To a casual traveler, the city of Ho Chi Minh ( Informally referred to as Saigon) is simply the most populous city in Vietnam. However, there is more to this city than probably meets the eye and it takes a gutsy and adventurous traveler to discover Ho Chi Minh City. Being a first-time visitor in Ho Chi Minh City, I felt overwhelmed as everything appeared “complicated” and rather “in a jumble”. However, I knew I had to begin somewhere and just dive into it in order to make the most my visit. With only 5 days and 4 nights to spare, the following are the places that I visited:
- Ben Thanh Market;
- Independent Palace;
- The Saigon’s Post Office;
- The War Remnants Museum;
- The Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral;
- The Jade Temple;
- Ba Thien Hao Temple;
- The Chu Chi Tunnel; and
- Mekong Delta.
The Ben Thanh Market
The Ben Thanh Market is what I would call your “typical bargain market” and it is clear to see why. The market is the city’s biggest and busiest and you can find literally anything here. Of particular interest to me was the variety of indigenous Vietnamese food items. There are sections in the market where you can sample these dishes and the list is endless.
However, many vendors have exactly the same things. Most products do not have any price tag and they were overinflated. The products are very expensive relative to its quality. You have to bargain and I hate fighting over prices so, to me, totally not worth it. On the flip side, if you enjoy bargaining, you may be lucky and pay what the goods are really worth. Furthermore, vendors are pushy and they will rip you if you are not alert. So visitors before and shop at your own risk.
Good market to have a look, but don’t shop. Don’t barter if you aren’t intending to buy. A good place to spend 45 minutes browsing and take some pictures. That’s it – move on.
The Independent Palace
This palace, also referred to as the Reunification Palace sits where the Norodom Palace used to be. It is a glorious landmark to behold. It played home and workplace to the South Vietnamese president during the infamous Vietnam War and when Saigon fell on April 30, 1975, this site marked the end of the war as a North Vietnamese tank crashed through the gates. Evidently, there is so much I learned aside from simply treating my eyes to this amazing landmark.
The Saigon’s Post Office
The Saigon’s Post Office is at number-2 along the Paris-Commune St, District 1. Now, before you wonder as to why I even thought of visiting a post office despite my short stay, there is something about this post I would like to share with you.
The post office is housed in one of the city’s oldest buildings. The Central Post-Office was built between 1886 and 1891 and the architecture was based on the famous French architect Villedieu. This was the first time [and probably the last] I ever came close to any of the intimate works of Villedieu.
The War Remnants Museum
My visit to this museum on Sunday 13th of August taught me something – there is no better way to share in the grief of those who lost their loved ones on the front lines than being in the war zone itself [or in a situation that is reminiscent of one].
The museum is located in District 3 along 28 Vo Van-Tan St and of special interest to me was the war crime exhibits section. Here, I came one on one with huge military artillery that was used in the 1961 to 1975 wars as well as some graphic photographs of the infamous chemical Agent Orange and phosphorous bombs aftermath.
The Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral
The Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral is one place to go to if you are looking for religious emancipation. The building was constructed between 1863 and 1880 and is another great evidence of French involvement in the city and the country at large. I was particularly taken by its two belt towers that extend to about 58 meters high. Its huge size coupled by its spiritual significance is the reason I wouldn’t miss a visit on my next trip to Ho Chi Minh City.
If you visit on Sunday, you can attend the mass in the cathedral. However, no pictures are allowed inside. Keep your camera away and do not state that you are a tourist. They did not allow tourist to go in for sightseeing as it will disrupt the mass proceeding.
The Jade Temple
This temple is located in 73 Mai Thi-Luu St in District 1 and goes by many names including the Ngọc-Hoàng Điện or the Chùa Ngọc-Hoàng. Aside from the fact that this is a religious shrine, I found it to be a cool place to experience the Chinese heritage. The temple was constructed by the Chinese community in 1909 and its iconic pagoda designs make it a perfect go-to for any Chinese wishing to connect to his higher power away from home.
The Ba Thien Hao Temple
I must say I wasn’t so lucky as my trip to the temple did not fall in the Lunar New Year when the temple literally comes alive. However, I was still treated to some of the rarest experiences in this part of the world – the burning of spiral incense. Armed with coils and incense sticks, I can still remember the enchanting smells that rent the temple immediately I, along with those in attendance, began burning our incense. This is not just a ritual to behold; it is the essence of spiritual connection.
The Chu Chi Tunnel
A staple tourist attraction in Ho Chi Minh City. The Chu Chi Tunnel is an immense tunnel network that connects major underground tunnels of this great city. The tunnels were first popularized during the Vietnam War as they played perfect military hideouts. However, in addition to that great heritage, I found the Chu Chi Tunnel an ideal escape route from the noisy life of this city. A temporarily detached from the hustle and bustle of the city. Trust me, you need a little break from Ho Chi Minh City center.
The Mekong Delta
My trip to Ho Chin Minh City wouldn’t have been complete without a visit to Mekong Delta. The delta is basically a southwestern Vietnamese region where the Mekong River flows into the sea through a series of distributaries The many water channels created by the river are indeed food for the eyes but there is yet another marvelous activity to take part in here – boat rides. I realized that there was no better way to access the orchards, the swamplands, the paddy fields and other enchanting vegetation dotting this vast delta. And even better, the boat rides are availed at local rates so I didn’t have to worry about breaking the bank to enjoy this wonderful cruise.