Saigon, or Sài Gòn in Vietnamese, was merged with the surrounding province in 1976 and renamed Ho Chi Minh City to celebrate the reunification of north and south at the end of the Vietnam War.The city's namesake comes from Ho Chi Minh, the communist revolutionary leader who is credited with uniting the country.Saigon is culturally and historically important, and you can see that on almost every street corner. Don’t forget the fact that Saigon is one of the most lively cities in Vietnam, with a skyline full of modern buildings and not to mention the famous vibrant nightlife!.If you prefer to taste some delicious local street food, then night time is the way to go! During night time, the market will be suddenly surrounded by dozens of eateries and the scent of fried noodles and barbecued meat. Another market that we want to add is the Binh Tay Market. This market is located in the Chinatown district and it mainly serves the local population, making it an ideal market to sample the local lifestyle!

THINGS TO DO IN SAI GON

SIGHTSEEING

Independence Palace (Reunification Palace): Now a museum, but still used for official government meetings and events, the Independence Palace was the former home of the president of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. After buying a ticket you can then go inside, and walk around a few of the floors to see all sorts of rooms including meeting rooms, dining rooms, and lounges that are fit for royalty. Every room and space within the Independence Palace is still furnished with original chairs and tables. The round dragon carpet, located on the second floor, a huge circular red carpet with a dragon etched into the middle, was something I thought was pretty amazing. After navigating through a few floors and seeing the helicopter pad, you can then head to the basement where you’ll find some slightly scary offices, control rooms, and bunkers. It was very interesting to visit the Independence Palace in Ho Chi Minh City, and I think the highlight for me was strolling through the dark and creepy basement. And also, the palace kitchen, still equipped with old school machines, was pretty cool.

War Remnants Museum: The War Remnants Museum is one of the most popular museums in Vietnam, with harrowing exhibits related to the horrors of war in this battle-worn nation. The museum primarily focuses on the Vietnam War, however some exhibits relate to the first Indochina War with French colonialists. It's a good idea to start on the top floor and work your way down, so you cap off your experience with the lighter exhibits on the ground floor. Most of the displays are photographic images, and some of these are confronting - especially the graphic shots of child Agent Orange victims. Artifacts on display include a guillotine and the "tiger cages" used for Viet Cong prisoners. Many argue that the museum's approach is biased, however the exhibits poignantly portray the brutality of war. The museum also includes a fascinating display on the work of war photographers, from both sides, who lost their lives during the conflicts. Period military vehicles and weapons are displayed in the museum's courtyard.

Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre: The Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre is perfect for families with young children and anyone who enjoys light-hearted traditional entertainment. Water puppetry originated in rural villages in the Red River Delta and has been performed in Vietnam for more than 1,000 years. The captivating 50-minute show provides a window into the country's culture. It's presented in Vietnamese, but the strength of the puppet characters, both people and animals, transcends the language barrier. Live music enhances the experience; the talented musicians play traditional instruments such as bamboo flutes and two-stringed violins. The theater is air-conditioned, and if you're sitting in the front row, be prepared for some gentle splashes.

Mariamman – Indian Temple in the Heart of Saigon: Mariamman Hindu Temple is a beautiful example of the bright and vibrant architecture of Hindu places of worship. As the only active Hindu temple in Ho Chi Minh, it acts as a community base for the small community of Hindus living in the city.Saigon has over 300 years of history. This is a land that people in many countries settle in, including the Chinese, Indians, and many other ethnic groups. The culture in Saigon, like other extended cities in the world, such as New York or Shanghai, so people here is open-minded, not as hard as elsewhere.As Indians came here more than 120 years ago, their temples were built for a long time. For example, this temple was built in 1885, about 125 years ago.“Indian Goddess Pagoda is the name that people used to call the Hindu temple of Indians located at 45 – Truong Dinh – District 1 – Ho Chi Minh City. The original name is Mariamman – the name of the Mariamman, the goddess of the successful harvest, fertile soil, abundant health, smooth marriage, great children.

Jade Emperor Pagoda: Dedicated to the Jade Emperor, one of the highest powers and deities in Taoism, the Jade Emperor Pagoda is one of the most important Taoist temples in Saigon. As soon as you set foot into the compound, the loudness of the road traffic outside drifts away, and you can immediately feel a sense of calm throughout the temple. The front courtyard is shaded by draping banyan trees, with a spattering of pigeons, and a cloud of incense smoke that burns both inside and outside the temple and sets the mood by making the entire area hazy.

