THE RESTLESS HO CHI MINH CITY
Come and discover that fascinating city that is Ho Chi Minh, also still called Saïgon just like in its heyday. It is an exciting city where you can never be bored and there’s always something to explore, from the colonial past of the city to its incredible modernism, between cultural visits to delicious culinary experiences.
Ho Chi Minh City’s history
This South Vietnam metropole originally was a simple Khmer fishing village, then became Vietnamese during the 16th century. Capital of the Cochin China during French domination, Saïgon used to be called “The Extreme Orient Pearl”. In 1954, it became the capital of the Republic of Vietnam. Then, during the war, the city got beleaguered by the Americans and after that, was taken by the communists. On April 30th of 1975, the city got its name changed after the Vietnamese president, “Father of the Nation”, who relentlessly fought for Vietnam’s independence: Ho Chi Minh.
Cholon, Ho Chi Minh’s Chinatown
A city inside the city, crowded quarter, Cholon is the Chinatown of the city since the end of the 18th century. During the colonial times, Cholon was known as the district of all vices and mysteries. It was in those streets that you could find bars, dance halls, fumeries (opium dens) and the notorious casino Le Grand Monde. Cholon, meaning “big market”, is now mellowed, and the biggest commercial district of Ho Chi Minh, particularly due to the Binh Tay market. Come and wonder in these atypical streets, taste some of the Chinese specialties and discover ancient Chinese pagodas filled with incense fumes.
Discovery of the architectural and colonial heritage
The old Saïgon, capital of Cochin China and showcase of French colonial power, still hosts a beautiful architectural heritage. Most of the remains of the French occupation are located in Saigon’s first district.
Here’s a selection of the must-see architectures in Ho Chi Minh:
- The century old Ben Thanh market distinguishes itself by its architecture filled with decorations, its dome of 23 meter diameter and large belfry. A big market where travelers love to go to find all sorts of souvenirs.
- The Cathedral Basilica of Notre Dame is emblematic of the city. Its façade is made out of rocks and red bricks imported from Toulouse (France). That revisited roman style, mixed with a gothic style is based on the Notre Dame de Paris. It is for Ho Chi Minh one of the jewels of the colonial heritage.
- The Central Post Office, in front of the Cathedral Basilica of Notre Dame, was conceived by Gustave Eiffel between 1856 and 1891. Beautifully renovated, the building looks like the first European train stations due to its imposing metallic structure.
- The City Hall, of which the conception was copied from Paris’s City Hall. It is a must-see at night, when the subtle lighting shows off the details of the architecture.
Of course, many more colonial remains are worth taking a look at like the Museum of Fine Arts, the Continental and Majestic hotels, Saigon Opera House, The Custom Directorate Building or the former Bank of Indochina.
On foot, by Jeep or on your Vespa, roam through the streets to discover the best dishes the city has to offer. Ho Chi Minh has a large variety of street food and will surprise you with its delicious typical South Vietnamese cuisine. Be sure to live a tasty adventure in the most animated of all Vietnamese big cities.
Ho Chi Minh’s museums
Admittedly, there are fewer museums in Ho Chi Minh than in Hanoi, but those few are actually very interesting:
- The Reunification Palace, a great witness of all the memorable moments of a national reunification that happened after 30 years of war.
- The War Remnants Museum, an unmissable cultural visit if you want to fully understand Vietnam and its painful history, marked by bloody conflicts.
- The Museum of the Fine Arts of which the amazing colonial building hosts the essence of Vietnamese pictorial art.
- The Ho Chi Minh City Museum, is retracing the very tumultuous but just as exciting history of the city. Moreover, the building itself is very interesting thanks to its neoclassical architecture.
- The Museum of the Ao Daï, the traditional Vietnamese outfit, is also a pretty little museum dedicated to that unique robe Vietnamese women wear with so much elegance.
Excursions around Ho Chi Minh City
There are two major excursions to undertake from Ho Chi Minh, both beautiful. Close to each other, they can easily be done during the same day:
- The Cu Chi Tunnels, an amazing tunnel network measuring over 200 kilometres, that used to be the operating base of the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War.
- The Cao Dai Temple of Tay Ninh is the heart of Caodaism (a syncretistic religion mixing every religion). That remarkable cathedral-temple is heavily decorated with an oriental fantasia style with technicoloured snakes and dragon. Every day, it hosts colourful masses.