Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon as it is still known to many, is Vietnam’s largest city with a growing population of around 7 million. This is a city on the go 24 hours a day, where everybody seems to be busy either buying, selling, studying, working or just enjoying themselves. Despite the fact that modern high-rise buildings have begun to dominate the skyline in recent years there are still many fine examples of French colonial architecture in Ho Chi Minh City such as the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Old Saigon Post Office and the former Hotel de Ville. A stroll down Dong Khoi Street, the Rue Catinat of Graham Greene’s ‘The Quiet American’, will reveal more colonial classics like the Continental, Grand and Majestic hotels as well as dozens of tempting boutiques and galleries.
Ho Chi Minh City is a real shopper’s paradise with modern shopping centers and trendy boutiques rubbing shoulders with traditional street markets. The city’s best-known market is Ben Thanh Market where you can buy anything from fresh fruit and flowers to the latest imported electronics and cosmetics.
One of the most interesting places to visit in Ho Chi Minh City is the former Presidential Palace, now renamed the Reunification Hall. This building remains almost exactly as it was on the morning of 30th April 1975 when the Saigon regime surrendered to the victorious liberation forces and the country was reunified for the first time since 1945. For more war-related history the War Remnants Museum with its thought provoking display of weapons and photographs is also worth visiting.
Cholon, Ho Chi Minh City’s Chinatown, is the frenetic commercial centre, where every building has a shop or workshop on the ground floor. Cholon also has the city’s largest market, Binh Tay Market, and some fine pagodas including Thien Hau Pagoda, with its huge incense coils suspended from the ceiling.
A visit to the 15 May School, where disadvantaged children have the opportunity to study subjects as diverse as Vietnamese, English, mechanics, sewing and circus performing is a very worthwhile option during a Ho Chi Minh City tour.
For wining and dining it is hard to beat Ho Chi Minh City. The city is crammed full of restaurants and bars ranging from simple pavement stalls where you can buy a bowl of noodles for a few cents to sophisticated restaurants serving fine European cuisine at a fraction of the price you would pay in Europe. Ho Chi Minh City’s nightlife has become very cosmopolitan in recent years and there are literally hundreds of bars, pubs, night clubs and discotheques to pick from for a night on the town. Further afield, popular day trips from Ho Chi Minh City include the incredible Cu Chi Tunnels built by Vietnamese resistance fighters during the long years of struggle for independence and the bizarre Cao Dai Temple at Tay Ninh.