Ho Chi Minh City is the vibrant, cosmopolitan hub of Vietnam and the original ‘Pearl of the Orient’. In this thriving metropolis, old and new collide. Gleaming sky scrapers, expensive restaurants, bars and designer shops stand in stark contrast to the ancient pagodas, colonial era landmarks, ramshackle markets and wandering monks. Ho Chi Minh City is a feast for the senses, fast paced, colourful, loud and utterly mesmerising. Whilst it hurtles head first into the 21st Century, Ho Chi Minh City is a city with a compelling and unforgettable history.Read More
Key sites such as the historic Reunification Palace, the Revolutionary Museum and the War Remnants Museum provide a fascinating insight into the Vietnam War and the historic fall of Ho Chi Minh City in 1975. Here you can learn all about the brutalities of the war with relics including tanks, infantry weapons and a confronting collection of photographs.
Famous landmarks include the French colonial Hotel de Ville and the beautiful Notre Dame Cathedral in the main square and the lively Ben Thanh Market, which sells everything from food, clothing and bags to souvenirs. Cholon is the city’s bustling China Town, home to brightly coloured pagodas and markets. 70km northwest of the city, the historic Cu Chi Tunnels which played such a vital role in the war, are another highlight. Here you can explore the tiny underground tunnels laden with booby-traps and other interesting features.
Best sites to visit in Ho Chi Minh City
War Remnants MuseumView on map
To really get to grips with the atrocities of war through the eyes of the victims, there's few places in Vietnam that top the gripping War Remnants Museum. The chilling photographic displays document infamous massacres, the awful injuries caused by bombing and the deformities caused by the use of chemical herbicides during the Vietnam War. Although the explanations can seem politically one-sided, it's bound to leave a lasting impression of the true brutality of war and how it so often destroys the lives of thousands of innocent civilians more than anything else.
Central Post OfficeView on map
It's not often that a post office ranks highly on a traveller's guide but Saigon's Central Post Office is a popular sight and what's more, absolutely free. Built in the 19th century, the building is a fine example of colonial architecture with a vaulted roof and arched windows that make it look more like a European railway station. The post office remains fully operational today though visitors can enter to see the old-fashioned phone booths and hand-painted maps of Southern Vietnam hanging inside. A visit here also serves as a handy reminder to send postcards to loved ones back home.
Notre Dame CathedralView on map
One of the few remaining relics of Catholicism brought to Vietnam by French colonialists, the Notre Dame Cathedral dominates downtown Saigon with its red brick architecture and towering bell towers. Topped with iron spires, the towers house six bronze bells that were added a decade after the building was completed. A white marble statue of the Virgin Mary stands in front of the cathedral and caused hysteria back in 2005 when it was claimed the statue shed a tear. Mass is held at the cathedral each Sunday though the front doors may be closed on other days of the week.
CholonView on map
Saigon's Chinatown is everything you'd normally associate with Chinatowns across the world, jam packed with colourful temples and pagodas, chaotic markets and aromatic food stalls. With a history spanning hundreds of years, Cholon is of great cultural importance especially to the Chinese community that call it home - one of the largest of its kind in Southeast Asia. The ornate and brightly coloured facade of the Quan Am Pagoda is a highlight as is the Phuoc An Hoi Quan Pagoda and its interior bedecked with porcelain figures, hanging lanterns and brass ritual objects. The area is also home to a vibrant yellow-painted church and a busy mosque.
Saigon Opera HouseView on map
Standing in the heart of the city is the Saigon Opera House, a grand colonial building with a perfectly symmetrical facade overlooking an attractive leafy boulevard. Stone-carved statues and polished balustrades display an air of grandeur with the interior - big enough to seat 500 people - featuring chandeliers and granite floors. For a split second you could be forgiven for thinking you've been transported to the streets of Paris. Performances are held weekly with traditional Vietnamese pieces along with travelling shows. Outside of shows the Opera House remains closed to the public.
Reunification PalaceView on map
Home to the President of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War and scene of one of the war's most defining moments, the Reunification Palace is one of Saigon's most striking sights. Previously known as the Independence Palace, the building was completed in 1966 and in 1975 witnessed the arrival of communist tanks which signified the end of the war and the reunification of Vietnam. Seemingly stuck in that era, the building remains much as it was with large deserted halls, spacious chambers, antique furniture, entertainment rooms and a command bunker.
Recommended things to do in and around Ho Chi Minh City
Cu Chi TunnelsView on map
Northwest of Saigon city lies a warren of narrow tunnels used by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. Located in the Cu Chi district, the tunnels offer a fascinating insight into the tenacity of the Vietnamese with subterranean passages leading to makeshift living spaces and storage areas several storeys deep with ingenious booby traps littered throughout. The Cu Chi tunnel network once spread across an area of 250km and today a number of tunnels have been enlarged to enable visitors to explore the underground sections.
