Top things to do in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam: Travel/Tourist Information Guide
Being an ex Vietnamese capital, it is clear that there are many things that a tourist can do in Ho Chi Minh City. The city is filled with anything that tourists would want it to: parks, museums, historical and religious sites and many more things. All of the places are worth visiting, and visitors should not be disappointed by the thighs they shall see and visits in Ho Chi Minh City.
Museums in Ho Chi Minh City
The War Remnants Museum- To save the heroic remnants of the Vietnamese people in the struggle against the invading forces, and to denounce the crimes and highlight the devastating consequences of the war of aggression, on September 4, 1975, The Gallery of American crime - Wei was opened for public. Afterwards, the American Crime Gallery - Wei was renamed to the War Crimes of Aggression Gallery on October 11, 1990, before becoming the War Remnants Museum in 1995. The museum stores more than 20,000 documents, exhibits and films, in which more than 1,500 documents, artifacts, and films have been applied to introduce eight thematic exhibitions. In 35 years, the Museum has welcomed over 15 million visitors. Currently with about 500,000 visitors each year, the War Remnants Museum is among the most visited institutions in Vietnam.
The Museum of Vietnam's History- Located inside the gates of the HCMC Zoo/Botanical Gardens, Le Duan, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City charts the country's history from prehistoric times and 10,000 year old artifacts to the wars with China and the numerous dynasties that have shaped the development of the Vietnamese nation over time. There are some examples of sculptures and arts from the Cham and Oc Eo civilizations, statues of Buddha’s from across the region, collections of porcelain and art from various historical periods and even a mummy found preserved in Saigon. The narratives on the walls throughout the museum also go some way to helping the visitor understand the many periods of Vietnamese history.
Reunification Palace – this building made its name in global history when in 1975 a tank belonging to the North Vietnamese Army crashed through its main gate – thus signifying the end of the Vietnam War. Surrounded by lush tropical gardens, the palace hides secret rooms, antique furniture and a command bunker within its eerie corridors. It is a five-story building with the basement housing a warren of tunnels, a war room and telecommunications centre. The war command room still has maps on its walls and period telecommunications equipment on display, whilst adjoining basement rooms feature war propaganda materials. Other areas of interest are the third floor featuring a card playing room, a fourth floor which once had a casino and was used for entertaining guests and a rooftop terrace with a heliport. The Reunification Palace is open from 07:30-12:00 then 13:00-16:00.
Ho Chi Minh City Fine Arts Museum- Housed in a beautiful old building from the colonial era, the Fine Arts Museum has an interesting collection of works from both contemporary and traditional artists, as well as a fascinating collection of statues and artifacts dating back as far as the first century AD on the 3rd floor. It is located in Duc Chinh Street, District 1.
The Ho Chi Minh Museum- situated at 1 Nguyen Tat Thanh, District 4, over a bridge from the downtown areas of Nguyen Hue and Dong Khoi ,on the banks of the river, this is a museum devoted to Ho Chi Minh. Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is an important historical attraction of Hanoi, known for honoring the national hero: President Ho Chi Minh. It is popularly known among Vietnamese as Uncles’ Mausoleum, for the intimate and familiar atmosphere Ho Chi Minh always created. Built over 2 years from 1973 to 1975, the Mausoleum is also a lively illustrator of national unity.
Saigon, once known as “The Pearl of the East” is a city still rich with parks and other greenery, serving as lungs to this rapidly growing city. Some of the biggest and most visited are listed here.
Tao Dan Park- Tao Dan Park is a vast space in the city centre, featuring century-old African mahogany trees which cast a shadow over this park. The Park also displays some arts and culture-for example, there’s an interesting sculpture garden to the east, a miniature re-creation of a red brick Cham temple at the centre, and a shrine to the Hung Kings, legendary founding royal dynasty of the nation.
Hoang Van Thụ Park – considered an oasis of calm, cool, and quiet in the midst of a tide of traffic and a cloud of exhaust. A great variety of flora is on display here: screw pines, traveler’s palms, coral trees, casuarinas, tamarind, sago palms, copperpods, bamboo, heliconia, African mahogany, and bougainvillea to name a few.
Ho Van Nguyet Park, a.k.a. Crescent Park- it is pretty popular between couples. It is located right next to the Crescent Mall which makes it a perfect rest after a day of shopping. There isn't much shade in this park, but it is fairly popular and good for wedding photos. At night, there are people walking through this park, especially couples, who enjoy the peace and quiet of the Crescent Park.
Saigon Botanical Gardens and Zoo- one of the oldest of its kind in the world. Opened in 1865 in the early years of the French colonial period, the gardens were created by Jean-Baptiste Louis-Pierre, who is also responsible for many of Saigon’s other green spaces. Louis-Pierre is commemorated by a sculpted bust at the gardens’ entrance. The Zoo features Elephants, giraffes, rhinoceros, tigers, primates, peacocks, porcupines, and many other animal species. It is well worth its entrance fee of 50,000 VND per adult ($2.5).
