The city has attracted me to visit it twice in less than a year. So I did this Ho Chi Minh City Travel Guide to give you an insight view for all would be travelers.
1. Travel Guide to Hotels
I certainly recommend a stay in a hotel nearby Benh Thanh Market, as there are plenty at affordable prices. The good thing about the city is it is not hard to get a 4 stars hotel room at US$40.00, there are plenty around Benh Thanh Market.
I stayed in one like this and it cost me just US$45.00 with large room,free Wifi, gym facility, swimming pool (most of which I don’t need) and free international breakfast with extremely good service. Most importantly, the staff speaks good English which makes communication easier.
Staying around Benh Thanh Market is not just because it is a central area and can easily venture out of town, but also because of the availability of many travel agencies, with that around, it is easy to book a tour and get out of town. In a way, you could book your local tour directly and save considerably, instead of paying extra to the hotel who did nothing except collecting your cash by being the middleman.
By the way, what is Ho Chi Minh?
Ho Chi Minh is a communist revolutionary leader and the prime minister and president of North Vietnam between 1945-1969. He was the key architect in the defeat of the French in 1954. He died in 1969. After the fall of Saigon to the North Vietnamese, Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh city in remembrance of this great leader.
2. Travel Guide to Benh Thanh Night Market
Benh Thanh Market is a popular tourist attraction, retailing all sorts of things under the sun, such as watches, bags, shoes, clothing, food, local delights, luggages, handicrafts and souvenirs. I would personally want to call it the Chinatown of Vietnam. Read on, we shall see what happen to the Chinatown of Ho Chi Minh city.
In the day, being inside the interior of Benh Thanh Market could make you screamed for cold drinks less than 10 minutes upon entering, but this did not swayed away the throngs of crowd which keeps coming in from all direction.
Every shop has its own customers, it seems to me that everything is a good buy and everything is a must buy. Tourist can easily go crazy over the availability of thousands of souvenirs. Forget about bargaining, they are not the night market peddlers, they don’t entertain any negotiation. But actually you don’t need to, because prices are so much affordable, starting from US$1.00.
At night, the interior of Benh Thanh Market is still largely opened for business, but who cares, for tourists, the focus is shifted to the make-shift night market.
By day it is a busy road , at night starting from 7pm, the road is closed for the peddlers to pack the few streets with great varieties. The interesting part of buying things in this market is the retailer allows customer to bargain.
The initial mentioned price is never the final transacted price, always negotiate the price down by 50% and up the dollar depending on the degree of owning the product. Don’t worry if the deal collapsed, as there are many stalls selling a similar product. Bargaining is an enjoyment over here, just named a reasonable price and do not be rude as the peddlers are generally friendly and accommodative.
This is a tourist favourite, not many who seen it could resist the exquisite traditional hand paintings. You may not like paintings, but would probably change your mind after seeing this.
The availability of these paintings in so many stalls shows the popularity of it. Depending on size, a mere US$5.00 – $20.00 is all you need, and it will livened up your bedroom or living room in no time.
After a long walk and a combative bargaining time, you might not feel hungry, but upon seeing all these street hawkers, it certainly makes your mouth craving for something.
These stalls offer international-style seafood, with international-style service standard, a distinct contrast to being a night market stall. It is no wonder that queuing to get a seat could take you a hour. Mind you , the price they charge is also of international standard, but generally a US$50.00 could get you 3-4 good dishes.
Setting up the Benh Thanh Night Market
The setting up of Benh Thanh Night Market is amazing. One great thing we love to see was how the peddlers set up the stall. We thought it was an attraction by itself. Before 7pm, the few streets nearby the market was packed with peddlers with their carts, products and tools, all ready to charge forward, while the busy road was still opened to heavy traffic. The moment the 2 traffic police who guarded the entrance of the market stand aside as a signal to signify the market was opened, the peddlers would rush to their respective locations. The stall was setup within minutes, and ready to receive the first customer. The amazing part was it all happened within 5 minutes and in an orderly manner. The total respect they have for each other makes an orderly setup of the market. Do note that if you are there, keep yourself from the street or their way of direction, as it can be quite dangerous.
