SAI GON (HO CHI MINH CITY)
Discover Saigon: Some below:
» Ben Thanh Market
It’s a huge food and souvenir market in the heart of Ho Chi Minh city. It used to be the place where the locals buy/sell groceries and textiles, but nowadays it’s a very touristy place. All the goods are overpriced, so bargain a lot. The market is open during the whole day, but after 1pm the stalls selling meat, fish and fresh veggies start to close. Night time the action happens on the street beside the market, food restaurants and clothes shops take the whole lane and they will try to convince you to buy handcrafts and t-shirts.
» French architecture and historical buildings in Saigon
When Vietnam was a French colony and Ho Chi Minh City was called Saigon, the city lived an opulent period. Together with the baguette recipe and the taste for wine, the French also left in Ho Chi Minh some beautiful architecture. The historical buildings are very close to each other, you can see and visit them during a pleasant walk through District 1 [city center]. These buildings are some of the top attractions in Saigon:
>>Central Post Office
Ho Chi Minh Central Post Office dates from 1891, some people and historical websites tell it was designed by Gustave Eiffel, others say it was Alfred Foulhoux, the fact is that the Post Office is an important landmark in the city. Inside the building, you can admire the marble floor, the paintings and even the old telephone boxes are still there.
>>Notre Dame Cathedral
In front of the post office is the Notre Dame Cathedral, a huge church in the heart of a Buddhist city, another legacy from the French. Built in the 1880’s it was called Saigon Church, on 1959 after the installation of the statue “Peaceful Notre Dame” the name was changed. Nowadays it´s called Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica, one of the religious and historical attraction in Ho Chi Minh city.
>>Saigon Opera House
Keep walking through Dong Khoi Street till you reach the Opera House, another attraction in Ho Chi Minh city. This one you can’t get inside for free, you need to buy spectacle tickets to be able to see the interior design. Due to our short time we didn’t visit it, also we decided to spend our nights exploring the Saigon food scene, not so cultural, but very yummy.
Around the Opera House there are other historical buildings, the Hotel Caravelle and the Hotel Continental Saigon. If you look at these three buildings you have the sensation of being in a European city, a disconnected view from the Southeast Asia trip.
>>Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee
Turn at the Le Loi street, on the next corner you will reach Nguyen Hue walking street with the posh Hotel Rex and the City Hall. The People´s Committee is beautiful during night-time all lighted up. In front of the City Hall a statue of Ho Chi Minh is greeting his followers and the tourists visiting the square.
» Night time at Nguyen Hue walking street
Go for a walk, listen to some young guys playing music, or for a selfie with uncle Ho Chi Minh statue… Nguyen Hue walking street gets really busy after sunset and it’s one of the top things to do in Saigon. Not only tourists go there, many locals come with friends, family to enjoy the fresh evening breeze.
» Walk along the Saigon River
Saigon River is not the cleanest one, I have to tell you the truth. But I was surprised to see that a nice walk lane along it, with flowers, branches, clean and safe. During night time we went to the riverside near to the Nguyen Hue walking street, and early in the morning, we found it the perfect place for run in Saigon.
» Bitexco Financial Tower, one of the highest buildings in Vietnam
Among the non-historical things to do in Saigon, a visit to Bitexco Tower is a nice one. Go for the sunset, and get to see how big Ho Chi Minh city is. The financial center is the symbol of Vietnam’s development. It’s the tallest building in the country, from the Bitexco Tower you get a beautiful 360º view of Saigon.
There are two ways to go to the top of Bitexco Tower, one is paying 200 thousand Vietnamese Dong, roughly 10 usd to access the observation deck on 50th floor. Or you can go to the EON 51 Sky Bar located on 52th floor and have a drink while enjoying the view. A coffee or a juice will cost between 130,000 – 160,000 Vietnamese Dong, cheaper and tastier than going only for the observatory deck.
