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places to visit in ho chi minh city

Ho Chi Minh City, better known by its former name of Saigon, is a brazen, industrious and dense metropolis, the largest city in Vietnam and the business capital of the country. Located on the Saigon River on the edge of the Mekong Delta, Saigon became the capital of the Republic of South Vietnam and was the American headquarters during the Vietnam War. Two years later the Communist north took control of the country, the city's name was changed to Ho Chi Minh City, and recession and poverty ensued.

Today Ho Chi Minh City has a cosmopolitan and energetic atmosphere, and having actively welcomed the new capitalist principle, the business-minded spirit of the people is much in evidence. Although relatively modern, it has still managed to hold onto its Asian character, and fine restaurants, smart hotels and chic bars line the sidewalks crammed with noodle stands, markets and shoeshine boys. The buzzing of motorbikes and scooters merges with the cries of street vendors and the urgent business of stall owners, selling barbecued dog, writhing snakes and tropical fruits. The sight of a family of four balanced precariously on a scooter, a squealing pig strapped onto the back of a bicycle, bowed heads topped by pointed lampshade-style hats and orange-clothed monks are just some of the vibrant images the city has to offer.

Although overshadowed by modern and Asiatic influences, a little of Ho Chi Minh City's French colonial charm still remains, evident in the graceful architecture, wide boulevards, and a sidewalk cafe society. It is not for the attractions that one visits Ho Chi Minh City however, but for the vibrancy of its street life, and its proximity to the Mekong Delta.

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ho chi minh city history

Many centuries ago, Saigon was already a busy commercial center. Merchants from China, Japan and many European countries would sail upstream the Saigon River to reach the islet of Pho, a trading centre. In the year of 1874, Cho Lon merged with Saigon, forming the largest city in the Indochina. It had been many times celebrated as the Pearl of the Far East. After the reunification of the country, the 6th National Assembly in its meeting of the 2nd of July, 1976, has officially rebaptized Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City. The history of city relates closely with the struggle for the independence and freedom of Vietnam.

places to visit in ho chi minh city

cu chi tunnel photo

Cu Chi Tunnels

The Cu Chi Tunnels system is an underground network of tunnels dug in the 1940s by the Vietnamese as a place to hide during the fight against the French. The network was later expanded and used in the American War. The system consists of more than 150 miles (250km) of tunnels and unlit offshoots, secret trap doors connecting narrow routes to hidden shelters, local rivers and tunnels to the Cambodian border.

It was a sprawling city of improvised hospitals, living quarters, kitchens and fresh water wells, with some tunnels barely large enough to wriggle through. The plan was to launch surprise assaults on the enemy, and then disappear; so successful a hiding place were the tunnels that first the French and then the Americans struggled against these sudden attacks in which the assailants seemed to vanish into fresh air. Today many of the tunnels have been enlarged to allow visitors the dirty and claustrophobic experience of crawling through a portion of the underground network, past secret trapdoors and booby traps laid against invasion. Unfortunately their popularity with visitors has turned the area into a vicious tourist trap, with hard-sell vendors a constant hassle among the touring throngs.

ben than market photo

Ben Than Market

Today the market caters to the tourist dollars and is packed tight with stalls selling clothing, pottery, souvenirs, jewels and food. It is rumoured that depending on bargaining ability buyers will be given their purchase in various coloured bags as a sign to other vendors. The market was moved to its current building in 1912 but has existed in the area for hundreds of years. The permanent stalls are passed down in family for generations. Some of Vietnam's specialties can be bought cheaply here such as cobra and scorpion whiskey and silks.

The market is open daily from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. but an outdoor night market and food stalls surround the area until much later.

notre dam cathedral photo

Notre Dam Cathedral

The neo-Romanesque cathedral was constructed between 1877 and 1883 using bricks from Marseilles and stained-glass windows from Chartres. The Romanesque towers of nearly 60m (197 ft.) tower over a large white statue of the Virgin Mary and the nearby Saigon Post Office. The cathedral would pretty much be at home in any Catholic European country. The tiles are a cubic pattern done in black, white, and gray. They have a slightly disconcerting 3D effect, but they are no match for the statute of Mary framed in neon blue lights in the first archway on your left. The atmosphere is fairly serene and there's something calming about taking a rest on the wooden pews.

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old post office photo

Old Post Office

This grand old edifice was constructed between 1886 and 1891 by Gustave Eiffel. The architectural design of this Central Post Office represents the French colonial style. It is no doubt the biggest post office in Vietnam and is an important commercial centre of Ho Chi Minh City. This classic colonial structure stands right next to the Notre Dame Cathedral, at the famous Paris Commune Square in the Ho Chi Minh City - Saigon.

ho chi minh museum photo

Museum of Ho Chi Minh City

This museum houses some of Ho Chi Minh's personal possessions.
It was once a French customs house.

art gallery photo

Fine Arts Museum

A classic yellow-and-white building with a modest Chinese influence, the Fine Arts Museum , houses one of the more interesting collections in Vietnam, ranging from lacquer- and enamelware to contemporary oil paintings by Vietnamese and foreign artists. If that doesn't sound enticing, just come to see the huge hall with its beautifully tiled floors. The 1st floor includes a display of officially accepted contemporary art: most of it is just kitsch or desperate attempts to master abstract art, but occasionally something brilliant is displayed here. Much of the recent art is for sale and prices are reasonable.

american war museum photo

War Remnants Museum

The War Remnants Museum, formerly known as Saigon’s Exhibition House of American War Crimes, was established in September 1975 in Ho Chi Minh City. It contains countless artifacts, photographs and pictures documenting some of the less heroic activities carried out by the US army in Vietnam.

Displays illustrate the killing of civilians, the spreading of toxic defoliant, the torturing of prisoners and the effects of the war in the north. Planes, tanks, bombs and helicopters are also on display.

reunification palace photo

Reunification Palace

Time has stood still here since 30 April 1975, a slightly scary thought. The striking modern architecture and the slightly eerie feeling you get as you walk through its deserted halls make Reunification Palace one of the most fascinating sights in HCMC. The building was once the symbol of the South Vietnamese government, which hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese and 58,183 Americans died trying to save.

On the morning of 30 April 1975, the 43-hour-old government of South Vietnam sat quietly on the second floor of this grand building - then called the Independence Palace - waiting to transfer power to the Northern forces who were crashing through the wrought iron gates below. 'There is no question of you transferring power,' they were told by a Viet Cong officer. 'You cannot give up what you do not have.'

The building took its current form in 1966 after it had been partially destroyed in an attack by South Vietnam leader Diem's own air force (they really hated him, it seems). Now, the building is a magnificent example of 60s architecture - airy and open, with spacious chambers and tasteful modern decorations. The building is still used for official functions.

The most interesting section of the Reunification Palace is the basement - a network of tunnels and rooms, including a war room and a telecommunications room. One of the tunnels stretches all the way to Gia Long Palace, now known as the Revolutionary Museum.

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