Highlights of Ho Chi Minh City

Vietnam: Highlights of Ho Chi Minh City

Vietnam is one of my favourite countries in the world and I’d actually visited several times before I finally plucked up the courage to travel to Vietnam’s largest and most populated city – Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) or as locals still like to call it – Saigon.

With a population of almost 10 million people, HCMC has a reputation for extreme hustle and bustle.

It apparently has 25 times more motorbikes than cars (that’s 7.3 million motorbikes!) and I’d heard that a yellow traffic light in HCMC means ‘drive faster’ and that the only way to cross a street is to walk straight out into the traffic and hope for the best.

I’d also heard that bag snatching was a thing and so for a long time I’d assumed HCMC was dangerous for tourists.

And, I suppose, that’s what had put me off exploring this reputedly most chaotic city in Vietnam – until now.

Because now, as a more savvy traveller, I know better than to dismiss a destination on hearsay alone.

HO CHI MINH CITY SAIGON VIETNAM #vietnamtravel #hochiminhcity #travel #travelwithme


In planning my recent four-week trip to Vietnam – travelling into Ho Chi Minh in the south then to Danang and the ancient cities of Hoi An and Hue in the central region and then north onto Haiphong and Cat Ba Island (gateway to Halong Bay) – I decided to put any big city fears aside and start my Vietnamese journey by exploring Ho Chi Minh City for its culture, history, food, and sightseeing.

Which resulted in a truly amazing stay in HCMC and adventurous start to our tour of Vietnam!

I can now tell you that yes – the city is definitely bustling and noisy and chaotic – but it’s also beautiful, vibrant, and exciting.

Yes, you do have to walk out into the constantly moving traffic to get across the road – but if you do it confidently or with a local person – you’ll likely survive intact and also have a brave tale to tell!

And the bag snatching thing? Well, I was careful and observant, and it didn’t happen to me.

Regarding theft and personal safety – as in any city – normal precautions do apply.

WHAT TO SEE IN Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City / Saigon is a city of interesting contrasts with a rich history, a war torn past, a progressive culture and a programme of modern high rise urban development.

Architecture in HCMC is stunning to behold with so many grand buildings that lay witness to the city’s French colonial rule during the 19th to the mid-20th Century.

These include The Hotel Continental Saigon (1880) (where, interestingly, author Graham Greene wrote The Quiet American in Room 214 of the hotel). The Central Post Office (1886), The Opera House (1898), the twin-spired Notre Dame Basilica of Saigon (1880), The Hotel Majestic (1925).

Modern architecture in HCMC shows the changing face of Vietnam’s largest city and is reflected in contemporary buildings like Landmark 81 and The Bitexco Financial Tower – once the tallest building in Vietnam – and if you love a 360 degree view (as I do) then The Bitexco Skydeck is a fabulous way to see the entire city from an elevated perspective.

We must also respectfully note that in HCMC there is the essential element of ‘dark tourism’.

This reflects on the Vietnam War (or American War as it’s known by the Vietnamese) and many visitors (including myself) find the historical sites interesting and emotionally captivating in the same way as Japan’s Hiroshima Peace Park.

In HCMC / Saigon, these exhibits include The War Remnants Museum, Independence Palace (formerly known as the Reunification Palace), the Cu Chi Tunnels, etc.


Ho Chi Minh Square

A statue of Ho Chi Minh, known affectionately as ‘Uncle Ho’, stands in the centre of this pedestrianised square in the heart of the city in District One.

Placed here in May 2003 to commemorate the former president’s 113th birthday, the statue and the square is surrounded by parkland greenery and great French colonial buildings.

Janice Horton in Ho Chi Minh Square Saigon Vietnam

The Central Post Office

Saigon Central Post Office is a magnificent testament to Old Saigon and to classic French architecture.

The designer was the famous Gustave Eiffel, architect of many iconic buildings including the Eiffel Tower in Paris, The Statue of Liberty in New York and Long Bien Bridge in Hanoi.

Inaugurated in 1863 and located in a prime location on Cong Xa Paris Street, District One.

Notre Dame Basilica of Saigon

The French colonists called this cathedral in Paris Square in downtown Ho Chi Minh City – constructed between 1863 and 1880 – The Church of Saigon.

Today it is known as Notre Dame and is a magnificent icon and also rather novel sight – to me at least – to see so much of Paris right here in Asia and in mostly Buddhist Vietnam.

Unfortunately, when I visited it was closed for renovations and the exterior clad in scaffold.

Notre Dame Saigon with scaffolding

The War Remnants Museum

This museum with it’s collection of authentic war memorabilia was an emotionally moving experience.

I’m old enough to remember news of the Vietnam War on TV screens in the UK through the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.

Standing close to these now iconic helicopters (I’m standing next to a 1965 Chinook Helicopter from Cavalry Division One of the United States) was a sad and surreal experience.

The backpacking husband was interested in seeing the US Bell Huey helicopter.

I couldn’t help but to note how well worn and sweat stained the seats are inside the aircraft on display – like the shadows of those from the past who flew them.

I found the torturous bits gruesome.

And, my goodness, I’d forgotten how incredibly hot it is here in Vietnam!

