Downtown Ho Chi Minh City is home to several popular tourist sites for the city, all potentially within walking distance of one another. While there is plenty to do and see away from this area, this is a good place to begin or to check out if you are short on time as they are the more iconic buildings/places in Ho Chi Minh. Each location listed is indicated below by a blue dot.
Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon
Officially “Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception,” this red brick cathedral was built in the mid-late 19th century by French colonists. All materials originate in France. I have to say, I did not quite realize the extent of the French influence on Vietnam until we arrived. It’s quite evident throughout the large cities. In 1962 the Vatican declared this church the “chief cathedral” in Saigon. It’s a very lovely church but if you are coming from Europe you are likely to be a little less impressed.
The cathedral is also known for a report from 2005 that the virgin Mary statue in front of the church shed tears, an event which attracted thousands of people but has not been supported by the Vatican.
You can simply take in the view from the outside or go into the church. It’s free to enter and you can also attend mass if you desire.
Saigon Central Post Office
This building was also built by the French during the late 19th century. To reach the post office from the cathedral all you need to do is cross the road. While the post office is nice, its main draw as a tourist attraction is that it was built by Gustave Eiffel. Wikipedia claims otherwise but it says so at the post office. While inside, also check out the historic maps of the area.
The War Remnants Museum
This exhibit will have its own post to come. While it may be a little more depressing, if you come to Saigon you don’t want to miss the war museum. That is, unless you have small children as it would not be well-suited to them due to both the sensitive subject matter and graphic imagery. With both indoor and outdoor exhibits, the museum is full of information about the “American War” which you will likely find both informative and tragic.
The Reunification Palace
Also known as the Independence Palace, I feel this destination is enough to warrant its own post as well which we will get to shortly. Between exploring the grassy grounds which include a nice park and a couple old tanks, and the large palace where information and history seem to be provided on nearly every room, you can spend several hours here. Though the history of the grounds (and a previous palace there) dates back further, this is where the Vietnamese president lived and worked during the Vietnam war.
Ben Thanh Market
This is a good place to get a local meal or packaged local food like coffee or dried jackfruit. There are many shops so if you are looking for a souvenir, this is a place to check out. It’s about a kilometer away from the Cathedral so it’s not difficult to walk here if you are comfortable walking the roads in Ho Chi Minh.
The market is a pretty big tourist destination but we didn’t spend a lot of time here. We did a walk through and I nearly threw up at one point (really, I had to run out) due to the overwhelming aromas of fish and durian. It was also quite hot and crowded with a number of people trying to sell us things. We decided we were done and grabbed a shake at a place just across the street. That’s just our experience, though.
The Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theater
Water puppetry is a Vietnamese tradition which dates back to around a thousand years ago! We didn’t get around to visiting this one which is why I made it our priority to go to the Water Puppet Theater once we arrived in Hanoi and it was one of our favorite activities. There are also water puppet shows on a smaller scale offered in some areas. For example, you could watch a smaller and shorter show within the Vietnamese Museum of History. Wherever and however you decide to do it, this is something I would recommend checking out while you are in Vietnam.
Also in the area:
Den Hung Temple and Vuon Tao Den Park
We did not have the typical experience of this area as we visited just before Tet. Normally you should be able to enter the park and temple for free but we paid about a dollar each for a ticket as there was a festival. We walked through the park and it was very nice but it was also set up with many booths and displays during this time. The temple is within the park and is fairly small but there is a nice (small) narrow pond filled with lily pads leading up to it, as well as some topiary in the area. if you are in the area and looking for something else to do, it’s a nice place to check out.
Mariamman Hindu Temple
If you’re tired of the French influence, check out the small bit of Indian influence. This temple is built in an Indian style and will offer a little history as well. We’ve already written about this one so check our our post Mariamman Hindu Temple for more pictures and information.