre of the city. Around Districts 1 and 3 try a steaming bowl of pho (rice noodle soup) and enjoy a chilled Bia Hoi, the fresh local beer available in these parts. If you’re looking for bargains to take home with you, check out the Ben Thanh Night Market.
Getting around Ho Chi Minh City is easy and cheap, but take care when on the roads as visitors can find themselves overwhelmed by just how frantic the traffic – and especially the motorbikes – can be. By day the city is typically hot and humid, but many buildings have air conditioning and there are plenty of shady spots where you can escape and unwind.