Attractions in Ho Chi Minh City
Vietnam has been through so many wars over the centuries that there are not so many great, ancient and impressive monuments that you might expect given the rich culture and history the country has behind it.
- See AbbreviationFinder for commonly used abbreviation of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Also includes meanings of the same acronym.
There is little in Ho Chi Minh City that can compare to the finest of palaces and buildings in neighboring Cambodia and China. The oldest buildings were originally built of wood and have long since crumbled or burned down; possibly they have been renovated so many times that nothing is left of the original.
Notre Dame Cathedral
Notre Dame Cathedral is one of the oldest Catholic churches in Vietnam, [see photo first in article]. It was built in the late 1870s. It has two high, distinctive spiers. The church changed its name to Notre Dame Cathedral with the Pope’s blessing (about 10% of the population of Vietnam are Catholic Christians). The old post office, designed by the French architect Gustave Eiffel, is located opposite.
War Remnants Museum
Previously, this was called the Museum of American War Crimes, and you understand why when confronted with the most horrific images of Americans’ systematic destruction of Vietnamese nature, infrastructure, crops and rice fields. Even schools and hospitals were bombed. Pictures of massacred children, women and old people will surely shake you deeply. American guns, fighter jets and tanks are also on display here. Opening hours are daily at 0900-1200 and 1330-1700. Entrance approx. 7 kroner.
Thien Hau Temple
In Cholon you will find the Thien Hau Temple, a quiet oasis protected from the infernal noise that is constantly located above the rest of the city center. This Chinese temple was built by the Cantonese people in 1760 as a tribute to the goddess of the sea. The incense is constantly in the air. The interior consists of huge, golden statues and colorful altars. The beams in the partially open roof have detailed cut-outs. The temple is open daily at. From 0600 to 1730. There is free admission, but a donation will be appreciated.
This huge 1962 building is housed in a large park and was the palace of South Vietnam’s hated President Diem. The palace was bombed by his own air forces before he was assassinated in a coup in December 1963. Today you can stroll around almost on your own in over 100 chambers, reception rooms, conference rooms, meeting rooms, libraries and bomb-proof communication centers in the basement corridors. The palace is open daily at. 0730-1100 and at From 1300 to 1600. Entrance approx. 7 kr.
This museum, which was built in the period 1926-1929, shows Vietnam’s historical and cultural development over the last 2000 years. More than 17,000 objects have been exhibited in 21 rooms. Nearby is both the city’s botanical garden and a highly-criticized zoo, where the animals live in miserable conditions. Steer away. History Museum is open daily at. 0800-1130 and 1330-1630. Entrance approx. 4 kroner.
Jade Emperor Pagoda (Jade Emperor Pagoda)
This is a Chinese pagoda from 1909. It is set in a peaceful garden with turtle pool and fish pond. In five incense-filled temple rooms, you can see Buddhists praying to the many wonderfully ornate statues of God, some of them up to four meters high. Food, drink and small offerings are presented on the altars in front of each. The pagoda is not so easy to find, so take a taxi or walk from the History Museum (they take about a block). The pagoda is open daily at From 0600 to 1730. There is free admission, but a donation will be appreciated.
Ho Chi Minh City Tourist
You will probably wake up early because of traffic and car horns outside, so you might as well start the day early. Most of the better hotels in Ho Chi Minh City have hot buffet breakfasts with Asian dishes, so expect rice in all varieties, eggs, fish, noodles and soups. Some also have toast and baguettes with butter and jam available. But try the national dish pho bo, a rice noodle soup that is very common for breakfast in the south of Vietnam.
Day 1 in Ho Chi Minh City
Whether you choose to stay in Dong Choi or Pham Ngu Lao District, it is not far to Ho Chi Minh City’s lively Ben Thanh Market. This indoor market is a square mile and is located on the large square at the northern end of the city’s parade street Tran Hung Dao. Ben Trahn was built in 1914, and the facade of the large bell tower has become one of the city’s famous landmarks. Inside you will find a maze of narrow corridors between hundreds of small stalls and shops, selling everything between heaven and earth. Fruits, vegetables, electronic equipment, clothing, meat (scary fresh!) Fish, crabs, birds in both living and freshly slaughtered condition, books, groceries, sweets, cosmetics and much more.
