Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) is perhaps best known for its war history. Fortunately, HCMH has so much more to offer than just informative memorials that pay tribute to those dark times and those who perished in its wars. For this reason and more, Vietnam's capital is doable by groups and travellers of all sorts, such as families with kids and solo female travellers.
Ho Chi Minh City has also survived through many foreign influences, such as the Chinese, Indian and French. For example, you can see the three countries' influences in the following religious buildings in HCMC: Thien Hau Temple (Chinese), the Mariannam Temple (Hindu) and the Notre Dame Cathedral (French). HCMC did not just buckle under all these external influences though. Luckily, you can see unique Vietnamese architectural design in certain religious structures in HCMC, like the Cao Dai Temple.
Aside from cultural and religious sites, you can also appreciate a good view of the city from high above on the Bitexco Tower Sky Deck. Get to know Ho Chi Minh City on a more personal level as well through its popular local food. Try the Pho from Pho Hoa in Pasteur, hawker-style food from Ben Thanh Market or exciting street food from Rubik Zoo. Finally, for a deeper dive into sites from Vietnam’s war era, visit the War Remnants Museum and try to fit in the Cu Chi Tunnels too.
While HCMC is interesting to see, I would recommend visiting as much of Vietnam as you can while you are there. Consider spending at least two weeks in Vietnam exploring some of its best places, such as Hoi An, Dalat and Hue.
Get to know Ho Chi Minh City through its sights that have been influenced by the cultures that surround it. Visit the Chinese-inspired temple, Thien Hau Pagoda, where one can offer prayers or simply admire its architecture. For a touch of Hindu inspiration, put the Mariamman Hindu Temple on your list (also the only Hindu temple in HCMC).
For a more modern experience, head over to the Bitexco Tower. It has a glass-enclosed Sky Deck where visitors can get a good view of the city from above. Finally, finish off your first day at the Ben Thanh Market. This market has a chill vibe and is good for those on the hunt for bargain goods or freshly cooked Vietnamese food.
The Thien Hau Pagoda is a great place to start your Ho Chi Minh City tour. The design of this temple is heavily inspired by Chinese architecture. It is dedicated to the sea goddess Mazu. On the roof, you can see porcelain figurines that allude to Chinese religion and mythology. Incense burners can be found in the courtyard and the altar proper itself, which also highlights Mazu with three bronzed-face statues.
Take your next stop to greater heights by heading over to the Bitexco Tower Sky Deck. The building itself is a financial tower and is 262 meters tall. It is also the 124th tallest building in the world. A great view of the city can be enjoyed from the 49th floor, which is where the glass-enclosed Sky Deck is located. English-speaking guides can also be hired if you want more information about the city.
Time to head on over to another temple now, but this time a Hindu one. The Mariamman Hindu Temple is a temple for the Hindu Goddess of Rain (Mariamman). It is the only Hindu temple in Ho Chi Minh City, so be sure to visit it! Various statues of the Goddess also line the walls. Legend has it that visitors will be imparted with good luck from each visit to this temple.
After an afternoon of touring, head over the Ben Thanh Market to experience the local Vietnamese commerce. Handicrafts, souvenirs from Vietnam, and even the traditional Ao Dai garment can be found and bought here. This place is also popular for its hawker-style food stalls that offer Vietnamese cuisine and street eats where the cooks and chefs prepare the food fresh right in front of its customers.
For the second day, catch a glimpse of the French's influence on HCMC by checking out the Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral. This church was originally made with materials sourced from France and is clearly influenced by the French (think of its name alone)!
To gain more insight into Vietnam’s history, a quick visit to the War Remnants Museum is in order. Catch sight of old tankers, planes and even a guillotine. After these two destinations, you can easily wander the streets of Saigon (former name of Ho Chi Minh City) and get to see how the locals go about their daily hustle. Complete your Vietnamese experience with a good bowl of Pho at Pho Hoa in Pasteur.
The Notre-Dame Cathedral of Saigon is a French-established cathedral. It is also a prominent French structure that traces back to the years when the French occupied this area. Its notable features include two bell towers. The materials used to erect this cathedral is said to have been sourced from France. Original tiles came from France, but were replaced by locally-produced ones when some were damaged by the war.
The War Remnants Museum gives a brief overview of what Vietnam went through during the Vietnam War. It also touches on what happened during the Indochina Wars. The museum is easy to spot and is right in the heart of the city. Here, you can also get a good look at Huey helicopters, F-5A fighters, bombs, and even a guillotine.
What’s a visit to Vietnam without a taste of the popular Pho dish? It is made with noodles, broth, garnish and your choice of either chicken or beef.
Head over to the Pasteur area in HCMC to get an authentic bowl of Pho from the experts at Pho Hoa. You can get your Pho fix almost anywhere in Ho Chi Minh City, but be sure to get it from well-known places, like Pho Hoa, for a guaranteed good-tasting Pho.
For the last day of your Ho Chi Minh City tour, step a little outside of the main city (and your comfort zone)! Start the day by visiting the Cu Chi (underground) Tunnels. You can also try the shooting range and other above-ground attractions here if you wish.
After the tunnel network, visit one last temple, this time an authentic Vietnamese one. The Cao Dai Temple was built by the followers of Caodaism, a religion indigenous to Vietnam. Afterwards, head back to the city proper to experience the night market at the Rubik Zoo, which is where you can get a taste of authentic Vietnamese street food.
The Cu Chi Tunnels is a network of underground tunnels that were once used by Viet Cong soldiers. Visitors are allowed to go to the safer parts of the tunnels that have now been made larger to accommodate crowds. Some entrances are made to fit one body, so be mentally and physically prepared for a tight squeeze!
Inside the tunnels, the caretakers added displays of booby traps that soldiers used to line the tunnels with. Above the tunnels on land, tourists can also try out the shooting range or buy trinkets from the vendors who sell various kinds of souvenirs nearby.
Get a glimpse of authentic Vietnamese architecture and design by visiting the Cao Dai Temple. It is a temple dedicated to Caodaism, an indigenous Vietnamese religion. Followers and tourists go to the Holy See to see its unique architecture, which is a fusion of many influences from around the world.
Rubik Zoo is a shopping centre in Ho Chi Minh City. It is known for its vibrant nightlife due to its night markets. Here, you will taste authentic Vietnamese street food as food stalls line up its rows. You can also shop here for clothes or other trinkets. Some nights there are also performances that you can enjoy.
This article was first published on Jul 11, 2019 19:00 UTC.
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