What to do and see in Saigon

What to do and see in Saigon

(photo by Tu Art)

Ho Chi Minh might be a very cosmopolitan city, but it is still a great portal into Vietnamese life. This is not a city for peace-seekers. You need to immerse yourself in the hustle and bustle, get hypnotised by the tornado of orbiting motorbikes,and find the fast pace of the city thrilling; otherwise, it gets to be too much and your experience in Saigon might turn out to be somewhat suffocating.

Although you might overwhelmed at first by the waves of people coming from every direction, once you get used to the chaos, you start appreciating the magic of the commotion. Only then, when you dive in, you'll be able to soak in the culture, indulge in delicious food, enjoy a vibrant nightlife and get a glimpse into a very interesting history.

Saigon is also a city of contrasts where alleys steeped in history and ancient temples stand next to chic malls and glitzy skyscrapers. The old and new world blend harmoniously to give shape to an intrinsic and stunning urban collage. While the city breathes in modernity, the country's past lives through colonial villas and ornate religious sites.

From Vietnam War sites to temples, a vibrant nightlife, varied cuisine and lively markets, there's no shortage of things to do and see in Ho Chi Minh City.

Reunification Palace (Independence Palace)

When you step into this building, you travel back in time to the sixties. Home and workplace of the President of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War, the Reunification Palace is a landmark in Ho Chi Minh City. This building witnessed the end of the Vietnam War during the Fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975, after a North Vietnamese Army tank charged through its gates.

War Remnants Museum

Saigon is famous for its wealth of Vietnam War sites, and as such, it is also home to one of the most important war museums - War Remnants Museum. Previously named the Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes, the museum is home to photos and items which illustrate the atrocious and inhumane nature of the war. This is one of the most shocking collections depicting the gruesome reality of the war in Vietnam. Most of the disturbing photos documenting the mass slaughters carried out by US forces come from US sources, and they particularly illustrate the disreputable My Lai Massacre. The best way to access the museum - located in District Three - is by cyclo or taxi.

Botanic Gardens

Founded by the French after establishing Cochinchina as a colony, these lush and superb botanic gardens stand out as one of the finest in Asia. Take a stroll beneath tropical trees, such as Tung and So Khi trees. From here you can easily visit the History Museum, which is one of the major attractions in Ho Chi Minh City.

History Museum

Founded by the Societe des Etudes Indochinoises, this notable Sino-French museum dates back to 1929. Here you will get to admire a collection of artefacts that illustrate the evolution of the cultures of Vietnam all the back to the Bronze Age Dong Son civilisation and the Funan civilisation. This fascinating display of objects will guide you all the way from the remote past of Vietnam to the Cham, Khmer and Vietnamese civilisation.

If you are a history lover, you might also want to visit the Museum of Vietnamese History, which houses an interesting collection of artefacts that document 2000 years of Vietnamese history. After visiting the museum, you can escape the hustle and bustle of the city by enjoying a tranquil moment in the surrounding gardens. Conveniently located in the compact District One, the museum is not far from the main attractions.

Notre Dame Cathedral

Built between 1877 and 1883, the twin towers is an iconic symbol of the city. This neo-Romanesque church boasts 40m-high square towers tipped with iron spires. The Catholic cathedral is named after the Virgin Mary, and thus, it houses a statue of Her, which is believed to have shed a tear once. Also located in District One, the cathedral is just across the Reunification Palace.

Thien Hau Pagoda

Dating back to the 19th century, this beautiful temple is dedicated to the goddess Thien Hau, protector of the sea, and it stands out for its ornate design and statuary. According to local beliefs, Thien Hau can travel across the seas on a mat to rescue people in trouble on the high seas.