Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam: Travel/Tourist Information Guide
Ho Chi Minh, which is also known as Saigon is the largest city in Vietnam. It used to be the capital of the Republic of Vietnam, but after the fall of Saigon it was replaced and renamed. However, the name Saigon is still used by the Vietnamese and foreigners, mostly to refer to the most central part of the city. The city lies along the Saigon River (Song Sai Gon) to the north of the Mekong River delta, about 50 miles (80 km) from the South China Sea.
Getting to and around Ho Chi Minh City / Saigon
Tan Son Nhat airport is about 8 km away from the city, so visitors can grab a taxi or get on a bus to the city. Keep in mind that the country requires you to have a valid visa for entry. Tourists can obtain a visa from the Vietnamese embassies around the world or they can get it on arrival. There are certain countries in the world whose citizens do not need to get a visa if they stay in Vietnam for a specific amount of time. Another way to get in Ho Chi Minh City is by bus. There are five bus stations in the city for international and intercity arrivals and departures. There are also private tour companies that transport tourists to Ho Chi Minh City from some of the other main cities around Vietnam. The last way to get in Ho Chi Minh City is by train. There is a train station just outside the city with five departures a day from and to Hanoi. The trains are safe and comfortable and the trips take about 30 to 35 hours.
Upon arrival at Ho Chi Minh City there are many ways to get around it. One way is by bicycle. It might be a little hard to find a bicycle to rent, but going around this big city by bike would be a great adventure. The next way to get around is by a motorbike. There are motorbike taxis available in Ho Chi Minh which are pretty cheap and safe. A really great choice to get around the city would be to hire a motorbike yourself. There are many places for renting a motorbike. It should be mentioned that the traffic in Ho Chi Minh City is almost always crowded, teeming with all sorts of transportation means- from horse carriages (addmitably- very rare nowadays) to modern buses and motorbikes. Ho Chi Minh City also has a public bus service which serves 150 routes throughout the city. The tickets are cheap and the buses are not really crowded. This means of transport is really efficient and fast. The most comfortable way to get around Ho Chi Minh City is by a taxi. The prices are modest. Flagging a taxi down is easy since there are a lot of taxis around the city. If you need a vehicle for the whole day you can hire a car with a driver at fair prices.
Brief history of Saigon / Ho Chi Minh City
The area now occupied by Ho Chi Minh City was for a long time part of the kingdom of Cambodia. The Vietnamese first gained entry to the region in the 17th century. In the 18th century French traders and missionaries settled in the area. In 1859 the town was captured by the French, and in 1862 it was ceded to France by the Vietnamese emperor Tu Duc. As the capital of Cochinchina, Saigon was transformed into a major port city and a metropolitan centre. Saigon was occupied by the Japanese in 1940, but French colonial authorities continued to administer Vietnam until 1945, when they were interned by the Japanese.
After the Japanese surrendered in 1945, the celebrations in Saigon turned into a riot. French troops seizing the city resulted in the outburst of the First Indochina War, also known as French Indochina War. The war ended in 1954 with a Geneva conference, which divided Vietnam into northern and southern zones. During the Second Indochina War (or Vietnam War) in the 1960s and early ’70s, Saigon was the headquarters of U.S. military operations. On April 30, 1975, North Vietnamese troops captured Saigon, and the city was renamed Ho Chi Minh City.
Ho Chi Minh City today
Ho Chi Minh City, or HCMC for short, is now unarguably Vietnam’s economical stronghold. The rapid economical and infrastructural growth is followed by the population increase of the same speed. Today, the city has around nine million residents in the wider metropolitan area and is estimated to grow to a 13,5 million in the next ten years. Each year, even during the recent global crisis, HCMC’s sales, trading, services and industrial revenues have a high growing trend.
Ho Chi Minh City is also witnessing a strong growth in touristic sector. In February alone, HCMC saw the arrival of an estimated 396,000 tourists, which represented a significant increase of about 10% compared to the same period the previous year. Agriculture is another area which shows signs of rapid growth, and which is expected to continue this trend in the future.
HCMC is definitely up and coming as an important and modern city in Southeast Asia. It is expected that this trend will make it even more appealing for foreign businesses and, of course, tourists.
Exploring Ho Chi Minh City
This city has a lot to offer to its visitors regardless of whether they prefer a relaxed, family, active, or business stay. Plenty of attractions await, from historic buildings and museums, to modern contents, such as amusement parks and tours around the city and its surroundings.
For instance, if a visitor wants to explore the Vietnam War, made largely popular the Hollywood, there are plenty of places, museums, and even tunnels dug out during the war as a hideout, to visit. The most popular are Cu Chi tunnels, more than 200 km long network of tunnels which even contain classrooms for children.
There are also museums in the city for those eager to explore the history of the city. The most important and famous ones are the War Remnants Museum, with many graphic photographs and American military equipment on display; The Museum of Vietnam's History, with exhibitions which include even a porcelain figures, sculptures and other Vietnamese handcrafts; Reunification Palace, also known as the Independence Palace, which is extremely important to all Vietnamese people because it symbolizes the end of the Vietnam War, which lead to the reunification of the country divided into North and South Vietnam; Fine Arts Museum, whose very building is a fascinating example of colonial architecture; and last, but not the least the Ho Chi Minh Museum, dedicated to the “father” or “uncle” (as some Vietnamese like to call him) of the modern Vietnam.
Naturally, Ho Chi Minh City does not live in the past, so there are many modern contents to explore in the city, such as Ben Thanh Market, Saigon Botanical Gardens and Zoo, Emperor Jade Pagoda, Mariamman Hindu Temple, Notre Dame Cathedral and many, many more. One should also put it on a must-do-list a visit to the tallest restaurant in the city, Alto Heli Bar, located on the 51st floor of the ultra-modern Bitexco Financial Tower, which rotates 360 degrees and thus provides a breathtaking view of the city.