Ho Chi Minh City

Diverse, colourful and bustling it may be, but Ho Chi Minh City remains the best place to connect with Vietnam's tumultuous and fascinating past. 

Old Saigon is a city like no other

On the surface a bustling metropolis like so many in South East Asia, Ho Chi Minh City conceals a raft of heritage and tradition, making it one of the most unique, diverse destinations on the winding course of the great Mekong River.

From its French colonial architecture to its generation-defining role in the infamous Vietnam War, Ho Chi Minh City may well be the most noteworthy city in this exotic corner of Asia. Add to that a street food culture unmatched in its eclecticism and unique local flavours, and the city is revealed as one of the true greats, and an absolute must on a journey through South East Asia.

To help inspire your visit to Ho Chi Minh City, here we take a tour through its highlights and history – from its impressive temples to its mouth-watering street eats.

Architectural Highlights

The old blends with the new in Ho Chi Minh City, so you’re promised a stimulating architectural showcase. Here are a handful of the buildings and heritage sites to look out for as you tour the city.

Reunification Palace

reunification palace
Entrenched in Vietnam’s infamous wartime heritage, the Reunification Palace was the scene of some of the key turning points in the American war. Hosting Vietnamese general Ngo Dinh Diem until his death in 1963, the palace later became the base of the Allied command throughout the war, until, in 1975, the North Vietnamese Army crashed a tank through its main gate, effectively ending the conflict. A visit to the palace today not only promises a fascinating glimpse into this turbulent period, but a look at the architectural influences which inspired some of Vietnam’s revered architecture – from French and English, to Japanese and Chinese.

Jade Emperor Pagoda

jade emperor pagoda
Among the most recognisable Buddhist vestiges in Ho Chi Minh City, the Jade Emperor Pagoda represents the Mahayanist branch of Buddhism, which is practised widely throughout Vietnam. Built by a community of Cantonese immigrants in the early 20th century, the pagoda features a series of ornate halls, each representing different aspects of the Mahayanist faith. One hall is dedicated to Emperor Jade Ngoc Hoang, ‘God of the Heavens’, while another represents the ‘God of Hell’ – a much-feared deity within the Buddhist sect. The Jade Emperor Pagoda remains a working shrine, so a visit promises an authentic and enchanting experience.

Bitexco Tower and Skydeck

bitexco tower
Symbolising Vietnam’s progression and modernity, the Bitexco Tower is one of Ho Chi Minh City’s most contemporary architectural statements. Currently the tallest tower in Vietnam, Bitexco stands at 262-metres high, and is revered for its curving, leaf-like design. At the summit, 68 storeys up, sits the Sky Deck, where you can savour spectacular 360-degree views over the city and its surroundings. Here, you’ll also find the Alto Sky Bar, where you can enjoy a range of cocktails and international dishes as you admire the far-reaching views. One of the best times to visit Bitexco is in the evening, when you can witness a truly memorable sunset.

Colonial Quarter

central post office
Witness the legacy of the French in Ho Chi Minh City with a walking tour of the city’s charming Colonial Quarter. Located to the west of old Saigon, the district is dotted with fine examples of French colonial architecture, from the Hôtel de Ville and Municipal Theatre, to the Opera House, Central Post Office and the Old City Hall. The mix of notably French architecture, coupled with a string of elegant boutiques and galleries, makes the neighbourhood a unique place to explore, while the wealth of cafés, restaurants and street food vendors ensures you never forget where you are – with delicious Vietnamese gastronomy on every corner of this vibrant district.

Cultural Features

War, religion, food and tradition have all left their mark on Saigon, contributing to the city’s present-day progressiveness and inclusivity. Here, we take a look at the cultural facets of Ho Chi Minh City.

Cao Dai Temple

caodai temple
Ho Chi Minh City is a place steeped in religious and spiritual heritage, and this is captured wonderfully at the Cao Dai Temple. This multi-faith temple complex is dedicated to the teachings of Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Taoism and Confucianism, providing an inclusive and inspiring place where one and all can experience different elements of other religions and cultures. For visitors, a tour with a practitioner provides fascinating insight into the Cao Dai faith, and the opportunity to take part in daily rituals and events. For those seeking an introduction to the cultures and faiths of South East Asia, a visit to the Cao Dai Temple provides an immersive encounter.