This guy used his foot to push forward the two towering carts in front of him, peddlers around him just gave way without making any noise. The sooner they set up the store, the faster they can make money. When time is money, no one has the mood to get into unnecessary arguments. The Vietnamese are that friendly, you’d experience that when you practice your bargaining skills here.
3. Travel Guide to Cu Chi Tunnels
No trip to Ho Chi Minh City can do without visiting this truly unique war zone. Yes, it’s a war zone. Had it not been a bloody battle area, I believe, it would be classified as one of the World Wonders. This is a place you need to see it to believe that the power of human is beyond imagination. The way the tunnels was dug, phew, unbelievable!
Cu Chi is a district 2 hours drive from Ho Chi Minh City. The unknown district was made infamous by the Cu Chi Tunnels. Prior to Vietnam War (1955-1975), there already existed an extensive individual tunnels dug around the district, then it was largely used as a storage of supplies and ammunitions by the Vietnamese against the French colonist. When the Americans entered the war after 1955, the North Vietnamese or Vietcong were fighting a losing battle, they went underground and expand the existing tunnels into a 75-mile (121 km) long military complex.
Suddenly, the Americans could not find the Vietcong, when they went to the jungle in search for them, they were ambushed either by the sudden appearance of the Vietcong from the tunnels or the Booby Traps laid by them. Both the tunnels and Booby Traps proved to be one of the major decisive factors in creating fear and resentment against the war in American home soil, which eventually led to the withdrawal of American troops. The South Vietnam government collapsed as a result, with the North Vietnamese taking over the country. The Vietnam War remained as the longest and bloodiest war the American had ever fought, worst then the 2 Great World Wars.
The underground complex is not just for military ammunitions, it contained schools, hospitals and military command centre as well. The Vietcong would hide inside for days or even weeks during American intensive Carpet Bombing campaign in the late 1960’s. Life in the tunnels was extremely hard, they depended on a dug well for water, the poor ventilation and lack of food caused many to contact malaria and diarrhea, causing the death of many. Besides battling the Americans and South Vietnamese troops, they had to deal with snakes and insects that make it into the tunnels also.
There seems to be an underground tunnels everywhere we went, the guide would challenged us to find the entrance of the tunnels, and then pointed to us that it was beneath our feet.
We were given a chance to crawl the tunnels. A short one minute crawl is enough to sweat you out in the pitch dark and humid tunnels. Sarcastically, the guide told us that was a specially modified one for the tourists, oh, my God, it made us feel so weak!
The Cu Chi Tunnels was used as a hideout for men and supplies as well as a combat area against the Viet Cong’s enemy.The scaring experience of the tour, however, was not the tunnels itself, but the lethal booby traps invented and laid by the Viet Cong for its enemy, it was said to be effective and deadly in the Vietnam War in 1960’s. It’s certainly not for the faint-hearted to witness these traps.
The Booby Traps is a device hidden or concealed with the intention to caused surprise injury, pain or death to a person. In Vietnam War, the traps were made from simple tools of ordinary household things such as iron nail, sharp iron spike, sharp bamboo pole, food canned or even a rock.
Some could pierced through the body while others triggered off explosion from a grenade or mines. Some were laid to kill just one person while some were made to kill a band of soldiers. Some were laid in the forested area while some were laid on/across an open road. Whatsoever, it was deadly!
4. Travel Guide to Notre Dame Cathedral in Saigon
After experiencing a bloody war, perhaps, we should go to a church or any religious site to seek some solace.
Though a non-Catholic, I have always been an admirer of Catholic Church since young. It is made more so when I had the chance to go Paris of France and stand in awe of the 400-year old historic church, Notre Dame Cathedral.
