Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), formerly known as Saigon, is a dynamic metropolis with a thriving commerce that is centred around a rich and varied culture. While still tied to its complex cultural, religious, and political roots, the city is quickly modernising with an optimistic approach towards the future. All throughout the city is a delightfully dizzying mix of bustling streets and traditional markets, towering skyscrapers and ancient temples, and fine dining establishments amongst small street food carts. It’s those juxtapositions that give the city its mysticism and allure which energises residents and visitors alike. Formerly known as the “Pearl of the Orient,” Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) was a prosperous city known for its magnificent structures, rich culture, flourishing economy, exquisite cuisine and sophistication. The city has once again reclaimed its name – while a little rough around the edges – its abundance of attractions and unique experiences promises a wealth of adventure and a lifetime of memories.
The city’s ancient streets, buildings, memorials and museums all form the tapestry of a rich history. Originally, part of the kingdom of Cambodia, then a flourishing port city, then a colony of France and then the capital of the Republic of Vietnam, and finally, Ho Chi Minh City as designated by the Hanoi government; the city saw a series of name changes, rulers, ethnic groups and political turmoil, which left a mix of cultures, all of which are evident to this day.
Built in 1909 by the Cantonese community, the Jade Emperor Pagoda honours the Taoist god (the Jade Emperor or King of Heaven, Ngoc Hoang). Although it is one of many throughout the city, it is considered to be the most spectacular. While the outside is awe-inspiring, the inside is even more intriguing. Thick clouds of incense fill the rooms, wafting over ornate woodcarvings and imposing statues of both Buddhist and Taoist deities. The multi-faith temple is representative of the many cultures and ethnic groups that make up HCMC. A number of Chinese and Indian temples are also on display throughout the city. The Notre Dame cathedral and the central post office, designed by architect Gustave Eiffel (who designed the Eiffel Tower), are prime examples of French Gothic style and the nation’s influence on Vietnam.
The effects of the Vietnam War are still present, and the brutality and consequences of it are best re-counted at the War Remnants Museum which documents an important part of world and Vietnamese history. The well-preserved Reunification Palace, which served as the home of the president of South Vietnam during the war, is where North Vietnam’s tanks crashed, resulting in Saigon’s surrender in on April 30, 1975. Meanwhile, the History Museum, an elegant structure surrounded by lush botanical gardens, encloses an array of Sino-French artefacts that document the evolution of the nation’s cultures.
Just outside the city lays an intricate network of ungrounded tunnels, used by Viet Cong guerrillas during the Tet Offensive of 1968. Spanning nearly 500 km, the underground system played a key role in the defeat of American forces. Can Gio is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in the coastal district of southeast HCMC. The palm-fringed island with a dense mangrove forest contains more than 200 species of animals and over 150 types of flora. Further away, but well worth the trek, is the Mekong Delta. The intricate web of waterways, known as the “rice bowl,” is an incredibly fertile region that produces half of Vietnam’s agricultural output. Peppered along the lush waterways are markets, farms and quaint villages that make for a serene atmosphere and picturesque views. The Cao Dai Great Temple, in the village of Long Hoa, is also an interesting visit and is world-renowned for its traditional Vietnamese herbal medicine and treatments.
The streets of the Ben Thanh market are some of the liveliest in the city. The stalls and shops are brimming with everything imaginable, including fresh produce, clothing, medicine and jewellery. While the traditional market is full of wonderful surprises, those who enjoy a more predictable shopping experience will like the high-end boutiques and department stores at the Diamond Plaza or Saigon Centre. A trip to Ho Chi Minh is not complete without a tasting of the country’s various culinary offerings. From traditional pho and pork rolls to the more unique fertilised duck eggs and fermented scorpion wine, Vietnam boasts a truly fascinating cuisine.
Ancient facades with ornate details and gold embellishments and traditional French colonial architecture adorn Ho Chi Minh City, the former capital of South Vietnam. On the surface, what appears to be a city encapsulated in a bygone era is in actuality bustling 21st century metropolis that is embracing everything new while perfectly preserving the old. From 13th century pagodas to steel-clad skyscrapers, chaotic street markets to designer boutiques, fragrant street stalls to fine dining establishments, war bunkers to world-class hotels, HCMC is an engaging city of beautiful contrasts and unending adventure.
Things to do in Ho Chi Minh City
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The weather in HCMC is pretty warm and humid. Lightweight clothes are best and comfortable walking shoes are advised. Also keep in mind that Vietnamese people dress conservatively, so it’s important to cover up in public spaces.
Pack plenty of sunblock, a hat and sunglasses, especially when visiting during the warmer months. The straw hats typical to the area provide great protection from the sun and rain. Small first aid kits are always beneficial. Be sure to include anti-diarrhea medication, pain relief, antibacterial cream, water-purification tablets, rehydrating solutions, insect repellent, mosquito nets, whilst anti-malarial medications are highly recommended.
If embarking on any hikes or long trips, bring camping gear, especially a sleeping bag liner. While the currency is the Vietnamese dong, U.S. dollars are generally accepted. A small torch and pocket knife are always good to have on-hand if exploring.
Year-round mild-to-warm temperatures make this city a joy to visit. Unlike many other places in southeast Asia, Ho Chi Minh boasts relatively calm weather and is unaffected by major natural disasters. Any time is a good time to go, as most visitors will experience copious sunshine with the occasional rain shower.
Ho Chi Minh experiences a tropical climate with two distinct seasons – dry and wet. The dry season runs from December to April and is often considered the best time to visit. Daytime temperatures range from 25°C to 30C, with cooler temperatures at night and little rainfall. Travellers are also treated to elaborate Christmas and New Year (Tet) celebrations during this time.
The rainy season is from May to November. The temperature averages 38°C with higher humidity levels. However, this is still a rewarding time to visit as there are often smaller crowds, festivals and the rain showers are typically short and intermittent.
Check out our Blog to see some of the amazing experiences Ho Chi Minh City has to offer
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