|Ho Chi Minh City Travel Information|
Formerly known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City is easily Vietnam’s largest and most vibrant city. First-time visitors will no doubt find its mixture of excessive traffic, bustling markets, unceasing pagodas and smiling locals pleasantly intoxicating.
Reminders of the war are still evident, with the Reunification Palace being the most obvious and imposing with its armoury outside. However, Ho Chi Minh City has moved on with the times and thriving markets, glitzy skyscrapers and luxury hotels can now be seen alongside crumbling French colonial structures.
Ho Chi Minh City’s markets are the main focus for shoppers, especially lovers of silk and souvenirs. The food is also colourful, with varieties of Chinese-influenced dishes in natty eateries and hawker stall noodle soups too numerous to mention. Ho Chi Minh City’s lively nightlife, collection of cultural festivals and ever happy locals also add to the favour.
In addition to the many popular cultural sights in the city are opportunities to enjoy some leisure, with water parks, Saigon Zoo, and several busy city parks. Farther afield, Vung Tau Beach is just an hour away by hydrofoil, while the world famous Chu Chi Tunnels and the beautiful Mekong Delta are also within reach.
Ho Chi Minh City has a vast amount of accommodation with everything from budget lodgings to luxury hotels. The Central and Phu Nhuan districts are the most popular parts to be based in and are within reach of most major attractions on foot.
Vietnam’s main airport, Tan Son Nhat International Airport, is situated in Ho Chi Minh City and receives flights from all over the world via Southeast Asian hubs including Bangkok, Singapore, and Hong Kong. Facilities are good in the International Terminal and transfers to the city centre and hotels are provided by public shuttle buses, taxis and courtesy hotel shuttles.
In the core of the Mekong Delta, Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, is second the most important in Vietnam after Hanoi. It is not only a commercial center but also a scientific, technological, industrial and tourist center. The city is bathed by many rivers, arroyos and canals, the biggest river being the Saigon River. The Port of Saigon, established in 1862, is accessible to ships weighing up to 30,000 tons, a rare advantage for an inland river port.
Climate: The climate is generally hot and humid. There are two distinctive seasons: the rainy season, from May to November, and the dry season, from December to April. The annual average temperature is 27ºC. The hottest month is April and the lowest is December. It is warm all year.
Ho Chi Minh City has the richest history in Vietnam, which stretches back before the birth of Christ and includes Chinese and French colonial influences. Southern Vietnam has always been different to the rest of the country and was its own entity from an early age.The South and Saigon were heavily influenced by China, with the Chinese language, Confucianism, and Chinese architecture all in evidence from the arrival of the Chinese. However, the Vietnamese didn’t welcome the Chinese with open arms; they spent a lot of effort repelling them.
The South achieved independence in the 11th century under the Ly dynasty, who also pressured the North. The Middle Ages were also a time of tension, with constant tussles between South Vietnam and the Khmer empire to the west, which would eventually led to Vietnam seizing the Mekong Delta in the 15th century. The house of Nguyen took control of Saigon and the South in the 16th century. The arrival of the French saw them supporting a mercenary army to rid the land of the Nguyen rulers. France was after trading rights, however, as opposed to helping the Vietnamese rid themselves of the Chinese aggressors.
When Emperor Napoleon III stepped in, he pushed for a Vietnamese protectorate state, and by 1862 this came about for most of the South. Subsequently, many French-style buildings still in evidence today date from this period. The locals wanted rid themselves of the French, however, and the Indochinese Communist Party was set up, led by Ho Chi Minh. With the Japanese occupation during WWII, the French were all but helpless.
After the war, the Vietminh declared independence. A guerrilla war ensued after the French wouldn’t concede, which went on for eight years and ended in the decisive battle of Dien Bien Phu. This led to the splitting of Vietnam along the 17th parallel, with the Vietminh in the North and the French in the South.
The war continued between North and South and saw the Americans side with the South in the early 1960s. The Vietnam War ended first for the US in 1973 and then for the Vietnamese in 1975 when the Vietnam People's Army stormed Saigon. The North parked a tank on the lawn of the Presidential Palace, now known as Reunification Palace, which has served as a continual reminder of that day since.
Vietnam remained broke and isolated through the Cold War years and eventually Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City along with the erasing of many foreign landmarks in the city. Things really began looking up for Ho Chi Minh City and Vietnam in general in the 1990s, after the fall of the Soviet Union, when the country underwent serious economic reform. Ho Chi Minh City is now unified under the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and is enjoying previously unseen prosperity. Now a member of ASEAN, the Vietnamese economy is on the up and tourism is booming.
Things to See
General Post Office
Notre Dame Cathedral
Sri Thendayyutthapani Temple
Xa Loi Pagoda
Things to Do
Crawl through the Cu Chi Tunnels, where Viet Cong forces used to live and work during the French Indochina and Vietnam wars. Companies offer tours from Ho Chi Minh City to the closest network of tunnels, where you can walk and crawl through some of the easier-to-access systems.
