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Top 10 Things to Do in Ho Chi Minh City

Saigon Must See Attractions

Saigon Attractions

Saigon Attractions

 

Many of the best attractions in Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) centre around the events of 20th century war and conquest. It sounds sombre, and in parts it is, but there are some truly fascinating historical activities suitable for all ages. From classic French architecture to perfectly maintained American war planes, walking around Ho Chi Minh is like seeing the past come to life with so many famous places of interest scattered throughout the city. Of course, as Vietnam’s biggest city and business capital, times are changing and modern skyscrapers are starting to punctuate the sky combining the new and old in a uniquely Vietnamese way.

With our guide to the Top 10 Best Attractions in Ho Chi Minh you can get all of the information you need to ensure you don’t miss anything this fascinating city has to offer.

 

1. War Remnants Museum

War Remnants Museum

War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City

 

The War Remnants Museum once known as the ‘Museum of American War Crimes’ first opened to the public in 1975.

It’s a shocking reminder of the long and brutal Vietnam War with many graphic photographs and American military equipment on display, including a helicopter with rocket launchers, a tank, a fighter plane, a single-seater attack aircraft and a 6,800kg conventional bomb.

All these weapons were used by America against the Vietnamese at some point during the infamous war that lasted from 1945-1975.

 

History, Highlights and Features

One of the most talked-about exhibits are the ‘tiger cages’ in which the South Vietnamese government kept their political prisoners. These small cages are only 2.7m x 1.5m x 3m each and were sometimes used to keep up to 14 prisoners in. There is also a guillotine used by the French and the South Vietnamese to execute prisoners from opposing political groups. Brought to Vietnam by the French; the guillotine was last used in 1960.

Also featured are grisly photos that show the disfigured bodies of locals who had prenatal exposure to strong pesticide and chemical sprayed, best known by the name ‘Agent Orange’. Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs believed that there were 500,000 children born with birth defects while as many as 4.8 million people were exposed to it from 1961 to 1971.

The War Remnants Museum is in District 3, Ho Chi Minh City and is run by the government. It is open all year round from 07:30 to17:00. A visit to this war museum is a disturbing experience for most people and may not be suitable for children (though they are allowed to enter).

• Opening Hours: Daily from 07.30 - 12.00 and 13:30 - 17:00
• Location: 28 Vo Van Tan, in District 3, Ho Chi Minh City.

 

2. Cu Chi Tunnels

Cu Chi Tunnels

Cu Chi Tunnels

 

This marvellous tourist attraction lets visitors experience what it must have been like for soldiers who used an extensive network of tunnels to move around undetected by their enemies. There is an informative movie to watch, followed by a guided tour of some mock recreations of daily life for the Viet Cong hiding in the jungle. Burnt out tanks make for a great photo prop and then everyone gets to crawl through a small section of the tunnels which has been widened and supported with concrete.

Visit Cu Chi Tunnels (70 km northwest of Ho Chi Minh City), an amazing complex of underground tunnels used during the Vietnam war.

There are more than 200 km of tunnels, comprising a main axis system with many branches connecting to underground hideouts, shelters and other tunnels.

 

3. Cao Dai Temple

Cao Dai Temple

Cao Dai Temple

 

Cao Dai Temple is the centre of the Cao Dai faith, a religion that has taken bits of Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Taoism and Confucianism. Tourists are welcome to visit the temple and learn more about this faith that is practiced by a few dedicated followers. Each Cao Dai practitioner wears a white robe to enter the temple with an additional sash to signify their previous religion. The temple itself is very bright and colourful with dragons flying up banisters and a cloud mural decorating the ceiling.

Cao Dai temple founded in Vietnam in the 1920's, Cao Daoism borrows elements from Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Taoism and Confuscianism and blends them together in an effort to make the perfect religion. Cao Dai means "high place or abode".

