10 Best Things to Do in Ho Chi Minh

Many of the best attractions in Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) centre around the events of 20th century war and conquest. It sounds sombre, and in parts it is, but there are some truly fascinating historical activities suitable for all ages. From classic French architecture to perfectly maintained American war planes; walking around Ho Chi Minh is like seeing the past come to life with so many famous places of interest scattered throughout the city. Of course, as Vietnam’s biggest city and business capital; times are changing and modern skyscrapers are starting to punctuate the sky combining the new and old in a uniquely Vietnamese way. With our guide to the Top 10 Best Attractions in Ho Chi Minh you can get all of the information you need to ensure you don’t miss anything this fascinating city has to offer.

1 War Remnants Museum

One of the most talked-about exhibits are the ‘tiger cages’ in which the South Vietnamese government kept their political prisoners. These small cages are only 2.7m x 1.5m x 3m each and were sometimes used to keep up to 14 prisoners in. There is also a guillotine used by the French and the South Vietnamese to execute prisoners from opposing political groups. Brought to Vietnam by the French; the guillotine was last used in 1960. Also featured are grisly photos that show the disfigured bodies of locals who had prenatal exposure to strong pesticide and chemical sprayed, best known by the name ‘Agent Orange’.

Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs believed that there were 500,000 children born with birth defects while as many as 4.8 million people were exposed to it from 1961 to 1971. The War Remnants Museum is in District 3, Ho Chi Minh City and is run by the government. It is open all year round from 07:30 to 17:00. A visit to this war museum is a disturbing experience for most people and may not be suitable for children (though they are allowed to enter).

Opening Hours: Daily from 07.30–12.00 and 13:30–17:00

Location: 28 Vo Van Tan, in District 3, Ho Chi Minh City

Cu Chi Tunnels

Chu Chi Tunnels are part of a massive war museum that offers a sneak-peek at the underground life of Vietnamese soldiers back in 1948. Located 70km northwest of Ho Chi Minh City, the historical site comprises more than 120km of underground tunnels with several trapdoors, living areas, kitchens, storage facilities, armoury, hospitals, and command centres. After the end of the war against French invaders, Chu Chi Tunnels were also utilised and expanded during the American War by incorporating effective air filtration systems, which helped Vietnamese soldiers survive the Chu Chi carpet-bombing by the Americans. As they were built so deep underground, military tanks could pass overhead without causing any damage to the tunnels.

Opening Hours: Daily

Location: 70km northwest of Ho Chi Minh City

Cao Dai Temple

The Cao Dai Temple was finished in 1955 when the Cao Dai Army was formed following the Japanese occupation of Indochina. Caodaists believe that all religions are ultimately the same and seek to promote tolerance throughout the world. The Lord Buddha, Jesus Christ, Muhammad and Confucius, in addition to Joan of Arc and Julius Cesar are all honoured at this temple.

The temple is best visited by booking a tour due to its location close to the Cambodian border, 100km northwest of Ho Chi Minh City in the Long Than village close to Tay Nihn. Worship takes place every six hours and starts at midnight with chanting at 06:00 and 18:00 daily. Visitors are permitted to watch from the galleries and may take photographs, knees must be covered and shoes removed before entering. Silence is requested when a service is taking place. The Cao Dai Temple is one of 1,000 Cao Dai Temples located in Vietnam.

Jade Emperor Pagoda

Jade Emperor Pagoda In the main hall, the Emperor Jade Chua Ngoc Hoang or the ‘God of the Heavens’ reigns supreme. Aided by two assistants, the Emperor decides who can enter this higher realm. Those who don’t pass this gate will meet with the formidable ‘God of Hell’; on the left, who will send sinners to one of the 10 levels of hell. Life in purgatory is magnificently if somewhat gruesomely represented by the intricate carvings on the temple wall, depicting different kinds of punishments that await transgressors. In a different hall, the goddess of fertility Kim Hua, surrounded by figures of women and small children, blesses childless couples who pray for an offspring here.

The goddess of mercy Kuan Yin, who forms a very important part of any Taoist temple, has an altar in a room on the top floor. Emperor Jade Pagoda is a living and working shrine very much in use by the locals who come here to prayer or make votive offerings of flowers, and light candles and joss sticks. With worshippers coming and going, the temple can get busy and feel a little cramped. Its dimly lit, the narrow passageways filled with smoke lend an atmospheric feel to the place, adding to its charm. There is an overcrowded tortoise pond in front of the temple grounds and feeding the animals is considered part of the merit-making, temple-going rituals.

Opening Hours: 08:00–17:00

Location: 73 Mai Thi Luu, District 3

Remarks: There is no entrance fee but visitors can make donations

Bitexco Tower and Sky Deck

Six of the Bitexco Financial Tower floors have been given over to retail space; although the main draw here is not shopping, rather the views. The public observation deck on the 49th floor is reached by using one of the tower’s 16 elevators which can reach any floor regardless of level within 35 seconds. The tower is also well-known for its Bitexco Vertical Run where competitors race from the ground floor lobby to the Sky Deck. The race covers 178 metres with the latest record standing at 4 minutes and 51 seconds — held by Germany’s Vertical World Circuit Champion Thomas Dold.

