Hochiminh City: A Mosaic of Experiences - Your Insider's Guide to Vietnam's Dynamic Metropolis

Hochiminh City, still know to locals as Saigon, is the largest city and cosmopolitan metropolis in Vietnam. With an area of over 2,000 square kilometers, the city is located in the southeast of Vietnam and is surrounded by the Saigon River. It was the capital of French protectorate of Cochinchina (from 1862 to 1954) and of South Vietnam (from 1954 to 1975). On 30 April 1975, this city was renamed from Saigon to Ho Chi Minh city to celebrate the reunification of north and south at the end of the Vietnam War.

Compared to Hanoi, a thousand years of civilization, Ho Chi Minh is a young city, but it’s is the most dizzying city of commerce and culture in Vietnam. The city appears as a vibrant mix of old and new: a charming and morden city with the faded look of a European city with beautiful villas, shopping malls but it still retains many Western-style buildings or unique traditional markets that have existed for hundreds of years. Ho Chi Minh City is also a center for shopping and entertainment in Vietnam. Beside bars, theaters, cinemas, discos, music tearooms, the city has plenty of amusement parks such as Dam Sen park, Suoi Tien, Zoo, …

Even though being a bustling city, Ho Chi Minh city also offers a friendly face with well-paved, tree-lined boulevards. Therefore, this city always attracts millions of tourists to visit and explore each year.

Best time to visit Ho Chi Minh City

Like other places in tropical monsoon climatic region, Ho Chi Minh City has two main seasons: rainy and dry seasons. The temperature of the city ranges from 25 to 35 °C, vary very little.

The rainy season here lasts from May to November with very rapid rains. However, it's going to rain over half the time so the total rainfall in this season is relatively high.

The dry season continues from December to April next year. The weather will sometimes be hot and is flooded with sunshine but don't worry, Saigon still has enough places to play for you regardless of the weather.

Each season in Saigon has its own beauty and excitement, so you can travel to Saigon at any time of the year. The best time is the dry season, when the humidity is low, the weather is pleasant during the day and night. Especially during the period from January to February, coming here you can experience the Lunar New Year atmosphere in this city.

Visit Ho Chi Minh City

Attractive places in Ho Chi Minh City

War Remnants Museum

War Remnants Museum is one of the destinations you should not miss when traveling in Saigon. Located in District 3, Ho Chi Minh City, this is a great place to provide information on Vietnamese history, including the devastating effects of Agent Orange, the commonly used poison during the war. The museum has been open to visitors since 1975 as a reminder of the brutal long war in Vietnam.

Cu Chi Tunnels

30 kilometers from the center of Ho Chi Minh city, Cu Chi Tunnels were built by the Vietcong and used as operational headquarters to evade detection as they moved troops and supplies throughout Saigon’s northern districts. Visiting Cu Chi Tunnels, you will witness a large network of connecting tunnels dubbed as "the underground city" with lot of rooms, clinics, kitchens, warehouses, working rooms, etc. This system played a decisive role in Viet’nam resistance resistance to American forces.

The Independence Place

The Independence Palace, also known as the Reunification Palace, built by the French is one of the top sights in South Vietnam after April 1975. With its unique architecture and historical significance, the Independence Palace is considered a symbol of peace and integrity and is also the most attractive tourist attraction in Ho Chi Minh City.

Central Post Office

It’s the largest post office in Vietnam that attracts many tourists when travelling in Ho Chi Minh city. Located in Paris Square, the center of Ho Chi Minh city, you will easily see the building charming colonial architecture and ornate decorations. This site was built by the French in the years 1886–1891 with the important role in days before email and mobile phones. Now it is a beautiful remnant of Vietnam’s complicated past.

Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral

Located next to the Central Post Office, Notre Dame Cathedral in Saigon is one of the few remaining Catholic strongholds in Vietnam built in the late 1880s by the French colonialists. If you visit the Cathedral, you can visit the Central Post Office to learn and better imagine life in Vietnam during the Indochina Empire.

Saigon Opera House

Saigon Opera House was built by a French architect in 1897 is one of the works attracting visitors in Saigon. Surrounded by a spacious avenue with many green trees, from a distance, this building looks like a beautiful giant gate. Now it is only open to the public when an event takes place. It’s great opportunities for you sightseeing and take beautiful photos with this impressive sight, both night and day.

