or Saigon, situated in the southern of Vietnam, is still called Saigon by most of the natives. The modern city used to be considered as the Pearl of the Orient by the French. It is a brazen, industrious and dense metropolis, the largest city in Vietnam and the business capital of the country. With a population of five million, this city of Vietnam is crowded, noisy, yet it is also exciting and historic, the essence of the nation.
The wide Saigon River, which takes a huge turn from the east of Saigon, links the city with the sea. Unlike Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) may lack charm and elegance, but the city with its essential French colonial character has enough to draw your attention. The colonial villas, wide avenues and a lively cafe society in the city remind you the days of French dominance.
Over the last 10 years, Ho Chi Minh City has experienced a spectacular change in its cityscape. And today, this city has a cosmopolitan and energetic atmosphere. The once low-rise landscape of the city's central area, District 1, is now marked with shining skyscrapers including high-rise apartments, international hotels, luxurious restaurants and bars and companies. This bustling, vibrant, industrial hub of the nation is the biggest city of Vietnam as well. Saigon is also the cultural center and economic capital of the country.
The city is well connected with rest of the world through air routes and sea and thereby draws huge foreign funds in the fields like oil, gas, agriculture, textiles, and marine products. However tourism contributes a major part of the government's revenue. Visiting Ho Chi Minh City, the travelers have a chance to visit a lot of interesting places from historic sites to entertainment and shopping area.
The city with its teeming metropolis mingled with the elegance of ancient culture, gives you a microcosmic view of the entire nation.
Saigon attractions - Top 10 things to see in Ho Chi Minh City
Saigon may have a shorter history than the 1,000 years that Hanoi has already racked up, but the city has undergone such changes during the last two centuries that it has developed a unique character. Today’s visitor to Saigon can see atmospheric temples, churches and mosques that testify to the city’s religious diversity, and countless museums that recount the turbulent past of both the city and country. Negotiating the city’s traffic can be tiring, but there are pockets of green such as the botanical gardens where you can get away from the roar of engines.
Recommended Saigon attractions
Reunification Palace: Built in the 1960s for Ngo Dinh Diem, President of the Southern Vietnamese government, this palace was the last place to fall to the forces of the North in 1975. As such it has become the symbol of reunification for Vietnamese, and a major sight for tourists. All visitors are shown a brief video introduction to the palace, and are then led on guided tours of its rooms with retro furnishings. 106 Nguyen Du, (08) 3829 4117, open daily: 07:30-11:00 and 13:00 to 16:00, last admittance 15:30, fee 15,000D. More on the Reunification Palace.i
War Remnants Museum: There are literally hundreds of museums around Vietnam that recount ugly conflicts with the French and Americans, but none brings home the tragedy of war more effectively than this one. Rusting tanks and planes clutter the yard, while the news clippings inside unveil the horrors that visited this nation during the 20th century. Perhaps the most poignant exhibits are the deformed foetuses floating in preservative – the result of chemical defoliants like Agent Orange; you’ll need a strong stomach here. 28 Vo Van Tan, (08) 3930 5587, open daily 07:30 to 12:00 and 13:30 to 17:00, fee 15,000D.
Notre Dame Cathedral: This is one of Saigon’s most recognizable icons. Built by the French in the late 19th century, it dominates the city centre and attracts thousands of visitors each day. There’s nothing much to see inside except when services are being conducted, but the exterior is very striking, particularly the twin spires that soar heavenward. There is a statue of the Virgin Mary in a small garden in front of the cathedral, which some onlookers claim to have seen shed tears. Han Thuyen.
Ho Chi Minh City Museum: Lovers of colonial architecture are likely to go ga-ga over the grandiose building that houses the Ho Chi Minh City Museum. Built in 1886 for the governor of Cochinchina, it is a favourite backdrop these days for wedding pics, so don’t be surprised if you arrive to see a photo shoot in action. Inside, the lower floor is dedicated to ancient artefacts discovered in the region, while the upper floor focuses on the Vietnamese victories over the French and Americans. 65 Ly Tu Trong, (08) 3829 9741, open daily 08:00 to 17:00, fee 15,000D.
