An Introduction to Ho Chi Minh City
From its chaotic streets to its French colonial architecture, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, is a contrast in every way. Formerly known as Saigon (although many locals still refer to their city affectionately as Saigon), Vietnam’s largest city is abuzz with energy while also heavy with memories of the Vietnam War. Filled with fascinating historical sites, contemporary landmarks, and traditional cultural centres, Ho Chi Minh City is an exciting and enlightening place to visit.
Travellers who do not speak the local language can expect to encounter a few language barriers, but most hotels and restaurants have at least one person who can help translate. Many locals speak basic English and some are fluent in French, as well. ATMs are available all over the city to withdraw Vietnamese Dong, the local currency. Only small amounts can be taken out at a time (the equivalent of $150-200), so it’s a good idea to bring along some USD to exchange when you’re in the city.
Top Attractions in Ho Chi Minh City
Open from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day, the War Remnants Museum is a must-see attraction. Each year, about 500,000 people flock to the museum to view an impressive collection of tanks, aircraft, and other wartime memorabilia. The entrance fee is 40,000 dong (approximately $2.50 CAD) and it includes access to the exhibition halls, which feature poignant photographs of the impact of war. It’s a sobering experience that tourists won’t soon forget.
If you are looking for further perspective on the Vietnam War, the Southern Women’s Museum is free and shows the story of the guerrilla armies that many Vietnamese women formed during the war. The first floor has a few exhibitions of the traditional way of life for Vietnamese women, including displays of the Ao Dai, the classic Vietnamese dress. There are also two floors dedicated to the experiences and accomplishments of women in several parts of Vietnam during the war.
Built in 1909, the Jade Emperor Pagoda‘s intricate woodwork carvings and paper-mâché statues make it a favourite among tourists. Mariamman Hindu Temple and Cao Dai Temple are other excellent options.
A trip to Ho Chi Minh City wouldn’t be complete without stopping in at one of the bustling markets to pick up some souvenirs and sample a few local delicacies. From cheap trinkets and t-shirts to fresh food and costume jewellery, there’s a wide selection of items available at Ben Thanh Market.
Other must-see sites in Ho Chi Minh City include the Central Post Office, one of the oldest buildings in the city, the Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica that acts as a reminder of France’s historical influence, and Independence Palace, which served as the headquarters and home of the South Vietnamese president during the Vietnam War.
Get outside the city for a visit to Cu Chi Tunnel, one of the area’s most popular attractions. Located about 55 kilometres northwest of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnamese soldiers lived underground in the extensive network of over 120 kilometres of tunnels during the Vietnam War. Tourists can experience life from the soldiers’ point of view by crawling through part of the tunnel and firing an M-16 rifle.
Ho Chi Minh City, with its vast variety of tasty offerings, is a food lover’s paradise. Perhaps the best-known delicacy to come from Vietnam is traditional beef noodle soup, phò. Another local favourite is the banh mi sandwich that can be found on just about every street corner. It consists of a crusty baguette stuffed with pork, luncheon meats, pâté, mayonnaise, Vietnamese radish and carrot pickles, sliced cucumbers, cilantro, and chilies. For something different, travellers will want to try bò kho, a French-inspired braised beef stew, or hủ tiếu, rice noodles and pork in a pork broth. For dessert, try Xôi Kem, a sweet sticky rice and ice cream combination.
Ho Chi Minh City Nightlife and Entertainment
A fun way to spend the evening is taking in a show at the Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theater. Live musicians perform traditional music as wooden puppets dance in a pool of water. The show lasts less than an hour and costs under $10 per person. Another great option is to head to the Opera House, where shows feature all kinds of talent, from classical to contemporary artists. Wrap up the evening with drinks at Saigon Skydeck. Located at the top of Bitexco Financial Tower, the bar offers 360-degree views of the city 49 floors below. Bitexco is currently the tallest building in Vietnam.
Vietnam is well-known for its abundance of spas services. From low, mid-range, to luxury, Ho Chi Minh City is the place to get everything from pedicures to massages for discount prices. Check out this Ho Chi Minh spa guide for the variety of spa services across the city.
With more than 7 million scooters whipping through the streets and even on some sidewalks, the most common way to get around Ho Chi Minh City is on the back of a scooter. Tourists can rent a scooter for about $10 per day or grab a ride on one of the many motorbike taxis available on every street corner. The Grab App is extremely handy. It’s a free app and compatible with most smartphones. Passengers can request motorbike and car rides on this app, all for cheaper prices than local taxis. Grab is known as the Uber of Southeast Asia.
Taxis are also common across the city and offer a comfortable alternative to scooters. Be sure to only take metered taxis or negotiate a fare before pulling away from the curb to ensure a fair price.
For anyone who plans to get outside of the city, it’s easy to find car rentals in Ho Chi Minh City. Another affordable option for getting around Ho Chi Minh City is by hiring a private driver for the day. Most hotels are happy to make arrangements for their guests.
Ho Chi Minh City Weather
When to Go
Ho Chi Minh City is notorious for having only two seasons: wet and dry. Expect wet weather from May to November, with some sunny periods in between. March through May is hot and humid, with the mercury tipping the scales at more than 35 degrees. December through April is the dry season, and the weather is much more moderate. On a December morning, temperatures can dip down to about 20 degrees and heat up to an average of 25-30 degrees in the afternoon.
The dry season is the most popular time for tourists to visit Ho Chi Minh City. It’s also the busiest time of year at most local attractions, especially over the Christmas and New Year holidays. Travellers who don’t mind the rainy season can take advantage of smaller crowds and better rates on hotels in Ho Chi Minh City during this season.
Flying to Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City is home to Vietnam’s largest airport, Tân Sơn Nhất International Airport. Located just 8 kilometres from the city centre, the easiest way to reach the airport is by taxi. The ride takes 20 to 30 minutes and costs about 100,000 VND in a Grab car (approximately $5).
As many as 17 million travellers pass through Tân Sơn Nhất International Airport each year. With more than 40 partner airlines, including American Airlines, Delta, Air France, Emirates, EVA Air, and Cathay Pacific, it’s easy to find affordable flights to Ho Chi Minh City from destinations around the world.