There are a lot of interesting places to see in Ho Chi Minh City and its surrounding areas. If it’s your first time to set foot in this city, better wear a comfortable pair of shoes or flip flops and start walking. Ho Chi Minh City is best explored on foot (unless you’re hell-bent on going to the Cu Chi Tunnels on your first day) and most notable places to visit are close together in one area. But if you find yourself lost, just catch a cab and let the driver straighten you out.
Before you head out into the sunny streets of Saigon (It is true! The heat is on in Saigon!), don’t forget to bring a pair of sunglasses, a hat, and your camera. Do leave behind your travel documents as you won’t need these.
Dong Khoi St.
Dong Khoi St. in District 1 is a good area to start your walking tour by the Saigon River. In the morning and in the late afternoon, you would see swarms of motorbikes being shuttled back and forth by boats across the river as people go about their business. In the evening, the river lights up with its floating restaurants — ready to tease your palate with their delicious Vietnamese cuisine and your eyes with their cultural and exotic entertainment. The restaurants set sail too around 8:30 pm.
Hotels, souvenir shops, art galleries, and boutiques line Dong Khoi Street, as well as, restaurants. So in a sense, Dong Khoi St. provides a slice of life of Ho Chi Minh City.
Bitexco Financial Tower
The Bitexco Financial Tower (not to be confused with the Bitexco Building just almost beside it) is the newest addition to the tourist spots in the city. This 262-meter building was inaugurated just last October 31, 2010. It IS Saigon’s tallest building (The Landmark in Ha Noi is the tallest in Vietnam now). It can be seen comfortably (I mean you can have a good photo taken with it) along Nguyen Hue St. — just a bit off Dong Khoi St. (take Ngo Duc Ke St.). It is an office building and some there are some shops at the ground floor like Adidas, Elle Cafe, and the Mac Center.
Rumor has it (since I haven’t done it myself) that you can go up the helipad and see the view of Saigon for a minimal fee. You can now go up the skydeck and enjoy the view. Read on Saigon Skydeck. The shape of the building is attributed to the lotus flower bud. Read more about it here.
Saigon Opera House
As you walk up to Le Loi St., you would find yourself in front of the elegantly designed Saigon Opera House or the Ho Chi Minh Municipal Theater. Currently, the Opera House hosts cultural shows. Unfortunately, if you’re not watching any show, you can’t get in. Good for photos though!
It is usual to see couples here getting their prenuptial photos taken.
Just a tip, if you want the whole theater in the background, cross the street and have your photo taken from there.
Notre Dame Cathedral and Post Office (Cong Xa Paris Street)
At the far end of Dong Khoi St. are the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Post Office. Both are popular tourist spots but the Cathedral and Post Office are no museums. Catholics gather to the Gothic-inspired Cathedral for worship and the Post Office is still open for transactions.
If you happen to be in Ho Chi Minh City on a Sunday, you can catch the English Mass at 9:30am. You can request for a guided tour of the cathedral with the guides by the door. On weekdays, visiting time is from 8 to 11 am and 3 to 4pm.
The Post Office is open from 7am to 8pm. Souvenir shops, money changer, phone booths, and ATMs can also be found inside the building.
The Reunification Palace
Across the Notre Dame Cathedral along Nam Khy Khoi Nghia St. is the Reunification Palace. The palace was completed in 1966 and the land where it stands lived through the colonization of France, WWII and the Vietnam War. It replaced the original palace that stood in the same area called the Norodom Palace in honor of Cambodia’s King Norodom in 1873. It is now called Reunification as a symbol of the unification of North and South Vietnam. It was originally built as the residence of the President of South Vietnam. Today it serves to preserve the rich history of Vietnam through its architecture, furniture, collections, and paintings. Guided one hour tours are available daily with English, French, Chinese and Japanese speaking tour guides at 30,000 VND. Take note that they are open from 7:30 am to 12nn and 1pm to 5pm. The palace is closed during official events by the Vietnamese government.
The War Remnants Museum
At Vo Van Tan Street, just a couple blocks away from the Reunification Palace is the War Remnants Museum. This museum preserves artifacts from the American-Vietnam War including a helicopter, a fighter jet, tanks, guns, and photographs. If you are wondering what it was like during the time of war in Vietnam, this is a good place as any to soak in the history. The entrance fee is at 15,000 VND and is open daily from 7:30am to 12nn and 1:30pm to 5pm.
All these tourist hot spots can be seen in less than a day. And if you must ride a taxi, be sure to get a metered taxi. The more reliable taxi cabs are Mai Linh and Vinasun. Beware of those cabs imitating these two such as M. Linh, Vinasum, Vinataxi, and Vinamet. Flag down rate is usually from
9,500 to 10,500 10,500 to 11,500 VND. Additional 2,500 VND per 0.8 km.
Also be mindful that the meter should be facing the passenger. And do not ride tinted taxi cabs!
[updated: September, 2012]