Phu My Hung and Starlight Bridge: Twilight bridge at Phu My Hung, Ho Chi Minh City is an upscale development area in District 7 of Saigon, and while spending the day with Kyle (a local blogger and vlogger), we decided to swing by to see a different side of Saigon. It’s more quiet, there’s less traffic, there are malls and cafe’s, and there are wide spacious, uncluttered sidewalks; Walking through Phu My Hung almost feels like you’ve left Vietnam altogether and have taken a day trip to southern California. Along with restaurants, modern malls, and the shops that fill Phu My Hung, one of the main draws is the Starlight Bridge, a bridge that spans across the lake, with a waterfall cascading down, illuminated by flashing lights in a rainbow of colors. Spending time with your loved one at Starlight Bridge is said to be one of the most romantic things to do in Saigon.

Thiên Hậu Temple, Chinatown: The atmospheric 19th-century Thiên Hậu Temple is one of the top sights in Ho Chi Minh City's Chinatown (ChoLon) and one of the oldest Chinese temples in the city. Dedicated to the Lady of the Sea, Thiên Hậu, this evocative temple is visited by local worshippers as well as tourists, and many of the materials used in its construction were brought from China. Clouds of incense billow in the air, candles flicker on altars, and shafts of sunlight pierce through the partial roof as you enter the green wrought-iron gates and stroll across the small courtyard. From here, you can see the altar, with statues of the goddess, and the intricate porcelain dioramas adorning the roof depicting scenes from 19th-century Chinese life.

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.

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.

Bonsai River Cruise: If you want to take in the city from the vantage point of the water, then head for a Bonsai River Cruise. Here you will get the chance to join a boat ride that includes dinner and takes you back to the days of elegant cruise dining. The boat is actually a traditional dragon boat that dates from the 19th century and they serve a buffet dinner complete with live music.

Giac Lam Pagoda: Giac Lam Pagoda has the claim to fame of being the oldest temple in Ho Chi Minh City and dates from 1744. The pagoda is set in a pretty garden and the name of the temple actually means ‘Feel the Woods Temple’. At the entrance of the temple you will find a graceful Bodhi tree which is sacred in Buddhism and was actually a present from a visiting monk from Sri Lanka in 1953. You can walk around the grounds and admire the picturesque architecture here and take in the serene atmosphere at the same time.

Ho Chi Minh City Museum: The Ho Chi Minh Museum was built in 1885, although at this time it would have been known as Gia Long Palace, and then as the Revolutionary Museum. This is widely said to be the grandest building in the city and this is the place to come to learn all about the culture and history of Ho Chi Minh City. Just some of the collections on show include ceramics, ancient maps of the city, and marriage costumes that belong to the various ethnic groups in Vietnam. As you would expect, there are also galleries dedicated to the history of the Vietnam War.

Cu Chi Tunnels: The main draw in Ho Chi Minh City is the Cu Chi Tunnels which would have been used by the Vietcong guerillas at the time of the Tet Offensive in 1968. The tunnels are made up of a series of underground chambers which stretch for 30 kilometers out of the city and you can now visit sections of the tunnels and crawl through the small spaces to experience the conditions of the Vietcong during the Vietnam War.

Opera House: Considered to be one of the best representations of French colonial architecture in Saigon, the Opera House theater was built in 1897, and has been beautifully preserved. If you are interested, the Opera House hosts A O Show, a performance of traditional Vietnamese dance using bamboo. I didn’t go to the show, but if you are interested in live performances, I’m sure it would be pretty cool to see – especially since it takes place in a such a glorious building.

Notre Dame Cathedral: Notre Dame Cathedral was built from 1877 and 1883 and sits in the heart of the city. The cathedral is designed in the neo-Romanesque style and you can check out the towers here which soar to a height of 40 meters and are topped with impressive iron spires. The cathedral got its name from the Virgin Mary and the inside is covered in devotional tablets and pretty stained glass windows. Staff are on hand during the week to explain all the history of the cathedral to visitors.