Ba Thien Hau Temple

Ba Thien Hau temple is one of the Buddhist temple you should not miss in Saigon. Located at 710 Nguyen Trai, District 5, Saigon, the temple was built in Chinese style to worship Ms. Thien Hau, who is known as the sea goddess of China, always protecting people and rescuing ships. The temple is beautifully decorated with intricate carvings, especially every small corner of the temple has something to explore.

Ben Thanh market

Ben Thanh Market

Located at the intersection of Le Loi, Ham Nghi, Tan Hung, and Le Lai streets, Ben Thanh market is a famous one in Saigon. This is a market that has economic, historical, Vietnamese community culture and architectural value. The market was built in 1912 with 3000 small trading booths. You come here to find authentic Vietnamese souvenirs and goods and learn about the life of local people.

Saigon Walking Streets (Nguyen Hue and Bui Vien)

Saigon walking streets are considered as the cultural symbol, and indispensable part of Vietnamese life in Saigon. Coming to Nguyen Hue walking street, you will see a street with modern and complete facilities and technology. You can participate in art cultural events, exhibitions,... For those who wish to admire the peace, you can choose to walk around the corners in the street and listen some traditional music or enjoy some special cuisines.

Bui Vien walking street creates other opportunities to experience the little different sides of Ho Chi Minh city compared with Nguyen Hue walking street. It’s considered as more active street than Nguyen Hue, the cultural exchange activities are organized such as festivals, parades, music experience street music ethnic, modern music and so on performed by the artists, actors of the city, and even foreigners.

Bitexco Financial Tower

Bitexco Financial Tower is the highest building in Vietnam that is built with shape like a lotus bud. The building stands at the heart of Ho Chi Minh City Center, about 5-10 minutes walking from Ben Thanh market. Come here, you can get to the Saigon Skydeck on the 49th floor with a 360-degree view, go shoppings, or have a coffee on the high floor. If you are looking for entertainment place for your family, the entertainment areas at Bitexco Financial Tower is a great choice because this place serves a wide range of delicious food and quality cinemas.

Besides these top attractions in Ho Chi Minh city, there are many places you can refer such as: Dam Sen water park and Dam Sen cultural park next door, FITO museum, Museum of Vietnam history, Artnus 3D Art museum, …

Travel to Ho Chi Minh City

Interesting activities in Ho Chi Minh City

Explore Ho Chi Minh city on cyclo

One of the interesting things to do in Saigon is taking a cyclo to explore the streets. This activity will give you insight into the city with pictures of the daily lives of locals, great street food and colorful street shops. You can immerse yourself in the rich culture and sights of Ho Chi Minh or it’s simple to feel the hustle and bustle of street vendors.

Cyclo normally does trip around the historical sites of Saigon such as War Remnants Museum, the Reunification Palace, walk down to see Notre Dame Cathedral and the General Post Office, roam around Ben Thanh market, etc and it can be longer than that.

Shopping in HCMC

When traveling to Ho Chi Minh City, you can find many shops and malls, but if you want to combine to discover the local culture, you should go to the markets around the city. There are 3 main markets in Ho Chi Minh: Ben Thanh, Cho Lon (Great market or Binh Tay market) and An Dong market.

At these markets, you can see the fresh products, Vietnamese coffee or delicious street food. In addition, they also sell a plenty of items for affordable prices such ceramics, lacquerware, handwoven fabrics, silk, war memorabilia, and woodwork, … It’s easily for you to choose a gift for your family and friends.

In case you are a shopaholic, there are other markets & shopping centers that will delight you such as: Saigon Square - a heaven for shoppers found in the heart of the city like a fancy version of the local market, Vincom center with high quality or luxury products, Diamond Plaza, Parkson Plaza Department store,… If you’re seeking a mixture of modern and local shopping in Vietnam, Saigon is an ideal place.

Food adventure by scooter

Ho Chi Minh City is considered one of the famous culinary places of Southeast Asia. This is also home to the best of Vietnam's delicious regional cuisines including the south, the north and the centre with a vibrant street food scene, and some amazing international dishes.

