Thinking about travelling to Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City? Soon you’ll be able to cruise there, when the bustling capital becomes a Carnival port in 2018. Here, what not to miss…
Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), the Vietnamese capital, is truly one of the great cities of the world. Youthful energy bubbles on top of a bedrock of ancient and recent history. This is a place that strives forward while never forgetting where it has come from.
Wander down incense-filled laneways where women in traditional dress carry baskets of vegetables on their backs and families pay respect at colourful temples. Eat fresh, delicious street food while sitting al fresco with chatting locals.
Enjoy a cocktail at a rooftop bar and get some serious shopping done at one the city’s many gleaming malls.
And take a breather from the teeming, tall metropolis in lush parks and gardens along the banks of the meandering Saigon River.
Ho Chi Minh is an unforgettable delight for all the senses. Here’s our top picks of what to see and do.
Notre Dame Basilica
See Vietnam’s French colonial heritage on display at Notre Dame Basilica of Saigon, a Romanesque landmark originally made entirely from elements shipped from France, now patched up with local materials following during from the war. Situated downtown and surrounded by palm trees, the soaring structure was built in the late 1880s and remains an important part of life in the capital of a country that still has one of the highest concentrations of Catholics in Asia.
Bến Thành Market
Feel part of the city’s life at Bến Thành Market. Walk through the iconic entrance gate to find a bustling world of traditional food, fashion and souvenir stalls. Never take fixed price’ as gospel – haggling is expected in this huge and historic complex. At night, the streets around the market come alive with food and clothing stores. It’s a fun, lively experience for an evening excursion. If you’re planning to eat here, remember the standard tip: the busier the restaurant, the better the food. Famous dishes include pho (noodle soup) and banh mi (baguettes). And like any such market around the world, just remember to keep your personal belongings secure.
Shri Restaurant and Bar
For a sunset drink or dinner with a twinkling city view, join the young and young-at-heart at this restaurant and bar on level 23 of the Centec Tower. Terrace tables are at a premium, so try and book ahead. There’s a casual menu during the day and, at night, great tapas from the kitchen of Spanish chef Javier Gomez. If you’re a whisky lover, you’ll be in heaven in the secret Whisky Library.
War Remnants Museum
Deeply moving and thought-provoking, this museum documents and commemorates the effects of the Vietnam War on the local population. Focused on “heroic remnants of the Vietnamese people in the struggle against invading forces”, it’s a sobering experience that remains popular with visitors. There’s a display of US weapons and vehicles, an exhibition dedicated to war photographers and an outstanding collection of posters from the international anti-war movement.
Jade Emperor Pagoda
If you only visit one temple in Ho Chi Minh City, make it this one. Filled with elaborate wood carvings, the temple is dedicated to Taoist worship and houses many spectacular statues and displays, including the Jade Emperor himself. Outside, look out for the turtle pond. It’s on Mai Thi Luu Street.
Visit a riverside park early in the morning to see the locals doing tai chi, playing badminton and even hula-hooping. At night, Thủ Thiêm Tunnel Park (in District 2) offers a lovely view of the District 1 city lights. You’ll likely be joined by picnicking families enjoying the evening coolness.
Nguyen Hue Street
Don’t forget to wander this beautiful and historic thoroughfare. You’ll find glorious French colonial architecture, including The People’s Committee Building, which opened in 1909 as the Hotel de Ville and is today a city hub and much-loved landmark. Window shop and stop into one of the many cafes along the way – Café Central Nguyen Hue is a local favourite, with seating outside and a long bar in the cool interior. Indulge in an ice-cream sundae, cake and coffee or a glass of wine. Once fortified, head to Vincom Center for Vietnamese mall-shopping at its biggest and most spectacular.