SHOPPING:

  • Local Wet Market: As much as visiting both Ben Thanh and Binh Thay Markets are wonderful things to do when you’re in Saigon, a trip to the city would not be complete without getting lost in one of the countless fresh wet food markets scattered throughout the city. While the other two markets mentioned above are more wholesale goods markets, right now I want to talk about neighborhood alley markets. It’s kind of like going to the supermarket in Saigon.
  • Ben Thanh Market: If you’re shopping for clothes, souvenirs, Vietnamese cookware, or dry foods like nuts or dried fruit, tea or coffee, you could easily spend a few hours getting lost in the tiny, stuffed lanes of the market. Just make sure you don’t knock anything over – they literally have things like glassware dangerously stacked close to walkways.
  • Saigon Square: For sightseers, the hot and hectic Ben Thanh Market is almost an obligatory stop, even if only to witness the crammed stalls and market chaos. The stalls are piled high with everything from local delicacies, fish, flowers, and tropical fruits to shoes, clothes, colorful candy, and souvenirs. The markets are also notorious for pickpockets, so make sure any valuables are secure and out of sight. After soaking up all the ambiance, head to Saigon Square, about a three-minute stroll away, for a slightly less frenetic shopping experience with the added bonus of air conditioning. Here, you'll find fantastic deals on everything from clothing and backpacks to jewelry and shoes. Haggling is customary at both locations.
  • An Dong Market: Counted among the best Ho Chi Minh city shopping markets, An Dong Market should be on your itinerary! This market is for all the craft lovers and basically it is a wholesale market for locals but on the top floor are all the amazing things that are worth buying as souvenirs or gifts. They have great handicraft materials and they showcase the hard work that people put in maintaining the traditional wood work and lacquer which is Vietnam’s heritage.
  • Vincom Center: Vincom Center is the largest mall for shopping in Ho Chi Minh City with more than 250 retail outlets. The mall itself contains two complexes. Vincom Center A is built in a refurbished colonial-era building and includes electronics, home décor and upmarket brands such as Ralph Lauren. The mall has a food court, family-friendly games, a bowling alley and a cinema theatre. In comparison, the Vincom Complex B occupies a tall skyscraper on the opposite side of the road which plays home to elite sports apparel brands and clothes brands.
  • Diamond Plaza: This plaza is situated between many popular attractions of this city and is quite popular for all the quality products that are sold here. This is a converted period building with several floors of shops that have great products. They have separate shops and floors of men’s and women’s clothing and some of them are of homeware and sporting goods. Dining and entertainment venues here are also great. Head to the plaza famous as the best spot for Ho Chi Minh City shopping.

CUISINE:

Bowl of pho: You can’t come to Ho Chi Minh City and not try pho which is a traditional Vietnamese noodle soup. The soup is made with stock to which the noodles are then added and you can choose from a variety of toppings to customize the dish. You can also choose from a number of different meats to add to your soup such as beef or pork.

Eat at Banh Xeo 46A: If you want to try banh xeo when you are in Ho Chi Minh City then you need to head to Banh Xeo 46A. Here you will find a local dish named banh xeo which consists of Vietnamese rice flour pancakes which have been stuffed with a mixture of pork, prawns and bean sprouts. You can also get vegetarian versions if you prefer, or you can also try some of the other local specialties on the menu.

Sandwich at Banh Mi Huynh Hao: Banh mi is probably the most famous of all of Vietnam’s foodstuff as well as being one of the best loved sandwiches in the world. Banh mi is made from crusty baguette which is then slicked with pate and then topped with chilies and coriander.

Bun Bo Hue: I wish this wonderful soup from central Vietnam’s city of Hue was as popular as pho outside the country. The two are very different soups. Bun bo Hue is made with lemongrass and chilli, its broth both citrusy and strong, laden with thick cuts of meat. Paprika or anatto oil render the broth its fiery orange colour, and fermented shrimp paste lends a complicated layer of taste, one my Western palate was not acquainted with before trying the soup.

Bun Moc: Bun moc has been my go-to soup when I had no idea what else to eat, when my tastebuds were overwhelmed with the variety of other meals throughout the day and just wanted a simple bowl, with savoury pork and mushroom broth. Broth aside, the soup’s fun lies in its accoutrements — slices of cha lua (a pork meatloaf coated in a cinnamon outer layer), slices of thin pork meat, and meatballs made of pork. Despite being a pork festival, it’s actually quite light, and the thin rice noodles compliment the meat well. The soup is topped with fried shallots and fresh cilantro. Most tourists haven’t heard of bun moc, but it’s a nice counterpoint to the strong flavours of the pork and rice dishes below.

