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 are 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
History of Saigon
Saigon, now known as Ho Chi Minh City, is a bustling metropolis in Vietnam with a history that spans centuries. From its humble origins as a fishing village to its role as an essential trading port, the city has witnessed numerous changes, from colonisation to war and reunification. Let’s embark on a historical journey through the evolution of Saigon with a timeline of significant events.
Pre-17th Century – Early Settlements:
- 4th – 6th Century: The area around present-day Saigon was inhabited by the Khmer people, as evidenced by archaeological findings of ancient temples and artifacts.
17th Century – Arrival of the Vietnamese:
- 1623: Vietnamese settlers from the north arrived in the region and established a small trading outpost called Prey Nokor, marking the beginning of Saigon’s history.
18th – 19th Century – Nguyen Dynasty Influence:
- 1698: Lord Nguyen Phuc Chu of the Nguyen Dynasty gained control of Prey Nokor, renaming it Sai Gon.
- 1859: French Admiral Charles Rigault de Genouilly captured Saigon during the Cochinchina Campaign, establishing French colonial rule in Vietnam.
19th – 20th Century – French Colonial Period:
- 1862: The Treaty of Saigon ceded three southern provinces to France, solidifying French control over the region.
- 1887: Saigon became the capital of French Cochinchina, and significant urban development and infrastructure projects began.
20th Century – World War II and Vietnam War:
- 1940: During World War II, Japan occupied Vietnam, including Saigon, which was then part of French Indochina.
- 1954: After the defeat of the French at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, Vietnam was divided into North and South Vietnam, with Saigon as the capital of South Vietnam.
- 1965 – 1975: Saigon became a major battleground during the Vietnam War. The city witnessed significant military operations and intense urban warfare.
1975 – Reunification and Renaming:
- April 30, 1975: The Fall of Saigon marked the end of the Vietnam War, and the city was reunited with North Vietnam under communist rule.
- 1976: Saigon was officially renamed Ho Chi Minh City in honor of the revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh.
Post-1976 – Modern Metropolis:
- 1976 – Present: Ho Chi Minh City, as the economic hub of Vietnam, has experienced rapid urbanization and development, becoming a vibrant metropolis with a rich blend of culture, history, and modernity.
Today, Ho Chi Minh City stands as a testament to its enduring history, with reminders of its colonial past, wartime struggles, and reunification efforts visible in its streets, landmarks, and culture. As the heart of southern Vietnam, the city continues to evolve, preserving its heritage while embracing the opportunities of the future.
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.
Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City is surrounded by the Saigon River and covers approximately 2,061 square kilometers. Originally the capital of Vietnam, it is now one of the most cosmopolitan places in the world. Visitors should take the time to explore its historic districts and visit a museum, or go for a bicycle tour. There are many things to do in the city, but here are a few suggestions for a first-time visit.
The Bitexco Tower is the city’s most famous landmark. This 262-meter-tall building has offices, restaurants, helipads, and the world’s highest Heineken bar. The Sky Deck offers panoramic views of the city and dining options on the 50th and 51th floors. This is a great place to watch the sun set over the city. There are also plenty of souvenirs to buy.
The Cu Chi Tunnels are an extensive network of underground tunnels that was used by the Vietnamese during the Vietnam War. These passageways have houses, offices, command centers, classrooms, and even hospitals and theatres. The tunnels were dug for safety purposes and pass underneath American bases. Many people say the tunnels at the DMZ near Hue are a better visitor experience so if you are visiting Central Vietnam this might be a better option or you can compare the two of them.
Another popular place to visit is the Thien Hau Temple. Located in District 1 and dating back to the 19th century, this temple is a great way to experience Saigon’s fascinating history. It has beautiful carvings and details and is also a great spot for war memorabilia. Once you’ve seen the beautiful architecture, you’ll be able to feel the energy and passion of the Vietnamese people.
There are several museums and galleries in Saigon. You can visit the Museum of Agent Orange, which is located across the river from the Saigon Zoo. The museum is open to visitors from 7:30am to 6pm. Afterwards, head to Turtle Lake and the Cathedral of Notre Dame.