 

4. Bitexco Tower and Sky Deck

Bitexco Tower and Sky Deck

Bitexco Tower and Sky Deck

 

Bitexco Tower is an ultra modern office tower in Ho Chi Minh, with a characteristic oval extension which acts as a helicopter landing pad. Standing at 262 metres tall, this 68 storey building is the highest in all of Vietnam with a sky deck offering 360 degree views of the city and surrounding area as well as a fantastic sky bar called Alto where you can see all of Ho Chi Minh while enjoying a cocktail and some tapas style international dishes. Head up here for sunset and don’t forget your camera!

Breathtaking views require a vantage point and Alto Heli Bar on the 52nd floor of the ultra-modern Bitexco Financial Tower is by far the highest spot in Saigon to sip on a cool drink and admire the cityscape.

Although not technically on the rooftop, Alto is more than twice the height of other rooftop bars in Saigon and offers endless views off to the curving horizon – it’s a seriously impressive vista that is matched by a sophisticated décor of modern lounge seats, sofas and plenty of bar stools. The whole bar is bathed in soft lighting so guests can fully appreciate the 360 degree views of Saigon as day gives way to night and the city lights begin to twinkle.

Frequented by a formally dressed after-work crowd, camera-happy tourists and hushed couples on a romantic date, Alto Heli rooftop bar manages to create enough separate areas with low-lighting and a range of seating options so the bar retains a sophisticated vibe in which to enjoy a range of signature cocktails, as well as several pages of wines, spirits and some tasty mocktails. All drinks are served with complimentary bar snacks and there are smoking and non smoking sections from which you are free to choose.

Considering the Bitexco skydeck on the 50th charges 200,000 VND just for the view, a drink at Alto Heli Bar is well worth the price, with cocktails costing 210,000 VND ($10) and beers from 90,000 VND. Bear in mind they also have a happy hour deal where select cocktails and wines by the glass sell for 145,000 VND between 17:00 and 20:00. A particular favourite is the Saigon Fizz, a heady sparkling wine concoction with Tanqueray gin, mint and lime juice. For something a little more masculine, try the whisky-based Le Loi, with Johnnie Walker Platinum stirred with an Angostura-soaked sugar cube, a dash of soda and garnished with flamed orange zest.

Noticeable from anywhere in Saigon, this skyscraper is more than twice the height of other buildings in the city and the bar is easy to spot as the helipad that juts out of the building is on the same floor, hence the name Alto Heli Lounge. You will spend the rest of your stay looking up at the towering structure thinking "I was there!" If you want to experience a bird’s eye view of Saigon, this is the place.

Alto Heli Lounge Bar

• Opening Hours: 10:00 - 22:00.
• Address: Bitexco Financial Tower, 52nd floor, 2 Hai Trieu, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City.
• Tel: +84 (0) 8 6291 8752.

 

 

5. Jade Emperor Pagoda

Jade Emperor Pagoda

Jade Emperor Pagoda

 

Jade Emperor Pagoda is one of the most revered temples in Ho Chi Minh. Originally built in 1909 by Chinese immigrants this Taoist temple now welcomes Buddhist worshipping and is incredibly atmospheric with incense smoke hanging heavy in the air. Intricate architecture, carvings, statues of Gods and Goddesses and Chinese characters create an exotic and timeless ambiance.

Emperor Jade Pagoda, also known as Tortoise Pagoda, is one of the five most important shrines in Ho Chi Minh City.

Built at the turn of the 20th Century by a community of Cantonese who migrated from Guangzhou province in Southwest China, this pagoda is a fine representation of Mahayanist branch of Buddhism that is practiced widely in Vietnam.

 

Jade Emperor Pagoda Highlights

In the main hall, the Emperor Jade Chua Ngoc Hoang or the 'God of the Heavens' reigns supreme. Aided by two assistants, the Emperor decides who can enter this higher realm. Those who don't pass this gate will meet with the formidable 'God of Hell', on the left, who will send sinners to one of the 10 levels of hell. Life in purgatory is magnificently if somewhat gruesomely represented by the intricate carvings on the temple wall, depicting different kinds of punishments that await transgressors.

In a different hall, the goddess of fertility Kim Hua, surrounded by figures of women and small children, blesses childless couples who pray for an offspring here. The goddess of mercy Kuan Yin, who forms a very important part of any Taoist temple, has an altar in a room on the top floor.

