Affectionately called its old name Saigon by the locals, Ho Chi Minh City is a bustling metropolis with colonial buildings that earn it the title “Paris of the East”. Timeless traditions and the ingenuity of the Vietnamese come to the fore in the country’s largest city, where the motorcycle is the king of the road and everyone enjoys coffee on low stools by the roadside.
Best of Ho Chi Minh City
1. Reunification Palace
Little has changed since the Fall of Saigon took place here in 1975, when North Vietnamese forces broke through the gates of South Vietnam’s presidential palace, ending the Vietnam War.
2. City Hall
The Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee Hall, based on the Parisian original, is a working city hall closed to the public. But that hasn’t kept it from becoming a permanent fixture on must-see lists in Saigon as a favourite photo spot.
3. War Remnants Museum
The wounds of division may have healed, but the Vietnam War’s lasting effects are palpable through the museum’s collection of artefacts, exhibits and photographs.
4. Ho Chi Minh Museum
Who is Ho? The revered leader’s life and his struggle for national unity are depicted in this museum dedicated to the Democratic Republic of Vietnam’s first president.
5. Cu Chi Tunnels
Believe it or not, this labyrinthine tunnel network was used as a shelter, hospital, weapons cache and supply route during the Vietnam War. Not for claustrophobics!
6. Notre Dame Cathedral
The red bricks of this 19th century basilica, the main sanctuary for Saigon’s Catholic congregation, were shipped one by one from France. There are no hunchbacks here, but the rose window, spires and sombre interiors make it worth your time when partnered with the Central Post Office next door.
7. Mekong Delta
Before it meets the sea, the mighty mother Mekong River meanders over 4,000 kilometres, creating a rich delta of islands with their own ecosystems and towns served by floating markets. Take a boat ride through the shady palms, taste local fruits while listening to traditional music and hop from coconut candy vendors to honey sellers for the complete experience.
8. Cao Dai Holy See
The main temple of the Cao Dai faith, built on the belief that the different monotheistic religions worship the same God, was constructed between 1933 and 1955. The ornate building borrows elements from Buddhism, Taoism and Christianity, creating a place of worship that is colourful and awe-inspiring.
9. Ben Thanh Market
No one leaves this shopping mecca empty-handed. Frequented by tourists for its exciting range of souvenirs and mementos, this bargain spot is a landmark all its own.
10. Banh Mi
The French influence comes out with every bite of this Saigon favourite—bread with a crunchy crust and soft centre, filled with meat and fresh vegetables. The addition of pate, pickled radish and cilantro make it the ultimate East-West fusion sandwich.
11. Iced Coffee
Any day in Saigon is great for dark roast coffee brewed in a drip filter and mixed with condensed milk and ice cubes. Bittersweet can be surprisingly refreshing.