Considering as the Pearl of the Far East, Ho Chi Minh City (known as Saigon) with more than 300 years of developments has presented many ancient architectural constructions, famous vestiges and renowned sights. Its specific culture is harmonious lending of traditional values with northern and western cultural features. Ho Chi Minh City is trade, industrial, scientific, technical, cultural center and especially as one of the largest tourist centers in Vietnam.
Best time to visit?
Ho Chi Minh City has a tropical monsoon climate – it’s very much a typical steaming hot Southeast Asian metropolis where you can expect it to be either hot and dry or hot and wet. Regardless of the time of year, you’ll never need more than one layer of clothing in this southeastern Vietnam city.
Ho Chi Minh City has two distinct seasons, the northeast monsoon months from November to April and the rainy southwest monsoon months of May through October. Humidity levels average 75% throughout the year but are higher during the rainy season.
The best time to visit Ho Chi Minh City is during the drier months of December to March, when temperatures range between 21°C and 34°C. Many like to visit during the Tet Festival (Vietnamese New Year) in late January or early February. The whole country joins in the festivities and it’s a colorful spectacle, but prices are higher and getting around may be difficult due to the large numbers of people travelling.
May to September sees frequent showers with monthly rainfall levels of 200 to 300mm during this period. The rains tend to come in short bursts, so it’s possible to still enjoy sunny days during these wet summer months. Just be sure to bring an umbrella to avoid being caught out! The peak period for typhoons to hit Ho Chi Minh City is from July to November.
Tan Son Nhat International Airport is 8km from the center of Ho Chi Minh City; it takes about 15-20 minutes to get to the center of the city from the airport.
Places to visit?
Despite its quite recent past, with more than 300 years history, Ho Chi Minh City nevertheless possesses numerous interesting buildings, displaying a characteristic combination of Vietnam and European cultures. Ho Chi Minh City draws approximately 70% of visitor to the country. The city’s resources and accommodations are attractive to many travellers. Numerous steps have been and will be taken to stabilize the tourism potential of the city. For instance, historical relics and architectural works have been restored, traditional values have been recovered in festivals, many museums are expected to be upgraded.
War Remnants Museum
The War Remnants Museum is a sobering and unforgettable museum which details the effects of the 30 year long war between America and Vietnam. There are immaculately preserved tanks, planes and other war machines in the outside grounds, but the really hard-hitting information is found inside. Photographs, exhibits and written documentation show the horrific lengths that the American Army lowered themselves to in order to try and defeat the North Vietnamese Army.
Bitexco Tower and Sky Deck
Bitexco Tower is an ultra modern office tower in Ho Chi Minh, with a characteristic oval extension which acts as a helicopter landing pad. Standing at 262 metres tall, this 68 storey building is the highest in all of Vietnam with a sky deck offering 360 degree views of the city and surrounding area as well as a fantastic sky bar called Alto where you can see all of Ho Chi Minh while enjoying a cocktail and some tapas style international dishes. Head up here for sunset and don’t forget your camera.
The centre of the allied command and the place where the North Vietnamese claimed victory in the American War, Reunification Palace has played its part in some incredible scenes. This ageing palace has essentially been frozen in time since a North Vietnamese Army tank smashed through its gates in 1975. Visitors will get to discover secret rooms, grand reception halls and the command bunker where General Ngo Dinh Diem conducted his war strategies.
Ho Chi Minh Central Post Office
The Central Post Office in Ho Chi Minh is a glorious example of French colonial architecture, perfectly preserved with as much style as when it first opened in 1891. The building still functions as the city’s main post office and sending a letter or postcard home is highly recommended for a taste of living history. Beautiful from any angle, this building was designed by Gustave Eiffel, who also designed the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
Notre Dame Cathedral
Located next to the Central Post Office, Notre Dame Cathedral is another relic of French colonial times, but it is kept in perfect condition and is still holding masses every Sunday. Many of the building materials were imported from France and it has an unmistakable Gallic touch with two long spires measuring 60 metres tall. In front of the cathedral is a beautiful statue of the Virgin Mary or ‘Notre Dame’.
Ben Thanh Market
Ben Thanh Market is a famous place to visit in Ho Chi Minh City. It was a brick market with a wooden frame and thatched roof, which was partly damaged by a fire in 1870. In 1911, it was demolished for a more spacious one, which was completed in March 1914.
After being moved many times, it is now standing in the very center of the city where consumers can conveniently find and sorts of products imaginable. In 1985, the interior as well as the exterior of Ben Thanh Market was completely remodeled except the front with the clock tower, which was kept as it was.
