There is no doubt that Ho Chi Minh City should be in your bucket list of places to see in the world. Known for its diverse culture, modern and thriving metropolitan atmosphere, and colourful history, this Vietnamese capital is one of Asia’s most fascinating and energetic cities. Aside from its tourist attractions, its street food is a can’t-miss experience.
Ho Chi Minh City, popularly called HCMC or Saigon (its former name), is the economic capital of Vietnam and the largest city in the country in terms of population. It is home to about 8 million people and definitely outshines the more traditional city of Hanoi. Historically speaking, it is where the reunification of North and South Vietnam took place that ended the 2-decade war. However, it also features some similarities with Hanoi in its museums, curbsides that are dotted with small restaurants, and streets that brim with about 7.3 million motorbikes. Though its traditional heritage is still strong, its French flair is undeniable thanks to its being a French colony for nearly a century.
Anytime of the year is a good time to visit Ho Chi Minh City considering it has a tropical climate consisting of only two seasons: wet and dry. The wet season lasts from May to October and the dry season is from November to April. April through May are known to be the hottest months, while December is the coldest with temperatures dropping to only 16C in the early morning.
Now that you’re probably already convinced to explore Ho Chi Minh City, let us recommend to you our 3-day travel itinerary to help you make the most of your excursion in the city.
Since Ho Chi Minh City is the gateway to Vietnam from various cities, it is just right and convenient to spend day 1 exploring it. Saigon is very historic and warrants an entire day of sightseeing and visiting places frequented by locals and tourists alike.
Feel welcomed by visiting the Ho Chi Minh City Hall, which was first known as the Hotel de Ville, built in 1908. Located in the centre of District I, it boasts a classic French design with a statue of President Ho Chi Minh (Uncle Ho) in front of the building.
Then, continue to the Saigon Central Post Office and you’ll understand why it’s part of the tourist destinations in the city. Just by looking at this building’s façade, you’ll admire this elegant colonial building in green and yellow. Its interior is also as beautiful with its décor perfectly matching the exterior. The building never fails to amaze onlookers by bringing them back to the turn of the 20th century with some old, wooden phone booths.
Your next stop is the Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon, which is just a few steps away from the Central Post Office. It’s one of the city’s most important, surviving Catholic churches built by the French colonists in the 1880s, featuring red brick and classic European design. And when its bell tolls, it can be heard across the city.
The Reunification Palace is another must-see attraction. It is formerly known as the Independence Palace, and the President of South Vietnam’s former residence and office during the War. This was where the war ended when a tank rolled through the palace gates on April 30, 1975 and forced South Vietnam to surrender. The place is now basically a museum, with the interior looking the same as it did in the 1960s.
Continue exploring Vietnam’s history as you make your way next to the War Remnants Museum, which is the city most important museum. Three exhibits give insights into the war with the first one focusing on the well-preserved weapons and war machines that were used by the US forces. The second one is on the role of the journalists in reporting on the conflict, while the third exhibit shows the use of Agent Orange during the war with graphic photos of this chemical weapon’s effect when used.
The Ben Thanh Market is definitely one of the most famous stops in Ho Chi Minh City. Make sure to harness your haggling skills before coming here because there will be tons of opportunities to shop for clothes, food, produce, and souvenirs scattered in more than 3,000 stalls. If you prefer a less touristy market, the Binh Tay Market is a great alternative.
Day 2 Jade Emperor Pagoda, Tân Định Church, Vĩnh Nghiêm Pagoda, Giac Lam Pagoda, and Hồ Chí Minh City Museum
Open the second day of your stay in Ho Chi Minh City with a visit to one of the most important shrines in town, the Jade Emperor Pagoda, which is located in the city’s Da Kao neighbourhood. The Vietnamese people call it the Ngọc Hoàng Pagoda, but it’s popularly known as the Tortoise Pagoda. As an active place of worship among Buddhists and Taoists, you’ll have a chance to see numerous worshippers who approach a statue of the Jade Emperor in the pagoda’s main chamber. To give justice to its name, there is a pool of tortoises outside the pale pink pagoda.
Then, see another pink place of worship for the Catholic people in Ho Chi Minh which is the Tân Định Church. You won’t miss it because aside from its attractive color, it also has a 60-metre high bell tower. Built in 1876 with Gothic and Renaissance features, it can easily pass for a palace.
Situated in District 3 is another place of worship—the Vĩnh Nghiêm Pagoda, which is the largest pagoda of any temple in Saigon. It was built in 1971, is made of concrete, and combines Japanese and Vietnamese architectures with a four-story tower behind it. The atmosphere of the pagoda is very solemn, visited by worshippers who come to seek blessings.
You shouldn’t skip the Giac Lam Pagoda even though it is situated farther away from the city, especially because it’s the oldest one in Ho Chi Minh City. Be in awe to see its 7-stupa that is set within its peaceful gardens. Making this pagoda special is the fact that it’s a Buddhist shrine but has the elements of Taoism. Don’t miss to admire the more than a hundred statues painted in gold that are scattered all over the pagoda.
The Ho Chi Minh Museum is the best place to go to learn about Vietnam’s struggles with foreign nations. Go through its numerous exhibits that brim with artifacts and photography and learn about the country’s quest for independence, with the focus on the American and French forces.
The third day of your excursion in Vietnam should take you outside of the city’s limits to explore more of its attractions, especially those that have helped shape the culture and history of Vietnam.
Travel north of Ho Chi Minh City to the famous Cu Chi Tunnels, built by the Viet Cong soldiers to help fight the US forces. It is composed of a maze of narrow tunnels that were used not only as tunnels for combat but also as supply routes and living spaces. In fact, there are kitchens, sleeping quarters, and schools in these tunnels. You can also see displays of how the network is laid out, including the types of traps used by the Viet Cong soldiers.
To the south of the city is the Mekong Delta, which is a huge network of rivers and islands at the mouth of the river. It offers fabulous nature and scenic views and a rural culture and atmosphere enjoyed by those who live around the delta. You can enjoy a boat ride to the Tortoise Islet and the Unicorn Islet and see the daily lives of the local communities. Don’t miss to try riding on a traditional rowing boat to explore the canals and gliding through water coconut trees. Otherwise, you can cycle around villages or just laze and feel the breeze on a hammock.
Still in southern Vietnam, you can explore the fascinating religion of Caodaism. This is where it was founded, and a visit to the Cao Dai Temple is a must. Interestingly, the temple has the features of a church, a shrine, and a temple. Its church-like façade is complemented by an ornate interior with beings resembling dragons on the pillars. During your visit, you may see a religious service from the upper balcony with worshippers in robes that look like Muslim worshippers in the mosque.
Ho Chi Minh City is definitely a wonderful city to explore that brims with history, culture, traditions, and fascinating structures. Three days may not be a lot but it’s a good start to discovering the city’s eternal beauty.