Bun Thit Nuong Cha Gio: Rice vermicelli noodles, grilled boneless pork, a crispy pork spring roll (often with taro), which is the cha gio part of the name, and fresh lettuce and herbs. You top it with spoonfuls of sweet fish sauce and chilli, letting the sweet and pungent liquid seep into every bit of your food. There are a myriad of BTN places that I frequent and enjoy, but the one below is my favourite because the spring rolls remain the most satisfying.

Che Chuoi: Che chuoi is a sweet banana and tapioca dessert, floating in a sea of coconut cream and topped with sesame and crushed peanuts. The stall below is actually run by one gentleman — sometimes aided by his son — and his bowls of desserts, so you can pick and choose different options, including taro with coconut milk (che khoi mon).

Hu Tieu: The noodles in a bowl of hu tieu can be chewy clear tapioca noodles, opaque white rice noodles like you’d use for pho noodle soup, or thin Chinese egg noodles (mi). The toppings cover a wide territory, and may include boneless pork, pork ribs, pork offal, shrimp, squid, wonton dumplings, fried garlic, fried shallot, and/or scallion. As usual, you pick and choose whatever you want. Hu tieu is the extreme have-it-your-way Vietnamese food experience.

NIGHTLIFE:

  • Rooftop Bar: Along with high-rise buildings, one of the recent trends in the city are rooftop bars and lounges. The streets of Saigon are loud, crowded, and quite often on the chaotic side – and don’t get me wrong, the street life is amazing – but it can also be very nice to see it all from above, in a peaceful environment from a bird’s eye view, enjoying the city skyline and sunrise with a cool beverage in hand.
  • Wander Down Nguyen Hue Boulevard: Nguyen Hue St and the restaurants and cafes nearby are a great spot to chill out after a big day. Nguyen Hue is the beating heart and centre of Ho Chi Minh City. While it is fairly quiet during daylight hours it becomes a hive of activity by night and is a great place to take a walk or simply just people watch. Local youth come here to hang out and keen street performers and dancers are often seen showing off their talents. Despite its central location and popularity it still remains a great place to come and ignore the hustle and bustle.
  • Saigon Skyline: The streets are where the Ho Chi Minh City’s nightlife is. However, sometimes it’s good to be able to look at the world from a different perspective. Two of the Saigon's tallest buildings house viewing decks but also cafe’s, bars and restaurants. Landmark 81 isn’t far from downtown and at 462m is Vietnam’s tallest building. It has a public observation deck but at US$35 it’s fairly pricey compared to other attractions. It’s better to have dinner at the Oriental Pearl restaurant to see Ho Chi Minh City at night from this perspective.

TRANSPORTATION:

  • From the Airport to the City: If you fly into Saigon, you’ll arrive at Tân Sơn Nhất International Airport. From there, the easiest way to get to your hotel is probably to take a taxi. Walk outside of the airport, take a left, and you’ll see the taxis waiting for you. Vinasun is a good brand to choose.
  • Walk: With motorbikes that control the streets and even sidewalks, Saigon is not quite as pleasant as a city for walking as somewhere like Tokyo. But that being said, I like to think of walking in Saigon as sort of like an obstacle course; You’ve got to dodge oncoming objects, jump over blockades, go around sprawling businesses, and cross the rivers of motorbike traffic. For most of my time in Saigon, especially in the central areas of town, my wife and I walked everywhere (but we are kind of crazy for walking, we like to walk so we can eat more).
  • Motorbike scooter: By far the most noticeable way everyone that lives in Ho Chi Minh City gets around is by motorbike (also known as the scooter). Saigon may very well be the scooter capital of the world.
  • Local Bus: The bus system in Saigon is actually quite good (and not too difficult to figure out if you just go up and down some of the main streets), and it’s a very cheap and safe way to get around town.
  • Taxi: Before you go to Ho Chi Minh City, you’ll probably read some articles about how bad the taxis are. Yes, there can be fakes, and drivers occasionally do some extra driving to rack up the meter. But on a whole, I thought the taxis were quite reliable, and even many of the drivers were quite friendly. We hardly had a problem with taking any taxis when we were in Saigon, and they are very affordable, and I really like how they are almost all comfortable vans.