Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, has so much to offer. It is a great start or end to a journey in Vietnam, with plenty to do around the backpacker area. The hustle and bustle of the streets, street vendors offering you your last or first tastes of Vietnam, markets selling everything you could ever want and plenty more you never will all makes Ho Chi Minh a great place.
As with Hanoi, what a great place to either start or end your journey.
You'll not have to walk too far with a bag on your back in district 1 before someone offers to show you accommodation at "one of their" guest houses. There are so many to choose from with varying levels of standards to reflect the charge. Some of the guest houses have started to inflate their prices but if you look you will find quite a few that are still charging the same as they did 2 years ago.
Address: 48b Bui Vien
Prices from: Double/ twin $10, Family Room $20
Includes: En-suite, Wi-Fi, fan, TV, fridge
Tel: 38365075 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
This place has a homely feel to it. The rooms at the back are a little quieter whilst the front rooms overlook the street. A great location.
Giang and Son
Address: 283/14 D Phan Ngu Lao
Prices from: Double/Twin $16
Includes: En-suite, AC, Wi-Fi
Tel: 08 3837 7548 Email: Web: www.GiangSon.netfirms.com
No window at this price, but for +$4 you'll get one. Roof terrace, this place is surprisingly quiet.
Hong Han Hotel
Address: 238d Bui Vien
Prices from: Double/Twin $20
Includes: En-suite, AC, Wi-Fi, breakfast
Tel: 08 3836 1927 Email: Web: www.HongHan.netfirms.com
With a first floor terrace, some of the rooms on the higher of the 7 floors have great views.
Eating and Drinking
Saigon has the BEST Banh My in our opinion [more
]. The French left them with baguettes and these guys then perfected them! Mayonnaise, pate, fresh salad, spices and wow! You'll pay between 10 and 15,000d and so worth it. Otherwise there is a real mixture of food along Bui Vien but do step into the side streets as well. A great introduction to Pho (pronounced fer). Here's some of our other favourites. [more]
If you're new to Vietnam then you'll learn quickly that the smaller the stool the cheaper the beer. There's a good club scene and some nice bars to sit in and people watch, but for us head towards Chine's bar on D Bui Vien. You'll not miss it because of all of the plastic seats grouped together. For 10,000d for "Saigon San" (Saigon green) it's a great place to meet new people and talk with locals as well as other tourists and local ex-pats. There are several street vendors around and she’s more than happy for you to sit and eat whilst drinking her beers. Try the soft-crab in garlic and ginger from next door – amazing and only around 60,000d depending on size of portion!
Expect to pay a charge of around 200,000d for the taxi into town. Taxis heading to the airport are considerably cheaper.
If you’re staying in district 1 then the bus is a great option! 4,000d per person and 4,000 for each large bag/ case. You should get a ticket for each person and each bag that you are paying for. It sometimes helps to be helpful and tell the driver how many tickets you need. The bus leaves regularly from directly outside the airport. If you have a guide, then show them where you are staying and they will stop for you to alight at the most convenient stop. The locals are very very helpful as well.
Bus Prices and information
Information pending. Tourist buses arrive/ depart from the D De Tham road area. There are numerous companies that operate in the area now, so do check them out. They all follow the same route and the only real choice you need to make is if you want a seated bus or a sleeper bus.
War Remnants Museum
A real hard hitting in-sight to the Vietnamese war. Typical of most museums in Vietnam, this is more of an insight into history with photographs and text rather than antiques. This museum really does give you an insight into the Vietnam War and what was going on around the world at the time. A whole section is dedicated to the effects of Agent Orange. Probably, for me, one of the most intriguing sections houses photographs from American war correspondents and their view of life during the war. Propaganda? You decide, but don't the "winners" always get to write the history? There are military vehicles outside.
Notre Dame Cathedral
Address: Nguyen Du
Officially ‘Basilica of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception’ Vietnam’s Notre Dame was built between 1863 and 1880 by French colonists. With two towers reaching a height of 58 metres (190 feet) it is well worth a visit. During 2005 the cathedral was said to have ‘shed tears’ attracting thousands of pilgrims, the top clergy of the catholic church however denied the miracle in a failed attempt to disperse the crowds and ease traffic congestion! Unfortunately most of the inside is closed to visitors but the square outside is a great spot to watch Vietnamese couples have their wedding photos taken.
Central Post Office
Address: Nguyen Du
Designed by Gustave Eiffel! If you have post to send or not, and you're already visiting Notre Dame, then walk across the road and step-back in time as you enter the lobby area of this grand post office. Old wooden telephone booths that house credit card machines now, though one or two still have phones in.