Emperor Jade Pagoda is a living and working shrine very much in use by the locals who come here to prayer or make votive offerings of flowers, and light candles and joss sticks. With worshippers coming and going, the temple can get busy and feel a little cramped. Its dimly lit, the narrow passageways filled with smoke lend an atmospheric feel to the place, adding to its charm.

There is an overcrowded tortoise pond in front of the temple grounds and feeding the animals is considered part of the merit-making, temple-going rituals.

• Opening Hours: 08:00 – 17:00.
• Location: 73 Mai Thi Luu, District 3.
• Remarks: There is no entrance fee but visitors can make donations.

 

6. Mariamman Hindu Temple

Mariamman Hindu Temple

Mariamman Hindu Temple

 

Mariamman Hindu Temple is a beautiful example of the bright and vibrant architecture of Hindu places of worship. As the only active Hindu temple in Ho Chi Minh, it acts as a community base for the small community of Hindus living in the city. Open every day from 07:00 to 19:00, non Hindus are also welcome to visit, just remember to dress conservatively and take off your shoes before entering the inner temple.

Situated close to the Ben Thanh market, the Mariamman Hindu temple serves the small community of 100 or so Chinese and Vietnamese Tamil Hindus living in Ho Chi Minh City.

It is the only Hindu temple that is still open in the city and is considered sacred by Hindu and non-Hindu Vietnamese. The temple is rumoured to have miraculous powers giving luck and wealth to those who worship within its walls.

Built at the end of the 19th century in honour of Mariamman the Hindu Goddess of strength, the temple’s first purpose was as a place of worship for the Chettiar community.

Classically Hindu in style, the colourful temple features vibrant deity sculptures reminiscent of those usually found in Southern India, decorating external walls, roof tops, towers and the shrine inside. The temple was also once used as a factory in which joss sticks were produced.

 

Mariamman Hindu Temple Highlights

Merchants visiting Vietnam from Tamil Nadu first built the Mariamman Hindu Temple, bringing divine beings such as Ganesh, Amman and Murgua to the streets of Saigon. Sacred images dance on the external walls which feature a royal tower at the entrance that stands 12 metres high. Gods and Goddesses including Shiva, Kali, Brahma and Vishnu are prominently represented with Simha Vahanam sitting to the left of the entrance.

The centre piece at the altar in the heart of the temple is a statue of the Goddess Mariamman with two Hindu guardian deities next to her and two lingams in front. The shrine is usually surrounded by offerings including flowers and joss sticks. There are also two colourful towers on the roof adorned with more Hindu gods, goddesses and lions, simply follow the stairs up from the entrance to see these wonderful pillars.

The temple has a permanent caretaker who will gladly point out different areas and additionally hopes to secure a Hindu Priest from India to conduct regular worship.

 

Good to Know about Mariamman Hindu Temple

The Mariamman Hindu Temple is open every day from 07:00 until 19:00 and is located at 45 Truong Dinh Street in District 1, just three blocks to the west of Ben Thanh Market. Dress conservatively and remember to remove your shoes before you enter.

Always ask permission from the caretaker before you take any photographs and also expect to be asked to give money to the beggars inside the temple.

Remarks: There is a Mariamman Temple in Singapore.

 

7. Reunification Palace

Reunification Palace

Reunification Palace

 

The centre of the allied command and the place where the North Vietnamese claimed victory in the American War, Reunification Palace has played its part in some incredible scenes. This ageing palace has essentially been frozen in time since a North Vietnamese Army tank smashed through its gates in 1975. Visitors will get to discover secret rooms, grand reception halls and the command bunker where General Ngo Dinh Diem conducted his war strategies.

The iconic Reunification Palace made its name in global history when in 1975 a tank belonging to the North Vietnamese Army crashed through its main gate – thus signifying the end of the Vietnam War. This image is one of the most famous pictures depicting the Reunification Palace which has seen a rich and varied history and once served as the base of the US-backed Vietnamese General Ngo Dinh Diem during the Vietnam War, until his assassination in 1963.