Notre Dame Cathedral in Saigon (now renamed Ho Chi Minh city)was constructed by the French between 1863-1880, with building materials imported from France. Inside, the beautiful French architecture is awesome. At the front of the Cathedral stands the statue of Virgin Mary, a popular photography spot. Admission is free, but do take note of the opening/closing time, during non service hour, no entry is allowed. I was disallow to enter in my first visit due to wrong timing.
Attached is a photo-music clip on Notre Dame Cathedral in Saigon generously shared by Walid Haddad. The complete set of photos were taken by the author himself. It is probably the most complete short video I had seen on the Cathedral. The background music is taken from Gregorian Chant – Abbey of Saint-Maurice. Song name: Salve festa dies.
Walid Haddad has more interesting video on Vietnam. Go, take a look at his great collections!http://whaddad.deviantart.com/
The famous Cathedral was built between 1863-1880 by a French architect named J. Bourad. All materials for the Cathedral was imported from France.
The red bricks made the Cathedral rather prominent in the busy district. The bricks was imported from Marseille, France.The twin bell towers were added to the Cathedral in 1895, some 18 years after its construction.The red bricks made the Cathedral rather prominent in the busy district. The bricks was imported from Marseille, France.
It was said that in 2005, the statue of the Virgin Mary shed tears, which was quickly denied by the Church.Lots of street vendors retailing souvenirs outside the Cathedral.
The twin bell towers were added to the Cathedral in 1895, some 18 years after its construction.
The Cathedral is a favourite attraction for wedding photography.For photography, it is best to come during the non service hours, for most tour guides would rush their groups during the service hour to allow them have an insight look of its interior.
The Gothic and Roman-style architecture makes the Cathedral looks awesome. The Cathedral was one of the main tourist attraction, regardless of one’s religious preference, no one could ignore it.
Just how much tears were shed here and how many prayers were said here during the bloody Vietnam War which lasted almost 20 years from 1955-1975.
Lots of street vendors retailing souvenirs outside the Cathedral. Take a look, their paper cutting skills is magical
5. Ho Chi Minh City Chinatown – Cholon, Binh Tay Market
If you are harboring some thoughts of making big purchases or good bargains at Ho Chi Minh Chinatown, or Cholon, I would suggest that you can forget about even coming. Throngs of tourists were brought here by their guides, and many left as soon as they arrived. I’m not saying that it is a bad place, just that it certainly is not a place for tourists, it’s not an attraction. It’s a market where the locals conduct businesses between the suppliers and retailers. It’s probably the first Chinatown I’d seen which is not meant for tourists.
The moment you arrives, you could feel that it is a war zone, being congested, messy and unorganized with local businessman and workers shoulder carrying goods all over the place.
The place has a central market in Binh Tay Market, with rows of shops retailing mostly garments, household wares and local eateries. Tourists could still get their luggages and others at a good bargain.
But most of the sellers are to busy to entertain tourists, their main attention is the local retailers who are here to make bulk purchases. The market is very congested, humid and ventilation is extremely poor.
6. Travel Guide to Mekong Boat Tour
A trip to Ho Chi Minh can’t do without a boat ride. There are so many to choose from. From the modern cruise to a simple boat ride, some is a one-day trip, while others get you 2 days out of the city. Whichever you choose, my suggestion is never to book the tour through the hotel or your local tour agencies, they charge an exorbitant price so high that if you were to find out from local agencies in Ho Chi Minh city, you might want to jump into Mekong Delta River. That’s what few groups of tourists who travelled with us to the river commented. We paid US$12.00, per person, they paid US$60-$80 each.
The bus trip to the boat ride took about 1.5 hours, far away from the city, the boat ride lasted about 6 hours with lunch inclusive. We were in a small van with 16 sitting passengers, the weather in Ho Chi Minh city is extremely dry, but once you are on the boat, the breezy trip on the river truly gets your stressful mind out of this planet. Well, life can be this beautiful, isn’t?
On the about 30minutes boat ride, appreciate the way the river side locals live and conduct their business. Coming from the city, I find it rather intriguing.
