A Nostalgic Discovery of Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City, previously known as Saigon, is the most densely populated city in Vietnam. Steeped in history and culture, it is also filled with much beauty, vitality and diversity. The developing megalopolis is scattered with modern buildings amongst quaint little streets where city and small town living co-exist in harmony. A city with an abiding charm, here are five must-dos when visiting the city.
Cu Chi Tunnels
The tunnels of Củ Chi were constructed and used as a military defence by the Viet Cong’s during the battle between North and South Vietnam. Used mainly for communications and as supply routes, these tunnels played a crucial role in their resistance against the American Allied Troops in combat.
There are 2 locations from which to visit these tunnels, both a little over an hour’s drive from Ho Chi Minh City. They each feature the standard tour consisting of a historical review, displays of various handmade spiked booby traps and the eventual slow thread through the miniscule tunnels. A portion of this exploration also allows visitors to sample a real past soldier’s basic meal of tapioca and tea.
Ben Dinh is the closer of the two so it is more popular with tourist groups and has enlarged tunnels to accommodate larger-sized individuals as well as reconstructed sections. Here, you’ll also find a firing range where you can have your hand at shooting wartime weapons from handguns to AK-47s and M16s.
Ben Duoc is 15 minutes further out by car and less crowded so it is ideal for a quieter discovery. It retains part of the original tunnel system and also houses the Monument Temple for Martyrs with its impressive landscaped garden. Sitting tall in the centre of a magnificent fountain on one side is the symbol of “The Holy Soul of the Country” which is a structural tribute for the fallen.
Built in 1897 and also known as Saigon Opera House, the theatre has had an arduous journey through its existence before being fully restored to a functional state. It’s worth a visit just to admire her beautiful French Colonial architecture with a façade directly inspired from the Petit Palais in Paris. Originally constructed to host 1,800 spectators, it now only seats 500 but visitors can immerse themselves in the many classical and contemporary performances held there throughout the year from ballets and recitals to concerts and operas.
Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon
Erected in phases throughout the later 19th century, architects and historians will appreciate this timeless red-bricked structure adorned with ornate exterior detailing which juxtaposes the intricacy of its interior. In the middle of the flower garden, at front of the church, is the exquisite, ancient granite statue of Virgin Mary which was thought to have miraculously shed tears in October of 2005. Although it was never officially confirmed, many have witnessed it in real life.
From the inside, you can see high windows mosaicked with colourful images of knights slaying dragons and the manger amongst others. During the day, the tall archways of the long nave emanate a sense of divine serenity showered with natural brightness.
Ben Thanh Market
Those who are eager to do some shopping, Ben Thanh Market is the place for you. Located in one of the city’s oldest sites, this now consolidated market began life in the early 1600s as a collective of street vendors gathered near the Saigon River. Within the sprawling compound, you can find everything from domestic products like lacquerware, traditional outfits and artefacts to modern day consumables like watches, clothes and souvenirs. Bargaining is a common practice here so having a native companion is always advantageous. Explore the abundant local fare available toward the rear of the market and try some Pho (noodle soup) and other Vietnamese dishes.
Pham Ngu Lao Street is situated at the western edge of district 1 in central Ho Chi Minh City. It is the one-stop destination for those who love a fun night out where you can have an inexpensive meal and drink at the street stalls or bar hop around the area. Be sure to visit The View Rooftop Bar at Duc Vuong Hotel, which has a relaxed ambience and a spectacular view of the city skyline.
Another spot that you might want to check out is Saigon Saigon, located on the top of Caravelle Hotel. They have a live band that plays a versatile mix of Latin and pop tunes. The unblocked views make it a great place to enjoy the evening and catch the sunset.
Glow Skybar on the rooftop of President Place is for the young and trendy. The bar cum club boasts a modern design with lit tables and an illuminated circular bar counter where you can savour your cocktails. Don’t be surprised if you see some socialites and celebrities at the next table.