By Mario Ng
Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon, is known as the more developed cousin, compared to the laid-back city of Hanoi. Hence, the pace in Saigon is relatively faster, and could be a good thing for those who wish to cover more in a shorter time.
Ho Chi Minh City has grown a lot, especially after it was reunified after the Vietnam War. Since then, it has become Vietnam’s financial centre, with many MNCs choosing to set up shop in Saigon. This allows the city to have a good mix of cultural and modern sights, with many heading to HCMC not just to enjoy the museums, but also to enjoy the relatively modern city, compared to its more laid-back cousins in other cities. Yet, Ho Chi Minh City is still continuing to grow, and this can only be good news for travellers, who are enjoying top-quality restaurants and sights in the city.
Below lies our version of a 4-day itinerary of Ho Chi Minh City, which is perfect for first-timers, as well as those who love to cover as much as possible!
To find out more about each attraction, be sure to click on them to find out more within straitstravellers!
First stop: Museum of Vietnamese History
Instead of focusing about the Vietnam War right from the start, it is good to learn more about the country itself first. This museum showcases the country’s history, right from the beginning. It is separated into different periods of Vietnam’s history, from the prehistoric period right up until the more recent history, where we learn more about the different dynasties that were present in Vietnam. Find out that there are in fact 54 different ethnic groups in the country! A great start to the day.
Learning more about Vietnam inside the Museum of Vietnamese History
Second stop: Ho Chi Minh City Museum
Next up would be continuing with the day’s agenda on learning more about the country. Over at Ho Chi Minh City Museum, learn more about the city itself, and how it became such an important city to Vietnam. Understand how Ho Chi Minh City contributed much to the local and national economy. We realised as well that it played a key role during the Vietnam War, where it was Ngo Dinh Diem’s headquarters at one point.
Outside Ho Chi Minh City Museum
Third stop: Ho Chi Minh City Hall
Located just nearby from Ho Chi Minh City Museum, it is where most tourists would gather to take that important picture. Where it used to be known as Hôtel de Ville de Saïgon, it now belongs to the government, with its interiors not opened to the public. Most gather at the park just outside, where they take a picture of President Ho Chi Minh together with the City Hall. Great time to take a breather and do the all-important touristy thing!
Ho Chi Minh City Hall - The place to be for all tourists
Fourth stop: Skydeck @ Bitexco Financial Tower
By now, it should be nearing the late afternoon, and it is the perfect time to head to the Skydeck @ Bitexco Financial Tower. Towering over the city centre, Bitexco Financial Tower was once upon a time the tallest building in Vietnam. Even though it has since been surpassed by even taller buildings, this does not make it less impressive. The fact that it is right in the middle of the city means you get the best view of the sights. At this time, you get to admire the city sunset, and it just creates that magic as you contemplate life while looking at the city. As Saigon lights up while the sun takes a nap, see just how beautiful the city is. Take your time and stay till nightfall! We absolutely loved our time here.
See the city light up as sun sets over Ho Chi Minh City
For this particular attraction, we booked our tickets with Klook and we found that it was really convenient. The instructions were clear when we purchased them and we simply showed up on the day of our visit. It was fuss-free and we highly recommend using this method as you can get a discount off the tickets too. If you prefer, get your tickets via the link below and you can get a discount too!
View of Bitexco Financial Tower
Fifth stop: Ben Thanh Night Market
Located near Bitexco Financial Tower, it is just a 10-15 minute walk to Ben Thanh Night Market. Operated outside the day market itself, stalls set up shop and sell their wares to tourists. Many food places are set up too and this is where you get more affordable seafood freshly cooked for you. Take the time after dinner to walk around to buy some tees and souvenirs!
Ben Thanh Night Market - Ben Thanh but at night
Tour of Cu Chi tunnels and the Mekong Delta
We signed up with Innoviet Tours for a private one-day tour to visit the Cu Chi Tunnels and Mekong Delta. It was a great choice as they brought us to the Ben Duoc tunnels, which was less touristy and where most domestic tourists head to. You actually get to experience how life was really like back then, and you will also see an authentic crater left behind by a bomb dropped from a B-52. It was amazing to see how meetings were conducted in absolute darkness deep underground, and how it was booby-trapped so the enemy would not venture too far even if he somehow managed to infiltrate into the meeting room. It was quite different from the main Cu Chi tunnels at Ben Dinh and we certainly enjoyed learning more about the war here.
Crater left behind by a B-52 bomb
Next up, we headed to the Mekong Delta where we saw for ourselves how life slowly changes as you venture out of the city. In Mekong Delta, you can see how life is much simpler (perhaps happier?) and farms are an important source of income. We thoroughly enjoyed a home-cooked lunch and that was easily the best meal we had in Vietnam. It was calming to row through the rivers, and the breeze as we cut through the Mekong Delta on a speedboat was simply awesome.
The one-day tour took up an entire day and it was nearing 8pm by the time we arrived back at our hotel. A great day spent exploring the country!