The Sky Deck delivers breathtaking 360 degree views across the city and the Saigon River. Visitors can also use one of the binocular stands to get a closer look. Great views are also enjoyed from the 50th and 51st-floor restaurants, particularly at night when the metropolis below glitters above. There are also local art exhibitions held on the Sky Deck, where you can also purchase souvenirs, including textiles and locally produced tea.

Opening Hours: The Sky Deck is open daily from 09:30–21:30

Location: 36 Ho Tung Mau Street in District 1

Mariamman Hindu Temple

Firstly, Mariamman Hindu Temple is a sacred Hindu Temple dedicated to the goddess of the Rain ‘Mariamman’. This temple was built in the late 19th century by traders coming from India and has been well preserved. This complex is the only Hindu temple in Saigon; which is believed to have miraculous powers giving luck and wealth to its visitors. The outer wall of the Temple has a collection of interesting statues of different gods and goddesses like Mariamman; Vishnu; Brahma and Ganesha. The main hall of the complex (The Rajagopuram) stands twelve metres tall and inside you find a well maintained statue of Mariamman flanked by her protectors ‘Maduraiveeran’ and ‘Pechiamman’.

Opening Hours: Daily 07:00–19:00

Location: 45 Truong Đinh, Ben Thanh, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City

Reunification Palace

The iconic Reunification Palace made its name in global history when in 1975 a tank belonging to the North Vietnamese Army crashed through its main gate; thus signifying the end of the Vietnam War. This image is one of the most famous pictures depicting the Reunification Palace; which has seen a rich and varied history; and once served as the base of the US-backed Vietnamese General Ngo Dinh Diem during the Vietnam War; Until his assassination in 1963. The palace is like a time capsule frozen in 1975 with two of the original tanks used in the capture of the palace parked in the grounds.

Originally the site of the Nordom Palace also known as the Governor’s Palace its first role was as a home; and workplace for the then French Governor of Cochinchina. The Reunification Palace is a landmark not to be missed by any tourist visiting Ho Chi Minh City. Surrounded by lush tropical gardens, the palace hides secret rooms, antique furniture and a command bunker within its eerie corridors. The Reunification Palace is still in use to host occasions including APEC summits and national events of significant importance.

Opening Hours: Daily 08:00–11:00 & 13:00–16:00

Address: 135 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, Ben Thanh, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City

Binh Tay Market

Binh Tay Market, constructed by the French in the 1880s, is located in the centre of Vietnam’s largest Chinatown district. Unlike Ben Thanh Market in District 1, this market mainly serves the local population with its extensive range of fresh fruits, vegetables, poultry, meat and seafood from regions across Vietnam. Also known as Cholon Chinatown Market, Binh Tay Market occupies a two-storey building along Thap Moui Street. Travellers can also find an assortment of handicrafts, lacquerware; and textiles that are sold in bulk, though goods are not varied compared to other (more touristy) markets in downtown Hanoi. Along with the interesting historical and cultural aspect of Cholon, Binh Tay Market is great for experiencing the local lifestyle and sampling unique Vietnamese-Chinese delicacies.

Opening Hours: Daily 08:00–17:00

Address: 57A Thap Moui, District 6, Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh Central Post Office

In fact, the Central Post Office in Ho Chi Minh is a beautifully preserved remnant of French colonial times; and perhaps the grandest post office in all of Southeast Asia. Located next door to Notre Dame Cathedral; the two cultural sites can be visited together; and offers visitors a chance to imagine life in Vietnam during the times of the Indochinese Empire. The building was designed by Gustave Eiffel — the renowned engineer who also designed the Statue of Liberty; and the Eiffel Tower — and features arched windows and wooden shutters; just as it would have in its heyday in the late 19th Century.

Opening Hours: Daily 07:00–19:00

Location: 2 Cong Xa Paris, Ben Nghe, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City

Notre Dame Cathedral

Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral, built in the late 1880s by French colonists; is one of the few remaining strongholds of Catholicism in the largely Buddhist Vietnam. Located in Paris Square, the name Notre Dame was given after the installation of the statue ‘Peaceful Notre Dame’ in 1959. In 1962, the Vatican conferred the Cathedral status as a basilica; and gave it the official name of Saigon Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica. Measuring almost 60 metres in height; the cathedral’s distinctive neo-Romanesque features include the all-red brick façade (which were imported from Marseille); stained glass windows, two bell towers containing six bronze bells that still ring to this day; and a peaceful garden setting in the middle of downtown Ho Chi Minh City District 1.
 Opening Hours: Daily 08:00–17:00

Address: 1 Cong Xa Paris, Ben Nghe, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City

If you are planning a visit to Vietnam, please check the visa requirement to make sure whether a valid Vietnam visa is required for your trip.

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