Nowadays, the goods in Ben Thanh market are abundant, including almost all-domestic products – especially those from Mekong Delta – and modern industrial products from other countries.
Cho Lon – China Town
Whenever Cho Lon is referred to, everyone may immediately think of Cho Lon – China Town inside Ho Chi Minh City. Cho Lon has become part and parcel of every itinerary to this city.
During daylight, Cho Lon is bustling with sellers and buyers doing their business. Binh Tay market, one of the most important markets of Ho Chi Minh City, is located inside Cho Lon. It can be said that nothing is not sold there. When night falls, Cho Lon seems to rejuvenate. From a distance one can see neon signs of various sizes, shapes and colors.
Cu Chi Tunnels
This marvellous tourist attraction lets visitors experience what it must have been like for soldiers who used an extensive network of tunnels to move around undetected by their enemies. There is an informative movie to watch, followed by a guided tour of some mock recreations of daily life for the Viet Cong hiding in the jungle. Burnt out tanks make for a great photo prop and then everyone gets to crawl through a small section of the tunnels which has been widened and supported with concrete.
Cao Dai Temple
Cao Dai Temple is the centre of the Cao Dai faith, a religion that has taken bits of Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Taoism and Confucianism. Tourists are welcome to visit the temple and learn more about this faith that is practiced by a few dedicated followers. Each Cao Dai practitioner wears a white robe to enter the temple with an additional sash to signify their previous religion. The temple itself is very bright and colourful with dragons flying up banisters and a cloud mural decorating the ceiling.
What to eat?
One of the greatest things in Vietnam is its diverse cuisine. Here in Sai Gon you find delicious dishes on every corners, from small stalls on street pavement to big fancy restaurants. Here are some the must-try dishes in Ho Chi Minh City.
Bun Thit Nuong (Vermicelli Noodles with Grilled Pork)
A hearty dish in Ho Chi Minh City, “Bun Thit Nuong” features vermicelli rice noodles with freshly chopped lettuce, sliced cucumber, bean sprouts, carrot, basil, chopped peanuts, and mint, topped with grilled yet tender pork shoulder. Diners can also opt for “Bun Thit Nuong cha gio”, which comes with crunchy slices of “cha gio” (deep-fried eggrolls). As with most Vietnamese dishes, you also get a side of “nuoc cham” sauce to mix into the “Bun Thit Nuong” for a flavourful ensemble.
Hu Tieu (Rice Noodles)
Hu tieu is a subtler version of pho noodles, featuring a clear pork-based broth, flat rice noodles, and an assortment of pork toppings. There are also countless variations available in Ho Chi Minh City, though the most popular one is hu tieu xuong, which is topped with pork ribs. Alternatively, you can enjoy hu tieu with shrimp, squid, or fish if you’re not a fan of pork.
Banh Xeo (Crispy Pancake)
Banh xeo is a savoury pancake that’s made of rice flour, coconut milk, and turmeric, stuffed with ingredients such as pork slices, shrimps, sliced onions, bean sprouts, and button mushrooms. Unlike the ones you find in Nha Trang and Hanoi, banh xeo in Ho Chi Minh City 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 mustard leaf, lettuce leaves or rice wrappers, together with mint leaves, basil, herbs, and sweet fermented peanut butter sauce. Lastly, dip it in a sweet and sour fish sauce.
Com Tam (Broken Rice)
Com tam is actually ‘broken rice’ in Vietnamese, usually served with fried egg, diced green onions, and a variety of meats such as suon nuong (barbecued pork chop), bi (shredded pork skin), and cha trung (steamed pork and egg patty). Diners can also enjoy this dish with a side of pickled vegetables, cucumber slices, and nuoc cham Vietnamese dipping sauce. Com tam can be enjoyed any time of the day as it is relatively inexpensive, with street markets and roadside food stalls selling for about VND 20,000 per bowl.
Pho is rice noodle that’s served in a flavourful soup with beef, bean sprouts, lime wedges, and greens such as basil, mint, cilantro, and onions with a side of chilli sauce for added spice. A basic bowl contains tai (beef slices), bo vien (beef meatballs) or nam (beef flank), but diners can also opt for more exotic ingredients such as gan (beef tendon), sach (thinly-sliced pig stomach), and ve don (flank with cartilage). This popular breakfast option is priced between VND 20,000 and VND 30,000 at any local restaurant or street market in Ho Chi Minh City.