Top Ho Chi Minh City Hotels
The French colonial structures and religious pagodas that dot the city lend some charm, but the most famous sights are related to the American war and reunification. The powerful War Remnants Museum is probably the most memorable attraction. A powerful and politically charged testimony of the conflict portrayed from the Vietnamese side, it focuses on US atrocities with grisly photos of blown-up and napalmed villagers and bottled deformed foetuses showing the hideous effects of Agent Orange. Impressive tanks, helicopters and fighters are displayed plus a moving tribute to the photojournalists killed on the frontline - Americans included. Madame Guillotine is also on show. Disturbing, disgusting, tragic - but essential viewing. Definitely not for kids.
Within the gates is the enjoyable water puppet show which is suitable for all. The highly skilled puppeteers enact a lively traditional drama in waist deep water from behind a screen. Leaping dragons, frantic hunters and water-squirting demons lighten the mood for those depressed by the War Museum. A hit with kids.
The second biggest draw is Reunification Palace. It was here that the American war was finally won in 1975. This 60s structure has been kept much as it was when it was recaptured with likable unfashionable furnishings in the cabinet and receiving rooms. On the top theres a defunct helicopter plus 2 marked spots of an earlier assassination attempt. Its fairly ordinary until you reach the surreal time warp of the extensive war bunker complete with original war rooms, maps and radio equipment.
The Jade Emperor Pagoda is a gentle and exotic little spot full of character. The Chinese temple is filled with old carved statues and smoulders with incense. Set in calm leafy forecourts with a rare spiritual glow.
Boat trips of the Saigon River can be arranged for a fairly steep fee by local standards. The industrial waters are polluted with rubbish and tourists have been robbed, but the squalor and can be very interesting. Think twice, its certainly not beautiful or romantic.
Rather boring but free is the Ton Duc Thang Museum opposite the river. This celebrates the life and career of the successor to Ho Chi Minh. Mostly a collection of photographs of various world figures shaking hands it is unlikely to interest those without an appreciation of Vietnamese politics. Its deserted much of the time - skip it.
The Museum Of Ho Chi Minh City is a noble colonial structure. The ground floor is a hit and miss affair of some of the arts and ecology of the area and the patriotic upper floor focuses on the fall of Saigon. Outside are a few military leftovers and some old cars. Not quite as interesting as some of the other museums in the city.
The History Museum is a well-rounded and informative presentation of 4000 years of Vietnamese history. The recent war takes a back seat here and youll see sturdy French cannons, Khmer relics, ancient pottery and bronze and even a local mummy. Water puppet shows entertain during busier hours. Since its free of strident politics its probably the most professional and academic museum in the city.
Vietnams most celebrated hero is honoured at the Ho Chi Minh Museum. Surprisingly modest, it seems dusty and somewhat moth-eaten. Inside the small building is a collection of Uncle Ho memorabilia outlining his life. When browsing through exhibits such as Ho Chi Minhs pencils or his watering can you realise just how highly respected he really is. Much of the explanations are in Vietnamese but its not a bad place for a wander.
Set in a flaking 3 storey colonial building the Art Museum offers a broad range of quality pieces from classical sculptures to contemporary art. A thorough blend with something for everyone.
Some of the citys colonial architecture is worth a snap. Photogenic buildings include the General Post Office, Municipal Theatre and perhaps the centerpiece of the city, The City Hall. Notre Dame Cathedral is a redbrick European structure opposite the General Post Office.
Tourist Information Offices
There are several tourist offices around, the small privately run offices are much better than the government run ones. Hotels are also useful. Saigon Tourist on Le Than Ton St in District 1 is useful and can provide recent information and maps.
Entertainment and Eating Out
Ho Chi Minh City has some superb dining and the best nightlife anywhere in Indochina. Most of the best entertainment and dining is predictably set in the city centre. At night Ho Chi Minh City becomes Saigon - its a great place to let your hair down. Note: being intercepted by beggars and postcard kids in District 1 is the norm. At night, men will find working girls scooting alongside them on mopeds. The approaches are polite but relentless.