» War Remnants Museum
Now let’s talk about what to do in Saigon that is not so pretty but you must visit. The War Remnants Museum is a lesson of history. If you are like us, from western countries, probably you have learned the American version of the Vietnam War. In Saigon you have the chance to listen the other side of the history, the Vietnamese version, and this one is hard to take.
The first thing you need to learn, in Vietnam they don´t call it Vietnam War, they call it American War, and the result of the conflict you can see inside and outside of the museum. The consequences of this tragic war still affect the daily life of Vietnamese people. For me the War museum is one of the top things to do in Saigon, it’s not pleasant, it’s not beautiful, but is important to understand the history and how our politicians keep making the same geopolitical mistakes.
The pass for the museum is valid for one day, what means you can go out, take a deep breath, drink a coffee and then come back to finish the visit.
» Reunification Palace
The palace is one of the most important building in Vietnam. The place where the Americans planned the war strategies and where the conflict finished. In 1975 a North Vietnamese Army tank smashed the gates and they hung a flag on the balcony symbolizing the end of the war. Since that day the palace is frozen in time, everything inside is original, and the visitors can get a really close look on how was the life inside the palace during the war time.
» Mariamman Hindu Temple
Located in the heart of District 1, this Hindu Temple is surrounded by hotels, restaurants and coffee shops. The colorful statues on the facade catch everybody’s attention, and the interior is decorated in a classical hindu style. The temple was built in the 19th century and it´s a place to worship the Mariamman Goddess.
» Chinatown and Thien Hau Temple
One of the top attraction in Ho Chi Minh city is the Chinatown. Located on District 5, a bit far from the city center, it takes around 15 – 20 minutes to go there by taxi. The Chinese area called Cholon, dates back to 1778, and the community managed to keep their traditional architecture and way of living during the French colonial period and during the Vietnam War.
One of the recommended things to do in Saigon’s Chinatown is to visit the Thiên Hâu Temple. This Chinese Pagoda was built to worship the Lady of the Sea and it´s a good example of Chinese architecture mixed with some Vietnamese details. The incense are burning all day long, and even been located in a busy street of Saigon, the peace and the silence inside the temple surprised me.
» Emperor Jade Pagoda
For me, this was the most interesting temple we visited in Vietnam, no doubt one of the unmissable things to do in Saigon. It´s a bit far from the tourist route, but worth the taxi ride. The temple was constructed on the beginning of the 20th century by a Cantonese Chinese community and it’s packed with locals.
Inside you can see a big statue of Emperor Jade Chua Ngoc Hoang or the “God of Heavens” and many other gods and goddess. The building is small, with tiny side alleys and intense smell of incense, oil and raw meat. It has a unique and theatrical atmosphere like you have been transported to another time, another dimension… Don’t get intimidated by this strong religious vibe, pay respect to Emperor Jade in the main room, and walk your way to the left side of the altar, where you will find tiny alleys with small rooms and more sacred figures.
Really in the back of the temple, you will see people offering meat, eggs, food, fake money and many other things to the Gods. When I arrive there I almost throw up, the smell was very strong, but I held my breath and kept going, trying to understand what was happening around us. We visited the Emperor Jade Pagoda on a Saturday afternoon, the temple was super busy, a great an opportunity to see the religious side of the Vietnamese people.
Visiting the temples are one of the top things to do in Saigon, but remember that they are a place of faith and many locals go there to worship, so be respectful. Keep quiet, dress respectfully and if you feel like praying, buy an incense inside the temple and help them to maintain the beautiful buildings.
Now let’s talk about another top thing to do in Saigon: try Vietnamese Food! We are big fans of street food, and even with my new vegetarian diet, we decided to risk ourselves in some street stalls. Most of the restaurants near to the Ho Chi Minh’s tourists attractions are prepared to serve tourist, what means that the price can be higher and the flavors might not be 100% original. To discover hidden places and local restaurant in Saigon we asked for help, we book a food tour with someone who knows about good local food.