Sailing along the Mekong Delta
First stop: Independence Palace
One of the most iconic buildings in Ho Chi Minh City, and indeed in Vietnam, the Independence Palace is the site where an historic event took place. It was where the Vietnam War finally ended on 30 April 1975. You should arrive first thing in the morning, as there is much to explore, and to snap pictures of. Explore the different rooms, where it is still in use now to welcome foreign dignitaries. Make sure to head up to the rooftop to get a good view of the city, as well as to see the exact location where the Palace was bombed. The shrapnel that was supposedly retrieved from that bombing remains placed at the rooftop. The bunker was quite the sight, where many military communications equipment were kept. The Palace was the nerve centre during the end-stages of the war, and it was where all orders were sent out from.
Before you exit, make sure to spend some time at the Exhibit - From Norodom Palace to Independence Palace, which is located in a different building, within the Palace grounds. It seeks to explain how the Palace became into being, and how it was actually rebuilt after a bombing run severely damaged the palace in 1962.
The Independence Palace
Second stop: War Remnants Museum
This stop is a truly important museum, and is one that all visitors should visit when in Ho Chi Minh City. It contains mostly pictures taken during the war, and shows the horrific damage done onto humans as a result of the war. More than just focusing on Vietnamese, it also shows what war has to the American soldiers, and how there are simply no winners in war. Indeed, every single picture painted a thousand words, and all the pictures came together to provide a glimpse of what happened back then. It was truly a horrific experience that some pictures were quite disturbing, and it forces you to think about how important peace is, regardless of how cliche that might sound.
Located just outside the main building, is an outdoor exhibit to show how the locals were initially imprisoned by the French, when IndoChina was still a colony of France, before the second world war. It is a useful reminder to highlight a dark period of colonialism, and the effects it had on the local population.
Some pictures on display at the War Remnants Museum
Third stop: Saigon Central Post Office
Built in 1891 by the French, it has remained as the city’s main post office, and is a fully-functioning one. Most tourists head here to marvel at the architecture, and send a postcard to their families and friends. Take some time to admire the building and maps, which were first painted when the post office was first built. This explains why the maps look different, where telegraphic lines are shown on the maps!
Inside Saigon Central Post Office
First stop: Ben Thanh Market
Probably one of the most crowded markets in downtown Saigon, it is a bustling place full of activities. Get some souvenirs, street good, and even tropical fruits that cannot be found in your own country. Take the time to explore the rows of shops, and test your bargaining skills with the different vendors. A good place to hide from the heat (not the humidity though), it is also a shopper’s paradise!
Ben Thanh Market - The place for all your touristy needs
Second stop: Couleurs by Réhahn: Fine Art Photography
Something quite different from most attractions in Ho Chi Minh City, this is nevertheless a great place to visit. Rehahn is a world-famous photographer who has dedicated himself to photographing about Vietnam. Among his projects is the desire to snap pictures of all 54 enthic groups of Vietnam, and his projects has brought him to all over Vietnam. While fine arts may not everyone’s thing, the art gallery has mass-produced prints of more manageable sizes, along with postcards and coffee table books. It is a great place to head to for all fans of Vietnam.
The most amazing pictures one can find in Vietnam, of Vietnam
Third stop: Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon
Situated right in the middle of the city centre, Notre-dame Cathedral was built by the French. Interestingly, the materials were imported from France, which means that the French remains in Vietnam! This is another place where tourists must head to, since is its beauty. Take some time to snap the pictures, but don’t forget to admire the building using your eyes, as memories should be forged through our eyes, instead of through pictures.
Notre-dame Cathedral, under renovation when we visited in May 2019
Fourth stop: Saigon Municipal Opera House
Another lasting monument built by the French, it is a lovely building that is also in the city centre, and nearby most places of interest, including Notre-dame Cathedral. Besides simply taking pictures of this building, be sure to find some time to catch a show during the evening, and enjoy theatre in the midst of a historic building!
View of Saigon Municipal Opera House
Fifth stop: Vincom Landmark 81 Skyview
The newest skyscraper in Ho Chi Minh City, Vincom Landmark 81 is currently the tallest building in the country (June 2019). Although it is located slightly away from the city centre, it still has amazing views, and one can see planes making their final approach as they near the airport. The observation deck has three floors for you to explore, so you will be unlikely to get cramped with too many people. You will also realise just how tall the building is, as most of the buildings you see in the city look tiny.
The city's buildings all look so small when you are right at the top of Vincom Landmark 81
While the ticket to head up to the skyview is quite pricey, we enjoyed ourselves there and would recommend this place for those who just enjoy observation decks. For those who fancy, there is a premium restaurant at the top, so you can get to enjoy the sights while having a meal. If you prefer, have your meal at the outdoor area, so you get a good breeze too!
View of Vincom Landmark 81 at night
This 4-day itinerary is great for first-time visitors to Ho Chi Minh City. It is quite packed with loads of places to visit, but thankfully, most of the attractions are quite near to each other. Within a short span of 4 days, we are quite sure you will get to understand Ho Chi Minh City that much more!
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Published by Mario Ng
Mario enjoys travelling around the world but finds himself visiting the same cities again and again. At this rate, it is unlikely he will travel "around the world" any time soon. He also has a dream to spend one year catching all the Formula 1 races live.