The palace is like a time capsule frozen in 1975 with two of the original tanks used in the capture of the palace parked in the grounds. Originally the site of the Nordom Palace also known as the Governor’s Palace its first role was as a home and workplace for the then French Governor of Cochinchina. The Reunification Palace is a landmark not to be missed by any tourist visiting Ho Chi Minh City. Surrounded by lush tropical gardens, the palace hides secret rooms, antique furniture and a command bunker within its eerie corridors. The Reunification Palace is still in use to host occasions including APEC summits and national events of significant importance.

 

Reunification Palace Highlights

The Reunification Palace is a five-storey building with the basement housing a warren of tunnels, a war room and telecommunications centre. The war command room still has maps on its walls and period telecommunications equipment on display, whilst adjoining basement rooms feature war propaganda materials. Other areas of interest are the third floor featuring a card playing room, a fourth floor which once had a casino and was used for entertaining guests and a rooftop terrace with a heliport.

The Reunification Palace entered the world history books in 1975 when a Vietnamese Air Force pilot (who was also a communist spy) flew an aircraft over the palace with an attempt to bomb it. Although no real damage was caused this was a significant step towards the fall of Saigon and the ending of the Vietnamese War.

On 30th April in 1975 at 10:45 a North Vietnamese Army Tank rammed the main gates and entered the palace grounds before hanging its flag on the balcony to declare victory for the communist party and thus ending the Vietnam War. Meanwhile staff escaped from the rooftop minutes before the palace was overrun, known as Operation Frequent Wind this was part of history’s biggest ever helicopter evacuation and included the departure of General Thieu.

 

Good to Know about Reunification Palace

The Reunification Palace is open from 07:30-12:00 then 13:00-16:00. Tickets are purchased at the main gate and visitors will be checked for security reasons. Free guided tours are available in English, French, Japanese and Chinese (invaluable as there are not many signboards inside).

The palace is situated on Man Ky Khoi Nghia Street close to the Ben Thanh Market with the main gate located on the east side of the palace gardens.

 

8. Ho Chi Minh City Zoo

Ho Chi Minh City Zoo

Ho Chi Minh City Zoo

 

A great family friendly activity when all the heavy historical attractions get too much, Ho Chi Minh City Zoo is home to a diverse range of animals from across Asia and the world. Elephants are some of the star attractions here along with monkeys, tigers, hippos and a wide variety of reptiles. Other than the animal exhibits, there is a large botanical garden and a small children’s play area which is a little outdated. Be advised that conditions at the zoo are not as good as similar attractions in Europe or America.

Founded more than 100 years ago, Ho Chi Minh City Zoo and Botanical Gardens (aka Saigon Zoo and Botanical Gardens) are listed as one of the oldest zoos in the world, opened in 1865 by French botanist JB Louis Pierre. There are currently more than 550 animals exhibited in the zoo and more than 1,830 trees and 260 plant species in the botanical gardens with some dating back over 100 years.

There are a number of different sections to explore including the animal conservation area, orchid garden and plant conservation centre and a children’s amusement area. Lakes brimming with tropical fish form part of the zoo and botanical gardens which is also home to a monument dedicated to Vietnamese killed in World War I. The Ho Chi Minh Zoo and Botanical Gardens is a popular place to while away an afternoon and is visited by locals and tourists who are often surprised by the fact that you can get up close and personal to some of the animals and feed them.

 

Ho Chi Minh City Zoo & Botanical Gardens Highlights

The Botanical Gardens has a vast array of flora and fauna including 20 different orchid types, 32 species of cactus and 34 species of bonsai in addition to trees, plants and ferns some of which are as old as the gardens.

The zoo exhibits a diverse range of animals including monkeys, tigers, hippos, lions, elephants; turtles and snakes. There are also rarer animals such as the white tiger that are being displayed for the first time ever in Vietnam. The zoo aims to help animal conservation of endangered species through a breeding-in-captivity program and recently bred the crested argus pheasant - being the only zoo in the world to do so.

The Botanical Gardens are striving to use the area as a knowledge centre where visitors can learn more about the species on display and how to protect them for the future.