If you continue a few hundred meters northwest from the market, you come to a large fenced park. In the park is the Reunification Palace. The entrance is on the northeast side, and here you may recognize the main gate from a famous photo, where in April 1975 North Vietnamese tanks thundered right through. The tickets cost approx. 7 kroner (1 USD). The palace was built in 1962 by South Vietnam’s hated President Diem and it was actually bombed by his own air force before he was eventually assassinated in November 1963. Today, you can stroll quite undisturbed in over a hundred halls, meeting rooms, libraries, card rooms, the communication centers in the basement corridors and drink something freezing from the fourth floor bar overlooking the entire area.
Now it is probably twelve o’clock, and most museums and offices close for lunch for an hour and a half. As you exit the palace and continue down Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, on the left you will find the Quan An Ngon restaurant, where you can mix all kinds of Vietnamese dishes for around 30 kroner.
Just around the corner from the restaurant is the Ho Chi Minh City Museum in a beautiful 1880s building, former Governor’s Palace and Supreme Court. It opens after lunch at 1330, and if you are interested in the history of the city you are currently visiting, it is well worth spending an hour or two here. Special impression is made of the world famous photo of the monk Thich Quang Duc, who set fire to himself and burned to death in protest of President Diem’s policies.
From here you can again stroll a quarter down Duong Pasteur (one of very few streets named after a foreigner). Turn left and you will reach the grand square in front of the town hall, a former hotel built in the early 1900s. In the small park in front is a statue of “Uncle Ho”, Ho Chi Minh himself. There are probably also about twenty tourists lined up to be photographed in front of the building.
Continue southeast towards the river and you are now back in the Dong Choi area, a few hundred meters northeast from where you started this morning. Most likely, you are very ready for a trip to the hotel room to cool off with a shower, rest your ears for a while and change clothes. And then it’s time to think about today’s main meal.
When you walk out on the street, wherever you live, you will probably see dozens of eateries, from cheap street stalls where you can dine for a fifth, to cafes and more expensive restaurants, so the choice is yours. For example, you could try the Serenade Restaurant on the 7th floor of Hotel Majestic in Dong Choi, where you can dine overlooking the Saigon River, if you are lucky and get a window table. After dinner you can walk up one floor to the Bellevue Bar and have a drink on the rooftop terrace. Here you have a great view of the river. The bar is open until midnight.
Day 2 in Ho Chi Minh City
After breakfast, the first stop is the War Remnants Museum in District 3. It is quite possible to walk here from Dong Choi district in 20 minutes (continue up the street past the Reunification Palace and turn left into Vo Van Tan). The alternative is to take a taxi.
The War Museum makes a deep impression on the vast majority of visitors, with their photo galleries from all stages of the war. Previously it was called the Museum of American War Crimes, and when you stand in front of pictures of massacred women and children, you understand why. In the garden outside, American fighters, guns, tanks and bulldozers are on display.
If you go back the same way and turn left at the Reunion Palace in Le Duan, you will soon reach Notre Dame Catholic Cathedral, a smaller edition of the namesake in Paris. It was built under the French colonial rule in the 1870s. Architectural enthusiasts should also take a stroll across the street and visit the old post office. It is from approx. 1888 and built according to drawings by Gustave Eiffel.
After lunch, take a taxi down to Cholon, the Chinese district, and visit the Thien Hau Temple. It was built by the city’s Chinese population in 1760 as a tribute to the sea goddess who had protected them on their journey to Vietnam. Beautiful decorations, large golden statues and a constant scent of incense meet you in this quiet and peaceful temple. There is free admission, but a donation is appreciated.
From here you can go down to Binh Tay market, another huge market mainly for the locals. Here it is even cheaper than in Ben Thanh, which you visited yesterday. The market was built in 1928. Here you will find all kinds of foods, fruits, vegetables and sweets on the ground floor. On the second floor there are most clothes, toys and groceries.
After a trip back to the hotel for a much-needed refreshing shower and change of clothes, might you be tempted to have a late dinner at a floating restaurant on the Saigon River? Several operators start from the docks between Dong Choi and Nguyen Hue, and you can dine as you glide down the river with great views of the city lights and the promenade.