If you’re looking for things to do in Saigon, you should visit the City Museum. It houses many art exhibits and is a must-see attraction for tourists. At night, you should visit the Saigon Opera House. The Opera House is the oldest theater in Saigon. While you’re there, you should make time to watch the A O Show. This traditional dance is performed in the streets of the city.
The War Remnants Museum is a must-see attraction. While the museum may not be fun for some, it’s a worthwhile educational experience. A visit to the War Remnants Museum will make you think of the atrocities of war. For a more fun and educational experience, you can visit the Water Puppet Show. It features traditional puppets that are moved by water. The show is free and open to the public.
The Central Post Office is a must-see if you’re in Saigon. The post office is located right next to the Notre Dame Cathedral. Here, you can send postcards to your loved ones back home.
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 Places to Eat 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.
Food is one of the most important things for travelers. There is nothing more relaxing than a delicious meal. A well-prepared meal can alleviate fatigue and stress. To make your trip to Ho Chi Minh as pleasurable as possible, find the best places to eat in Ho chi Minh. It can be difficult to find authentic Vietnamese restaurants, but the following suggestions should help you find the best places to eat in Ho Chiminh City.
If you’re an Asian food lover, you should try one of the many restaurants that offer Vietnamese food. The city has a variety of food from various cuisines. You can try steamed rice, noodle soups, and fried noodles. If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, you should stick to dishes that are vegetarian. Some of the best places to eat in Ho Chi Min, Vietnam, are located near the Ben Thanh Market, the city’s main food court.
Aside from delicious, affordable Vietnamese food, you can try street food and fine dining in the city. The city offers everything from air-conditioned restaurants to sidewalk cafes that serve food cooked in makeshift open-air kitchens. You can find international and fusion cuisine here. A meal at one of these restaurants will be memorable. If you’re a vegetarian, be sure to bring along your vegetarian friends.
If you’re a big foodie, you should try the city’s local food. From burgers and steak to ice-cream, the city’s eateries are filled with choices for every taste. The city’s restaurants are mostly concentrated in Districts 1 and 3, but there are also excellent expat-run establishments in Districts 2 and 7. You can also try out the city’s famous ice-cream at the Paradise Café, located on the 5th floor of the Rex Hotel.
Best Places to stay in Saigon
Ho Chi Minh City, with its bustling streets, historical landmarks, and vibrant culture, welcomes travelers with a wide array of accommodation options that cater to every taste and preference. From luxurious retreats offering world-class amenities to boutique gems exuding local charm, the city boasts an impressive collection of hotels that promise an unforgettable stay. Let’s delve into some of the best hotels in Ho Chi Minh City, ensuring a remarkable experience in this urban paradise.
1. Park Hyatt Saigon – Timeless Elegance: Nestled in the heart of District 1, the Park Hyatt Saigon exudes timeless elegance and offers a luxurious retreat. With tastefully appointed rooms, a serene spa, and delightful dining experiences, it promises a refined stay in the city.
2. Caravelle Saigon – Historic Icon: A true historical icon, the Caravelle Saigon has been a landmark in Ho Chi Minh City since the 1950s. Combining classic charm with modern amenities, it provides stunning views of the city and an ideal location in District 1.
3. Reverie Saigon – Opulence Redefined: For the ultimate in opulence, the Reverie Saigon stands out as an architectural marvel. Its lavish interiors, extravagant suites, and Michelin-starred dining create an indulgent experience like no other.
4. The Myst Dong Khoi – Boutique Oasis: Nestled amidst the bustling streets of Dong Khoi, The Myst Dong Khoi offers a tranquil oasis. Its artful design, lush garden, and rooftop pool provide a boutique escape in the heart of the city.
5. Hotel des Arts Saigon – Artistic Splendor: Art enthusiasts will appreciate the Hotel des Arts Saigon, where contemporary art blends seamlessly with French colonial architecture. Its chic rooms, rooftop bar, and art-themed spaces create an enchanting atmosphere.
