Ho Chi Minh City, still affectionately known as Saigon to its inhabitants, is not very old when compared to other major world cities, having been founded late in the 18th century. Since then, however, it has had an eventful history to say the least, and its major attractions are the buildings and museums that testify to both the city’s and the country’s turbulent upheavals during that time.
Several of the principal sights are clustered near the city centre, so it’s easy to walk from one to the other. However, if you’d rather not deal with the city’s daunting traffic, it’s easy to sign up for a guided tour or a cyclo tour through your hotel or guesthouse.
Museums in Ho Chi Minh City
There are several museums around the city that are a must-see for anyone interested in Saigon’s colourful past. The first stop for most visitors is the Reunification Palace, built in the 1960s for Ngo Dinh Diem, leader of South Vietnam at the time.
The building’s significance lies in the fact that it was overrun by Northern troops in April 1975, and thus symbolises the communist victory. For a more thorough examination of the Vietnamese struggle for liberation, the War Remnants Museum is another unmissable stop, though the exhibits here are likely to shock sensitive souls.
The Ho Chi Minh City Museum is also worth a visit, more for its extravagant colonial exterior than the rather dry displays inside. Two other museums well worth the time, depending on your interests, are the History Museum and Fine Arts Museum.
The centre of Ho Chi Minh City, especially around Lam Son Square, is peppered with grand, colonial structures that were erected during French rule and are now some of the city’s most photographed sights. In the square itself, the Municipal Theatre, once known as the Opera House, attracts the eye with its domed archways and regal stairs.
Just a block to the west on Le Thanh Ton, the People’s Committee Building, formerly the Hotel de Ville, is smothered with stucco decorations of the most elaborate kind. Perhaps Saigon’s most photographed building, though, is Notre Dame Cathedral that stands in a prime position at the head of Dong Khoi, the city’s main street.
The city’s most visited temple is the Jade Emperor Pagoda, an atmospheric centre of worship that was built around 1900. Throughout the day, locals arrive to make offerings at the altars to various deities and feed the resident turtles. Though there are several other temples scattered around the city, you need to go to Cholon, Saigon’s Chinatown, to see the most visually pleasing – Quan Am Pagoda and Thien Hau Pagoda.
Two other districts worth visiting, that is if you’re not staying in them, are around Dong Khoi, the city’s main street which runs between the Notre Dame Cathedral and the west bank of the Saigon River, and De Tham, a short street in the epicentre of the budget district. Visit the first for fancy hotels, gourmet dining and expensive boutiques, and the second for cheap rooms, eats and souvenirs. Cholon is located a few kilometres west of the city centre, but it’s certainly worth spending a day there…more on Ho Chi Minh City Attractions.