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Vietnam > General information > Region and city guide > Ho Chi Minh City / Saigon attractions

Ho Chi Minh City / Saigon

Getting Around 

The best way to see HCMC is to walk, but the best way to get from one place to another is by cyclo or Honda Om. 

 

Caution.There are cyclo thieves all over HCMC. They ride in pairs. One drives, the other snatches your

jewelry, purse, wallet, daypack, or luggage. Watch your stuff.

 

Riding a bicycle is possible, but not really practical.  

 

You can rent a car or scooter and self-drive, but I don’t recommend it. If you are determined to do so, try your hotel, and expect to pay $10-$15 per day for a motorbike and $30 or more per day for a car. 


Tip: When you start to cross the street, keep moving steadily and slowly, no matter what the traffic does.  Don’t freeze, dart or dash. 
 

Honda OM, Vietnam



The omnipresent cyclos (bike-propelled carts) and Honda Oms  (left) are the main transports in this crowded,
maddening city. Figure on about $1- $2 per hour for a cyclo ride; point-to-point fares need to be negotiated. Honda Oms cost a bit more per ride. Taxis are pretty common and can be found with metered services. 

 

 

Buses are not very reliable or prevalent. 

What to See & Do in  Saigon 

There are hundreds of tour and travel specialists in Saigon/ Ho Chi Minh City. The state-run operations are OK, but pricey. 

 

Sights tend to be clustered in a few places, and you’ll need motorized transport to travel between these clusters. Many of the French Colonial era sights and museums are along Dong Khoi and Le Duan. The old French Quarter is in District One, along the river. 

 

The Dong Khoi Area 

Dong Khoi starts at Notre Dame Cathedral and runs essentially southeast to the Mekong River. Along this  

road you’ll find souvenir shops and designer boutiques, restaurants and hotels, and Colonial French buildings. 

 

The Cathedral 

Notre Dame Cathedral is a red-brick building with twin spires. The inside is not much to look at. Right next door is Diamond Plaza for upscale shopping. 

 

The Old General Post Office 

Now called the Reunification Palace, this is a yellow-stucco building that makes a pleasant picture against a blue sky.  The building is southwest of the Cathedral, in Cong Van Hoa Park. Take a look inside to see the nave-styled interior and map-murals. 

 

Lam Son Square 

As you continue toward the river on Dong Khoi you will come to Lam Son Square and the Hotel Continental. This is the heart of the former French Quarter and still a desirable area to live in today. The Municipal Theatre is on the east side of the square, looking much as it did 100 years ago.  Continuing on to the riverbank you’ll pass souvenir shops and restored villas, and a few good places to eat. 

 

The Nguyen Hué Area 

At one time this elegant tree-lined avenue was known as the Champs Elysée of the East. At the northern end of the street is the impressive Hotel de Ville with its yellow and white striped façade and Greek columns. 

 

The Ho Chi Minh City Museum 

This museum is housed in the former Gia Long Palace. It lies a block to the west of the Hotel de Ville at 65 Ly Tu Trong, and is almost 120 years old. It was the residence of the Governor of Cochinchina. The museum is open daily from 8 to 4, and there is a small admission fee. Many of the exhibits focus on the Vietnam-American War and the Vietnamese struggle against the French overlords.


 

Along the River 

At the end of Dong Khoi is the Ben Nghe Canal where the Colonials used to promenade in the evenings. This is also the location of the Ho Chi Minh Museum (not the City Museum), at 1 Nguyen Tat Thanh. It’s not one of the better museums – I’d give it a miss. The quay here is where Uncle Ho left in 1911 to go to Europe. 

 

Ben Thanh Market Area 

This is the busiest, if not the largest, market in HCMC. You can see bizarre sights and pick up interesting souvenirs. 

 

If you walk down Pho Duc Chinh you will find HCMC’s Fine Art Museum in a Colonial mansion. This is the place to see many pieces from the first millennium. You can also buy more recent artworks if you wish. Across the street Le Cong Kieu is the antique shopper’s dream. 

 

Le Duan Boulevard to the Botanical Gardens 

On the other side of Notre Dame Cathedral is Le Duan Boulevard.  This street crosses the top of Dong Khoi and runs between the Presidential Palace and the Gardens. It is also the site of the former American Embassy, best remembered with helicopters hovering overhead and people fighting to get off the roof and flee the approaching North Vietnamese army on April 30, 1975. 

 

The Botanical Gardens & Zoo 

This area is almost certainly closed due to bird flu. If not, don’t go there unless the bird flu cases have ended. 

 

The History Museum 

This museum is adjacent to the zoo and gardens, and may not be accessible if the zoo and gardens are still shut down. If you can get in, the museum is open every day and there is a small admission fee. It is worthwhile since it has a comprehensive collection of artifacts spanning two millennia. 

 

The Reunification Palace & Surrounding Area 

Heading northwest from the Cathedral, walk about five minutes to the Palace next to Cong Vien Van Hoa Park. It is open every day and costs about $2 to enter. As you enter the Palace you may think you’ve entered a 1960s and ’70s time capsule.  The last President of South Vietnam actually lived here – this is his stuff. 

 

The War Remnants Museum is just north of the park. It is a very popular attraction with its exhibits showing the horrors of modern warfare. It is open every day and there is a small admission charge. 

 

North of Dien Bien Phu Area 

This area has a variety of temples and pagodas that are worth a visit. The best choice is to hire a Honda Om for a few hours to make the trip. You can include a trip to Cholon, the Chinese Quarter, while you’re there. 

Cholon is a shopper’s dream, with stalls and markets selling junk, kitsch, souvenirs, and some good quality items. There are also dozens of temples and pagodas. 

 

Day-Trips from Ho Chi Minh City 

The biggest nearby attraction is the Cu Chi Tunnels. These tunnels were used by the Viet Cong as safe havens in the South. They are fully equipped for long-term living and incredibly claustrophobic, so beware. The best way to go is on a tour; make sure the price includes the $5 admission charge. 


See also : Ho Chi Minh travel guide (part 1)


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Vietnam: Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) travel guide - Ho Chi Minh City attractions, Saigon sightseeing, What to see and do in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City)