Things to do in Ho Chi Minh

Must-see Ho Chi Minh sights

Above the Mekong Delta, Ho Chi Minh City (also known as Saigon) is Vietnam at its frenetic best, with colonial villas and elegant pagodas alongside glitzy malls and stylish restaurants. Divided into 18 districts, the city hugs the west bank of the Saigon River, with its central area in District 1. The city tells a fascinating history, with French, communist and Chinese – and many places that relate to the American War – that throbs throughout the city with its museums, pagodas and street markets.

  1. Jade Emperor Pagoda
  2. Ho Chi Minh City Museum
  3. The Reunification Palace
  4. The War Remnants Museum
  5. The History Museum
  6. Cho Lon

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1. Jade Emperor Pagoda

The spectacular Jade Emperor Pagoda was built around 1900 and is still a working shrine. It’s a captivating sight, with its red facade and sculptures of dragons, birds and animals sitting atop the faded green roof. Inside, a statue of the Jade Emperor lords it over the main hall’s central altar, and is surrounded by joss-stick smoke. To the right of the main hall, a rickety flight of steps runs up to a balcony, behind which is a statue of Quan Am, a female saint in Buddhist tradition. Head left out of the main hall to find Kim Hua, and in the larger chamber behind you’ll find the Chief of Hell alongside ten dark-wood reliefs depicting all sorts of punishments awaiting evil people in the Ten Regions of Hell.

Best for: Snapping great photos at every angle.

Don’t miss: Light a joss stick and offer it to a shrine, or simply take in the scene around you.

2. Ho Chi Minh City Museum

Built in 1886, the eye-catching Gia Long Palace houses Ho Chi Minh City Museum . The museum tells you all you need to know about the city’s history with its collections of archaeology, displays about the City’s ethnic communities and environmental developments. You won’t need to spend too long here, but it’s one of the more interesting things to do in Ho Chi Minh City nonetheless.

Best for: Finding out more about the citizens of Ho Chi Minh.

Don’t miss: Take a break at nearby Highlands Coffee.

3. The Reunification Palace

The Reunification Palace, otherwise known as Independence Palace, is a striking sight with its wide rectangular size, large fountain at the front and the Vietnam flag billowing proudly from the front of the building. It’s been the home and office of the president since 1966, but in 1975 a North Vientames tank stormed the gates, which was when it was renamed Reunification Hall. Don’t miss the third floor, with its presidential library, projection room and entertainment lounge – there’s also a rooftop nightclub and helipad, too. To one side of the fountain sits a tank (no longer in use, but still imposing) and a F5E fighter aircraft.

Best for: Seeing propaganda objects from the Vietnam War.

Don’t miss: You can watch a video about the palace’s history in the basement, which served as the former command centre

4. The War Remnants Museum

A visit to the War Remnants Museum is one of the best things to do in Ho Chi Minh if you want to find out more about the city’s wartime history. This significant site drives home the message that war is brutal and that it’s the civilians who suffer the most – the Vietnam war caused three million dead (Vietnamese), two-thirds of which were non-combatants. Each hall presents photographs of mutilation, torture and massacres, while another looks at war opposition and peace movements. It makes for a moving experience, which is amplified with its children’s and photojournalists exhibitions.

Best for: Finding out more about the Vietnam War.

Don’t miss: Disused war planes and bomb parts in the courtyard outside.

5. The History Museum

Attractive on the outside and intriguing on the inside, Ho Chi Minh’s History Museum is a tranquil mix of artefacts, flora and fauna. There’s a series of galleries showcasing Vietnam’s past from Bronze Age Dong Son civilization through to the end of French rule, all told with a fascinating array of artefacts and pictures. There’s the opportunity to watch some Vietnamese entertainment with its Saigon Water Puppet Theatre; the beautifully carved wooden puppets that perform on a watery stage oudo Punch & Judy every time.

Best for: Ancient Vietnamese history.

Don’t miss: The zoo, which is just next door.

6. Cho Lon

The dense cluster of streets that makes up the neighbourhood of Cho Lon – Vietnam’s largest Chinatown – is linked to the city centre by 5km-long Tran Hung Dao, best reached by cyclo (bicycle-taxi) or bus. What to do in Ho Chi Minh that rolls street food, local life and fab souvenirs into one? Check out Cho Binh Tay Market on Thap Muoi Binh Tay, which is abuzz with stalls offering everything from dried fish to woven textiles. Then, there’s Quan Am Pagoda, whose ridged roofs are encrusted with “glove-puppet” figurines and gilt panels depicting scenes from traditional Chinese court life. Round your visit to Cho Lon off at Phuoc An Hoi Quan Temple, with its menacing rooftop dragons and sea monsters, and excellent wood carvings of jousters over the entrance. Most Ho Chi Minh holiday packages will include Cho Lon, so prepare to haggle!

Best for: Classical Chinese architecture

Don’t miss: Try Chinese-style noodles and salted duck eggs.

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