Ho Chi Minh city has changed names several times. While sources dispute who controlled the land originally, the name was switched to Sai Gon in the 1700’s by the local Vietnamese, then Saigon by the French. The mosst recent change to Ho Chi Minh City came 1976 following Reunification.
Today, HCMC boasts an official population of around eight million, but locals suggest it is closer to twelve. The downtown area, still referred to as Saigon, is growing at a rate that will equal Tokyo by 2020 – 20 million plus.
HCMC has a tropical climate with an everage humidity of 75%. There are two seasons: wet and dry. Be prepared for downpours during the wet and expect daily showers from June to November.
City life mirrors the weather: a blend of harmony and chaos. Traffic is a dense rush, but there are always local lounging at streetside coffe vendors, content to admire the passing free-for-all.
if Hanoi is the political capital of Vietnam, HCMC is the financial heart. A magnet for foreign investors, new business centres and ambitious development projects pop up every year, leading to its greater expatriate presence.
All that progress aside, Ho Chi Minh city is steeped in tradition, a living monument to the past the wears its culture on its sleeve. Whether you’re zooming by on motorbike or sipping designer cocktails at a rooftop bar, there is much to savour and explore in this bustling city.
At the end of Nguyen Hue District 1 sits the magnificent office of the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee. Completed in 1908 by the French, the former Hotel de Ville’s design is based on the original in Paris. It remains one of the most stunning colonial monuments, especially when floodlit at night. Don’t forget to visit the Statur of Ho Chi Minh on the median stip.
Address: End of Nguyen Hue.
Local insight: The best view of the building is from the Rex Hotel roof terrace
Notre Dame Cathedral
The city centre Cathedral, built in 1877, is one of Saigon’s architectural marvels, built with materials imported from France. Sitting between two streams of traffic and street vendors. Inside, the decor is austere, but the church is lively during services.
Address: Cong Xa Paris / 5:30 am to 5 pm Sunday Mass is held at 9:30 Am
Local insight: In 2005, the Cathedral statue was reported to have shed a tear
The Opera House
One of the city’s most prominent landmarks, the Opera House was built in 1897 by French architect Eugene Ferret. In 1955, it was transformed into South Vietnam’s Assembly House and has undergone serveral refurbishments since. It is only open to the public during events and tickets are available on location.
Address: 7 Lam Son Square
Local insight: At the end of their occupation in 1954, French refugees from the North were housed here before their evacuation
Saigon Central Post Office
One of the most popular attractions in town, this post office is the largest in Vietnam. Built between 1886 and 1891 by renowned French architect Gustave Eiffel, the vaulted roof and arched windowns lend a classic look reminiscent of early European railway startions.
Address: 2 Cong Xa Paris / 7 am to 7 pm, weekend: 7 am to 6 pm
Local insight: Meet 82 year-old Duong Van Ngo, the in house letter writer and translator for 65 years.
National History Museum
Established in the 1920’s as the Musee Louis Finot. The National History Museum typifies Indochinese architecture. Trace the history of the Vietnamese people with displays of cultural significance coverring an area of more than 2,000 square metres. Descriptions are in Vietnamese, English and French.
Address: 2 Nguyen Binh Khiem / 8 am to 11:30 am & 1:30 pm to 5 pm
Local insight: Outside the rear entrance, the bronze panels detail Vietnam’s hisory
Designed by Ngo Viet Thu for South Vietnam’s former President, Ngo Dinh Diem, during the American War. The official handover of power took place here on April 30,1975 and the palace became a monument to that historic date. Do no miss the basement set up like a war time movie set.
Address: 135 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia / 7:30 am to 11 am & 1 pm to 4 pm / Entrance VND 30.000
Local insight: Look for the Chinese symbols incorporated into the facade of the building.
Ho Chi Minh city Museum
This elegant yet understated building has served as everything from the French High Commissioner’s Office and Gia Long Palace to the Supreme Court. Now it houses a photographic record of the revolutionary struggle against the French and Americans as well as a display of archaeological relics.
Address: 65 Ly Tu Trong / 8 am to 5 pm Entrance VND 15.000
Local insight: Beneath the museum is a network of tunnels that reach as far as Reunification Palace
Ben Thanh Market
Ben Thanh sell everythign in a packed gird. Clothes and fabric in front give way to kitchenware and souvenirs, backing on to food and produce. Be prepared as sellers here are particularly intense and is also a prime spot for watching the city’s dizzying traffic.
Address: Intersection of Le Loi, Ham Nghi, and Le Lai, D.1 / 5:30 am to 5:30 pm
Local insight: The market moves outside in the early evening, a great place to have dinner.