Formerly known as Saigon, ever-bustling Ho Chi Minh City is Vietnam’s largest city. Setting the cultural and economic pace for the country, the metropolitan city is home to more than 9 million people, a population that is expected to reach almost 14 million by 2025.
The city is full of noteworthy relics, from charming French colonial architecture and sombre Soviet-style housing blocks to esteemed pagodas. The wide boulevards and narrow hems, alike, are often thronged with motor traffic, adding to the thrill of the electrically charged atmosphere.
A fury of sights and sounds, Ho Chi Minh City has made a name for itself amongst other Southeast Asian heavy hitters such as Singapore, Bangkok and Hong Kong. The best time to visit the city is during dry season, from December through April. The May-to-November rainy season is known for frequent tropical storms. Year-round average temperatures range from 26°C to 29°C, with March through May being the hottest months.
17 Ton Duc Thang Street, District 1 Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Add: 34-36 Pham Hong Thai Street, Ben Nghe Ward, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
As one of the earliest built structures in Saigon, Ben Thanh Market is considered one of the symbols of present-day Ho Chi Minh City. The market is popular with tourists seeking local handicrafts, ao dai (traditional Vietnamese dress), souvenirs and regional cuisine. The market was formally established after the French overtook the Gia Dinh Citadel in 1859. The market’s name stems from its origins near the wharf (ben) of the Gia Dinh Citadel (thanh). In 1870, however, the original structure was destroyed by fire. The French rebuilt the market as it stands now with metal frames, making it the largest market in Saigon.
In 1975, after the war, Ben Thanh Market was repaired and, ten years later, underwent a major expansion and update in 1985. While many aspects of the market were changed in the renovation, the famous clock tower on the main entrance, a landmark symbol of HCMC, remained unchanged.
Currently, Ben Thanh Market is a place for both foreigners and locals to shop for some of the best products produced in Vietnam. Foreign visitors can quite easily communicate in English with most of the shop-keepers, while several sellers can also speak French, Chinese, Japanese or Korean. Over the centuries of history and development, Ben Thanh Market remains one of the most prosperous commercial centres of Ho Chi Minh City.
Add: 135 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street, Ben Thanh Ward, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
The Reunification Palace, now a museum, was once the official residence of the Presidents of the former South Vietnam government. It was here that the American-led war ended on 30 April 1975, when the North Vietnam Army invaded the Palace forcing the then-president to resign.
As it stands currently, the Reunification Palace complex is open to the public. Visitors can see the basement tunnels, the conference rooms, the Presidential Receiving Room, the telecommunications centre and the war room.
Add: 86 Le Thanh Ton Street, Ben Nghe Ward, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City’s City Hall has been known by a variety of names. Referred to as a Town Hall until 1954, it held the moniker City Hall between 1954 and 1975 when it was renamed City Hall of Saigon. Since 1975, the charming cream and yellow French colonial building has been called the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee Building.
Reminiscent of provincial French towns, the building is said to have been designed by the famous French architect P. Gardes; construction started in March 1898, and was finally completed in 1908. On the top of the building is the famous bell tower, placed on a pyramid-like pedestal. The presence of the bell tower is adapted from Renaissance architecture and is a common feature of most European town halls.
As it is a working government building, only civil servants and cleaners are allowed to enter. However, it is a marvel from the outside and thought to be even more handsome at night. A statute of Ho Chi Minh reading a book to a child sits outside, and is also a major attraction.
Add: 7 Cong Truong Lam Son Street, Ben Nghe Ward, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
The Ho Chi Minh City Opera House was designed by architect Eugene Ferret, constructed in 1897 and underwent a full restoration in 1995. Visitors to or from Hanoi will notice the architecture is the exact same, but on a larger scale in the southern hub; both buildings are a testament to Paris’ Opera Garnier. Built in the flamboyant Gothic style, the façade is trimmed with inscriptions and reliefs similar to those found on the Paris museum, Petit Palais.
Add: 1 Cong Xa Paris Street, Ben Nghe Ward, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Situated in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City is its most famous landmark as well as the principal cathedral of the city, the Saigon Notre-Dame Cathedral (translated as “Nhà thờ Đức Bà Sài Gòn). Notre-Dame Cathedral, or Notre-Dame Basilica more specifically, is a magnificent building that attracts not only Catholics, but also most tourists interested in its neo-Romanesque style architecture and sacred atmosphere. Full services in both Vietnamese and English are held every Sunday morning and are well attended by Vietnamese and foreigners alike. Other services are held throughout the week. Hence, visitors who wish to attend mass should go on Sunday at 09:30.
Add: Truong Son Street, Ward 2, Tan Binh District, Ho Chi Minh City
Tan Son Nhat International Airport was built in 1930 in Tan Son Nhat village, Go Vap District, Gia Dinh Province as the only airport in South Vietnam. Today, this remains the largest airport in the country, also maintaining the largest number of visitors. Located less than 13km outside of the city centre, the airport is an important traffic hub for the country and South East Asia collectively.
The Saigon River, locally referred to as “Song Sai Gon”, flows through southern Vietnam, rising near Phum Daung, south-eastern Cambodia, and flowing south and south-southeast for about 225km. In its lower course, it embraces Ho Chi Minh City on the east and forms an estuary at the head of Ganh Rai Bay, an outlying part of the Mekong Delta. The Saigon is joined 29km northeast of Ho Chi Minh City by the Dong Nai River, an important stream of the Central Highlands, and just above Ho Chi Minh City it is joined by the Ben Cat River. At Cho Lon, the former Chinese sector of Ho Chi Minh City, it is joined by two ship channels, the Kinh Tau Hu and the Kinh Te. Sixteen kilometres below Ho Chi Minh City is the oil harbour of Nha Be. Although it lies 72km from the mouth of the river, Ho Chi Minh City port is the most important in Southeast Asia and is navigable to ships with drafts of up to 9m.