05 April 2017
Diamond of The Far-East
Ho Chi Minh is Vietnam’s center of commerce and the country’s largest city. After being torn apart by the Vietnam war 40 years ago, Ho Chi Minh has re-grown into a thriving metropolis, rivaling Singapore, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur.
Thanh Pho Ho Chi Minh, as it’s known in full, is a physical representation of Vietnam’s economic success; fine restaurants, swanky hotels, glitzy bars and clubs, and shops selling imported luxury goods fill the city. It’s a sparkling city with a landscape of French architecture, old and historical pagodas, Soviet-style housing blocks, and American influence that is deeply entrenched from the Vietnam war. The modern era hasn’t eradicated it’s charming traits and visiting the city it becomes clear why it is dubbed the Diamond of the Far-East.
Ho Chi Minh is divided into 24 districts with districts One, Three, and Five being the most popular with tourists. District One is the most dynamic and booming economic area of the city that was formerly called Saigon. Streets and boulevards are lined with tall evergreen trees, and visitors can easily explore the area on foot with the help of a map. The district is home to a few notable sights such as the city post office, Notre Dame church, and Ben Thanh market.
Also ranking high on the itineraries of tourists to the city are the War Remnants Museum, Ho Chi Minh City Museum, and the Reunification Palace. Another attribute of the city is that after exhausting days of sightseeing, travelers can escape to the tranquil paddy fields, beaches, and wide-open countryside that encircle the city for some rest and relaxation.
For those who prefer to keep taking in the sights, the Cu Chi tunnels are the most popular destination outside of the city. The tunnels, where villagers dug themselves out of range of American soldiers during the War, is usually included as part of a tour around the fanciful Great Temple of the indigenous Cao Dai religion at Tay Ninh. A brief excursion of the Mekong Delta at My Tho or a dip in the South China Sea at Ho Coc are all possible one-day excursions.
WHEN TO GO
The best time to visit tropical Ho Chi Minh City is in the dry season, which runs from December through to April. During the wet season, May to November, there are frequent tropical storms.
PLACES TO VISIT
The Palace, previously known as Independence Palace, is remembered in history for a tank crashing through its gates on April 30, 1975, heralding the end of Vietnam’s war. Not only that, the Palace bore witness to the war against the French colonists. The palace was built on the site of the former Norodom Palace, home of the president of South Vietnam, as Vietnam was split into North Vietnam and South Vietnam.
WAR REMNANTS MUSEUM
Opened by the Vietnamese government in 1975, this museum was formally known as the Exhibition House for Crimes of War and Aggression. Following the improvement of relations with the USA, the name was changed in 1995. Retired military vehicles such as "Huey" helicopters, attack bombers, and even an M48 Patton tank dominate the front yard. Inside, various rooms display weaponry, and photographs document the brutality of the war that spanned from 1945-1975. Although the museum is a disturbing experience for most people, it remains one of the most visited museums in the country.
HO CHI MINH SQUARE
Surrounded by beautiful French colonial style buildings, Ho Chi Minh Square is nestled in the middle of District One, the heart of the city. Here a statue of “Uncle Ho” was placed to honor the 100th birthday of Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee (City Hall). City Hall is a popular place for tourists to take pictures and the area is especially beautiful at dusk when many of the landmarks are lit by the sun’s soft golden glow. Ho Chi Minh Square is actually part of the walking street Nguyen Hue Boulevard, which is a wide promenade that runs all the way from the City Hall to the Saigon River.
Chu Chi Tunnels
The Chu Chi Tunnels are one of Ho Chi Minh’s most iconic attractions. Claustrophobia aside, tourists can explore the tunnels which hid the underground life of Vietnamese soldiers back in the Vietnam war. The tunnels incorporated effective air filtration systems, which helped Vietnamese soldiers survive the Chu Chi carpet-bombing by the Americans. Visitors can take a shot with an M16 assault rifle at the shooting range on site. The Chu Chi Tunnels are a 40-minute drive from Ho Chi Minh City.