Address: 106 D Nguyen Du
Formerly known as Independence Palace, the Reunification Palace is a place where time has stood still. The building was once the symbol of the South Vietnamese Government until April 1975 when a tank crashed through the doors and signalled the fall of Saigon and the end of the Vietnamese Conflict The striking modern architecture and the slightly eerie feeling you get as you walk through its deserted halls make Reunification Palace one of the most fascinating sights in HCMC. The attractions are quite sparse but the history of the building makes for an interesting visit, one of the highlights being the command bunker in the basement with old radio equipment and strategy maps on the walls. There are also two original Russian tanks on the lawn and an old US UH-1 helicopter on the roof. If you haven’t yet seen enough of the history of the war and can overlook the propaganda photographs on the walls then it is worth a visit but if short of time go the Remnants museum instead.
Tao Dan Park
Situated just behind the Reunification Palace, this well maintained park has an eclectic mix of statues. You'll see school parties exercising, old friends talking and if you're lucky an impromptu show at the band-stand.
National History Museum
Address: 2 Nguyen Bin Khiem
Admission: 15,000d, Camera 30,000d
The Museum is housed in a 1920s French building and opened in 1979. It traces Vietnamese History from prehistoric times up to the French period and depicts the various dynasties and conflicts of Vietnam over the years. Displays include early stone tools, Roman coins and cannons, Buddha statues from across the region and even a mummy found preserved in Saigon. There are many artefacts representing ethnic minorities. Including some excellent examples of sculpture from the Cham and Oc Eo civilisations. The narratives on the wall are in English, Vietnamese and French and are very clear. The focus here is more on the ancient history, art, culture of Vietnam and its ethnic minorities. A refreshing change from some of the other more ‘war focused’ museums.
Cholon – District 5
There are several good pagodas, temples and mosques in the Cholon area. Phuoc An Hoi Quan Pagoda on the main road was our first on our visit and stood out as the best. These can be taken in as part of a city tour. It is possible to walk from district 1 and the sights along the way are interesting, but if you’re short on time take a taxi to Phuoc An Hoie Quan Pagoda and walk around the streets on the opposite side of the road to the temple.
Giac lam pagoda
Believed to be the oldest pagoda in greater HCMC, Giac Lam Pagoda dates from 1744. It’s a fantastically atmospheric place full of gilded statues, colourful wall panels (depicting among other things the path to enlightenment as well as the tortures awaiting those condemned to hell) with one of the country’s most impressive stupas (32m tall). For the sick and elderly, the pagoda is a minor pilgrimage sight, as it contains a bronze bell that, when rung, is believed to answer the prayers posted by petitioners. Home to several monks, the Buddhist pagoda also incorporates aspects of Taoism and Confucianism. It is well worth the trip out here from the centre and is one of the city’s cultural relics.
The write up the travel books does this pagoda more justice than it deserves. Ok, it was raining, and we walked there and we got a little lost, but even if someone was offering to take me there again in an air-conditioned limo I’d decline.
Cu Chi Tunnels
Admission: 80,000d + travel agents charge for transportation and guide.
Well worth the day trip out in our opinion. This intriguing insight into life in the tunnels generally starts with some video footage explaining a little of the history. You guide will then take you around showing you the various traps that were used in guerrilla war-fare, how the Vietnamese ingeniously managed to evade the US soldiers and more. There is also a military run firing range here where you can shoot AK-47, M16 and other weapons from the war. Charges are generally $1 a round, with a minimum spend of 10 rounds, so if you're going to have a go and want to see the difference you can take it in turns or mix it up with friends. Do check around for the prices, because the tourist companies only provide the guide and the transport.
Cao Dai Temple
Just outside Tay Nihn and 60 miles northwest of Ho Chi Minh City is the Great Temple or Holy See, the center of the intriguing Cao Dai sect. Cao Dai is a syncretist Vietnamese religious movement that incorporates aspect of Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism and even Catholicism. The Cao Dai Temple was begun in 1933 in a unique architectural style that reflects its blended traditions. Most people visit on a day trip from Ho Chi Minh City.
Mekong River Day Trip
If you think you're going to get the opening scene of "Enter the dragon" with Bruce Lee, then you'll be as disappointed as I was. The morning markets generally start at 6am and finish early as well. Most of the market life has moved away from the river to the road. That said there are trips that take you over-night so that you can see what is left of the working markets in the mornings.
Several services on the D Bui Vien road. Expect to pay around 10,000d/ Kg for next day service.
There are several banks on D Pham Ngu Lao that don’t charge. Donga bank gives probably the best exchange rate.
Most accommodation has Wi-Fi though there are still a few small internet cafes on the D Bui Vien rd.