A good Vietnamese restaurant is the Lemon Grass, which provides tempting dishes and a traditional oriental interior. On the corner, opposite the Cathay Pacific building is Vietnam House. This 2-floor restaurant has good local cuisine set in quaint colonial surroundings. There are also countless cheap noodle shops all over the place for those seeking the real deal.
The only riverfront restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City is the Ngan Dinh Harbour View. Unfortunately its a bit of a letdown with fully flavoured but average quality Asian food and questionable hygiene. The International Hotel has authentic Cantonese dim sum and the Equatorial Hotels Kampachi is a trustworthy Japanese sushi bar.
There are several irresistible French restaurants in the city. A popular and cosy bistro is BiBis - colourful and affordable with Mediterranean flair. Quite remote but well worth the detour is Le Bordeaux, an excellent and romantic spot. Perhaps the classiest act in town is Le Caprice - the cuisine quality, views and indeed the bill are sky high.
The premiere steakhouse in town is undoubtedly the Amigo - top quality grills in a snug bar-restaurant setting. The Bodhi Tree usually gets the nod from vegetarians. For a satisfying German menu in a Bavarian style beer hall head to Gartenstadt.
For a bit of scrolling scenery try a dinner cruise aboard the floating restaurants anchored opposite the Majestic Hotel. Maxims Dinner Theatre combines dining with traditional shows on its sizable stage.
The attractive colonial Municipal Theater presents a regularly shifting series of varying shows.
Opportunities for massage abound, but almost exclusively they involve pretty young girls in short skirts making a living on tips. It is almost impossible for a male not to be groped during a massage. Perhaps the only professional massage centre free of debauchery is at the Saigon Prince Hotel where the treatments are superb.
Foot massage is popular in the city and there are plenty of little lounges to sooth weary feet. Theres little between them and they seem very friendly and welcoming. Comfort Foot Massage opposite the Saigon Prince is a friendly place to put your feet up.
Cadillac Caf is a large and lively open bar with a good vibe and a fun-loving local crowd. Expats tend to hang out at the pricey but trendy Saigon Saigon at the top of the Caravelle Hotel. Raunchy Apocalypse Now is pretty low key these days but picks up late - the Underground pub has a much better atmosphere.
There are some heaving and energetic discos with a real buzz. The in-crowd currently hang out at Club Monaco, Orbit and Metropolis.
Shopping in Ho Chi Minh isnt particularly exciting. Prices are quite low and the city centre is well developed but the shopping options can be unimaginative. Souvenirs are mostly cheap and trashy but there are some exceptions. The thriving Ben Thanh Market is a typical scene of fruit, T-shirts, snacks and plastic buckets. There are some tourist trinkets and cheap clothes inside this busy concrete shell.
There are several handicraft outlets around, mainly concentrated on Dong Khoi Street near the Bong Sen. There are some nice bits and pieces amongst the tack but prices can be outrageous. Haggle!
Quite a few art shops in the city center churn out paintings of varying quality. Its easy to pick up a reasonably convincing reproduction Van Gogh for a few bucks. The Hong Hac gallery in district 3 has a good reputation for better works.
The Dan Sinh Market, also known as the American Market, deals in reproduction and fake war souvenirs. Its an interesting browse among flack jackets, smashed aviation dials and foot powder. Some junk is the real article but is being steadily phased out by fakes. Some is just junk. Zippos emblazoned with daft war motifs and poetry sell well.
Cyber Ho Chi Minh
The net scene is well established. Rates are good and connections are good - on most days. Internet cafes are spread around but concentrated mostly around tourist areas. Dong Du Street opposite the Bong Sen hotel has one or two more reliable choices as does Pham Ngu Lao Street, the backpacker hangout.
