Ho Chi Minh city, or HCMC, is a bustling metropolis whose streets are teeming with activity. It is the largest city in Vietnam with over 8.2 million residents and is a must-see for those who want to enjoy the rich history and great food that Vietnamese cities have to offer.
To help you plan your journey in this busy and captivating place, here are the top 9 attractions in Ho Chi Minh city:
Reunification Palace — The Southern Headquarters
Previously the home and workplace of the president of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War, the Reunification Palace is a must-see in HCMC. The palace was made world-famous in 1975 when a tank from the North Vietnamese army crashed through the front gates and signaled the end of the Vietnam War.
The exterior of the palace is surrounded by lush tropical gardens, however, the most interesting parts of the palace are inside. The first floor contains the president’s meeting rooms which are lavishly decorated and furnished, the upstairs area has many reception rooms as well as the president's living quarters, and there is even a helipad and a beautiful wooden dance floor on the rooftop.
Still, the most intriguing part of the palace is in the basement, where the telecommunications center, war rooms, and maze of tunnels give insight into how the Southern Vietnamese army operated. The war rooms still have maps on the walls, and the large and chunky telecommunications equipment is on display, alongside many examples of war propaganda.
The Reunification Palace is a definite must-see for history lovers!
War Remnants Museum — A Powerful Reminder
Few museums in the world are able to show the brutal effects of war as powerfully as the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh city. This museum is one of the most popular in Vietnam and attracts around half a million visitors every year, the majority of which are foreigners.
Visitors in the museum will start their journey on the first floor with an exhibition that expertly displays the international anti-Vietnam War movements. As visitors continue upwards in the museum, the exhibits become more graphic with photographs of US military atrocities and of Vietnamese people affected by napalm and Agent Orange.
Although the graphic images can be difficult to look at, this museum is an important stop for visitors who wish to gain an understanding of what Vietnam has recovered from to become the country it is today.
People's Committee Building — A Colonial Landmark
The People's Committee Building is an operating government building that is famous for its graceful French colonial architecture. Built in 1909, the Committee Building was originally a hotel that was designed by Gardes, a famous French architect, and was modeled after the city hall in Paris.
Unfortunately, because it is still a space that is used for work, tourists are not allowed to go inside. However, the three elegant towers and the beautiful surrounding gardens with their famous statues are the main attractions and draw visitors from all over the world.
The best times to visit this iconic landmark are during the early morning or at night when the building is lit up with spotlights, making for a beautiful sight.
Notre Dame Cathedral — Myths and Miracles
This striking red-brick cathedral was built by French colonists in the late 1800s using materials that were imported from France. Standing at 190 feet tall, this church is one of the last remaining working parishes in a country that is predominately Buddhist.
Although well-known for its elegant appearance, the Notre Dame Cathedral in HCMC became even more famous when it made world headlines in October 2005. At that time it was reported that the Virgin Mary statue at the front of the church had shed tears. This event attracted thousands of people who came to see the miracle even though the church officials stated that they could not prove the claim.
The best time to visit the cathedral is during mass at 9:30 on Sundays when the local people come to worship. For those who don’t want to attend mass, the church also has English-speaking staff that hand out tourist information from Monday to Saturday.
Central Post Office — A Humble Masterpiece
The Central Post Office is another classic colonial building that is a preserved relic of a previous era. This post office was created by Gustave Eiffel, who is most well-known for designing the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty, and is the grandest post office in all of Southeast Asia.
The building is still a functioning post office, making it even more interesting to explore. Inside, amid the bustle of people going about their daily business, you can discover some unique features of the post office, like old-fashioned glue pots, classic phone booths, picturesque barrel ceilings, and beautiful tiled floors.
Also inside the Central Post Office, there is a convenient tourist shop that sells post cards.
Cholon — The Largest China Town
Covering a quarter of the city, Cholon is a large and influential part of HCMC with roots dating back to 1778. Originally, Chinese minorities hid in this area when they were escaping violence and persecution in China. During the Vietnam War, Cholon was thriving as a black market, where American soldiers traded U.S. army supplies.
Today, Cholon is characterized by beautiful Chinese architecture and large wet markets that draw travelers who want to purchase souvenirs and experience true Asian markets.
Cholon is also a great place to go during festivals, such as Tet and Mid-Autumn festival, because at those times the streets are decorated with glowing lanterns and filled with large groups of celebrating people.
Binh Tay Market — A Local Experience
Binh Tay Market is located in Cholon and is the largest and most popular shopping area in this section. Located in a two-story building, this market offers all kinds of products that cater mostly for the local population. It's a great place to have an authentic Southeast Asian shopping and bartering experience.
In the shops surrounding the building and inside the first story, there is an extensive range of fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and seafood from all over Vietnam that can be purchased and tasted. On the second-floor, visitors will find some handicrafts, lacquerware, and textiles which can make good souvenirs!
There is also a convenient food court located at the center of the 1st floor that offers tasty Vietnamese food like spring rolls, pho noodles, and steamed buns. It’s a good place to take a break from exploring and to try some authentic dishes.
Bitexco Financial Tower — Bird's Eye View
This 68-floor skyscraper stands at 861 feet tall, making it the tallest building of the city. The tower was designed by Carlos Zapata whose inspiration for the interesting shape of the tower came from the lotus flower, the national flower of Vietnam.
The Sky Deck on the 49th floor is the tower's main attraction as it offers visitors incredible 360-degree views of the sprawling city below. There are also restaurants on the 50th and 51st floors where customers can enjoy great views, good food, and refreshing drinks.
The best time to visit Bitexco Financial Tower is during sunset or at night when the lights of the buildings and vehicles below make a great view from above.
Thien Hau Pagoda — The Sea Goddess Shrine
As one of Ho Chi Minh's most photogenic temples, this 19th-century pagoda is a must-see! Located in Cholon, Thien Hau Pagoda is a Chinese-style temple that was built for the sea goddess, Mazu. Mazu is worshiped by many Chinese immigrants, as she was said to have protected the Chinese on their journey across the sea to new places.
Once past the iron entrance gate of the temple, visitors will see the stone incense burners in the courtyard that sit in front of Mazu's altar, giving the area a mystical feeling. The exterior of the pagoda is intricately decorated and the roof is lined with colorful porcelain statues, depicting Chinese stories and customs.
Every year on the 23rd day of the 3rd lunar month, the Pagoda holds the Thien Hau Festival. During this time, the small figure of the sea goddess is paraded through the streets of Cholon, accompanied by singing and dancing. This is a great way to experience the distinct Chinese heritage that is an important part of present day Vietnam.
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