Therefore, having a food adventure in Saigon is one thing that can not miss on your trip. Especially, food adventure by scooter will be a exicting and memorable experience for tourists and food lovers. It’s better that you should have a Vietnamese guide and on the back of scooter. The guide will have get a better understanding about traffic in the city as well as many beautiful roads with of the local culture, and your trip will be safer. This is an interesting way to see its undiscovered beauties, meet fascinating local people and see their real local life. You can have a food adventure by scooter on day or night. However, the night atmosphere is more ideal because of the cool weather and bustling activities of the streets.

Read more: First Vietnamese "Banh Mi" Festival to Take Place in HCM City

Enjoy the energetic nightlife

Ho Chi Minh city is a non-sleeping city, it’s becomes more and more splendid and elegant with twinkle street lights and traffic lines. The city often comes alive in the evenings. There are so many clubs and bars in Ho Chi Minh City that are suitable many tourists to visit. While youngers will love Nightclubs, older generations of both locals and foreigners may prefer Acoustic bars. Trying a cocktail or coffee at rooftop the city’s most famous hotels, the Rex, Caravelle, Majestic or Renaissance, where you can find colorful history and impressive view from there is a great choice.

Saigon night markets with their own character and street food stalls become popular places for tourists when the sun goes down. That is a place where you can meet and gather outside, share a meal or a drink under the stars.

Coming to Pham Ngu Lao street, dubbed as the backpacker hub of the city, you can enjoy a beer on small plastic stools. Or special thing you can try is having a dinner cruise on Saigon River. With incredible Saigon view, inspired cuisine and lively entertainment, an evening on the cruise along Saigon river is a such interesting and unforgettable experience!

Get Saigon amazing view from above

The streets of Saigon are busy, but it may be very amazing to see from above. If you are looking for a place to get the incredible of the city, you can refer some following places. Firstly, standing taller than any other building in Ho Chi Minh City, and towering to the sky, known as Bitexco Financial Tower. There are two choices for visiting Bitexco Financial Tower for a chance to see the view of Ho Chi Minh city: Saigon Skydeck, located on the 49th floor, has free binoculars for visitors and Eon Cafe, located on the 50th floor, and not connected to the Saigon Skydeck. You can enjoy the view while sipping your coffee drip by drip.

In addition, you can choose one of famous rooftop bars in the city: Rex hotel rooptop bar, is only located on the 5th floor, but the views of the People’s Committee Hall and Saigon Opera House are marvelous or Chill Skybar, located on the 25th floor of the AB tower.

Amazing view of Saigon

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Saigon Specialities

Due to the variety of culture, culinary style in Saigon is quite diverse. Ho Chi Minh City offers an amazing choice of both traditional food and mordern, innovative concepts with typical dishes as below:

Com Tam (Broken rice)

In Vietnam, cơm refers to cooked rice and Tam refers to the broken rice. Com Tam Sai gon is one popular dish that usually served with fried egg, diced green onions, and a variety of porks such as barbecued pork chop, shredded pork skin and steamed pork and egg patty. It’s enjoyed with a side of pickled vegetables, cucumber slices, and nuoc cham Vietnamese dipping sauce. Now Com Tam is one of 10 Vietnamese dishes recognized by the Asia Record Organisation for their important culinary value to the international community.

Goi Cuon (Vietnamese Spring Rolls)

Goi cuon or Vietnamese spring rolls is a delicious dish which is popular in different regions, especially in Ho Chi Minh City and other provinces in the South. Visiting Ho Chi Minh City, you can enjoy this dish at both luxury restaurants and common stalls on streets or from vendors.

The main ingredients for making Goi cuon include rice vermicelli noodles, pork slices, shrimp, herbs, basil and lettuce. All these ingredients will be tightly wrapped in translucent banh trang (rice papers). The rice paper is made from rice flour mixed with tapioca starch that helps the rice paper avoid breaking when rolling. The dish can be served with sweet-sour sauce, dipping sauce or chili sauce.

Banh Xeo (Crispy Pancake)

Banh xeo is a savoury pancake made of rice flour, coconut milk, and turmeric, stuffed with ingredients such as pork slices, shrimps, sliced onions, bean sprouts, and ultimately, garnished fresh herbs. If you used to visit Nha Trang or Hanoi, you can find this dish. However, banh xeo in Ho Chi Minh is much smaller in portion as it is usually eaten as a snack or appetiser. The best way to enjoy banh xeo is by wrapping it in lettuce leaves or rice wrappers, together with herbs then dip it in a sweet and sour fish sauce.

