Anybody interested in history or Asia should definitely travel to Ho Chi Minh City (AKA Saigon), Vietnam’s biggest city. It’s one of the most popular Southeast Asian cities for tourists and backpackers and is known for its crazy traffic, amazing food, historical sites, and its nightlife, something not too huge in other Vietnamese cities.
Ho Chi Minh City played a huge role in the Vietnam War. Before the North won and renamed the city, it was called Saigon. Because the war is still quite recent, it’s common to see hotels, restaurants, and other stores bearing the old capital’s name. Even people today still refer to the large city as Saigon.
Where To Stay in Ho Chi Minh City
When tourists travel to Ho Chi Minh City, they normally flock to Pham Ngu Lao Street and the surrounding area. This is where you’re going to find the many restaurants, bars, clubs, street food vendors, river, skyscrapers, malls, and popular attractions such as the War Remnants Museum and the Independence Palace. The traffic here is absolutely crazy, and a lot of intersections don’t have pedestrian crossing signs. So you have to make your own way across the street, which can be interesting to say the least. If you stay directly on Pham Ngu Lao, expect it to be a bit noisy. But definitely, if you want convenience, stay within a mile radius.
Independence palace was home to then-South Vietnam’s president. In other words, it was the White House. But that’s not what Independence is remembered for. On April 30th, 1975, a North Vietnamese tank rammed down the gate surrounding the palace, officially declaring the fall of Saigon. This marked the end of the very long war, so naturally, Independence Palace is a huge tourist attraction. It still remains standing and can be toured for just 20,000 dong. Unfortunately, I missed this opportunity because when I was there, for some unknown reason, the guards wouldn’t let anybody enter or even stand near the gate. It’s also closed between 11:30 am and 1:00 pm.
This is a HUGE (Donald Trump “Huge”) attraction for tourists as it is home to a ton of old objects left behind after the war. There’s a ton of photography too, depicting life as a soldier and civilian during the war. The entrance is one of the coolest parts. Here, you’ll find U.S. tanks and helicopters either captured or left behind. You can’t get inside of them, but it’s pretty cool to see still. Perfect for a history fanatic.
So many posters and pictures in the museum help visitors understand the difficult war. But you have to remember, you’re in Vietnam where the war is often referred to as the Anti-American war or the US aggressive war in Vietnam. While the museum is very interesting, it’s quite obvious that there’s some propaganda going on. There is an entire section with photographs of worldwide protests against America’s involvement in Vietnam. And below every single image, you’ll find a plague similar to this:
There’s constant talk of what America did to Vietnam (which, by the way, there are some pretty ugly things, propaganda or not), and the museum paints a picture that the North was fighting in order to liberate their southern brothers from the U.S.
The War Remnants Museum is unlike any other museum I’ve ever been to, and it truly makes you think about what happened. Some things will definitely be difficult to look at, but I think everybody should go through with it. You won’t regret it, and it might even end up as one of your favorite things after you travel to Ho Chi Minh City. A good piece of advice, research the war BEFORE you go. It enhances the experience and gives you the perspective from both sides.
Vietnam is just as stunning underground as it is above. There are major labyrinths of tunnels across the entire country from the Vietnam War, and now, visitors can walk through them. If you research the war, go the museum, and then do the tunnels, it might even add more to the experience. The only issue is that here in Ho Chi Minh City, it’s a major tourist attraction and may get a bit crowded. I also read on TripAdvisor (what traveler doesn’t rely on TA?) that some of the tunnels have been widened to fit in larger people. That means not all of the tunnels are original, but it still gives you a pretty good idea of what the soldiers spent time in.
When you travel to Ho Chi Minh City, you need to understand that you’re in a city well known for its street food. So don’t just stick with comfortable and air-conditioned restaurants! Get out there, find some odd looking place on the street, and point at something that looks good. You can always look for places surrounded by people, because that usually means something good’s going on. It’s cheap, and I guarantee Saigon street food will be something you actually end up craving long after your trip.
I know, this sounds so lame, and I didn’t plan on making a trip to see it, even though Google said it was a popular attraction. But while walking around, I saw a bunch of people going into some random building and decided to follow, assuming something cool was happening. As it turned out, it was the post office, and I’m glad I saw it. It looks like something straight out of Harry Potter. It’s not a place to spend hours exploring – or even 20 minutes for that matter. I mean come on, it’s a post office. But it’s a cool thing to see for a few minutes.
These are the most popular and unique things to do and see when you travel to Ho Chi Minh City. Sure, there are other options such as going to the zoo, theater, the top floor of the tall and stylish financial tower, and so on. But can’t you do things like this in any other major city in the world?
Outside of Ho Chi Minh City, you’ll find the Mekong Delta, famous for the floating markets. It’s another major tourist attraction, but it takes a few hours to get to from Saigon. You can learn more about the floating markets on Lonely Planet.