Independence Palace

Formerly known as the Reunification Palace, the Independence Palace was built between 1962 to 1966 and is a historic and symbolic site and a landmark building in HCMC.

It’s interesting to view the palace through the imposing – now iconic – gates through which the North Vietnamese tanks (on display in the grounds) famously stormed on the 30th April 1975 to remove the flag, arrest President Duong Van Minh, and end the war.

Today, the palace is a museum and you can roam around the corridors, through the preserved war rooms and underground tunnels, observe the staterooms in their 70’s décor, which seem to be haunted by the historic events witnessed there.

In my opinion, The Independence Palace is simply a must-see-and-do experience in Ho Chi Minh City.

Tank of the liberation army at the gate of the Independence Palace 30th April 1975. The Backpacking Housewife.

The Bitexco Skydeck

If you’ve read other city posts on this website you’ll see I’ve enjoyed views over Tokyo from The Tokyo Tower, over Taipei from the 101 Tower, over Kuala Lumpur from the Petronas Towers – you get the picture – I love a city tower!

The Saigon Skydeck on the 49th floor and at a height of 178 metres offers fabulous views over Ho Chi Minh City.

What perhaps makes it unique – as it is no longer the tallest tower in Vietnam – is its helipad that cantilevers from the 52nd floor!

The Bitexco Tower and it’s Skydeck is a fabulous way to get a 360 degree view of the cityscape and to see the Saigon River from an elevated viewpoint.

Hotel Majestic SAIGON

Since 1925, situated at the heart of Ho Chi Minh City, the historic art-deco 5-star luxury Hotel Majestic Saigon, has been one of the city’s most familiar landmarks.

You can enquire about and book a stay at The Hotel Majestic Saigon with (affiliate link) Booking Dotcom.

It’s deluxe rooms and spacious suites with full marble bathrooms, private balconies, have hosted many royalty, famous personalities, and renowned writers.

It’s sweeping staircase, vintage elevator, and roof top bar with views over the Saigon River, are all synonymous with rich colonial style and elegance.

The faded grandeur epitomises the Old Saigon.

I simply couldn’t help but to feel impressed.


HCMC has a fantastic Vietnamese and international food scene and coffee café culture.

If you enjoy street food then I absolutely loved slurping noodles from Cocochin Food Court and also the Ben Thanh Market in District 1 which is a well-known street food hub.

If you enjoy sitting down to dinner in a quaint lantern lit restaurant or a modern fusion ‘homeland’ eatery then you’ll love to dine at Am Thuc Que Nha and Quan An Ngon Saigon.


The backpacking husband and I chose to stay at The Orchids Saigon Hotel.

I booked our stay using (affiliate link) Booking Dotcom because the hotel had good reviews, breakfast included, great amenities (including a swimming pool) and a great location for walking to most of the sights, places of interest, and places to eat.

Orchids Saigon Hotel is in District 3 and within 500 metres of the War Remnants Museum.

It’s walking distance if you are reasonably fit to Reunification Palace, Diamond Plaza and Ho Chi Minh City Museum.

The hotel provides an airport shuttle and Tan Son Nhat International Airport is only 6 km away.



Getting around HCMC is primarily facilitated by a network of buses, taxis, motorbikes, and cyclos (three-wheeled bicycle taxis). The city is currently undergoing rapid development in its public transportation system with plans for a metro system to alleviate traffic congestion.



Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, is located in the south eastern region of the country, serving as the economic and cultural hub of Vietnam.

Ho Chi Minh City is the largest city in Vietnam both in terms of population and economic activity. As the economic centre of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City drives a diverse range of industries including finance, commerce, tourism, technology, and manufacturing.

HCMC has a rich history, with its origins dating back to the Khmer Empire.

It became a significant port city during the 17th century when Vietnamese settlers moved into the area.

In the 19th century, it was colonized by the French to become the capital of French Indochina.

The city played a pivotal role in the Vietnam War until the reunification of the country in 1975.

The city’s Tan Son Nhat International Airport is the busiest airport in Vietnam.

HCMC boasts a vibrant cultural scene with museums, theatres, art galleries, and music venues.

It is known for its dynamic street life, bustling markets, and delicious street food.

The city has a rich architectural heritage and also features beautiful parks and gardens such as Tao Dan Park and the Saigon Zoo and Botanical Gardens.

The Currency is the Vietnamese Dong (VND).


The best time to visit Ho Chi Minh City is typically during the dry season, which runs from December to April.

During this time, the weather is generally warm and dry, making it ideal for exploring the city’s attractions, markets, and outdoor activities.

Avoiding the rainy season, which usually occurs from May to November, is advisable as heavy rainfall can cause flooding and disrupt travel plans.

Additionally, Ho Chi Minh City experiences high humidity throughout the year, but it tends to be more manageable during the dry season.

Overall, December to April offer the most comfortable weather conditions for tourists to enjoy their visit to Ho Chi Minh City. However, it’s essential to check weather forecasts before planning your trip as weather patterns can vary year to year.

Have you ever visited Ho Chi Minh City?

Do you prefer HCMC or Saigon?

Have you visited elsewhere in Vietnam?

Is Vietnam on your travel wish list?

Let me know!

I’d love you to leave a comment below.

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