With many museums and religious places infusing ancient culture in the air of its modern cafes and shopping complexes, Ho Chi Minh City emanates a societal confluence boasting of the city’s own development and a French legacy.
1. Take a walk in the past with these museums
One of the top museums to see in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) is the War Remnants Museum, a popular site amongst western tourists. The museum tells of the most brutal episodes that the civilians lived through during the Vietnam War. With repulsing photographs, armoured vehicles, artillery pieces, bombs and infantry weapons on display, its walls cry out for the wounds once suffered. Amid all things that scream of a dark past, the only relief to one’s soul comes from the posters and photographs showing the support that the antiwar movement received internationally. A deeper breather, however, only comes at The Fine Arts Museum, which is a popular gallery in the city. A 1929 colonial-era structure, they have an impressive selection of historical artworks with pieces dating back to the 4th century, which are at display along with some artefacts from the modern period. Also visit the Ho Chi Minh museum, nicknamed the ‘Dragon House’. This former customs house was built by the French authorities in 1863 and houses many of Ho Chi Minh’s personal effects, including some of his clothing, his sandals and spectacles.
2. Offer a prayer at the temples, pagodas, and churches
With many a temples, pagodas and churches existing in harmony on its land, HCMC is a religiously rich city. The Giac Lam temple dates back to 1744 and is believed to be the oldest temple in the city. A pilgrimage site for the old and elderly, it houses the statue of the compassionate Quan The Am Bo Tat or the Goddess of Mercy and a Bodhi tree said to have been gifted by a Sri Lankan monk. The Xa Loi Pagoda famed for being the repository of a sacred relic of the Buddha, is another popular sanctum in the city. In the heart of HCMC’s government quarter is the Notre Dame Cathedral. A brick, neo-Romanesque church, the Catholic cathedral is named after the Virgin Mary and was built between 1877 and 1883.
3. Shop in its markets
One of Ho Chi Minh’s liveliest areas is the Ben Thanh and the streets surrounding it. Piles of commonly used commodities including eatables, apparel, etc., can be found here. If one is looking to buy souvenir items, this is the place, again. The prices here, however, are usually higher than other places but bargaining ones way through the ‘Fixed Price’ signs is a common practice. Once the indoor market shuts down, a small night market just outside takes over until midnight. Another place to buy souvenirs is Saigon Kitsch, a colourful French-run shop that specialises in coffee mugs, coasters, jigsaws and T-shirts. For clothing, head to Ginko, an upmarket shop selling T-shirts and hoodies.
4. Take a walking tour
HCMC is a mix of all things old and new. Boasting of a modern infrastructure set in the remains of French influenced architecture (French took control of the city in the 19th century), a walk in the city makes for a refreshing and enlightening experience. The wide boulevards, sidewalks, all have a visible intertwined culture. The villas left by the French have been converted into the city’s best restaurants and the wide tree-lined streets are abuzz with motorbikes, cutting through the quietness that the place emanates through its colonial architecture and thoughtfully constructed boroughs. The city’s ubiquitous mode of transportation, the cyclo is highly recommended. All the sights and sounds of the city can be experienced first-hand and at a leisurely pace, making travelling by cyclo a unique pleasure. A cycling or a walking tour can be pre-booked online.
5. Get your dose of entertainment
HCMC is a promising city when it comes to entertainment; with its many cafes, bars, theatres and saloons, good times are always on the roll. Inside live music venues like Acoustic, Saigon Ranger, Universal Bar, Observatory and Yoko, no evening is a dull one. But if you’d rather watch a movie, head to Galaxy, the city’s best theatre. For the ones who prefer live drama, head to AO Show, a theatre popular amongst tourists for its showcase of Vietnamese music, dance and flying acrobats. The Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre is Saigon’s main water-puppet venue besides the Water Puppet Theatre show held inside the History Museum. For the ones who indulge in food to get their dose of enjoyment, head to Quan Ut Ut, a top choice barbeque joint.