Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon as it is still known to its millions of inhabitants, is a city of contrasts: French colonial architecture, sparkling skyscrapers, incense-infused temples and remnants of war co-exist alongside each other. Its frenzied streets – home to an ever-flowing stream of motorbikes, bustling markets and vendors peddling street food – might seem a little overwhelming at first, but beyond the chaos this exciting city has a plethora of things for visitors to see and do. Here are some of our highlights to keep you busy for 48 hours in Saigon.
It’s time to get your walking shoes on to explore the city by foot. Start with a visit to the imposing Notre Dame Cathedral, built between 1886 and 1890 in the heart of Saigon’s government quarter. Then it’s onto the nearby French-style Central Post Office, built by architect Gustave Eiffel. Just down the road you’ll find Cong Vien Van Hoa Park. Here you can cool off under the trees with an iced coffee from one of the street vendors (coffee was introduced to Vietnam by French colonists in the 19th century). Walk through the park to the 1960s-built Reunification Palace, the former presidential home of South Vietnam. This was the scene for the final stages of the American War when a North Vietnamese tank bulldozed through the gates and a soldier ran to the fourth floor of the palace to raise a North Vietnamese flag from its balcony.
Saigon is famous for its pho, a traditional Vietnamese noodle soup which was influenced by Chinese and French cuisine. It’s a must-try, considered by some as the ‘national dish’ . You won’t have any trouble finding a restaurant or street stall selling it!
Make your way to the War Remnants Museum, which depicts the brutality of the American War on Vietnamese civilian victims. It’s a very poignant and emotional museum, but well worth the visit. Take your time viewing
the displays, which includes photographs, artillery, jets, tankers, army uniforms and a replica of a prison.
It’s been a big day! However, should you wish to make the most of Saigon – and we certainly think you should – grab tickets for the amazing acrobatic performance currently performing at Saigon Opera House (also known as Ho Chi Minh Municipal Theatre).
This morning head out to Cu Chi Tunnels, about 35 kilometres from the city. This 120-kilometre network of tunnels was dug by the VietCong Communist guerrilla troops and was used during the American War to house troops, transport communications and supplies, lay booby traps and mount surprise attacks. The tunnels, which are several storeys deep in some parts, feature trapdoors, living areas, storage facilities, weapon factories, field
hospitals, command centres and kitchens. Spend time looking around the tunnels – and if you’re feeling brave, you can crawl through one yourself!
Head back into the city for a simple but delicious lunch of Bánh mì; a selection Vietnamese sandwiches with chicken, beef or pork with pâté, mayo, cucumber spears and pickled veggies on a fresh bread roll.
Time to head to Ben Thanh Market, the city’s most central market, to pick up some bargains! Here you’ll find just about anything – from fruit and veggies, spices, sweets, clothing, costume jewellery and watches, hardwares, DVDs, and lots of friendly stallholders trying to get your attention. Haggle fervently, unless there’s a ‘Fixed Price’ sign.
Treat yourself to a delicious dinner on Dong Khoi Street – dotted with Colonial architecture and many cafés, restaurants, bars and stores, this buzzing street has a sordid and colourful history! Stop in at the Caravelle Hotel, the city’s most iconic hotel. Built in 1959, the hotel was home to many members of the International Press Corps during the American War. Its rooftop bar, Saigon Saigon, overlooks the sparkling city lights and is the ideal spot to toast to a wonderful 48 hours!
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