History Museum: Like the Ho Chi Minh City Museum, the History Museum is housed in a grand, colonial building though this one also shows Chinese influence. The complex history of the country is covered thoroughly in fifteen galleries, ranging from the Dong Son civilization of around 2,000BC to the present. Look out for the impressive collection of priceless Buddha images from all over Asia, including Angkor. Anyone enthralled by history could easily spend a day here, and there’s a small room which stages occasional water puppet shows as well. 2 Nguyen Binh Khiem, (08) 3829 8146, open Tues-Sun 08:00 to 11:00 and 13:30 to 16:30, fee 15,000D.
Lam Son Square: Situated at the junction of Dong Khoi and Le Loi, Lam Son Square sits squarely in the heart of downtown Saigon. In the centre of the square, surrounded by lanes of non-stop traffic, is the Municipal Theatre, aka the Opera House. Its classic domed front acts as a magnet for cameras, and occasional performances of classical drama and dance are held here. To the north of the theatre is the Continental Hotel, once a favourite hang-out for French colonialists, and to the south is the Caravelle Hotel, which was a base for many reporters during the American War. Junction of Dong Khoi and Le Loi. Open 24 hours.
Jade Emperor Pagoda: There are lots of ancient pagodas in Saigon where you can watch devout Buddhists making offerings of flowers and incense and muttering prayers. Perhaps the most atmospheric, and certainly the most visited by foreigners, is the Jade Emperor Pagoda in the northeast of the city. Before entering the temple, take a look at the pond to the right that is full of tortoises. Inside there are some fearsome and impressive statues of countless deities, and a constant fog of incense. A small balcony upstairs gives a good view of the roof and the neighbouring houses. Mai Thi Luu, open dawn to dusk, admission free.
Zoo and botanical gardens: Situated side by side in the northeast of the city (beside the History Museum), this large green area is very pleasant for a restful stroll and an escape from the relentless traffic on Saigon’s busy streets. The shady trees and beds of unusual plants attract visitors inside, and there’s also the option of entering the zoo, where elephants, crocodiles and monkeys will be waiting to greet you. 2 Nguyen Binh Khiem, (08) 3829 1425, open 07:00 to 21:00, admission 8,000D.
Cho Lon: Meaning ‘big market’, this is Saigon’s Chinatown, and like other Chinatowns worldwide, it’s a buzzing, congested scene of frantic commerce from dawn till dusk, especially in the main market, called Binh Tay. While it’s fascinating to just wander the streets and eye the endless range of products on sale, don’t miss Cho Lon’s atmospheric temples, such as the Thien Hau Pagoda on Nguyen Trai and the Quan Am Pagoda on Lao Tu. 3kms west of the city centre, open 24 hours.
De Tham: Saigon’s budget district, aka Pham Ngu Lao, has a different feel to the rest of the city, and it’s the only area where you’ll see more Westerners than Vietnamese. This is hardly surprising as the region is a one-stop centre for cheap accommodation, cheap food and cheap tours. Like Khao San Road in Bangkok, it’s now becoming a tourist destination in itself, as well-heeled travellers lodged in hotels on Dong Khoi take a trip here to see how the other half live. 1km west of the city centre, open 24 hours. For more on De Tham.
Ho Chi Minh City’s Street Food
Vietnam is very famous for its traditional cuisine. And when mentioning Vietnam, it is regret if you miss street food – the very typical feature in Vietnam’s cuisine culture. The street food in Vietnam is considered as some of the best in the world. The options are endless and the dishes are timeless. Even simply simplest fruit dish or baguette has a twist in this country. And, of course, being the center of Vietnam’s economic and cultural activity, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) is the best city in the country for you to try street food.
“Pho” is the closest thing Vietnam has to a national dish, originally from Hanoi; this broth and hearty noodle soup has become popular through the country. “Pho” mostly seems to be a favorite breakfast dish in Vietnam, so it is easy to find stalls serving “Pho’ in the street of Ho Chi Minh City at every time of the day, but they are frequently crowded. Other soups such as Bun Bo Hue, a rice noodle soup that is thicker than pho, are also popular among Saigon street food.
Small stalls serving sandwiches are also available all around Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Small carts serve up these cheap eats on virtually every street corner of the city. Sausage, pate, pickled vegetables and chilies are the best combination, though salted pork and even vegetarian options are quite good. Some of these stalls have specialties that only the local people know about. Sitting back and watching business for a few minutes, you may surprisingly discover these specialties.
