Here are 9 of the best places to visit in Ho Chi Minh City for first time travelers:
1. Saigon Opera House
With its iconic French colonial architecture, this structure was certified as one of Vietnam’s National Relic in 2012. From the pictures posted outside the theatre, you will notice the building’s curvy interiors. But for one to able to take photos inside the opera house, you have to buy a ticket to one of its shows. I suggest the most famous one to date, the A O, a Vietnamese rendition of Cirque Du Soleil.
2. Notre Dame Cathedral
It is hard to miss the Notre Dame Cathedral as it is located in the center of District 1, the city’s business district. The Cathedral is another relic of French colonial times as evident in its architecture. According to the locals, its remarkable red bricks were imported directly from Marseilles, France.
3. Central Post Office
This is definitely the most beautiful post office I have been to! Designed by no other than Gustave Eiffel (yup, the architect of the Eiffel Tower!). The building looks like an early European train station with its intricate ironworks, high ceilings and patterned floor tiles. A large picture of Ho Chi Minh also rests at the end of the corridor.
4. War Remnants Museum
Outside of the museum, you will be greeted by fighter/bomber aircrafts, tanks, US armored vehicles and infantry weapons.
Inside the museum is an installation of the most disturbing photos I have ever seen. Pictures of children affected by US bombing, dismembered body parts, victims of Agent Orange, infant cadavers in jars – the gore just went on and on. To be honest, I stopped looking at some of the exhibits as it was too much for me to take. We left the museum with a heavy heart after seeing all those horrifying images. 🙁
5. Handicapped Handicrafts
This store is a part of the Cu Chi Tunnels tour. As the name suggests, the lacquer paintings and handicrafts were made by handicapped people, most of them were war victims. The materials to make the art piece can be egg shells or mother of pearl. The shop we visited used egg shells to make their paintings.
6. Cu Chi Tunnels
Your Vietnam trip will not be complete without visiting the world-famous Cu Chi Tunnels. These tunnels played a vital role for the Viet Congs to be able to defeat the US in the Vietnam War. As part of the tour, you will be able to see the different booby traps that the Viet Cong’s created.
In addition, adrenaline junkies can also try to shoot AK-42 and M30 guns at the Cu Chi Tunnel Shooting Range.
Tourists can only enter a portion of the tunnel and you will have a choice between the shorter and the longer route. The shorter route takes about 5 minutes to finish while the longer one will take you almost 10 minutes. These tunnels were already modified to have a wider space for tourists, but the tunnels are still small (yes, you need to crawl) and it is a little hard to breathe inside. So if you have claustrophobia, I suggest you stay behind.
We booked the Mekong River Delta Tour through the hotel we were staying in (White Lotus Hotel).
From Unicorn Island, you will be taken to a Bee farm on Thoi Son Island.
In the next part of the tour, you will board a small boat and navigate through a narrow canal along Mekong Delta. The boat paddler will provide you a non la (traditional Vietnamese hat). It gets really warm so put the hat to good use.
Lunch was served in a local restaurant nearby which had the best Vietnamese dishes – crispy elephant ear fish, fried spring rolls, fresh shrimp spring rolls and a lot more! You can also borrow a bike to explore the area or opt to take a nap in one of the hammocks.
The last part of the tour was a visit to the Native Coconut Candy Factory. Our tour guide showed us how a coconut candy was created – you can grate some coconuts too!
8. Ben Thanh Market
The best place to taste Vietnam’s street food and to shop for souvenirs! Your bargaining skills will be handy in Ben Thanh – try chopping the suggested price up to 50% off while bargaining along the way with the sellers.
9. Saigon Square
There are two Saigon Square buildings in HCMC, Saigon Square 1 and 3 (Saigon Square 2 closed down already). I suggest you go to Saigon Sqaure 1, the one nearest to Ben Thanh market.
Saigon Square 1: 77 – 89 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia road, district 1, HCMC
Saigon Square 3: 17E9 – 181 – 183 – 185 Hai Ba Trung street, district 1, HCMC
Cảm ơn bạn Vietnam!