Gia Dinh Park- Splaying out on either side of Hoang Minh Giam Street, the park’s regimented rows of tall trees – over 700 in total – stand like Doric columns supporting a roof of leaves. Even though a portion of this park has recently been bulldozed for a new airport road, there’s still a large area to explore. Once considered the perfect site for Saigon’s first golf course, in the 1950s, it’s now seen by many as the lungs of the city.
Free activities and landmarks
Ben Thanh Market in District 1 - a great place to buy local handicrafts, branded goods, Vietnamese art and other souvenirs. Here, tourists can experience eating stalls inside the market where they can get a taste of hawker-style Vietnamese cuisine or simply cool off with a cold drink when the bargaining becomes too much. When night falls, restaurants around the perimeter of the market open their doors creating a vibrant street side scene filling the air with the scents of wok-fried noodles, barbecued fish and meats. Tourists should visit Ben Thanh Market in the evening where they can be served some real street style local food at one of the 20 or so eateries that surround the market building. Chefs will cook in front of guests with an endless array of cuisine choices including vegetarian noodles, fresh seafood, crispy rice pancakes and steamed cakes. In the morning, clothes, textiles, luggage, watches and an assortment of electronic goods can be bargained pretty successfully. Spices, nuts and local fruits heavily scent the air which is also filled with the chatter of tourists and locals haggling for bargains. Opening hours are every day from 06:00 to 00:00.
Emperor Jade Pagoda- also known as Tortoise Pagoda, it is one of the five most important shrines in Ho Chi Minh City. Built at the turn of the 20th Century by a community of Cantonese who migrated from Guangzhou province in Southwest China, this pagoda is a fine representation of Mahayanist branch of Buddhism that is practiced widely in Vietnam. In the main hall, the Emperor Jade Chua Ngoc Hoang or the 'God of the Heavens' reigns supreme. Aided by two assistants, the Emperor decides who can enter this higher realm. In a different hall, the goddess of fertility Kim Hua, surrounded by figures of women and small children, blesses childless couples who pray for an offspring here. The goddess of mercy Kuan Yin, who forms a very important part of any Taoist temple, has an altar in a room on the top floor. Opening hours are from 08:00 to 17:00, and there is no entrance fee, but it is highly recommended to donate some amount to the temple.
Mariamman Hindu Temple- Situated close to the Ben Thanh market, the Mariamman Hindu temple serves the small community of 100 or so Chinese and Vietnamese Tamil Hindus living in Ho Chi Minh City. It is the only Hindu temple that is still open in the city and is considered sacred by Hindu and non-Hindu Vietnamese. The temple is rumored to have miraculous powers giving luck and wealth to those who worship within its walls. Merchants visiting Vietnam from Tamil Nadu first built the Mariamman Hindu Temple, bringing divine beings such as Ganesh, Amman and Murgua to the streets of Saigon. Sacred images dance on the external walls which feature a royal tower at the entrance that stands 12 meters high. Gods and Goddesses including Shiva, Kali, Brahma and Vishnu are prominently represented with Simha Vahanam sitting to the left of the entrance. The temple is open every day from 07:00 until 19:00.
Notre Dame Cathedral- Built in the late 1880s by French colonists, it was formerly called Saigon Church. The name Notre Dame was given after the installation of the statue ‘Peaceful Notre Dame’ in 1959. In 1962, the Vatican conferred the Cathedral status as a basilica and gave it the official name of Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica. It is the only remaining stronghold of Catholicism in the largely Buddhist Vietnam. Made from red bricks imported from France, the neo-Romanesque structure is 60 meters tall and has two towers containing six bronze bells. In front of the Cathedral stands a statue of the Virgin Mary, made in Rome from Italian marble, which was reputed to have shed tears in 2005. Masses are held every Sunday.
Tours in and around Ho Chi Minh City
Cu Chi Tunnels Experience Tour- It is a must see attraction left over from the Vietnamese War. Cu Chi Tunnels (70 km northwest of Ho Chi Minh City), is an amazing complex of underground tunnels used during the Vietnam War. There more than 200 km of tunnels, comprised of a main axis system with many branches connecting to underground hideouts, shelters and other tunnels.
Bonsai Dinner Cruise- Cruising aboard a traditional wooden barge along the Saigon River, during which guests are dining on an extensive selection of Asian and Western cuisine, enjoying a mix of live western jazz, classical and traditional Vietnamese music as well as a dance performance.
There are numerous tours around the city, almost all of them including visits to the aforementioned sights and landmarks, and the prices vary a lot, depending on the operator, time of year, duration of the tour, etc. It is recommended to book the tour at one of the official agencies before getting to Ho Chi Minh City, to avoid overpaying and last minute hustles.