Cruise the Mekong Delta from Ho Chi Minh or from one of the in-situ towns deep within the region. Hundreds of small tributaries form the delta, where an abundance of wildlife and plant life can be discerned. Don’t forget your camera as there are some amazing vistas here.
Explore Chinatown with its charming character and myriad alleys where street hawkers trade everything from dried fruits to herbal medicines. Discern the French colonial houses and lovely pagodas while you shop. Cholon Market is the favoured area of Chinatown.
Indulge yourself at Spa Tropic, which is housed in a palm-shaded villa and offers a number of treatment options. Lie back for a spot of reflexology, body treatment or a mud mask while listening to soothing tones and enjoying the scent of jasmine and lemongrass.
Laze on Vung Tau Beach and get a tan, enjoy water sports or check out the nightlife. Nearby mountains also offer hikers and trekkers some great walking while attractions such as Giant Jesus and the lighthouse add further appeal. Hydrofoils speed to Vung Tau from Ho Chi Minh City throughout the day.
Lounge in a park and escape the city noise and bustle of Ho Chi Minh. There are several popular parks in the city where you can enjoy a picnic. Dam Sen Park is perhaps the most famous with its floating restaurant, Giac Vien Pagoda, water park, sports centre, lake, and bird garden. Rollerbladers and picnickers may prefer Tao Dan Park.
Mingle in a market. At the city’s markets, you can pick up anything and everything Vietnamese, including exotic food stuffs and quirky teas and coffees. Ben Thanh Market (Central Market) is the most popular, where silk dresses and suits can be had for a relative snip, while Cholon Market in Chinatown is another good bet.
See Ho Chi Minh on a walking tour to better gain perspective on Vietnam’s second city, where many sights can be taken in on foot. A popular route starts at the Saigon riverfront and goes along the quaysides and Ham Nghi, and then to Ben Thanh Market, from where Dai Lo Le Duan leads to the Notre Dame Cathedral and other gems.
Take in City Hall, one of Ho Chi Minh’s most impressive colonial buildings. Although you cannot enter the building, all the charm is in its French looking façade when it is lit up at night. A statue of Uncle Ho sits out front and is a renowned photo stop.
Being located in South Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City experiences just two seasons; wet and dry. Its proximity to the equator and low altitude ensures a tropical climate. Although the dry season is relatively cool, the wet season is typically warm and can go on for seven or eight months.
With this in mind, the best time to visit is between the dry season months of December and April, when temperatures, rainfall and humidity are lower. It gets busier with tourists during this time, however, and hotel prices reflect this.
The most uncomfortable time to be in Ho Chi Minh City is generally between June and August, when hot and humid conditions deter a lot of travellers. Expect heavy downpours during this time of year that can often last for days, or even weeks, on end. The one saving grace is that Ho Chi Minh doesn’t get the destructive typhoons that the North regularly sees.
Tan Sơn Nhat International Airport in Ho Chi Minh City is the busiest airport in the country, handling in excess of 17 million passengers from countries throughout the Southeast Asian region and the rest of the world. The airport has two terminals with one reserved for international flights and the other for domestic services.
Facilities at the International Terminal are good and include ATMs, currency exchange and shops and restaurants. Buying dong at the airport is convenient, but you will get much better rates in the city. Immigration is strict at the airport, so you should ensure you declare any dutiable items and that your paperwork is in order.
For getting to the city from the airport, taxis provide the greatest convenience, unless your hotel provides a courtesy transfer. Licensed taxis are metered but not all drivers like to use them. The best option is to pick up a taxi coupon at the taxi rank. Make sure the driver understands exactly which hotel you are staying at or you may be taken elsewhere. If you want to go direct to the city centre, air conditioned bus number 152 runs to the Pham Ngu Lao area and the bus terminal near Ben Thanh Market.
Many bus companies operate within Ho Chi Minh City but the only really useful one to tourists is the Saigon Star Bus. A number of routes are offered throughout the city, covering Me Linh, Ben Thanh Market, Binh Tay Market, Mien Tay Bus Station, and An Nhon/Thanh Loc. Buses are frequent with several per hour from early morning to around 19:00. Tickets can be bought onboard from the conductor. For bus travel farther afield, standard and express services run to countrywide destinations.
Trains are not a form of public transport within Ho Chi Minh City and the only real service in Vietnam is the Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh line. The train station in Ho Chi Minh is on Cach Mang Thang Tam to the northwest of the city centre.
Taxis are all over the place and offer the most convenient form of transport to difficult to reach destinations and to and from the airport. Make sure you use a metered taxi and ensure the driver uses the meter. Motorcycle taxis provide a faster way to get around the city but come with obvious dangers. Cyclos operate within the city centre and can be fun for sightseeing. Prices are cheap but you should always agree the fare beforehand. Hiring a car is not an option for tourists to Vietnam as foreigners cannot drive without a Vietnamese driving license.
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