10.82° N, 106.62° E
Originally called Saigon, this megacity was renamed in 1976 to mark the end of the Vietnam War, the subsequent reunification of North and South Vietnam, and to commemorate the first leader of North Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh. Ho Chi Minh City’s developed architecture and electric pace puts it at par with and is reminiscent of bustling emerging metropolises across the world, but the steady sightings of signature Vietnamese conical bamboo hats distinguish it from any other.
Known as the commercial capital of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) is popular among travellers as a hub of great street food and nightlife. Two days in this vivacious city easily pass by, packed with sightseeing, art, shopping, food, and partying.
French colonial gems in District 1 (2–3 hours)
Most of the must-see 19th century colonial buildings are around Bến Nghé, Quận 1, the historic heart of the city. Put on your walking shoes and set out on a walking tour (keeping a map and a bottle of water/glass of iced coffee handy is a good idea). Start from the Opera House, which hosts a range of performing art shows whose information and tickets are easily available at the box office. Walk westwards on Lê Lợi to the City Hall. Head up north, then on to Đồng Khởi, and past the majestic and towering sculpture of Virgin Mary to catch a sight of the magnificently imposing Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica. Go on to the overlooking structure that is the Saigon Central Post Office. Looping arches, intricate marble flooring, vintage telephone booths, maps painted on the walls, and clocks set to different time zones, make it an unmissable tour stop. Send your postcards from here and imbibe the living heritage.
If the chic boutiques on Đồng Khởi, which are amongst the best in the city, catch your eye, go ahead and indulge yourself in some retail therapy. Our favourite was L’usine, stocked with the famous artisanal Marou dark chocolates, scented candles, French crockery, and fine collectibles.
Reunification Palace and refuel (2–3 hours)
Reunification palace is a historic building that served as the home and office of the president of South Vietnam during the war. Until the end of the war, it also housed the American, British, and French embassies in South Vietnam. We opted for an audio guide of the building and the informative narrative did not disappoint; the palace is equipped with a heliport, a war room, a gaming room, and a cinema. Also known as the Independence Palace, images of the landmark building and its grounds made it to the front pages of newspapers across the world when a North Vietnamese tank barged through its gates to mark the end of the Vietnam War and communist victory.
Walk across to Quán Ngon — set inside a teak mansion, this restaurant is perpetually packed with locals and tourists and serves a wide range of regional specialties from across the country. They also offer free WiFi, which grants you the opportunity to share Insta stories and Snapchats from your morning exploits while you making your way through the various Vietnamese delicacies on offer.
For the cocoa bean lovers, head to Maison Marou for some dark chocolate therapy or earn brownie points from peeps back home by lavishing them with indulgent gifts.
Panoramic view with tipples (3–5 hours)
Head to the Bitexco Financial Tower for a 360° view of the city. #DSSCTopTip: Go for an evening tipple to their bar housed on the 50th floor, spending the entry amount for the observatory deck on the tipple instead.
Put on your dancing shoes and head to the first rooftop bar of the city – Chill Sky Bar on the 27th floor of AB Tower. Dance to lively tunes, sip on cocktails and enjoy the panoramic city view.
Confronting experience at War Remnants Museum (2–3 hours)
Numerous museums call the southern city home, but if we were to choose one, we recommend the War Remnants Museum – an eye opening, touching, and heart wrenching experience that leaves a lasting impact. Even though we were aware of the atrocities committed upon the Vietnamese population during the war, nothing braced us for the graphic images and accounts of the cruelty that the Vietnamese people were subjected to. This exhibit of one of the gravest and most widespread war crimes in the history of the world is a poignant experience that might elicit some quiet reflection time afterwards.
Browse through the market and indulge in local eats (2–3 hours)
Stocked with an array of items from handicrafts to fresh produce, Bến Thành market is a signature landmark in the city and also a great spot for getting a glimpse of local life. Instead of handicrafts, if you fancy global high street brands, head to Vincom Tower A and for luxury retail therapy, Tower B. After shopping, indulge in local specialties at one of the numerous food stalls at Bến Thành. Some of the must try dishes include bánh mì ốp la (baguette with fried eggs, meat, and vegetables), bánh xeo (rice flour crepe filled with meat and vegetables), bánh khọt (prawn pancakes), canh chua (tamarind flavoured soup and rice), bún mắm (fermented fish soup), and coi dat (meat and vegetables cooked in a clay pot).
Alternatively, for the herbivores (and for everyone who is a fan of food), #DSSCRecommends the Hum Vegetarian Restaurant. The handcrafted cocktails, fresh spring rolls, and clay pot will make you appreciate the wonders of clean eating.
Explore the nightlife (2–5 hours)
Party till the wee hours at Phạm Ngũ Lão, aka the backpackers’ quarter. Bar hop between the numerous pubs lining the street or sit on the tiny plastic stools sprawled on the alleged walking street, sip on the local beer, and spend time people-watching or playing a game of cards.
Wish to spend more time in Ho Chi Minh City? Here are our top picks for an extended stay:
- Explore Chợ Lớn (Chinatown) in District 5 – Bình Tây Market, street food, and pagodas.
- A half-day tour of the Củ Chi Tunnels, located at a 70 km distance from HCMC. These underground tunnels present a compelling experience of the guerilla warfare tactics employed by the Vietcong warriors against the Americans.
- A day trip to the Cái Bè Vĩnh Long (Mekong Delta) where you can admire paddy fields, cruise through canals in row boats, visit bee farms, buy souvenirs made out of coconuts, and interact with villagers.
#DSSCTopTip: Use the Vinasun Cabs (white exterior with green lettering) for reliable and economical service across HCMC.
Featured Image Courtesy: asiadaytours.com