Crossing Travel
TRAVEL TIPS Saigon Saturday, 03 October 2015

Saigon travel guide

Ho Chi Minh City, also known as Saigon, is Vietnam in high gear. To travel to Ho Chi Minh City is to be introduced to a dramatic meeting of old and new culture.

Ho Chi Minh City, also known as Saigon, is Vietnam in high gear. To travel to Ho Chi Minh City is to be introduced to a dramatic meeting of old and new culture, a dynamic metropolis of skyscrapers and traffic juxtaposed with a wealth of ancient temples and traditional markets. Whether you're traveling to Ho Chi Minh City for a quick stop en route to other parts of Vietnam or are planning a visit to the city exclusively, you will be won over the city's frenetic energy and the many local gems just waiting to be discovered.

When to visit Ho Chi Minh City

The best time to visit Ho Chi Minh City is between December and April, when the temperatures are warm and the air is dry. If you visit Ho Chi Minh City from May to November, during the rainy season, the city can be very wet. It receives more than 70 inches of rain each year.

Landscapes in Ho Chi Minh City

Saigon River

Saigon River in night
Saigon River in night

The Saigon River is still very much a working river and is the only way in which you’ll be able to experience sites such as the Cu Chi tunnels, hidden canals and the Mekong Delta. There are a number of tour operators offering cruises which can be booked as private charters or as part of a tour group, some offer Saigon River dinner cruise and fire dancing on board, others are daytrips further afield to see some of the historical and cultural hotspots only accessible by boat on the Saigon River.

Saigon Notre- Dame Cathedral

Saigon travel guide

Constructed between 1863 and 1880 by the French colonists, following their conquest of the city, the building reaches a height of up to 60m. Bishop Lefevre put the first stone for construction of the church on 28 March 1863. Initially, it was called Saigon Church. The name Notre-Dame Cathedral was given after Bishop Pham Van Thien held a ceremony to install the statue of Peaceful Notre Dame, made with granite from Rome, in 1959. In 1962, Vatican anointed it as Saigon Chief Cathedral conferred it basilique. Since this time, this cathedral is called Saigon Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica.

Nguyen Hue Street, District 1

Saigon travel guide

Nowadays Nguyen Hue Street is considered one of the most beautiful streets of Ho Chi Minh City. Together with Dong Khoi Street and Le Loi Street, it is also one of the three streets with highest prices of land using right in this biggest city of Vietnam.

Nguyen Hue Street lies in the center of Ho Chi Minh City. It belongs to District 1 which is regarded as an animated central urban district with highest living standards of this city in every aspect. This belief is expressed clearly in the saying: “Ăn quận 5, nằm quận 3, múa ca quận 1” which means “Eat in district 1, stay in district 3, entertain in district 1”. Nguyen Hue Street starts from Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee Head office and runs to Bach Dang Ferry.

Ben Thanh Market

Saigon travel guide

Being a bustling market in the daytime and a social center after sunset, Ben Thanh Market is absolutely a must-see attraction of the most dynamic city of Vietnam.

Believe it or not, even though you have spent years shopping at several malls and commercial centers that shopping has become a boring and ordinary task to you, exploring an Asian market is always an exhilarating experience. Visit Ben Thanh Market in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and you will understand. Being a bustling market in the daytime and a social center after sunset, Ben Thanh Market is absolutely a must-see attraction of the most dynamic city of Vietnam.

“Khu Phố Tây ba lô” or Saigon Backpackers

The area is bounded by the streets of Pham Ngu Lao, De Tham, Bui Vien, and Do Quang Dau. It is criss-crossed by dozens of small alleys connecting the ends of the area to form a ‘labyrinth’. Given its small size, it takes a backpacker less than an hour to walk around the ‘labyrinth’.

It is becoming more and more popular around the world as the ‘town’ of guesthouses, restaurants and abundance of other services for low priced tourism.

Chinatown in District 5

Ho Chi Minh City’s Cholon is Vietnam’s largest Chinatown with roots dating back to 1778; it’s also a place of great historical and cultural importance. Chinese minorities hid here from the Tay Son and subsequently had to rebuild the area twice following attack with as many as 70% estimated to have died trying to escape on boats. Those who survived settled and began selling a variety of Chinese products. During the Vietnam War Cholon was a thriving black market for US soldiers trading in American Army issue supplies.

The area today is a popular site for those on the tourist trail and also attracts many Taiwanese and Chinese visitors. Cholon is an interesting place to see classical Chinese architecture reminiscent of years gone by with plenty of Chinese restaurants.

