Ho Chi Minh, still Saigon to the eight million people who live here, is Vietnam’s biggest city. This booming town is very easy to fall in love with. Its streets thrum with street hawkers and places to grab spectacular food, while its glitzy new tower blocks and malls make it one of Asia’s most vital destinations.
Ho Chi Minh’s traffic is inescapable. And with a planned metro system still some years from completion, you’ll need to brave it to get around. Metered cabs are easy to come by and best for relative comfort. Motorbike taxis scoot through the city’s jams faster and cost less, ideal if you’re travelling alone.
Although a city seemingly in thrall to the modern, Ho Chi Minh does a fine job in showing off its past, whether in beautiful pagodas or museums highlighting the city’s vital role in the wars which benighted this country from the 1940s until the 1970s.
For those intrigued by the latter, the War Remnants Museum is an essential stop off. It’s home to ageing weaponry as well as harrowing, must–see exhibitions about the affects of war on the entire Vietnamese population. The Reunification Palace, the former seat of the President of South Vietnam, is well worth exploring, its period design kept just as it was when the country was divided in two.
Notre Dame cathedral is one of Ho Chi Minh’s most obvious sights, its towers peeping out among lush trees. Over the road is the Old Post Office, a piece of masterful design by Gustav Eiffel that dates back to Vietnam’s time as a French colony. The mural maps that decorate the walls are fascinating.
Those looking for a traditional temple should head to Phuoc An Hoi Quan pagoda. The beautiful statues and ornaments offer an insight into the religious side of Vietnam.
Its vastness means Ho Chi Minh offers plenty for the intrepid traveller. The Mariamman Hindu Temple is a peaceful spot near Ben Thanh market, one for curious tourists looking for something different to the traditional religious hotspots. The Giac Lam pagoda is also a great alternative to major sights. It’s the oldest temple in Ho Chi Minh.
Tao Dan Park is the city’s biggest, but head here at the crack of dawn to witness locals practicing tai chi while most of the city is still asleep. Ideal if you need some peace and quiet before a long day of sightseeing.
Food fanatics should make straight for Ben Thanh market, where stalls can be found at the rear of the imposing main building. Grab some steaming pho or head outside to sample the goods from the string of banh mi carts. These meat–stuffed baguettes are the ultimate on–the–go snack.
Binh Tay market, located in Chinatown, is a great place to try the local coffee before perusing the wholesale stalls.
The excellent Koto has become a mainstay of the city’s restaurant scene. Run as a social enterprise, it helps deprived children from the city learn cooking skills. The rice paper rolls are delicious.