In the boat ride, there are many stopover, most of the itinerary is a visit to a local stalls selling honey, coconut-candy, local biscuit, snake-wine and tropical fruits. Depending on how you look at it, some says it is a buying trip for the guide to earn commission, while others say it is a fruitful experience to see these local delights. Well, it is openly spelled as a rural trip, you don’t expect them to bring you to Disneyland or Universal Studios right?
If you love honey, this is the chance to sweep dozens of it. The price was extremely low and irresistible at US$5.00 per bottle each, depending on size, we filled up a bag with it.
The tasty honey biscuit has everyone talking about it. Well, you need not make any purchase, there is a plate of sample for tasting, and the guide keeps topping it up.
One little thing about the trip that ‘wow’ everyone was the presentation of a fish for lunch said to be caught from the river. The fish ‘stands’ on the plate, and many do not know how to eat it. I’m not sure what’s the name of the fish, but it’s quite tasty and meaty. The whole meal though simple tasted good too, perhaps, due to the hungry stomach.
After the lunch, we were free to roam the village. Bicycles was available for free ride. Perhaps you could be like this guy in the hammock…
Sleeping in the hammock is a common sight in Ho Chi Minh city and outskirts. I was very curious about the habit. The guide told us Vietnamese feels good sleeping on it, like a newborn in their beloved mother’s arm. Oh, I see, that’s interesting. There are even places or half-way house along the road which provide a short nap on the hammock for tired travelers. Hammock peddling can be seen almost anyway at Benh Thanh Market.
A walk along the river to see the carefree life of the villages that would take you out of this world. Life is certainly beautiful isn’t?
One of the highlight of the tour was the opportunity to go onto a small boat or sampan for a short 10 minutes trip. Some were scare and opted out upon seeing the rocking boat. I found it quite exciting, come on, have a song :
Michael row the boat ashore, hallelujah
Michael row the boat ashore, hallelujah
Having said that, do not expect too much from the tour, after all, it’s just a rural trip out of the city, but as city dwellers we certainly found it fulfilling.
7. Travel Guide to Vietnam Independence Palace
Few countries achieved Independence as bloody as Vietnam. A visit to the Independence Palace of Vietnam or Reunification Palace becomes a historic tour to this iconic landmark.
A brief history of Vietnam
Vietnam had been a tribute state to China from 200BC to 10th century AD, even after gaining independence, it continued to look to China as a model state in its social structure , cultural and government system. In the 1770’s, a rebellion broke out which led to a clan seeking help from the French missionary. The missionary supplied ships, men and arms. That was the first involvement of the French. In 1825, when the Vietnam Emperor banned the entry and executed thousands of missionaries, the French launched large scale attacked. This started a series of annexation of Vietnam which was completed in 1887.
After the Japanese occupation of Vietnam, the French returned in 1945 after the war. The Vietnamese resisted their presence, which led to a long war with the French, it ended in 1954 with the withdrawal of the French, with Vietnam temporarily divided into two. However, just as soon as one war ended, the Vietnam War erupted, this time the Americans were involved. The Americans were afraid that the communist north Vietnam would eventually win over Vietnam, so, they supported the South Vietnamese government.
The war turned out to be much complex and bloody than what the Americans had in mind initially. Home resentment grew as it waged on, leading to the eventual withdrawal of American troops in 1975. With the Americans gone, the South Vietnamese government collapsed almost instantly. On that historic day of 30 April 1975, a North Vietnamese tank crashed through the gate of this Norodom Palace, now know as Independence Palace, signifying the Reunification of Vietnam.
The French governor had built this Norodom Palace in 1868 for its administration, and had since been used by the various South Vietnamese President after the French departure in 1955. To tour this palace, there are guides ready to help. For some unknown reasons, I was told not to take pictures of certain exhibits. But I find the place rather empty in exhibits, unlike other Independence Hall I’ve seen. Had it not been the guide helping, or with pre-knowledge of Vietnam Independence history, few visitors would be able to know what it is all about.