Cao Dai TempleView on map
Incorporating aspects of Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism and even Catholicism, the monotheistic religion of Cao Dai originated in the town of Tay Ninh in 1926 and the unique Cao Dai Temple perfectly reflects these mixed influences. Featuring colourful mural paintings, pulpits and an altar, the temple is an important pilgrimage site in the area. Prayers are held four times a day with the upper balconies perfect for photographing seated worshippers in their bold coloured attire. Located further northwest of Cu Chi, the Cao Dai Temple is often combined in a day tour of the tunnels from Saigon.
Eating out in Ho Chi Minh City
Quan An NgonView on map
This is one of the best places in Saigon to sample a wide range of regional dishes at reasonable prices. Housed in a renovated Vietnamese mansion with attractive gardens, numerous food stalls offer specialised dishes ranging from pho (noodle soup) to seafood and stir fry. It's a great choice for families and groups with every taste catered for, and it's usually busy thanks to its location close to the Reunification Palace.
Huong LaiView on map
For those looking for classy Vietnamese food in a peaceful setting then look no further than the Huong Lai Restaurant. Tucked away down a quiet street, the restaurant has an elegant interior inspired by French design and serves a great selection of traditional Vietnamese dishes. The staff share a similar background - young people from disadvantaged families who have received training and job opportunities through the restaurant's community projects.
The RefineryView on map
Located in a popular food and entertainment district, The Refinery is the perfect mix of ambiance, quality and choice. A firm favourite with local expats, the bistro-style menu features modern French cuisine with interesting cocktails and a good wine list. Fashioned from an old opium factory, it's a lovely space with a large courtyard and a welcoming interior with custom-made furniture and colonial design features.
Cafe ZoomView on map
Perfectly placed for watching the hive of activity on the streets of Saigon, Cafe Zoom is a buzzing spot to enjoy Western menu staples such as burgers, fajitas and hot dogs. The beer is cold and cheap, which means it's very popular with backpackers and those looking for a taste of the familiar on a budget. The place also serves as the headquarters for the Vespa Adventures night tours around the city.
Shopping in Ho Chi Minh City
Ben Thanh MarketView on map
Serving as the city's largest shopping destination for over a century, Ben Thanh Market is the place to go for typical Vietnamese souvenirs - think conical hats, printed t-shirts and lacquerware. Centrally located and packed to the rafters with stalls piled high with goods, it's usually busy with locals and foreign visitors alike. Many stalls display 'fixed price' signs but a bit of determined haggling will knock off a bit of dong.
Saigon KitschView on map
As the name suggests, this fun shop sells a diverse assortment of good quality design pieces and quirky souvenirs from modern cases for tablets and fun recycled canvas bags to colourful pillow cases and shot glasses. You can also pick up Communist propaganda images printed on magnets, mouse pads, t-shirts and posters. With friendly staff and so much on offer a visit here could easily consume a bit of time.
Duy Tan - Saigon ArtisanView on map
This small shop is a reliable option for good quality lacquerware, ceramics and handmade jewellery. A small selection of the stocked goods are fashioned from recycled materials and objects, with bags made from unwanted plastic and paper. Prices are fixed though reasonable for the quality. It's a great place to pick up colourful lacquer bowls and wooden cutlery.
Khai SilkView on map
Founded in 1980, Khai Silk is now a nationwide empire selling high quality silk goods ranging from gorgeous scarves and ties to modern shirts and blouses. The flagship store enjoys a prime spot on fashionable Dong Khoi street and shoppers will also find dresses, handbags and bedsheets on offer. A tailoring service is available for off-the-hanger items that require a little customization with experienced staff on hand to help.
Transport links in Ho Chi Minh City
Flying InView on map
As the commercial heart of the country, Saigon is well served for transport links with the Tan Son Nhat International Airport featuring a domestic and international terminal. Most domestic flights are operated by Vietnam Airlines who are the only airline currently providing direct flights from a number of destinations worldwide. The airport is located 6km from the city centre and the cost of a one-way taxi ride is around USD $15.
By RoadView on map
Saigon is connected to Hanoi in the north by Highway 1 which is a scenic tract of road that runs close to the coast and provides access to a number of destinations. Well-paved roads also connect Saigon with attractions further south including the larger towns in the Mekong Delta. One of the quickest and easiest ways to get around Saigon is by motorbike taxi, known locally as xe om.
Railway ServicesView on map
As well as the highway, Saigon is also connected to Hanoi by the Reunification Express railway. The journey takes 36 hours and spans a distance of 1,762km and although it's a scenic way to travel the length of the country, most visitors to Vietnam only use a portion of the railway. From Saigon it's primarily used to reach the coastal cities to the north.
By BoatView on map
Hydofoils operate regular services from Bach Dang jetty in Saigon to the popular beach escape of Vung. The journey takes around 75 minutes and is a scenic alternative to road transfers. Longer cruise routes generally start from My Tho or elsewhere in the Mekong Delta though there are a handful of cruise operators that embark in Saigon and sail to Phnom Penh or Siem Reap in Cambodia over the course of a week.
Best Time to Visit
The months between December and March are considered the best time to visit Saigon with blue skies and little rain. Temperatures are pleasantly cool until February when they start to rise but remain comfortable until April. You can still be lucky with the weather until May but come June the monsoon rains arrive and stay until October with August and September experiencing the worse rainfall.