Starlight bridge, ho chi minh city, vietnam 

Though not the country's capital, Ho Chi Minh City is Vietnam’s largest and most developed city. In spite of now being named after Vietnam's nationalist hero, its former appellation, Saigon, is still used by most of its inhabitants.

The city came under considerable American influence during the period from 1954 when it became the hub of what was then known as South Vietnam up to and including the American War years, before the subsequent victory of communist North Vietnam in 1975.

Despite the harsh reprisals which followed, in many ways, the influences of this legacy have survived in the city’s re-invention as the business centre of modern Vietnam, following the collapse of the former Soviet style economic policies put in place after the communist victory. The re-incarnation of a now thriving free market business model following the 'Doi Moi' reforms has fuelled Vietnam’s belated ascension into the league of South-east Asia’s booming 'tiger' economies.

Saigon’s traffic is at once chaotic and is in continuous motion, moving without ever stopping, one of the first and possibly frightening characteristics any visitor will, of necessity, have to take notice. Although, to westerners in particular, there is no recognisable traffic system in place, locals are well used to crossing its roads, and do so by walking determinedly through the snaking vehicles, which swerve around pedestrians through the accumulated habit of many years.

Ho chi minh city, also known as saigon, vietnam

The central area or 'district 1' of the city sits adjacent to the Saigon River, and hosts most of the city’s older buildings, including those of the French colonial era. Housed in the former Gia Long Palace, the Ho Chi Minh City Museum bears witness to the history of the Vietnamese struggle for independence against the rule of the French and interventionist American policies.

A deeper comprehension of the realities associated with the war of independence is found at Saigon’s most visited attraction, the War Remnants Museum, which concentrates on the physical aspects of the war, with displays of the weaponry used, and unflinchingly graphic photographs of the effects of many of these weapons.


Nearby, the Reunification Palace, formerly the Presidential Palace, also screens a short film of Vietnamese history and the war. Adjacent Cong Vien Van Hoa Park offers a pleasant stroll or an opportunity for reflection. A more general history of the long Vietnamese story as a whole is displayed in the History Museum.

Ho Chi Minh City has a number of significant religious buildings including the magnificent Jade Emperor Pagoda with its exquisite carvings and dragon mounted roof, and the contrasting European architecture of the French legacy at Notre Dame Cathedral.

Notre dame, ho chi minh city, formerly saigon, vietnam

Saigon’s largest market, just one of many, is Ben Thanh, a vast bustling emporium selling almost everything from household goods to clothing, foodstuffs, jewellery, vehicle parts, and live animals. Other markets frequently of interest to visitors are An Dong and Binh Tay Markets in the Cho Lon (Chinatown) district.

Other sights within the city include the Botanical Gardens and Phu Tho Racecourse. The city, if not the political capital, is the undisputed ‘first city’ of nightlife and dining, with culinary indulgence of every kind, bars, nightclubs and music venues available for the visitor to imbibe the lively scene.

Beyond the city, the main attraction is the war-time site of the Cu Chi Tunnels, first established in the late 1940’s and later developed into a sophisticated Guerrilla warfare network of over 250 km of underground burrows, some as narrow as 80 cm square, from which the Viet Cong were able to launch highly effective surprise attacks on the city and environs, equally quickly disappearing underground without trace.

Cu chi tunnels, near ho chi minh city, vietnam 

Visitors to the site are also treated to a thought-provoking display of booby traps and other methods used to protect the tunnels and their inhabitants from penetration by their enemies.

Another often visited site beyond Ho Chi Minh City is that of the Cao Dai Holy See, founded in 1926 by Ngo Van Chieu, following 'revelations' during a séance, and home to a 'new' religion which recognises and claims to encapsulate all other faiths, structurally embodying elements from each and, like many such modern movements, has been remarkably successful in winning converts.

Cao dai temple, ho chi minh city, vietnam

The principal symbol used by the movement is the “all-seeing eye” which pervades the temple's mystical iconography, similar in style to the Masonic symbol that appears on US banknotes.

VUNG TAU

An escape from Ho Chi Minh’s cacophonous intensity, Vung Tau, situated beyond the confluence of the Dong Nai and Saigon rivers, joining the greater waterways of the Mekong Delta, is the place Saigon’s citizens flock to at weekends for its beaches.

Quieter during the week, although not among Vietnam’s best beach locations, the sands are the nearest to the city if you want a quick coastal break.

Vung tau beach, near ho chi minh city, vietnam

The town itself is a business centre for the oil industry, and many associated vessels can be found tracking the beach view horizons. Its most famous landmark is the impressively scaled modernist mountaintop statue of Christ, somewhat reminiscent of the ‘Christ the redeemer’ statue in Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro.

Apart from visiting the beaches, the main draw for tourists is the ferry terminal to the quieter and cleaner beaches of Con Dao Archipelago.

NAM CAT TIEN

Cat tien national park, near ho chi minh city, vietnam

Away from the coast, to the northeast of Saigon, Cat Tien National Park offers a getaway from the cacophany of the city, rich in wildlife, such as Black Bears, Sun Bears and Macaques, and is also one of the very best places to enjoy Vietnam's birdlife.

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