Ho Chi Minh, also known as Saigon, is a city like no other. Think NYC but like ten times busier and with SO many motorbikes. Luckily, Ho Chi Minh wasn’t our first experience with this level of crazy traffic and by now we had learnt just to walk in to traffic and survive to tell the tale. There is so much to keep you occupied in Ho Chi Minh, especially in District 10, but these were our favourites from our week in the largest city in Vietnam.
Chu Chi Tunnels
The Chu Chi tunnels is probably one of the most popular day trips in Ho Chi Minh if not in Vietnam. We’ve all seen the photos of people climbing in to the tight tunnel entrances and the horrifying hidden traps used against American troops – This is where these traps are!! So of course we wanted to check it out. We booked this as a last minute trip online and headed to the tunnels the day after booking (although they were an hour late picking us up!). It was SO interesting to see the expanse forest where some of the tunnels were located.
We were able to take photos of people lowering themselves in and out of a tiny tunnel entrance before crawling through an underground fighting tunnel that had been recreated and made wider for tourist use. Even then it was pretty tight. We were also shown the huts and different sections of the tunnel village where the villagers would live in, such as a medical hut, sewing hut and a bomb hut where they would dismantle un-exploded bombs by hand to be able to re-use them (CRAZY RIGHT?!). We also learnt on this day that there are actually multiple sites that still have these fighting tunnels but the Chu Chi site is the only one that has been swept and cleared of landmines and is safe for tourists to visit!
A couple of comments that we have about the Chu Chi tunnels are that we felt rushed around the site because of how many groups were visiting and we really didn’t understand why there was a shooting range at the end of the tour. We had to wait at the shooting range for 20 mins while some of our group went to shoot guns. It felt inappropriate to hear and see people shooting these guns in the same place where so many people had already lost their lives to violence.
Vietnam War Museum
The Vietnam War museum really had an impact on us. Growing up in the UK we knew of the Vietnam War but never really learnt about it at school as it is not part of British history. This museum really opened our eyes to the horrors that took place during the war and the horrific tactics that were used by American and French sides in order to try and take the North of Vietnam from the control of its Communist government. It’s definitely worth visiting to learn the history of the Vietnamese people. There are many rooms where there are disturbing images of how the dropping napalm and bombs has effected the lives of so many generations which could be too much for some people to see. We would go as far to say that this one of the most important places we visited in Ho Chi Minh, in terms of putting the Vietnamese War into perspective.
The Independence Palace is around the corner from the War Museum so both can be done in one day. The Independence Palace is where the war finally ended with the troops from Northern Vietnam storming the Palace, regaining power in the south. Walking through the palace it is like you have been thrown back in time. The interiors are very vintage and make you feel as though you have been thrown back to the 70’s and the bunker looks like it could fit into a Wes Anderson movie. It really was quite poignant to end our day at the building where the war ended. We highly recommend visiting the War Museum before heading here so that you get the historical context of the palace within the timeline of the war!
Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon
Unfortunately when we visited the church it was under construction, meaning that we couldn’t go inside as it was only open for worshippers. Although, the church is mighty pretty and has some amazing sculpture out front so grab a picture while you are there. It is also VERY close to our next spot…
National Post Office
Literally over the road from Notre Dame, the National Post Office – a yellow French colonial building- is pretty impressive from outside and very hard to miss. Crowds gather to see the building and take their own pictures of this beautiful building. Outside there were also groups of Vietnamese students wanting to speak to foreigners to practice their English, which we were more than happy to do. The inside of the National Post Office is pretty impressive. It still has all the original wooden and glass stations and a painted map of Vietnam on the wall. Did we mention you can send postcards from here too?
Mariamman Hindu Temple
We stumbled upon this temple while exploring the city. Located not to far from the backpacker district it’s pretty easy to walk to. The exterior of the temple is so colourful and is covered with small statues of Hindu Gods. It really stands out as a building in Ho Ch Minh in contrast to all the modern high rises. It was also the first Hindu temple that we had seen in Vietnam, so it was nice to see how the appearance differed from the many Buddhist temples we had already seen. We aren’t sure if you are allowed inside this temple as we only admired it from the outside, but there wasn’t a sign to discourage you from doing so!
Bitexco Sky Deck
Located in the Bitexco Financial Tower you get an amazing view of Ho Chi Minh and a better perspective of how large the city is. We stayed up there for a good hour or so just watching the traffic below and wandering round to get a 360 view of the city. Being up on the Bitexco Sky Deck really puts into perspective how many people live in this city. We honestly couldn’t see the end of the high-rise buildings. It was one of our favourite spots in the city – keep in mind however that it is a little more pricey than your average sight-seeing activity.
Ben Thanh Market
If you are in Ho Chi Minh you can’t miss Ben Thanh Market. It is one of the oldest surviving structures in Saigon and holds everything! Food, clothes, chopsticks, street food, flowers, etc. if you are looking for something specific I bet you will find it here. It is an experience to say the least, what with hundreds of sellers all vying for your attention to buy their items rather than their neighbours. All the senses are enhanced in here as there is so much to hear, see and smell (which isn’t always a good thing – durian!!) and you could honestly spend hours really searching for a good bargain in here.
Street Food Market
We knew the Vietnamese were well known for their street food and by the time we reached Ho Chi Minh we had sampled our weights worth of street food from all around Vietnam. However, after wandering around one night trying to find somewhere to eat we came across the Ben Thanh Street Food Market which is a vibrant mix of traditional Vietnamese food and western delights. Yes, this may be a little ‘tourist trap’ but we loved the idea of having a hall where a dozen street food sellers could come together and have visitors sit along benches, mingling with each other and enjoying great food! It was similar to Paper Island in Copenhagen, only a lot smaller.
Is there anything else we should have seen in Ho Chi Minh?