Reunification Palace

Saigon travel guide

Like Long Bien Bridge in Hanoi, Reunification Palace (formerly known as Independence Palace) has stayed in the mind of many generations of not only Vietnamese but also foreigners. It is known as the famous historical witness which passed through the two fierce wars against the French and American colonists. The palace was built on the site of the former Norodom Palace, a landmark in Ho Chi Minh City and designed by architect Ngo Viet Thu. As Vietnam was split into North Vietnam and South Vietnam, the building served as presidential home and workplace. Today in most locals' minds, the palace is remembered vividly as a marked end to the war, just like the fall of Berlin Wall, as the North Vietnamese tank crashed its gates on April 30th, 1975.

Address: 135 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street, District 1, Ho Chi Minh city

Opening time: 7h30- 11h in the morning and 13h- 16h in the afternoon.

Ticket price: 30,000VND/ adult, 15,000VND/ student from university, 3,000VND/ student

Binh Tay Market

The Binh Tay market at the centre is busy, crowded and messy with small aisles selling all manner of goods. This market sometimes disappoints tourists when compared to other markets in Ho Chi Minh as the products are not that varied, but the main draw to Cholon is not to shop but to enjoy the authentic Chinese atmosphere that has existed here for hundreds of years. It’s a wonderful place to experience at night.

Address: 57A Thap Muoi, 12 ward, District 6.

Opening time: 7h00- 18h00

Can Gio

Notable for its extensive mangrove forest, Can Gio is a low, palm-fringed island sitting at the mouth of the Saigon River, some 25km southeast of HCMC. It was formed from silt washing downstream from the river, so don’t expect any white-sand beaches. A few hopeful resorts have sprung up along the murky 10km shoreline and more are planned, although it’s hard to imagine them appealing to international visitors. Vietnam of History Museum

Museum of Vietnamese History

Saigon travel guide

 The History Museum of Ho Chi Minh City is also known as the Museum of Vietnamese History. It was built in 1929 and was originally called the Blanchard de la Brosse Museum. In the span of years between 1929 and 1956 it mainly exhibited ancient art collections of a few Asian countries. The Museum was renamed Saigon National Museum after 1956 and was called so till 1975. Post 1975 the museum was expanded and has been called the Museum of Vietnamese History since then.

Address: No.2, Nguyen Binh Khiem street, Ben Nghe commune, District 1.

Opening time: 8h00- 11h30 in the morning, 13h30- 16h30 in the afternoon

Ticket price: 2,000VND/ Vietnamese adult; 1,000VND/ Vietnamese children; 15,000VND/ foreigner tourist.

War Remnants Museum

Saigon travel guide

The War Remnants Museum is located at 28 Vo Van Tan St, District 3, Ho Chi Minh City. Operated by the government, the museum was opened in September 1975 as "The House for Displaying War Crimes of American Imperialism and the Puppet Government”, focusing on exhibits relating to the American phase of the Vietnam War. Since then, it has undergone many changes and renovations due to the process of normalization of relation between Vietnam and the United States, such as the change to its current name in 1993.

The museum lies in the corner between Vo Van Tan St. and Le Quy Don St.

The museum opens daily from 8.00AM to 11.45 AM and 1.30PM to 4.45PM and entrance fee: 10,000VND.

Cu Chi Tunnels

Saigon travel guide

In order to combat better-supplied American and South Vietnamese forces during the Vietnam War, Communist guerrilla troops known as Viet Cong (VC) dug tens of thousands of miles of tunnels, including an extensive network running underneath the Cu Chi district northwest of Saigon. Soldiers used these underground routes to house troops, transport communications and supplies, lay booby traps and mount surprise attacks, after which they could disappear underground to safety. To combat these guerrilla tactics, U.S. and South Vietnamese forces trained soldiers known as “tunnel rats” to navigate the tunnels in order to detect booby traps and enemy troop presence. Now part of a Vietnam War memorial park in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), the Cu Chi tunnels have become a popular tourist attraction.

Thu Thiem Tunnel

Saigon travel guide

The Thu Thiem Tunnel is part of the important Saigon East-West Highway Project and is located on both side of the Saigon River, with the approaches being in West (District 1 of Ho Chi Minh City) and East (Thu Thiem). The diaphragm wall and barrette works for the two approaches were carried out by Bachy Soletanche Group Limited and Bachy Soletanche Vietnam, both Solétanche Bachy subsidiaries. The contract consisted of the construction of more than 7,000m2 of diaphragm wall and barrettes, both going down to approximately 33m.

Specialties in Ho Chi Minh City

Hu Tieu

Saigon travel guide

This pork and rice-noodle dish can be served "wet" as a soup or "dry" as plate of noodles with a small bowl of broth on the side.

Believed to have been created a few hundred years ago by Chinese people living in Southeast Asia, versions of hu tieu can be found in Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand.

