Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City is the largest city in Vietnam with a population of 9 million – 13 million in the metropolitan area. It was the capital of South Vietnam from 1955 to 1975. Saigon was the name of the whole city prior to 1975 when it was renamed Ho Chi Minh City. However, today the name Saigon refers to District 1 and nearby areas which is the centre of Ho Chi Minh City.
The main things to do in Saigon are:
- see the Notre Dame Cathedral built by the French in 1863
- go to the Reunification Palace the home of the president of the South Vietnam government.
- feast on the sites and smells of Vietnamese food at the Ben Thanh Market.
- view historic Vietnam War equipment at the War Remnants Museum.
- tour the Cu Chi tunnels from the Vietnam War
- view a performance at The Saigon Opera House
- be entertained at the Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre
Saigon is a magical labyrinth, forever singing with the engines of a hundred thousand scooters flying through the alleyways like flocks of birds. The only way to truly experience this amazing city is by taking a drive through its streets to witness for yourself the vibrant bustle that is Ho Chi Minh City.
However, luxury travellers can sit in a first-class, private vehicle and watch the frenzy. However it’s best to have some space to quietly reflect on this colourful human display.
What I Like Best About Saigon
I love the architecture. Old, French colonial mansions blend seamlessly with rows of traditional shophouses pained in bright colours. Meanwhile they bear the design influences of the Chinese merchant homes of Jiangnan and the traditional streets of Amsterdam. Touring around District 1 – the central city – it’s like witnessing a fruit salad of extraordinary architectural design, all sitting at rest in the magnificent tropical sunshine as the locals busy themselves around them.
Best Walk in Saigon
A gentle meander up Le Loi street will take you from the Saigon River front to the People’s Committee Building and the Opera House. They are opulent leftovers from the French occupation. Further architectural treasures can be seen by walking behind the People’s Committee Building. There you’ll find the extraordinary gothic Notre Dame cathedral and the Post Office designed by Gustave Eiffel. Behind the church is the modern, air-conditioned Diamond Plaza where you can cool off.
Best Restaurants in Saigon
The only place you MUST eat is at Quan An Ngon. It’s a unique courtyard restaurant famed for its superb menu featuring a variety of delicious Vietnamese dishes from around the country – including Hue style noodle soup, grilled beef with chilli salt served with seasoned toast, vermicelli and fried spring rolls served with fresh herbs and fish sauce, and boiled banana, flour and peanuts in sweet coconut milk being the favourite dessert.
The most edifying musical experience available in Saigon is at one of the regular performances held at the central Opera House. While there is also a small, quaint, and beautiful 800-seat venue situated opposite the Caravelle. Modern and Traditional Vietnamese Opera can be seen, as well as orchestral works. Free band music can be heard outside the venue on Sunday mornings. During festivals there are large outdoor concerts held here.
Vietnamese people love to drink coffee. The stylish Windows Café on Alexandre de Rhodes St near the Cathedral is the place to see and be seen. For dancing, visit the Bop Jazz Club or La Casa Latina on Thai Van Lung. You’ll find a host of entertainment venues to choose from.
Best Day Trip Out of the City
The most fascinating day tour is a trip through the Mekong Delta. Stylish, luxury tours to this area are available through Definite Journey at www.definitejourney.com. Also the rich, fertile river system of the Delta is home to a traditional way of life for many Vietnamese people and is the heart of the south. Tours regularly stop at small villages on the Delta islands where local people use traditional methods to produce delicious candies from coconut milk and malt.
Something that Not Many Tourists would Know About Saigon
Lavish weddings are an extremely vital tradition in Saigon. The result of this is there are wedding photo studios everywhere in the city. Consequently, it makes Saigon the ideal place for couples to have amazing, romantic photos taken at cheap prices, whether they’re married or not!