Visit War Remnants Museum
Formerly the Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes, the War Remnants Museum in HCMC first opened to the public in 1975. It is a shocking reminder of the long and brutal Vietnam War and is consistently popular with Western tourists. Few museums anywhere convey the brutal effects of war on its civilian victims so powerfully. Many of the atrocities documented here were well-publicized but rarely do Westerners hear the victims of US military action tell their own stories. While some displays are one-sided, many of the most disturbing photographs illustrating US atrocities are from US sources, including those of the infamous My Lai Massacre.
Discover Cu Chi Tunnels
If the tenacious spirit of the Vietnamese can be symbolized by a place, few sites are more symbolic than Cu Chi tunnels. Located 75 kilometres northwest of Ho Chi Minh City, the tunnels are an elaborate underground network made up of 250 km of tunnels and chambers. Astoundingly, given their great length, the tunnels were dug with bare hands or very simple tools during the French occupation in the 1940s, and further expanded during the Vietnam War in the 1960s. Though small and very dark, the tunnels provided refuge and a defensive advantage over the American soldiers. They ate, slept, planned attacks, healed their sick and taught their young in the chambers of the Cu Chi tunnels. Some even wed and gave birth here.
Stop for a filter coffee
If there’s one thing the Vietnamese have indisputably nailed, it’s coffee. Believe it or not, Vietnam is the biggest coffee exporter in the world. Vietnamese coffee is excellent and it's inexpensive and available nearly everywhere. You can pick up a Vietnamese coffee – white or black, hot or cold in pretty much every HCMC restaurant or café. Black coffee with ice (ca phe da) is strong and sweet with an almost chocolate-like richness. Condensed milk can be added, gives you coffee milk ice, (or ca phe sua da) creating a miracle drink that balances the strength of the drip filter coffee with a rich, sweet finish.
Pass by Notre Dame Catholic Cathedral
Perhaps the most stand-out of the many traces left by French colonialists in the 1880s is the magnificent Notre Dame Cathedral. Built between 1877 and 1883, with a try to recreate the feel of the cathedral of the same name in Paris, builders used French bricks and constructed huge Romanesque bell towers. A brick, neo-Romanesque church with 40m-high square towers tipped with iron spires, the Catholic cathedral is named after the Virgin Mary.
Visitors can have a gander any time from 5.30am-5pm daily. Mass is 9.30am Sunday.
Dine at the Cuc Gach Quan
It comes as little surprise that the owner is an architect when you step into Cuc Gach Quan or depending on who you ask, "Brick", an old converted French villa. The decor is rustic and elegant at the same time, which is also true of the food.
It's not easy exploring the local grub in a country like Vietnam. Sometimes it takes a place like Brick to highlight what the Vietnamese cuisine is all about-flavor in unusual places. With a menu the size of a hotel bible it is impossible not to find something that you would enjoy. Brick has all ways been an excellent first dinner in Saigon for friends and family.
Visit Reunification Palace
Just five minutes’ stroll north up Nam Ky Khoi Nghia from the Ho Chi Minh City Museum, a red flag billows proudly above the Reunification Palace. A whitewashed concrete edifice with all the charm of a municipal library, the palace occupies the site of the former Norodom Palace, a colonial mansion erected in 1871 to house the governor-general of Indochina. After the French left in 1954, Ngo Dinh Diem commandeered this extravagant monument as his presidential palace, but after sustaining extensive damage in a February 1962 assassination attempt by two disaffected Southern pilots, the place was condemned and pulled down.
Saigon Central Post Office
Right across the way from Notre Dame Cathedral, Saigon Central Post Office is no ordinary place to buy stamps. Built between 1886 and 1891 by renowned architect Marie-Alfred Foulhoux (though often credited to Gustave Eiffel), the building is one of the country’s finest examples of French colonial architecture and one of the city’s most recognisable landmarks. Painted on the walls of its grand concourse are fascinating historic maps of South Vietnam, Saigon and Cholon, while a mosaic of Ho Chi Minh takes pride of place at the end of its barrel-vaulted hall. Note the magnificent tiled floor of the interior and the copious green-painted wrought iron.
Cho Lon (Binh Tay) Market
Ho Chi Minh City’s Cho Lon is Vietnam’s largest Chinatown with roots dating back to 1778; it’s also a place of great historical and cultural importance. Cho Lon’s main market has a great clock tower and a central courtyard with gardens. During the Vietnam War, Cho Lon was a thriving black market for US soldiers trading in American Army issue supplies. This market sometimes disappoints tourists when compared to other markets in HCMC as the products are not that varied, but the main draw to Cho Lon is not to shop but to enjoy the authentic Chinese atmosphere that has existed here for hundreds of years. It’s a wonderful place to experience at night.
Ben Thanh Market
Centrally located, Ben Thanh and its surrounding streets comprise one of HCMC's liveliest areas. There’s much more beneath the pillbox-style clock tower of Ben Thanh Market than just the cattle and seafood pictured on its front wall. Everything that’s commonly eaten, worn or used by the Saigonese is piled high, and souvenir items can be found in equal abundance. Vendors are determined and prices usually higher than elsewhere, so bargain vigorously and ignore any 'Fixed Price' signs. The market is big, difficult to navigate at times and certainly best avoided during the hottest part of the day but all the same its well worth a look.
Jade Emperor Pagoda
Set in the northeast corner of District 1, Emperor Jade Pagoda, also known as Tortoise Pagoda, is one of the five most important shrines in Ho Chi Minh City, stuffed with statues of phantasmal divinities and grotesque heroes. 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.
HCMC Fine Arts Museum
Established in 1987, the Ho Chi Minh City Fine Arts Museum is set inside an exquisite French colonial villa, housing city’s most important collection of art by Vietnamese artists on three floors. The first floor hosts rotating exhibits of contemporary art and the second floor features sketches, paintings and statues, many of which focus on resistance to colonial rulers. The third floor shows older works from Vietnam's history.