I haven’t written one of these for a while! Some of you replied to my Instagram stories recently that you are also heading to Ho Chi Minh City soon, so here’s a quick run down of my recommended things to see if you are only in the city for a couple of days. Most of these places are located in District 1, which is the main central area or you can easily get a Grab taxi or bike to them. HCMC has a tropical climate so generally either hot and dry or hot and wet. Sometimes if you’re short on time you have to just get out there and see things come rain or shine or sweating from your knees and eyes (like I did and I wasn’t even time poor!). Or you can plan it a bit more and make use of air conditioned restaurants / accommodation / shopping centres during the hottest part of the day (1-4pm).
Before you do head out, just a couple of tips. Despite me using Google map’s at the bottom of this post highlighting all of the spots, Maps.me is the app I use when travelling the most as you can use it offline. Just download the country you are visiting whilst you are connected to the internet then you can start using it offline. You can pin all the spots you want to see on the map before heading out (and can colour code too, a planner’s dream), then map walking routes and get going. Just a word of warning in HCMC – don’t walk around with your phone in your hand. The amount of stories I’ve heard of them being snatched by quick passing scooter drivers. Even on paths where you think you’re away from the traffic, don’t even get me started on the lack of traffic laws, but scooters use them too. I tended to memorise the directions as much as I could and then face a building when I needed to check my phone – may sound and look silly, but I still have my phone don’t I! Download the Grab app (South East Asia’s Uber) so you can request bikes to zoom you around (helmet comes with) or a car (my preferred choice) at a click of a button. You do need internet to use so if you haven’t got a local SIM card or one that works in Vietnam, a little trick is to find a Highlands Coffee store (South East Asia’s Starbucks) and log on to their free wifi and order a Grab from there… find your closest one using maps.me!
WAR REMNANTS MUSEUM
There are ample opportunities to learn about the Vietnam War during your time in Vietnam, but if you only go to one war museum then I highly recommend this one. If you can, get up and out early doors. The War Remnants Museum opens at 7.30am – get there before the tour buses… and the heat! Without wanting to put you off, it is image based and some people could find them quite distressing, the first time I visited here 11 years ago I ran out crying, not sure why I came back for a repeat visit?! However, it is an incredible and important collection of images which depict the atrocities of the war and the effect it had on the Vietnamese people. With three floors of displays you will need a couple of hours to visit. There’s a room on the ground floor covering the anti-war movement and the protests that International countries held. The upstairs rooms concentrate on pictorial evidence of the effect of napalm and Agent Orange, another room show cases images and memorialises the deceased photographers that worked on the front line. In the courtyard there are numerous tanks and planes, and to the left of the entrance, slightly hidden, are replica’s of the in-humane “tiger cages” that housed prisoners alongside written history of the prisons on Phu Quoc and Con Son Islands. The only thing I don’t recommend is taking children there… and one thing is for sure, you’ll have John Lennon’s “Imagine” stuck in your head for the rest of the day as it plays on repeat throughout the ground floor.
Right around the corner from the War Remnants Museum is the Reunification Palace. It opens at 8am so it’s a good stop for after the War Remnants Museum if you choose to go. Those that may remember way back when in 1975, there was a famous picture of a North Vietnamese army tank crashing through the gates which effectively signalled the Fall of Saigon and the end of the Vietnam War. Today, it’s like time stood still as soon as that tank crashed through the gate. The interior is full of kitsch furniture and furnishings. My favourites are the red velvet cinema, the mapping room with the assorted pastel coloured Bakelite phones, the Huey Helicopter just casually parked on the rooftop and the T-54 tank in the main grounds. Definitely worth a look around if you’re in the area!
NOTRE DAME & CENTRAL POST OFFICE
Just two blocks east from the Reunification Palace stands Notre Dame and the Central Post Office. I’ve put these two together as they are right next to each other but also because Notre Dame is temporarily closed for renovations (Feb 2020).
However, the Central Post Office is definitely worth a gander and pop inside. The building is a fantastic piece of architecture preserved from the French Colonial times and better yet, is still a functioning post office! I *may* have spent more time in there than the average bear due to my Dad being a keen philatelist, some birthday treats sorted!
NGUYEN HUE WALKING STREET
A bit further south from the Central Post Office is Nguyen Hue Pedestrian Area. With the grand City Hall and a statue of Ho Chi Minh stood at it’s north end, and a gateway to the Mekong River at the southern end it’s a nice area to wander during the day and night time.
Look out for the Cafe Apartment towards the middle of the area – a tall apartment building full of small boutique cafes and shops. Just look at it…. so pretty (and Instagram-able).
BEN THANH MARKET
Head west from the statue of “Uncle Ho” and you’ll come across the largest, busiest and most central market in Ho Chi Minh. One of the longest standing buildings in the city. You can buy anything here – souvenirs, clothes, bags, Vietnamese coffee, stop for food at one of the hawker stands or buy fresh fruit from one of the food stalls. Stop for a drink or just stop for photos like me. Love the interior design of the roof! It’s the day market till 6pm when it transitions into the night market till 10pm where it’s more about the food. It’s worth noting that there is a lot of construction going on in and around this area. Everything is still open and streets are open you just sometimes have to share them with scooters. Be careful with your belongings – and in the market area!
BUI VIEN WALKING STREET
Most of the budget accommodation is in and around this area so likely you will experience Bui Vien for one evening at least. This is the strip of bars, clubs, restaurants and all the neon lights. Considering I have been sober for almost three years now and not one for such nightlife anymore, I actually quite enjoyed hanging out here with friends.
TAN DINH CHURCH
About 1.5km’s north of Notre Dame is Tan Dinh Church – otherwise known as the Pink Church! The cities hottest Instagram-able place if you’re into that. The gates weren’t open when I was there, not sure if they do, I doubt it as everyone is taking selfies with the church rather than wanting to actually worship. Or you can cross the road from it and find the Pink Moment Cafe (insta: @pinkmomentcafe) which has been set up specifically for all you Instagram lovers.
MORNING TRIP TO CU CHI TUNNELS
75 miles of tunnels used by the Viet Cong soldiers to hide and rest. There are two sites that tourists can safely visit – the Viet Cong used booby traps on some of the tunnels to resist the American troops from entering. Some of the tunnels have been widened to accommodate tourists. Above ground there’s also a shooting range where you can pay to fire an AK47 or M-16. When in Vietnam?
I last visited waaaay back in 2009 on an organised country tour with Intrepid so I don’t have any recommendations of who to go with but your accommodation, taxi driver, tour office, Trip Advisor, Google etc will be able to help you there more than I can.