Updated: Jul 17
Ho Chi Minh City /often shortened to HCMC /, commonly known as Saigon is located on the south coast of Vietnam and is the largest city and the former capital of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam).
It is the most populous city in Vietnam with a population of 8.4 million (13 million in the metropolitan area) as of 2017.
In 1859 Saigon became part of the colony of French Indochina. Under French rule, Saigon was filled with Western architecture and French villas still remain to this day. When walking around the city you can see and feel the strong French influence. Classic French architecture and buildings are lined along the streets reminiscing the past and history.
Following the fall of Saigon in 1975, the city was merged with the surrounding province and renamed Ho Chi Minh City to celebrate the reunification of north and south at the end of the Vietnam War. The name comes from the communist revolutionary leader credited with uniting the country.
However, the old Saigon name is still used by both Vietnamese and foreigners, especially when referring to the most central part of the city / District 1 / to which most tourists flock.
Since Hanoi is the base for the government, Saigon is known as the business capital of the country. Nowadays, HCMC is a dynamic city, which is undergoing a contemporary development and modern office buildings and skyscrapers are starting to punctuate the sky combining the new and old in a uniquely Vietnamese way.
Ho Chi Minh City is split into 19 districts, with the Saigon River curling its way across the middle. Much of the action takes place in District 1, which boasts most of the trendy restaurants and bars, plus the major market, Ben Thanh.
The main city's attractions that may be of interest include:
Central Post Office
The Central Post Office in Ho Chi Minh is a glorious example of French colonial architecture, perfectly preserved with as much style as when it first opened in 1891. The building still functions as the city’s main post office and sending a letter or postcard home is highly recommended for a taste of living history. Beautiful from any angle, this building was designed by Gustave Eiffel, who also designed the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Inside, beneath a long, domed roof you can see a big portrait of Ho Chi Minh.
Notre - Dame Cathedral
Perhaps the most stand-out of the many traces left by French colonists in the 1880s is the magnificent Notre Dame Cathedral. Located in Paris square, just opposite to the Central Post Office, the neo-Romanesque cathedral, built between 1863 and 1880 by French colonists, is an impressive and must-see attraction.
The Cathedral is one of the few remaining strongholds of Catholicism in the largely Buddhist Vietnam. A Virgin Mary statue stands in front of Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral, which locals claimed to have shed tears in October 2005. While this incident was refuted by the Catholic Church of Vietnam, thousands of visitors still flock to this statue in hopes of witnessing a miracle.
The Reunification / Independence / Palace
The Reunification Palace is a major landmark of Ho Chi Minh City. It was the home and workplace of the President of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. It was the site of the end of the Vietnam War during the Fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975, when a North Vietnamese Army tank crashed through its gates.
The Reunification Palace entered the world history books in 1975 when a Vietnamese Air Force pilot (who was also a communist spy) flew an aircraft over the palace with an attempt to bomb it. Although no real damage was caused this was a significant step towards the fall of Saigon and the ending of the Vietnamese War.
Bitexco Financial Tower and Sky Deck are one of the modern symbols of the city.
It's an ultra-modern office tower with a characteristic oval extension that acts as a helicopter landing pad. Standing at 262 meters tall, this 68 storey building is the highest in all of Vietnam with a sky deck offering 360-degree views of the city and surrounding area, as well as a fantastic sky bar called "Alto" where you can see all of Ho Chi Minh City while enjoying a cocktail and some tapas-style international dishes.
The Opera House
Standing magnificently at the heart of Ho Chi Minh City is the Saigon Opera House which is also known as the Municipal Theater. It was built in 1898 by the French architect – Eugene Ferret.
The theatre is now a venue for many high profile events and cultural – entertainment activities of the city. Certified as a national relic in 2012, this magnificent building stays on top of the must-visit of Ho Chi Minh City.
The Ben Thanh Market
The biggest and best of HCMC’s markets is Ben Thanh, located in District 1. There you can grab cheap street food and pick up a range of souvenirs - scarves, bowls and chopsticks, and, of course, “lucky” cats.
Be sure to negotiate heavily on price – as a tourist you’ll be asked to pay far above the actual price.
A Day Trip Excursion to My Tho and Cruise the Mekong Delta
Discover the vast network of canals and channels that comprise the Mekong Delta.
Travel from Ho Chi Minh City to My Tho for about 3-4 hours. There you'll board a small longtail boat and will explore the waterways of the Mekong River. You will also have the chance to visit local villages and islands in the Mekong Delta, taste local specialities, honeybee tea, coconut candy, tropical fruits, hear Vietnamese folk music and savor a delicious meal for lunch.
A Day Trip Excursion to Cu Chi Tunnels
Located about 60 km from Ho Chi Minh City are the tunnels of Cu Chi.
They are an immense network of connecting underground tunnels located in the Cu Chi District of Ho Chi Minh City and are part of a much larger network of tunnels that underlie much of the country. The Cu Chi tunnels were the location of several military campaigns during the Vietnam War and were the Viet Cong's base of operations for the Tet Offensive in 1968.
The tunnels were used by Viet Cong soldiers as hiding spots during combat, as well as serving as communication and supply routes, hospitals, food and weapon caches and living quarters for numerous North Vietnamese fighters. The tunnel systems were of great importance to the Viet Cong in their resistance to American forces and helped to counter the growing American military effort.