As the largest and most populated city in Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh buzzes with local activity day and night. At first, the chaos may feel overwhelming, but try not to trust your first impressions of what may appear to be an overcrowded and polluted city. After the initial shock has subsided, you will soon be enchanted by the city’s spirit and energy, and the simple pleasure of observing daily life will likely be the highlight of your day.
That said, there are plenty of attractions to keep you busy. Markets, temples, skyscrapers and museums – there is something for everyone in Ho Chi Minh. The following are ten recommendations that will ensure you do not miss the best of what this fascinating city has to offer.
1. War Remnants Museum
The War Remnants Museum should be a top priority for visitors who want to learn more about Vietnam’s history and the war. The museum offers a thorough narrative of the war from the North Vietnamese perspective, with a strong focus on the atrocities committed by America.
Some visitors may find it difficult, as it is an emotional experience, especially as many adults and children are still affected today by the chemical weapons used during the war. That said, it is a very important experience if you are too truly understand the horrors of war and the country’s history.
2. Ben Thanh Market
This is the most famous market in the city and one of Ho Chi Minh’s oldest landmarks. It’s a great place to buy pretty much anything you can think of, or just to spend a few hours wandering around enjoying the atmosphere. It is very likely you will be hassled by vendors, but that’s part of the experience!
If you want to shop, try to visit early morning, as it will not be too hot and you’ll more likely be able to pick up some bargains. After 7pm, the night market opens, and is the perfect place for some cheap street food and beer.
3. Binh Tay Market
If you want to experience an authentic local market, then Binh Tay is the far superior choice over the more famous Ben Thanh market. The best time to visit is very early in the morning, when the market really comes alive as locals shop for their produce.
The sheer size of the market can be overwhelming, but it is definitely one of the most energetic and interesting places to walk through in the city. One you tire of walking, grab some street food from a nearby stall and relax in the courtyard garden at the center of the market.
4. Notre Dame Cathedral & Central Post Office
Ho Chi Minh isn’t particularly well known for being a sightseeing city; it is more where you go to wander and experience local Vietnamese life. However, if you do want to see some landmarks, make sure to visit both the Notre Dame Cathedral & Central Post Office, which are within walking distance of each other.
They both display some impressive architecture, and the inside of the post office is particularly striking. Visitors to the post office should make sure not to miss the fascinating historical maps of Southern Vietnam, or the mosaic of Ho Chi Minh. The post office is free to enter, but there is a small charge for the cathedral.
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5. Jade Emperor Pagoda
If you only visit one temple in Ho Chi Minh, make sure it is the Jade Emperor Pagoda. This is one of the most important shrines in the city, and still very much in use by local Buddhists. The decoration inside the pagoda is a fusion of both Taoist and Buddhist mythologies, and is very impressive if somewhat slightly sinister, with intricate but gruesome depictions of the Chinese apocalypse and an array of weird yet wonderful deities.
The center point of the pagoda is the Jade Emperor, who decides who can enter the higher realm of heaven. The pagoda also has a beautiful roof, packed with intricate carvings of dragons, birds and other animals. Entry into the pagoda is free, but there is a small charge of 4,000 VND if you want to park a motorcycle.
6. Reunification Palace
This is one of the most significant historical buildings in Vietnam, as it marks the place where the National Liberation Front, also known as the Viet Cong, brought down the South Vietnamese government in April, 1975. Just like the War Remnant museum, it is an essential experience if you truly want to understand the history of Vietnam.
In addition to its historical relevance, it is also a magnificent example of 1960s architecture and interior design, which has been left largely untouched since the takeover in 1975. However, perhaps the most fascinating feature of the palace is the basement, which houses a military telecommunications center, war room and a maze of tunnels.
7. Saigon Sky Deck
Whilst the Bitexco Financial tower might not be the prettiest building, it is the tallest in Ho Chi Minh, and as such offers unparalleled views of the city below. The main attraction of the tower is the Sky Deck on the 49th floor, which will set you back 200,000 VND, but is worth it for some exceptional 360-degree views of Ho Chi Minh.
The tower is also home to two fine dining restaurants (EON51 and Strata) which again are quite expensive, but you are paying for the view as well as the food. If you are on a budget, you could always catch the sunset on the Sky Deck and then head to the steak restaurant (Hog’s Breath) on the ground floor for some food and a happy hour cocktail!
8. Opera House
This building is a fantastic example of French colonial architecture, and is a must visit for anyone with an interest in the arts. The Ho Chi Minh Ballet Symphony Orchestra and Opera performs here, plus there is a variety of other shows, from Vietnamese cultural performances to Shakespearian style plays.
Currently, the most popular performance is the AO Show, which mixes Cirque du Soleil with more traditional Vietnamese elements. Admission is usually reasonable, with ticket prices starting from 300,000 VND.
9.Thien Hau Pagoda
This is another popular temple in the city, and can be perfectly combined with a trip to Binh Tay market. The pagoda is dedicated to the Chinese goddess, Thien Hau, who is believed to have the ability to travel over sea, by mat or cloud, to rescue people in trouble on the high seas. It is regarded as one of the most beautiful and atmospheric temples in the city, thanks largely to dozens of giant incense coils that hang overhead.
Some of them take months to burn, and you can even purchase your own and add it to the collection. Even without the incense, the pagoda is still worth visiting in order to admire the intricate dioramas that decorate both the roof and walls of the temple. Thien Hau has no entrance fee, but there is a charge of 5,000 VND to park a motorcycle.
10. Turtle Lake
This is a great place to hang out and experience local life in the city at night. Lots of street food vendors set up here in the evening, so you can grab a snack and enjoy the buzzing social atmosphere.
There are two popular snacks you have to try if you visit Turtle Lake; a Vietnamese style pizza called banh trang nuong, and a salad type dish called banh trang tron. Do not expect to see any turtles though; the lake is named after a sculpture that was unfortunately destroyed in 1975.