There are plenty Ho Chi Minh City attractions to keep you busy for at least a couple of days. Most are centrally located so you can travel between them on foot although the cyclo drivers will be keenly waiting at every corner to offer their services. As we were staying in the Dong Khoi district most of the Ho Chi Minh City sights were immediately accessible except for the Ben Thanh market and the Cholon Chinese District. If you’re in the Pham Ngu Lao area where most of the backpackers hostels are found you’re near the Ben Thanh market but probably a 20-30 minute walk to the Hotel de Ville which is our recommended starting point for a sightseeing tour.
Cheap Transport in Ho Chi Minh City is readily available by cyclo, on the back of a motorbike (not recommended for safety reasons) or by metred taxi.
Below are the main Ho Chi Minh City sights with a brief explanation and opening times. They are listed in the order in which we visited them.
Day 1 Sightseeing in HCMC
Hotel de Ville
This French colonial building is now home to the local Ho Chi Minh People’s Committee. It is closed to the public but is a good place from where to begin your HCMC sightseeing tour.
Museum of Ho Chi Minh City
Bao Tang Thanh Pho Ho Chi Minh
(Opening Hours: Daily 8am-4pm)
Just a few minutes walk from the starting point at the Hotel de Ville is this city museum which has displays depicting the communist power struggle in Vietnam throughout history.
War Remnants Museum
28 Vo Van Tan St
(Opening Hours: Daily 7:30-11:45 & 1:30-5:15)
This museum was formerly known as the Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes. It tells the story of the Vietnam/American war through hundreds photographs, some of them quite horrific. Not recommended for children.
106 Ð Nguyen Du District 1
(Opening Hours: 7:30am-11:00am & 1:00pm-4:00pm)
Probably the most important building in HCMC in terms of recent history the Reunification Palace was the HQ of the South Vietnamese during the War. The two tanks to your right as you look directly at the Palace were the very ones that knocked down the gates you look through which marked the Fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975 and the official handover of power. You can go inside and have an interesting tour of the premises with a guide who will take you into the Presidential rooms and will show you the rooms in the basement from where the War was run by the Americans and South Vietnamese.
HCMC Post Office & Notre Dame Cathedral
The Post Office is a French colonial building dating back to the 1890s with Uncle Ho looking down on you as you buy your stamps. Just opposite the entrance is the Notre Dame Cathedral with its 40m high towers, two sharp reminders of the French influence on this city. There is a mass at 9.30am on Sundays which is the best one for tourists to attend.
History Museum & Zoo
2 Nguyen Binh Khiem
(Opening Hours: Mon.-Sat. 8-11:30 and 1:30-4:30)
The city’s most educational museum devoid of propaganda which shows 4000 years of Vietnamese history in which the War plays just a small part. It is housed in a magnificent Sino-French style building and lies just inside the gate to the city zoo. and botanical gardens.
Jade Emperor Pagoda
73 Mai Thi Luu St
(Opening Hours: Daily 7-6)
This is the finest pagoda in HCMC. Getting there is a bit of a hike along busy roads so you might want to take transport there. On the other hand if you’re planning on visiting Cholon you could give this one a miss and go to some of the extraordinary living pagodas in the Chinese quarter.
End of Day 1 Sightseeing … Upto here was a full day of sightseeing with a lunchbreak and rest included (jetlag was still a problem). The following day we headed out to the Chinese District of Cholon and visited a couple of markets. Read on ….
Day 2 Sightseeing in HCMC
Chinese District of Cholon – District 5
Cholon is HCMC’s Chinatown which lies some 5km west of the central tourist area so you’ll need some transport to get there.
We took a taxi which dropped us off at Phuoc An Hoi Quan Pagoda then we walked the streets of Cholon visiting various other pagodas which were packed with people carrying out their prayer rituals. This area is fascinating with few tourists in sight.
The roads are packed with motorbikes and the pavements with street sellers offering everything imaginable. You need to allow a few hours to wander these streets and end at Binh Tay Market before taking transport back to the central area.
Ben Thanh Market
(Opening Hours: Daily 7am-7pm)
If you only go to one market in HCMC make sure it’s this one which is the most centrally located. This huge indoor market sells everything you can imagine. Of most interest to many visitors is the selection of quality branded goods and the food area which is well worth a few photos even if you’re not buying anything. Who knows what some of those fruits are! If you’re there at lunchtime go for noodles at Pho 2000 which is famous as the place where Bill Clinton ate noodles on his visit to HCMC in 2000 when he was the first US President to visit Vietnam.