Ho Chi Minh City Guide [Updated 2018]

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The city formerly known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City is a locale rich in historical, spiritual and culinary charm.

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Often abbreviated to HCMC, this vibrant destination sits at the centre of South Vietnam, where it covers some 2,096 square-kilometres. On crossing into this storied city, you can immediately sense the heart of its people, who have overcome a past coloured by war, oppression and colonialism. In this guide, we take you through the best of the city today, as well as the legacy of its past, and how it has come to be one of Vietnam’s most-visited tourist destinations.

A vast tapestry of cultures, Singapore’s multicultural melting pot is replete with unbelievable food, storied history, and plenty of cultural sights to see. Fast becoming a must-see city, we’ll dive into its history, attractions to check out, culinary highlights and the best secret spots.

Fun fact #01

A yellow traffic light in Ho Chi Minh City means drive faster.

What to see in Ho Chi Minh City

From its many military relics and temples of worship to the plethora of markets and tempting coffee houses (Vietnamese beans are rumoured to be among the best in the world), you’ll never be short of something to do in Ho Chi Minh City. If we had to choose, we’d say these four are the must-see stops on your trip…

Fun fact #02

The musical Miss Saigon is loosely based on Puccini’s Madame Butterfly.

From its many military relics and temples of worship to the plethora of markets and tempting coffee houses (Vietnamese beans are rumoured to be among the best in the world), you’ll never be short of something to do in Ho Chi Minh City. If we had to choose, we’d say these four are the must-see stops on your trip…

Cu Chi Tunnels

ho chi minh city guide

The Cu Chi Tunnels are a tourist favourite for good reason. This base of military significance offers an authentic insight into combat life during the Vietnam War. The affordable price tag belies a truly eye-opening experience, as you enter a sophisticated network of subterranean tunnels covering more than 120km. In this city beneath a city, you will explore armouries and command centres, as well as domestic quarters with living areas, kitchens and storage facilities. There are even trapdoors through which Viet Cong soldiers planned their deadliest attacks. We recommend giving the public crawl a try, so you can envisage what it was truly like to navigate these underground enclaves during wartime.

Ben Thanh Market

HO CHI MINH CITY GUIDE

At the heart of District 1 lies Ben Thanh Market, the destination for shopping in Ho Chi Minh City. Floor-to-ceiling stalls sell everything from souvenirs, bamboo goods and textiles to luggage, watches and even electronic items. Just remember to brush-up on your bartering skills if you want to get a fair price for these wares. Outside the market hall, traditional Vietnamese dishes simmer away, wafting in from the plethora of authentic eateries vying to take your business. It’s hard to say no when faced with the tantalising southeast Asian cuisine on offer: sharp, sour and utterly delicious.

A O Show

Among the busy agenda of the incomparable Saigon Opera House, one extra-special performance is the A O Show, an act of epic proportion. Here, visual artists, acrobats and dancers take to the stage to tell a story of rurality, urbanization and adaptation in Vietnam. Part history, part drama, this 60-minute spectacle of twists and turns has it all: theatrical sketches, choral recitals and interpretive dance are only the beginning in a piece of performance art that will be etched on your memory for years to come.

War Remnants Museum

Despite covering what may be a troubling subject for some, The War Remnants Museum ranks consistently among the top attractions as an important source of Ho Chi Minh City’s military past. The gallery presents a graphic but important journey of two periods: the first Indochina War with French colonialists, and the Vietnam War. In a sombre but sensitively curated collection, this museum documents the casualties felt on both sides through the Requiem exhibition, compiled by Tim Page, and My Lai Massacre display. Be warned, this is a visceral portrayal, reminding us never to forget the atrocities of war.

Best kept secrets

Sometimes, you have to wander off the beaten track to find a city’s brightest gems. But with a little help from us, you don’t need to search for long. Check out these five amazing locations, chosen for their history, eccentricity and breath-taking beauty.

Fun fact #03

Ho Chi Minh City has more than 80 universities and colleges, and 4,600 five-star hotel rooms.

Fun fact #04

The city has over 5 million vehicles, but only 400,000 or so are cars. Motorbikes and mopeds rule the streets in Vietnam’s bustling second city.

Souvenirs

Traditional Vietnamese lanterns, colourful fans, scarves, bowls and chopsticks, and, of course, lucky cats are among the many souvenirs brought back from HCMC. Here’s our pick of those a little less expected…

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Propaganda art

vietnamese propaganda art

Vintage propaganda from the Vietnam War evokes more than just a unique artistic sensibility – it conjures crucial notions of liberty, freedom and truth. These pieces were designed to spread patriotism and realist messages amongst bright punchy drawings that drew from a range of global sources. Today, fans of all things retro can pick up replicas at Saigon Kitsch, a specialist in this art form.

Coffee

coffee vietnam

HCMC is one of the best destinations for coffee in the world, known for its sweet condensed milk blends that balance the intense, dark roast coffees. Strong and heady, Vietnamese beans are not for the faint-hearted, and can be picked up in many local shops.

Marou chocolate

chocolate marou

Marou chocolate is the origin of Vietnam’s reputation as a producer of fine gourmet chocolates. They’re perfect for the friend with the sweet tooth, as a delicious treat so inexpensive you’ll want to come back with a suitcase full.

Ao Dai

ao dai

This traditional Vietnamese garment is worn as a fitted, full-length dress worn over black or white loose-fitting trousers. In a blend of modesty and allure, the modern Ao Dai fits tightly to accentuate the curves while still covering everything, especially as it is often made of light, sheer fabrics.

Fun fact #05

Ho Chi Minh City has the highest GDP growth in the country, and is rapidly developing to suit the needs of Vietnam’s modernizing economy.

Best Restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City

Cuc Gach Quan

With a menu that nods to the city’s French imperial past, Cuc Gach Quan regularly receives rave reviews for its celebration of the humble vegetable in simple yet wonderfully flavoured dishes. Health is an important part of the Cuc Gach Quan experience, which the restaurant commits to protecting by not using sodium glutamate or other preservatives. Mango salad with shrimp, homemade tofu, black bean ice cream… there’s so much choice you may need a guiding hand – which the staff are only too happy to offer.

Vietnamese salad rolls with shrimps, chicken, herbs, green papaya

Anan Saigon

Led by award-winning chef, Peter Cuong Franklin, Anan Saigon sits unassumingly inside a local wet market. In its marriage of French cookery techniques, market-fresh ingredients and clean presentation, it creates a menu the likes of which are tough to beat in Ho Chi Minh City. It’s fusion done in a mature way, without losing sight of the classics. Our ultimate favourite has to be the crispy chilli pork.

crispy pork

Five Oysters

No visit to Vietnam would be complete without a celebration of seafood. Combining the best of each region, this rooftop-terraced establishment is as affordable as it is enticing, serving up authentic Vietnamese fare late into the night to satisfy your seafood cravings. And it’s not all catch of the day, with a gigantic menu spanning Asian salads, beef, and even frog porridge if you’re feeling particularly adventurous.

seafood vietnam

So, there you have it – the perfect way to spend a 12-hour stopover in Ho Chi Minh City. If you’re interested in booking a cruise through South East Asia and feel Ho Chi Minh could be the perfect port destination, visit the Cruise1st Australia website and use the search bar on the left to browse a complete range of upcoming cruises departing to Ho Chi Minh City.

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