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Travel guide to Ho Chi Minh City

edited October 2014 in - Vietnam
Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnamese: Thành Phố Hồ Chí Minh), commonly known as Saigon (Vietnamese: Sài Gòn) or by the abbreviations HCMC or HCM, is the largest city in Vietnam and the former capital of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam).

Following the fall of Saigon in 1975, Saigon was "officially" renamed Ho Chi Minh City. However the old Saigon name is still used by both Vietnamese and foreigners, especially when referring to the most central part of the city to which most tourists flock.

Ho Chi Minh is one of the most bustling city in Vietnam with numerous place for you to explore in terms of attractions and cultural experiences. Unfortunately, with a limited time, experiencing all of the city is not possible. So, here is a travel guide to Ho Chi Minh City with some recommendations to help you enjoy the city to the fullest.

SIGHTS AND ACTIVITIES

BEN THANH MARKET

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Ben Thanh Market is situated in District 1 in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City at the intersection of Le Loi, Ham Ngh, Tan Hung and Le Lai streets. Shops close late afternoon with shopping best done in the morning before the heat of the day hits.

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The market is one of Ho Chi Minh’s most famous landmarks and is known by all taxi drivers, although if you are staying downtown check first to see if you can walk to it from your hotel as it’s very centrally located.

BITEXCO FINANCIAL TOWER

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Ho Chi Minh City’s Bitexco Financial Tower stands 262 metres high at the centre of the city’s business district and offers visitors an unparalleled city view from its Sky Deck.

Designed by renowned American Architect Carlos Zapata, this 68-storey tower houses offices, shops, restaurants, and a helipad. CNNGo recently ranked the building fifth in their listing of the world’s 20 most iconic skyscrapers.

The tower is also well-known for its Bitexco Vertical Run where competitors race from the ground floor lobby to the Sky Deck. The race covers 178 metres with the latest record standing at 4 minutes and 51 seconds – held by Germany’s Vertical World Circuit Champion Thomas Dold.

CHOLON

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Ho Chi Minh City’s Cholon is Vietnam’s largest Chinatown with roots dating back to 1778; it’s also a place of great historical and cultural importance. Chinese minorities hid here from the Tay Son and subsequently had to rebuild the area twice following attack with as many as 70% estimated to have died trying to escape on boats. Those who survived settled and began selling a variety of Chinese products. During the Vietnam War Cholon was a thriving black market for US soldiers trading in American Army issue supplies.

The crowded Binh Tay Market is the major attraction in Chinatown and offers everything you can think of, from fresh produce to Vietnamese goods and especially items with a Chinese flavour.

CU CHI TUNNELS

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The Cu Chi Tunnels are basically a huge war museum offering visitors a sneak peak at the underground life of Viet Cong-era soldiers. Comprising more than 120km of tunnels, they were first started around 1948 when the Viet Cong were fighting the French.

Nowadays, the restored tunnels are one of Vietnam’s top attractions and are especially popular with non-Vietnamese tourists. People follow the routes of the underground army and before entering the tunnels visitors will have the chance to watch a short movie and get to understand beforehand how this unusual tunnel system actually works.

NOTRE DAME CATHEDRAL

In a quiet corner of bustling downtown Ho Chi Minh City stands Notre Dame Cathedral, the one remaining stronghold of Catholicism in the largely Buddhist Vietnam.

Built in the late 1880s by French colonists, it was formerly called Saigon Church. The name Notre Dame was given after the installation of the statue ‘Peaceful Notre Dame’ in 1959. In 1962, the Vatican conferred the Cathedral status as a basilica and gave it the official name of Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica.

Made from red bricks imported from France, the neo-Romanesque structure is 60 metres tall and has two towers containing six bronze bells. In front of the Cathedral stands a statue of the Virgin Mary, made in Rome from Italian marble, which was reputed to have shed tears in 2005.

Notre Dame Cathedral is a working religious place where masses are held every Sunday.


WAR REMNANTS MUSEUM
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The War Remnants Museum once known as the ‘Museum of American War Crimes’ first opened to the public in 1975. It’s a shocking reminder of the long and brutal Vietnam War with many graphic photographs and American military equipment on display, including a helicopter with rocket launchers, a tank, a fighter plane, a single-seater attack aircraft and a 6,800kg conventional bomb.

All these weapons were used by America against the Vietnamese at some point during the infamous war that lasted from 1945-1975.

From fine art (Mariamman Hindu Temple) to war memorabilia (Cu Chi Tunnels, War Remnants Museum), the list of things to see in Ho Chi Minh City is seemingly endless.
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