Getting From A to B
The infrastructure is quite basic but its a navigable place and getting around is simple. Transport is cheap and since most people get about on 2 wheels, traffic isnt too bad. The best way to get about is by taxi - cheap and comfortable. Many will try to haggle for inflated rates, especially if you head for the airport, but will back down if you insist on the meter. They are easy to flag down in busier areas but can be difficult to find at night.
A good and fun alternative for short distances is via traditional cyclo. Some riders are especially friendly and knowledgeable and make good guides of the heart of the city. Be careful with the weather, cyclo drivers valiantly try to shield their passengers in a sudden storm but to no avail.
Just as common as the cyclos are the motorcycle taxis. Less than a taxi but it will raise your pulse rate, particularly when flying through a crossfire of traffic at chaotic junctions.
To leave the city, hiring a car and driver is the best bet. Hotel choices are safer and more comfortable. With Vietnams creaking infrastructure this is definitely the way to go medium distances for no nonsense travellers.
A confusing network of buses meander around for a mere few cents. Unless familiar with their routes, theyre impractical. Vietnamese long distance buses are extensive but something of a feat of endurance. Overcrowded, old and unsafe, these bangers take forever to reach their destinations but cost virtually nothing. Buses for the north leave from Mien Dong station.
Trains are outdated, neglected and even slower than buses. There are several types plodding up and down the spine of the country, with only the express trains to Hanoi even approaching convenient. Ho Chi Minhs main railway station is at Ga Sai Gon in District 3.
Domestic flights hop over the sluggish land transport. Tan Son Nhat International Airport is only 7km from District 1.
You dont have to go far to leave the city pace behind and some side trips compete well with the urban attractions. Budget-price Pham Ngu Lao Street offers tours and ticketing at rock bottom prices. The fascinating Cu Chi Tunnels lie 2 hours from the city. The tunnels are an incredible network of tiny underground passages dug by the Viet Cong to combat the US. The fit can squeeze underground with a guide and crawl into the amazing war rooms, secret entrances and see vicious booby traps in the bomb-blasted woods. There is a touristy side to it but its an intriguing insight into one the fiercest battles of the war. Nam must have been hell for both sides.
Easily combined with the tunnels is a visit to the Caodai Temple about 30 minutes away. Unique to Vietnam, the Caodai religion is a colourful blend of several mainstream faiths. The temple itself is a flamboyant and energetic expression of these influences and unlike any other - strikingly creative with Chinese dragons, cathedral-like interior, colourful robes, Buddhist chanting and the new-age all seeing eye. Try to get there for the mystic noon ceremony. A visual feast and well worth it.
Note: Photography is fine but sentinels will steer you to the correct areas in the viewing gallery. Careful where you tread, various areas are of religious significance.
A fair daytrip in fine weather is to the fair beaches of Vung Tau. The beaches arent fantastic but are easily reached from the city. Theres a good atmosphere but it can be skipped.
Riverboat tours of the rice-laden Mekong Delta can be rewarding. Theres plenty of it and its easy to escape down the endless fertile channels. Day tours often stop off at Mytho which has a few nice attractions of its own. To get the more out of it, get off the main river with a 2-day tour. But be aware it can get rugged and uncomfortable out there.
With its shared border and centuries of influence, Vietnams holidays mirror closely those of the Chinese. The big one is Tet, the major annual festival when everything grinds to a halt. The festival marks the lunar New Year and falls in late January or February. Fireworks, decorations and banqueting make for a grand cultural celebration.
Note: hotels and flights sell out and shops and attractions close during Tet. Book everything well in advance.
National Day is celebrated on 2 September and marks the anniversary of Vietnams declaration of independence.
The second largest festival is Wandering Souls Day. Food offerings are made to the dead and paper gifts to the restless ghosts go up in smoke.
One of the best nights of the year is the Mid-Autumn Festival. Children carry colourful glowing lanterns and the whole country overdoses on festive moon cakes. Dates vary, but it mostly flickers into life around October.
Liberation Day on 30 April celebrates the liberation of Saigon in 1975 by the North and is followed by International Labour Day on 1 May for a 2-day holiday. More patriotism follows with Ho Chi Minhs Birthday celebrated on 19 May.
