Ho Chi Minh City - known to many as Saigon - is Vietnam's largest city and former capital of the south. Impossibly busy and hectic most of the time, Ho Chi Minh City can certainly raise an unsuspecting traveler's blood pressure.
With the motorbike-driven chaos also comes a wealth of interesting things to do and see around Ho Chi Minh City. Don't just run for the nearest travel agency to book a bus out - check out these things to do in Ho Chi Minh City first!
New to Vietnam? Read our travel guide to Vietnam, or check out our top reasons to visit Vietnam before proceeding.
Not exactly a joyous place, the War Remnants Museum - once known as the Museum of American War Crimes - is still an interesting stop in Ho Chi Minh City. The museum has displays of war paraphernalia, artifacts, unexploded ordinance, and several permanent exhibitions. Although the depiction of the Vietnam War is rather one-sided and fraught with propaganda, the War Remnants Museum does show the true horrors of war for all parties involved.
The War Remnants Museum is located in District 3 at the corner of Vo Van Tan and Le Quoy Don - northwest of the Reunification Palace. For other places that honor the Vietnam War, read about other Vietnam War sites of interest.
Probably the most popular stop for tourists with a short time in Ho Chi Minh City, the Reunification Palace was the official ending point of the Vietnam War. On April 30, 1975 North Vietnamese forces smashed through the gate - with photographers waiting - and captured the compound.
The Reunification Palace, also called Independence Palace, served as the home of the president of South Vietnam and as the command center for operations against communist forces. The building itself is stark and depressing, however the command bunker in the basement is a time capsule of war history.
Tourists must enter the Reunification Palace through the gate on Nam Ku Khoi Nghia Street on the eastern side of the compound.
Check out the Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral
The twin-towered Notre Dame Cathedral in Saigon merits at least a visit and a photo. Constructed between 1863 and 1880, the church was built by the French colonists entirely from materials brought over from France. The somber atmosphere inside Notre Dame Cathedral in Saigon is a testament to the thousands of prayers for peace given there throughout both the French and American wars in Vietnam.
A highlight of seeing the cathedral is the Virgin Mary statue which reportedly shed tears in 2005, causing a frenzy of traffic and onlookers. Although the church's official stance is that no tears were shed, thousands of witnesses claim otherwise.
The Notre Dame Cathedral occupies a large block east of the Reunification Palace on Pasteur Street. Directly across the street you'll find the Saigon Central Post Office, another must-see in the city!
Stop by Ben Thanh Market
The Ben Thanh Market is a popular, crowded market where overpriced junk and excellent bargains are found side by side. A hodgepodge of goods, souvenirs, and food items can be purchased for cheap in the sprawling market.
The Ben Thanh Market is a good place to buy unique coffee - an excellent cultural gift for friends at home. Be on the lookout for Vietnam's famous “Weasel coffee” which is created by feeding coffee beans to civets and waiting for the finished - and relatively expensive - product to be “processed”!
- Read about the world's most expensive coffee: civet coffee.
Getting deals at the Ben Thanh Market requires patience. Read about how to negotiate prices in Southeast Asia.
Shop at the War Market
Also known as “Cho Cu” or the “American Market”, the sprawling, dark Cho Cu Market has items found by farmers in the fields along with cheap, imported military clothing and gear; finding something interesting is simply a matter of luck. Various carts sell dog tags, ranks, awards, and unidentifiable scrap from both sides of the conflict.
Do not be fooled by the “authentic marine zippos” which are reproductions that were buried in the ground to make them appear aged.
The War Market can be at the intersection of Yersin and Nguyen Cong Tru Street just south of Pham Ngu Lao. Finding the underground market is tricky and adds to the sense of adventure - there is no sign. Before navigating the War Market maze, read about scams in Vietnam.
A large city rectangle formed by Pham Ngu Lao Street and Bui Vien Street has transformed into the backpacker and budget travel area in Ho Chi Minh City. Both major roads as well as small connecting streets are buzzing with cafes, restaurants, bars, and places to spend money.
Nightlife is lively along Bui Vien Street where drinks, live music, and new friends are easy to find. The area is also home to a host of budget hotels and travel agencies with tours and buses to all points in Vietnam.
No visit to Vietnam is complete without eating your weight in their delicious signature dish: pho. Vietnamese pho is a thin but flavorful noodle soup garnished with bean sprouts, basil, greens, lime, and chilli peppers on the side. The extra ingredients allow people to season the broth to taste. Either chicken, beef, or pork is added in thin pieces, however vegetarian versions are found in tourist areas.
Even President Clinton had to try a bowl of Vietnamese pho at Pho 2000 - a small but popular eatery with excellent food. Find Pho 2000 at the corner of Tran Hung Dao just opposite of the Ben Thanh Market.
When the motorbikes and madness of Ho Chi Minh City become too much, grab a bus and head for the Cu Chi Tunnels. Around two hours away from Saigon, the Cu Chi Tunnels are a popular day trip for people that are interested in Vietnam War history. The tunnels contain interesting exhibits and offer a way to experience cramped underground life the way that the soldiers once lived and operated.
Many important battles were fought near the Cu Chi Tunnels, influencing the outcome of the Vietnam War. Visitors can also fire automatic weapons at the nearby firing range for around one dollar a bullet.
Tours to the Cu Chi Tunnels can be booked through any of the travel agencies on Pham Ngu Lao Street or Bui Vien Street.
Vietnamese water puppetry dates back to the 11th century and has changed very little since. Bulky wooden puppets are actually controlled from beneath a pool of water; the performance is accompanied by traditional music. How the puppeteers do their jobs underwater is a well-guarded secret.
Although the authentic shows are exclusively in Vietnamese, the tales depict rural life in villages and are easy to understand. Vietnamese water puppet shows typically last for one hour and offer a colorful way to enjoy an ancient tradition.
The Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre is the most popular place to see a puppet show in Ho Chi Minh City. Find the theater at 55B Nguyen Thi Minh Khai in District 1 - east of Tao Dan Park.