Once a stronghold of the Nguyen Dynasty, later a bastion of French colonialism, Saigon wasn’t known as Ho Chi Minh City until tank 843 sacked Independence Palace and officially ended the Vietnam War.
Today the city is an eclectic metropolis with a heady mix of certified residents, squatters (many with roots that go back generations) and expatriates. Growth has been exponential since the 1980s, and today there are as many shining skyscrapers as there are French colonial houses and Chinese pagodas.
On first inspection, Ho Chi Minh City comes off as a concrete jungle, on par with other capitals in Southeast Asia like Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur. But there’s plenty to be discovered here, especially in the aftermath of the 20th century and its seemingly endless wars.
Despite decades of conflict with the West, locals are upbeat and forward-looking. After paying an obliging visit to the museums and political shrines, most tourists give their attention to scouring open-air markets, lounging in cafés and meeting other travelers for drinks after hours.
The best way to experience this urban mishmash is on the back of a motorcycle taxi_. _There are hundreds of motorbikes here and chartering one by the hour lets you zip from one side street to the next, tying together the markets, pagodas and colonial quarter. The bravest visitors take life into their own hands and rent a motorbike of their own.
Getting There & Away
Ho Chi Minh City is the country’s major transportation hub, with flights from around the world connecting through Tan Son Nhat Airport. The Saigon Train Station is at the terminus of the Reunification Express which connects all the way to Hanoi. Buses connect to all parts of the country through three major stations: Mien Tay Bus Station (to the Mekong Delta); Mien Dong Bus Station (to cities north of the capital); and Cholon Bus Station (to My Tho).
Things to Do
Ho Chi Minh City Attractions
- War Remnants Museum
Once known as the exhibition house of american war crimes, this institute opened immediately after the war and takes an unflinching look at atrocities committed here throughout the 60 and 70s.
- Ho Chi Minh Museum
Housed in a french colonial building, this museum explores the life and accomplishments of the city’s namesake.
Found in old saigon, this chinatown district boasts several ancient pagodas and a colorful shopping district.
- Reunification Palace
When a tank from the north crashed through the gates of south vietnam’s presidential residence the buildings transformed at once from ‘independence palace’ to ‘reunification palace.’ it has been carefully restored to its 1960s state.
- City Hall
Another french colonial building, this one looks best under evening flood lights.
- Museum of Vietnamese History
Not as compelling as the other museums in town, this one does boast a nice collection of vietnamese antiquities. a zoo and botanical gardens are also on site.
- Notre Dame Cathedral
This is an unexpected site in this part of the country, but it blends nicely with the french colonial quarter.
- Dam Sen Water Park
Kitsch as it is, this water park does the job on hot summer days and even goes the extra mile with a mismatched herd of animatronic dinosaurs.