War Remnants Museum

war remnants museum
Ho Chi Minh City was one of the main focal points of the Vietnam War, and the legacy of this turbulent period is best experienced at the city’s War Remnants Museum – the most comprehensive wartime documentation centre in Vietnam. Here, you can see immaculately-preserved planes, tanks and war machines from both sides of the conflict, and unearth the harrowing realities of America’s bloody campaign against the Viet Cong. Artefacts, objects, documents and records reveal the history of the war from outbreak to conclusion; an essential heritage site for all who visit Ho Chi Minh City.

Notre Dame Cathedral

saigon notre dame
No, you didn’t read it wrong – Ho Chi Minh City is home to its very own Notre Dame Cathedral, built by French colonists in the late 19th century. Situated in the aptly-named Paris Square, this wonderful church is among the largest Catholic vestiges in Vietnam, and is still frequented by many locals despite much of the country now practising the Buddhist faith. With its twin-spired façade, the church echoes its French namesake, though its red-brick construction sets it apart from its western affiliations. Locals claim that the Virgin Mary statue which stands in front of Notre Dame Cathedral sheds tears – a piece of folklore which continues to attract thousands of miracle-seeking visitors each year.

Cu Chi Tunnels

Easily one of the most recognisable symbols of the Vietnam War, the Cu Chi Tunnels, which are located on the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City, provide a fascinating insight into what life was like for the thousands of Viet Cong soldiers who used this vast network of subterranean passageways to remain undetected from their enemy. As well as unfeasibly narrow tunnels and grisly boobytraps, the tunnels reveal another side to what life was like for the North Vietnamese Army, with rooms, mess halls and living quarters all buried beneath the surface. A tour of this unique wartime site is one of the foremost heritage highlights of Ho Chi Minh City.

A glimpse into Ho Chi Minh City's past

From the Khmer Empire to the Vietnam War, Ho Chi Minh City has seen its share of conflict, but also peace, progression and growth. Explore the city’s milestones in our interactive timeline.

Culinary Delights

Few places on Earth do street food quite like Ho Chi Minh City. From the classic banh mi to the beloved pho bowl, the city is recognised for its exceptional cuisine, which promises to bring bags of colour, flavour and spice to your journey. Here, we take a look at three of Saigon’s must-try dishes.

Banh Mi

banh mi sandwich
Banh mi is the quintessential street food staple of Ho Chi Minh City, and you’ll find vendors and cafés selling this delicious dish across the city. Essentially a baguette sandwich, the history of the banh mi originates in the French colonial period, when migrants brought the classic baguette to Vietnam. Embracing the ‘French stick’, locals gave it a regional twist, filling it with a blend of pickled vegetables, chillies, soy sauce and meat, and the banh mi was born. As well as meat fillings, seafood and vegetarian banh mi sandwiches are also popular, particularly prawn and tofu.

Pho

pho soup image
A classic of Vietnamese cuisine, pho is a rice noodle dish compromising of a flavourful broth, bean sprouts, onion, chillies, green herbs, lime and, traditionally, beef slices or meatballs. Surprisingly, it’s often eaten at breakfast, though you can enjoy it any time of the day from most eateries throughout Ho Chi Minh City. Some pho bowls are incredibly spicy, so pay attention to the spice grading when ordering and avoid adding extra green chillies (often provided as an optional seasoning) if you aren’t keen on fierce heat.

Banh Xeo

banh xeo savoury pancake
Banh xeo is a satisfying savoury pancake, traditionally eaten as a delicious appetiser during a meal in Ho Chi Minh City. Unlike any other crepe you’ve ever tasted, the banh xeo is flavoured with coconut milk, turmeric and other spices, and later filled with a blend of bean sprouts, button mushrooms, sliced onions, pork slices and shrimp. Should you order banh xeo as an appetiser, you’ll find it’s served alongside a side salad, comprising of mustard leaves, lettuce leaves and leafy herbs like basil and mint. The trick is it to wrap the pancake inside a large lettuce leaf, top with the remaining herbs, wrap up and tuck in.

 

Dreaming of exploring the colourful, vibrant streets of Ho Chi Minh City? Join us for a luxury Mekong river cruise in 2021 and enjoy an immersive stay in this diverse, eclectic city. For more information or to book your place, visit the homepage or call us today on 0808 302 3993.