Hu Tieu (Rice Noodles)

If Pho is the typical dish of Hanoi, Hu Tieu is the typical dish of Ho Chi Minh city. It's a Vietnamese noodle soup including special broth, rice noodles, a few herbs, meat, eggs, and shrimp. Hu Tieu is made from rice flour, the famous kind of rice in the Mekong Delta. And it’s eaten as a breakfast dish or as the main meal. It may be served with one of two ways: a soup or a salad.

Ca Kho To (Caramelised Fish in Clay Pot)

Ca kho to is a Vietnamese dish of catfish that braised in a clay pot. The fish is mostly prepared by cutting a whole catfish into fillets. Then it’s braised in a thick gravy made with a combination of soy sauce and oil, fish sauce, sugar, shallots, garlic, and various spices. The smell is sweet and salty, almost like roasting caramel, but with a noticeable scent of onions and garlic. Ca kho to is usually enjoyed with a plate of white rice because of its sweet and salty flavour.

Saigon Coffee

As you know, Vietnam is one of the largest coffee bean producing countries in the world. In Saigon, coffee is considered culinary culture of local people because it is only known that Saigon coffee has a strong attachment to people every day and has gradually become an indispensable part of Saigon people’s loves. People here can enjoy this kind of simple drink at all times of the day. Saigon coffee is special as it’s usually enjoyed with iced and with a lot of condensed milk. Normally, people go to the coffee shop not only for drinking coffee but also for relaxing, meeting friends or just simply watch the crowded street or even together watch and shout for a football match. It seems that all are completely out of the usual rhythm of busy life. Let’s enjoy the real coffee in the real atmosphere of Saigon when you have a chance to visit here!

Trip to Mekong Delta

Side trips from Ho Chi Minh City

Most tourists come to Saigon only in the center 1-2 days to relax and have city tour and visit Cu Chi tunnels. The next days, they will depart from Saigon to visit nearby attractions.

Mekong Delta

A few hours outside of Ho Chi Minh City, the Mekong Delta is a vast maze of rivers, stilt houses, and rice paddies. Scattered within the giant Delta are plenty of things to see that give you amazing insight into what life may be like in the Vietnamese countryside. This sights will give you an entirely different perspective from the busy streets of Saigon. You can spend 1 day to Mekong Delta with one of places: My Tho, Cai Be, Ben Tre, Vinh Long or 2-3 days for Can Tho, Chau Doc. The itinerary is flexible, depending on your time.

Can Gio mangrove biosphere reserve

Can Gio mangrove biosphere reserve is a wetland located 40 km southeast of Ho Chi Minh City, listed the biosphere reserve by UNESCO. It’s great destination for those who would like some fresh exotic nature outside of bustling Saigon. You can see the monkeys, gibbons, crocodiles and other tropical forest life. Besides you can explore local life along the river at a nearby fishing hamlet and see why the fertile Mekong Delta region has enchanted centuries of travelers with its captivating colors, sounds and aromas. With the leafy palms and fresh air, this wetland enchants visitors.

How to go to Ho Chi Minh City?

By air

Tan Son Nhat is the busiest international airport in Vietnam and it’s also one of the largest in Southeast Asia. The cheapest international flights to Vietnam most often arrive in Ho Chi Minh city, the city serves as Vietnam's travel heart. This is the country’s international gateway, with direct flights from Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Australia.

For domestic flights, if you are in a city that has an airport, many chances are there’s a flight to Ho Chi Minh city. In addition, it’s only 8 kilometers from the tan Son Nhat airport to the center of the city. Therefore, travelling to Ho Chi Minh city by air is the fastest and best convinient way.

By train

If you are in another big city in Vietnam such as: Hanoi, Hue, Danang, Nha Trang… you can arrive in Ho Chi Minh city by train. Ho Chi Minh City is the southern terminus of the Reunification Express, the station is called Ga Saigon (Saigon station). It's a long time to spend on a train, however if you have free time and wish to experience the train in Vietnam, you will arrive well rested and can enjoy the views of the countryside from the train along the way.

Hope that the experiences of Travel Authentic Asia about travelling in Saigon will help your smooth trip in the next time. Have a great trip!

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