Lunch in Ho Chi Minh City is the best time to find rice dishes. Many street stalls prepare their dishes and place them on shelves above the prep area of the cart. Diners only need to point to what they want and it will be served up over rice, so it maybe is very convenient for non-Vietnamese speaker to get what they want. Some of the best dishes are fried tuna steaks, tofu stuffed with vegetables or minced pork, barbecued pork chops, and stir-fried squid. Stir-fried or pickled vegetables are served as aside dish, as is a bowl of soup.
Late night chicken and rice stalls pop up, some cooking made to order. Also at night, try the drier squid. It is not nearly as pungent as it might seem. It is, in fact, the perfect accompaniment to a cool bottle of Tiger Beer.
The only real advice for visitors is to explore. Many of these street food stalls serve one dish. Think of eating a dish that a cook has had years to perfect. The dining experience can be quite amazing, even if you are eating while sitting on the sidewalk in a plastic chair that seems to have been designed for children.
Exploring Saigon’s street food is one of the most rewarding experiences visitors should try while traveling in Vietnam.
The nightlife in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) gained notoriety during the Vietnam War for its girly-bars but it has changed a lot thanks to the tourist boom to Vietnam in the recent years. Ho Chi Minh City's nightlife has grown and diversified considerably, and while not rivaling the range of entertainment of other Southeast Asian destinations, it's still guaranteed to do the job.
With everything from rooftop bars and lounges to pubs and nightclubs playing all the latest dance hits, travelers looking to let loose on a night out on the town will have plenty of options in this bustling city of Vietnam.
Easy to find a Rooftop Garden Bar for drinks where you can watch the sunset over the busy streets where the flicker of streetlights and neon begin to come to life. You then can head out to District 1 where the funky bars and fashionable clubs can be found, particularly on the streets around Dong Khoi and Hai Ba Trung. Travelers should also head to the Apocolypse Now bar and club, a popular spot for foreign experts and other westerners, where party participants can make use of the bar, dance floor pool tables and café.
Another must-go for a night of fun and singing in Ho Chi Minh City is The International Tourist Club disco and karaoke bar in the New World Hotel. And then travelers can head over to the The Metallic Bar on Ba Huyen Thanh Quan in District 3 for live gigs from local rock bands. Or to find something completely different, the travelers can stop at Bonsai Cruise on Nguyen Van Thu St. in District 1 which operates Saigon River dinner cruises, the perfect way to relax and spend a lazy evening. In the boat, the travelers can enjoy the wonderful sight of Saigon River at night; enjoy a sweet dinner in a very romantic environment.
Travelers should also note that many of bars and nightclubs in Ho Chi Minh City closed early due to the big city standards, around midnight or when the last guest leaves so anyone looking to keep going until the early hours of the morning will be sorely disappointed.
Shopping in Saigon: Travelers in Ho Chi Minh City will at first be overwhelmed with the amount of stalls and roadside vendors that cram the sidewalks and street corners. The city can be considered as a heaven for shoppers, offers a wide variety of items ranging from the colorful handicraft items to tacky tourist junk well within your budget. There are plenty of bargains to be found amongst the usual tourists tat and counterfeit handbags.
Best buys in Saigon – Ho Chi Minh City include silk clothing and other hand-woven fabrics, bamboo ware, ceramics and boxes and vases made from lacquer ware; while traditional Vietnamese hats can be found just about anywhere and tailor-made clothing is popular too.
Most of Ho Chi Minh City's shopping can be done from the local markets and street vendors where polite haggling is expected. The most famous market for shopping in Ho Chi Minh City is Ben Thanh market – where a lot of things are traded.
Shoppers looking for something a little more up market should head to Dong Khoi Street in District 1 where designer stores, boutiques, antique stores and jewelry stores abound while bargain hunters will also be pleased to know there is a duty-free store on Nguyen Hue Blvd in District 1 which specializes in duty-free items such as perfumes and colognes.
Most shops in Ho Chi Minh City are open daily from 8am to 8pm.
Tourism has become an important and established industry in Vietnam over the last decade and most visitors usually have a very enjoyable experience in their interactions with the Vietnamese people. That said, like any country Vietnam has a diverse population so it can pay to be informed about what you might expect from the local population when visiting their country.