In Ho Chi Minh City, two types of hu tieu are served: hu tieu My Tho from the Mekong Delta town of the same name, and hu tieu Nam Vang from the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh (Nam Vang is the Vietnamese name for Phnom Penh). 

While there is no hard-and-fast recipe for these two versions, generally hu tieu Nam Vang contains slices of offal, such as pork liver and heart, and hu tieu My Tho has prawns, quail eggs, ground pork, pork ribs and sometimes slices of squid.

The dish is usually served with a platter of herbs, including edible chrysanthemum, chives, lettuce leaves, as well as bean sprouts, sliced chilli and lime wedges.

Banh Xeo

Saigon travel guide

In Southern Vietnam, these sizzling savoury pancakes are giant bright yellow affairs, stuffed with pork, prawn and bean sprouts. The pancakes are served with platters of leaves, which are used as wrappers. To eat, tear off a chunk of the crispy pancake and place it in the centre of a mustard or a lettuce leaf, add a selection of basil, balm and perilla leaves and roll up into a giant green cigar. Dip the end in the nuoc cham dipping sauce and enjoy!

Banh xeo are named for the sizzling sound the pancake batter makes when it hits the hot wok: xeo. Banh means cake, so the literal translation of this dish is "sizzling cake". 

Banh Canh

Saigon travel guide

 One of the more filling Vietnamese noodle soup dishes, banh canh starts with a pork broth, which is sometimes thickened with a little cornstarch. The noodles, made from tapioca, are more fat and chewier than plain rice noodles.

Popular with penny-conscious students, banh canh is a simple soup served for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Common varieties of banh canh include

- Banh canh gio heo: served with pork knuckle and sliced pork

- Banh canh cua: with crab meat

- Banh canh cha ca: with fish sausage

- Banh canh ca loc: with snake head fish from the Mekong Delta

Some street vendors in Ho Chi Minh City serve banh canh with long, skinny fried Chinese doughnuts to add more bulk to the dish. The doughnuts should be torn into bite-sized chunks and added to the soup.

Trang Bang rice paper

Saigon travel guide

Trang Bang is one of the lands on which people have been residing for the longest time in Tay Ninh. Nowadays, even though the old village has turned into a busy urban area, the local inhabitants are still able to preserve the traditional cuisines, one of which is the tasty Trang Bang Rice Paper dish.

The Trang Bang Rice Paper taste best when we eat them with boiled pork meat, bean sprouts, and carrots. Besides, fresh herbs are also another important companion of the dish. When eating, we put the ingredients mentioned above onto a sheet of Trang Bang Rice paper, wrap them, and then dip the roll into the special fish sauce of Tay Ninh to fully savor the taste of this delicious dish.

Banh Xeo

In Southern Vietnam, these sizzling savoury pancakes are giant bright yellow affairs, stuffed with pork, prawn and bean sprouts. The pancakes are served with platters of leaves, which are used as wrappers. To eat, tear off a chunk of the crispy pancake and place it in the centre of a mustard or a lettuce leaf, add a selection of basil, balm and perilla leaves and roll up into a giant green cigar. Dip the end in the nuoc cham dipping sauce and enjoy.

Banh xeo are named for the sizzling sound the pancake batter makes when it hits the hot wok: xeo. Banh means cake, so the literal translation of this dish is "sizzling cake". 

Bun Thit Nuong (Grilled Meat Vermicelli)

Saigon travel guide

A Southern Vietnamese specialty, bun thit nuong is a light and fresh rice-noodle salad topped with barbecued pork. The dish is visually appealing, with the pork, crushed peanuts, and pickled carrot and daikon sitting on top of the bun noodles. Hiding underneath these carefully arranged toppings are shredded herbs, finely sliced cucumber and bean sprouts.

Bun thit nuong is usually served with a side of nuoc cham, which should be poured over the noodles as a dressing. Some street food vendors add slices of fried spring rolls (cha gio) and/or prawn paste (chao tom) to their bun thit nuong.

Com Tam

Saigon travel guide

 Literally translated as “broken rice”, this hearty dish is served for breakfast, lunch and dinner. This dish started with humble beginnings with Vietnamese farmers serving this rice at home as the “broken” leftovers were not suitable to sell in the market. Nowadays, it is served in Saigon and isn’t just for farmers anymore. The dish is usually served with many different meat options such as suon nuong (barbecued pork chop), bi (shredded pork skin), cha trung (steamed pork and egg patty) or trung op la (fried egg). Diced green onion in oil is sprinkled on the meat and a side of pickled vegetables and sliced cucumber finish the plate. Served on the side is a bowl of the ubiquitous nuoc cham dipping sauce.

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