6. InterContinental Saigon – Urban Retreat: Offering a modern urban retreat, the InterContinental Saigon boasts an excellent location and exceptional service. Its rooftop pool provides stunning city views, while its spacious rooms ensure a comfortable stay.
7. Liberty Central Saigon Citypoint – Contemporary Comfort: Located in the heart of the city, the Liberty Central Saigon Citypoint offers contemporary comfort and convenience. Its rooftop pool and bar provide an excellent spot to unwind after a day of exploration.
8. Villa Song Saigon – Riverside Serenity: For a serene escape along the Saigon River, Villa Song Saigon is an idyllic choice. This charming boutique hotel offers a peaceful atmosphere, lush gardens, and a lovely riverside setting.
9. An Lam Retreats Saigon River – Nature’s Haven: Embrace nature’s embrace at An Lam Retreats Saigon River, located along the Saigon River. Surrounded by lush greenery, it offers villas with private pools, promising a secluded and rejuvenating experience.
10. Liberty Central Saigon Riverside Hotel – River Views and Comfort: With picturesque views of the Saigon River, the Liberty Central Saigon Riverside Hotel provides a blend of comfort and convenience. Its riverside location is perfect for those seeking tranquility in the city.
From luxury to boutique, each of these hotels in Ho Chi Minh City offers a unique and enriching experience, promising travelers a remarkable journey into Vietnam’s thriving metropolis. Whether you seek indulgence, artful design, or riverside serenity, these handpicked accommodations ensure a memorable stay in the dynamic heart of the city.
Markets in Saigon
One of the oldest markets in the world can be found in HCM City. The Ben Thanh Market, located in the District 1 of HCM City, is one of the oldest surviving structures in Saigon. It is a popular tourist spot and is a historical symbol of the city. Although the market is small and the goods sold here are mostly local, the market is a great way to experience local life.
The Hoa Binh Market is another one of the best markets in the city. Also known as the Silver Market, this market is only open at night, and is busier in the evening. This is a great place to get souvenirs and find a great variety of goods. The location is also convenient, as it is in a bustling neighborhood of Ho Chi Minh City. There are plenty of markets to choose from.
If you’re looking for clothing, the An Dong Market is a great place to look. This indoor market is a mix of retail and wholesale, and has a great selection. Many boutiques and shops in Ho Chi Minh City source their products here. You can find great bargains in this market if you’re looking for high-quality clothing or designer accessories. You can even find great souvenirs at an affordable price.
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!
10 interesting facts about Saigon
- Historical Name: Saigon was the former name of Ho Chi Minh City, and it was the capital of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War until the city’s fall in 1975.
- French Colonial Influence: Saigon’s architecture and cultural elements still bear the influence of French colonial rule, evident in buildings like the Central Post Office and Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon.
- Motorbike Capital: Saigon is known for its bustling streets filled with motorbikes, making it one of the most motorcycle-dense cities in the world.
- Ben Thanh Market: The iconic Ben Thanh Market is one of the oldest and most famous markets in the city, offering a wide variety of goods, including local handicrafts, textiles, and street food.
- Cu Chi Tunnels: Located near Saigon, the Cu Chi Tunnels are an extensive underground network used by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. Visitors can explore parts of the tunnels and learn about the wartime history.
- Reunification Palace: The Reunification Palace, formerly known as the Independence Palace, played a significant role in the Vietnam War and is now a popular historical site for tourists.
- Street Food Paradise: Saigon is a food lover’s haven, with a vast array of delicious street food options like pho, banh mi, and fresh spring rolls.
- Bitexco Financial Tower: The Bitexco Financial Tower is one of the tallest buildings in Saigon, offering a stunning panoramic view of the city from its Skydeck.
- War Remnants Museum: The War Remnants Museum is a poignant and informative museum that showcases the impact of the Vietnam War, with exhibits documenting its history and aftermath.
- Cultural Festivals: Saigon hosts a variety of cultural festivals throughout the year, including the Tet Festival (Lunar New Year), offering visitors a chance to experience traditional Vietnamese customs and celebrations.