Featured Ho Chi Minh City Hotels
Ho Chi Minh City Travellers Tales
Perhaps not the best time to travel to HCMC. Most of the time, it rained during my stay. I had to cancel my intended trip to the Mekong Delta as the weather was not compatible. Lesson learned: always be familiar with the local weather details before embarking on a trip to a foreign land.
People at the market stalls were great as were the people generally - we will visit Vietnam again for sure. The mekong delta was great fun - do that trip but watch out for the rain - it''s amazing but very heavy - buy the cheap poncho US army style macs at the American Market. The war museum is an eye opener and worth a visit - it''s smaller than I thought it would be but to the point. The cu chi tunnels were good - have a shot of an AK47 - it''s pretty cheap and well worth 10 shots. Go the the restaurant opposite the old imperial palace - the busy one not the posh looking one - its cheap and fabulous! Taxis are the way to go - cheap and good - and get a metered one from the airport - not one you are solicited for - they rip you off.
Do yourself a favor and attend the evening traditional Vietnamese musical concert and fashion show at SI HOANG, a tea salon located on the street just behind Saigon''s famous City Hall building. For only $15.00 US per person, you get to sample gourmet teas and snacks while hearing talented musicians play extremely rare instruments (like a unique stone xylophone and beautiful violin made out of a stalk of bamboo) and seeing professional models wearing ancient Vietnamese textiles in intimate, charming, and very atmospheric surroundings. Best of all, it is not cheesy or touristy like a lot of things in Vietnam can be. CAN''T RECOMMEND THIS ENOUGH!<br> <br> For dinner I highly recommend Luong Son Quan. I like to eat where the locals do--off the beaten track from the tourist circuit, and you won''t find any foreigners here, just really well prepared Vietnamese cuisine that is delicious and very safe. Their specialty is a wonderful marinated beef that you grill yourself on a handy table top charcoal grill, accompanied by a nice mustard sauce. For the more adventurous diner, there are also many exotic dishes like deep fried scorpion or grilled field rat! Best (cheapest) way to get around Saigon is by motorbike or cyclo (bicycle pedaled rickshaw) but BE SURE TO AGREE ON A PRICE BEFORE YOU EMBARK! Same goes for taxi cabs - most of them in Saigon don''t seem to be metered!
We visited the war remants museum, one sided but still very eye-opening, the Bin Tanh market - crazy busy but great bargains and all around the Dhong Khoi area is great shopping. Lemon Grass restaurant (just off Dhong Khoi St) had some lovely Vietnamese food and we ate in Camargue and Le Jardin French restaurants, the former somewhat more expensive but amazing food and setting. Also worth a look is the Fine Arts Museum, set in a beautiful building (French style) and if you go down the corridors and not just the main rooms, there is a wealth of ornaments and paintings to be seen. A find are the 2 galleries selling art at the bottom of this museum.
Street merchants in Saigon are unwilling to bargain despite there not being many tourists around. For best-priced food and souvenirs try the Pha Nga Lao area near the Sahara Bar. Some taxis have doctored meters showing absurd amounts to fool tourists -- problem easily resolved by getting the doorman or greeter at your destination to talk to the driver, though. Don''t miss the Cu Chi Tunnels daytrip and the War Remnants Museum. Beware of limited direction signs and lack of spoken English throughout the city.
HCM is great. Important to realize that the historical sites themselves are really secondary. The city itself is the most important site of all! Fantastic.
Definitely make the trip out to the Cu Chi tunnels.
HCMC is a great place, although traffic very hectic. When crossing the road don''t hesitate or you will never make it. KHAI Silk was a great store for handbags, although expensive.
I made intersesting tours to the tunnels of Cu Chi and to the Mekong Delta. I had an outstanding ''fusion'' dinner in the main restaurant of hotel Caravelle.
Ngon restaurant at 138 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, just across the road from the Reunification Palace is an excellent place to try a wide variety of local foods.