The city of Ho Chi Minh is full of so many interesting things to see and do that we were hard-pushed to fit everything we wanted into a week. There truly is something for everyone in this diverse city. From incredible architecture to interesting cultural habits, our curiosities were well tended to on this trip! Although we wouldn’t be huge history enthusiasts, we found the historical sites relating to the Vietnam war fascinating and they gave us a greater understand and appreciation of the culture itself. This is certainly a city to plan for in advance so you don’t miss out on hitting the best hot-spots during your stay.
Throughout Ho Chi Minh city, evidence of European influence is rife. There are some incredible landmarks dotted around the city from the French colonial era, each one beautiful and individual amidst the native structures that surround them.
This cathedral is a beautiful piece of French architecture in the middle of Ho Chi Minh city. The medieval Catholic cathedral was constructed entirely from materials imported from France which explains the authentic feel you get when visiting the incredible structure. On the day we went, there was a wedding photo shoot happening on the grounds, which was a magical scene to stumble upon.
Central Post Office
In the same vicinity as the cathedral, the Central Post Office stands proud. This amazing structure was designed by the French architect Alfred Foulhoux and his genuine French stamp can still be seen today. The arched windows with wooden shutters are a reminder of the 19thcentury era in which this post office was erected. The marble floors are breathtaking on entry and the antique telephone boxes are a subtle reminder of how important this building would have been in its day, a time before the internet and mobile phones.
Not only is this building aesthetically intricate in appearance and of huge historical importance, it is also a functioning post office today! It is the perfect place to send your postcards home and truly participate in the history of this incredible city.
Bến Thành Market
This market is a without a doubt a MUST when visiting Ho Chi Minh. Within a warehouse style building in the centre of the city, lies this treasure chest of anything your mind can conjure. From clothes and rolls of silks, to chopsticks and raw meat, there isn’t an inch of this building not utilised for wares of some sort.
The market is divided up into different sections so you can easily avoid the raw food section if you have a weaker tummy, but if you can, this area is worth a visit to see how grocery shopping in done in a different culture!
Something you may also need when visiting these markets is a little extra patience than usual. The stall holders are keen to flog you their wares so as soon as you show a speck on interest in their goods, they will do all in their power to convince you to make a purchase. This is good if you are interested in making a purchase as it allows you to haggle with the tellers. There are many stalls with similar products so each stall owner will be willing to give you a ‘discount’ if they can keep you at their shop. A little tip would be to half whatever their asking price is and go from there with your bargaining. If that doesn’t seem to be working, pretending to walk away often helps negotiations!
Tip: Our hotel had a free shuttle service that did regular drop-offs to the Bến Thành Markets every day. Worth looking into if staying at a hotel.
If walking to the markets from another location in the city, BE CAREFUL when crossing the intersection at the front…it is on another level of hectic!!
Orphanage – Christina Noble Children’s Foundation
Something I often like to seek out when in a different country are local orphanages. While in Vietnam, I came across a foundation set up by an Irish lady many years ago, to help children that were destined to live on the streets. The organisation now consists of an educational element for school aged children and an incredible rehabilitation sector for children physically maimed by the chemical aftermath of the Vietnam war.
The school element teaches common educational capabilities that the students may need in their everyday lives as well as life skills to help them once they are beyond school age. The other area of the foundation works with babies and children suffering physical growth delays or other deformities. The incredible program run here is done so in conjunction with training Irish physiotherapists which means these children have access to treatments that they could never have dreamt of before.
My visit to this orphanage was certainly a difficult one due to the confronting realities of what these little people have been dealt. Having said that, it was also one of my most cherished memories from the entire trip as I had the opportunity to interact with the children and spend the afternoon watching the amazing volunteers go about their daily activities.
War Remnants museum
This trip certainly isn’t for the faint hearted but the depictions of the brutal occurrences during the infamous Vietnam war, are undeniable. It was a huge eye-opener for us in regards to the harsh realities of what really went on during the war. Greeted at the entry gates by US armoured vehicles, bombs and infantry weapons, the scene was set for the uncut truths that lay ahead. In the court yard area, rooms or cells display the inhumane means adopted to hold prisoners (‘tiger cages’), and some of the French mechanisms used at the time such as the guillotine. These scenes leave very little to the imagination and make the harsh realities very feasible in one’s mind.
As you move through the museum itself, it is laid out in very distinct sections. Some are artefact based while others are heart-breaking exhibitions of photographs taken during the harrowing days of the war from the ground. What stuck with me most from our visit, was the images of the innocent children maimed by the dropping of Agent Orange onto Vietnamese soil. It would be advised to stay a few steps ahead of children during this tour due to the explicit nature of the material and perhaps be ready to skip past certain elements if necessary.
Tip:We bought our tickets at the entry gates on the day we visited so no need to worry about trying to book ahead of time.
To continue on the historic thread, a visit to this demanding structure is a must. Also known as the Reunification Palace, this building was home and office to past Vietnamese presidents. This grand construction is a hot spot for tourists and the layout and maintenance of the internal buildings certainly hold up to expectation. The elaborate furnishings and intricate details of the reception rooms can be experienced on the second floor while large meeting places are housed on the ground floor. The back of the building was the private living quarters of the presidents, and these rooms can also be visited. The bomb shelter in the basement is possible the most exciting of all with its telecommunications room and network of underground tunnels.
Tip: This was a very interesting place to visit and much larger than we had anticipated. Be prepared to do lots of walking to explore all this building has to offer!
I feel I better stop there, as I could go on forever about all the amazing places we visited while in Ho Chi Minh city. We loved every second of our time wandering through the fascinating city streets and exploring all this incredible culture had to offer. We really hope that you enjoyed this post and perhaps we have ignited an interest in you for this beautiful and interesting part of the world.
For any tips on where to eat in Ho Chi Minh, check out our previous post as we shared all our favourite foodie finds there. Or pop over to Our Instagram page to see what we will be chatting to you about next!
But for now…thank you for taking the time to drop by our page.
We hope to see you back again soon!
Richard and Michelle.