Generally speaking, the Vietnamese people are very friendly and hospitable to foreign visitors. Around the major cities, the prevalence of tourism means that locals are well acquainted with travelers and will make you feel welcome. In the more remote and rural areas however, local people are not always accustomed to the sight of foreigners and may stare at you in harmless fascination. The best response is to always stay happy and smile or wave, and you will usually receive the same in return.
When purchasing goods outside of large department stores, bartering is an expected part of the transaction. Foreigners will generally be quoted a higher price than local people on the expectation that some haggling will occur. How much prices are reduced depends on how skilled you are at the process, however a reduction of at least around 10% can usually be expected.
Tipping is not usually expected, and can often be already factored into the price you are charged. However if you choose to tip, it will certainly be appreciated by staff working in low-paid employment.
The predominant religions are Buddhism, Christianity and Catholicism.
One aspect of traveling in Vietnam that can occasionally cause problems for visitors is the persistence of some street sellers, vendors or taxi drivers determined to make a sale. This can sometimes be interpreted as a personal indignity by visitors, however it is usually just a case of a trader trying to succeed in a very competitive market. If you are followed along a street or through a market by an unwanted seller, simply keep reiterating that you are not interested. Losing your temper is the worst thing you can do and will only leave you appearing arrogant and inconsiderate. Stay happy, be respectful and enjoy the experience for what it is.
Ho Chi Minh City is the largest city in Vietnam and informally referred to as Saigon. It is remarkable for the harmonious blending of traditional values with northern and western cultural features. Skyscrapers dot the city and everywhere are the signs of growing status cars, mobile phones, upscale cafes, fine dining and trendy nightlife. And yet the city still retains a uniquely Vietnamese feel with the hustle and bustle of the local markets, incessant horns and local vendors on every street corner.
Ho Chi Minh City (usually shortened to HCMC) was called Saigon in the past, and some people still call it Saigon today. It has become the cosmopolitan commercial and financial hub of Vietnam in recent years and is the most popular tourist destination in the country. HCMC is an eclectic mix of old and new, featuring elegant colonial architecture together with contemporary modern Asian and international structures. Some of the older tree-lined streets are reminiscent of European urban areas, while the steel and glass multi-storey buildings and office blocks present the modern face of the city. The city also boasts many fine restaurants and numerous sidewalk cafes that are popular with both locals and visitors alike.
In addition to the busy modern business and shopping districts, 300 year old HCMC has many historical sites to explore such as Giac Lam Pagoda, which was built in 1744, and Giac Vien Pagoda that was founded two centuries ago. Victorian era Notre Dame Cathedral, the most famous French colonial church in and around Saigon, is located in heart of the city along with many fine examples of architecture from that period. Cholon, or China town, and the famous central Ben Thanh market are also highlights of any visit to the city.
More recent history is evident in the Reunification Palace and the War Remnants Museum, as well as all the modern entertainments one expects to find in most big cities in the world.
Today, Saigon is the big tourism center as well as the commerce and financial hub, attracting a large number of business and leisure travel to Vietnam.
Saigon has various attractions such as the Opera House, Ben Thanh Market, the Notre Dame cathedral, the Reunification Palace, the China town, Cu Chi Tunnels, museums, theatres and cultural houses, shopping centers, etc... Recently, local tourist areas including Thanh Da, Binh Quoi Village, Dam Sen Park, Saigon Water Park, Suoi Tien, Ky Hoa also draw the interest of visitors. In addition, Saigon is a good starting point for excursions to the Mekong delta or nearby beaches of Phu Quoc, Phan Thiet (Mui Ne), Vung Tau, Long Hai.
Generally, the climate in Saigon is hot and humid with an annual average temperature of 27 Degree Celcious. There are two distinctive seasons: the rainy season (May to November) and the dry season (December to April next year). The hottest month is April and coolest is December. It is possible to visit Vietnam and Saigon in winter for the best weather, avoiding the monsoon (May to October). But be prepared for humid conditions throughout the year, especially in the south. The best month is January.
Vietnam has its fair share of pickpockets, especially in large cities like Saigon and Hanoi. Thus, always keep an eye on your valuables or better to leave them at hotel before going out. Sometimes while traveling, a desperate beggar or street vendor suddenly grabs your arm, then follow you to ask for money or sell their stuffs. Please do not offer money to them; instead donate to a local charity. For the traffic, when crossing the road, always keep looking to the left and right and walk slowly.
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