In addition to creatures and plants, the zoo and botanical gardens also have the Saigon National Museum and the World War I monument within its vicinity. The museum covers the entire history of Vietnam and includes war weapons from the French colonial era and thousands of important documents within its walls.

 

Good to Know about Saigon Zoo & Botanical Gardens

Ho Chi Minh Zoo has in some parts seen better days and is certainly not on par with western zoos; however it is better than some zoos seen in other Asian countries. If you have any reservations regarding animals in captivity then this might not be the place for you.

The zoo is located close to Saigon District 1 and the easiest way to reach it is via taxi. The entrance fee allows you to visit both the zoo and gardens, although you will need to pay more if you wish the feed any animals. There are two main gates, one on Nguyen Binh Khiem and the other on Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street.

 

9. Ho Chi Minh Central Post Office

Ho Chi Minh Central Post Office

Ho Chi Minh Central Post Office

 

The Central Post Office in Ho Chi Minh is a glorious example of French colonial architecture, perfectly preserved with as much style as when it first opened in 1891. The building still functions as the city’s main post office and sending a letter or postcard home is highly recommended for a taste of living history. Beautiful from any angle, this building was designed by Gustave Eiffel, who also designed the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

The Central Post Office in Ho Chi Minh is a beautifully preserved remnant of French colonial times and perhaps the grandest post office in all of Southeast Asia. Located next door to Notre Dame Cathedral, the two cultural sites can be visited together and offers visitors a chance to imagine life in Vietnam during the times of the Indochinese Empire. The building was designed by Gustave Eiffel – the renowned engineer who also designed the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower – and features arched windows and wooden shutters, just as it would have in its heyday in the late 19th Century.

The Central Post Office in Ho Chi Minh was constructed between 1886 and 1891 and once inside, the looping arches, intricately designed marble floors and antiquated telephone boxes all serve as a reminder of the importance the post office played in days before email and mobile phones. Although the architecture is distinctly French, the large portrait of Ho Chi Minh hanging high above everyone at the far end of the building reminds everyone we are definitely in Vietnam. Painted onto walls overhead are two maps of the region; one of them showing the telegraph lines that crisscross Vietnam and Cambodia and the other displaying a map of the Saigon region in 1892.

Central Post Office

• Opening Hours: 7am to 8pm.
• Location: 2 Công xã Paris, District 1.

 

10. Notre Dame Cathedral

Notre Dame Cathedral

Notre Dame Cathedral

 

Located next to the Central Post Office, Notre Dame Cathedral is another relic of French colonial times, but it is kept in perfect condition and is still holding masses every Sunday. Many of the building materials were imported from France and it has an unmistakable Gallic touch with two long spires measuring 60 metres tall. In front of the cathedral is a beautiful statue of the Virgin Mary or "Notre Dame".

In a quiet corner of bustling downtown Ho Chi Minh City stands Notre Dame Cathedral, the one remaining stronghold of Catholicism in the largely Buddhist Vietnam.

Built in the late 1880s by French colonists, it was formerly called Saigon Church. The name Notre Dame was given after the installation of the statue "Peaceful Notre Dame" in 1959. In 1962, the Vatican conferred the Cathedral status as a basilica and gave it the official name of Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica.

In a quiet corner of bustling downtown Ho Chi Minh City stands Notre Dame Cathedral, the one remaining stronghold of Catholicism in the largely Buddhist Vietnam.

Built in the late 1880s by French colonists, it was formerly called Saigon Church. The name Notre Dame was given after the installation of the statue "Peaceful Notre Dame" in 1959. In 1962, the Vatican conferred the Cathedral status as a basilica and gave it the official name of Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica.

 

Notre Dame Cathedral Highlights

Made from red bricks imported from France, the neo-Romanesque structure is 60 metres tall and has two towers containing six bronze bells. In front of the Cathedral stands a statue of the Virgin Mary, made in Rome from Italian marble, which was reputed to have shed tears in 2005.

Notre Dame Cathedral is a working religious place where masses are held every Sunday.

• Opening Hours: Paris Square, District 1.
• Location: Paris Square, District 1.

Palm Vietnam Travel - Posted by Para Fin

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