VIETNAM

A complete guide to touring Ho Chi Minh City

For adventure seeking travelers and nature lovers, Ho Chi Minh City may come across as a concrete jungle with fewer places of interest. Believe it or not, we felt the same. But hey dont worry, the city still has a number of exciting places which you must not miss. Here is a complete guide to touring Ho Chi Minh city.

Independence Palace

Also known as the reunification palace, it was home to French Governor of China. With lush garden, antique furniture and battle tanks, the palace appears as frozen in time. Tunnels, war command rooms, leaders’ meeting rooms and rich elements of history are spread across the five levels of the palace. The top most level exhibits a helipad and aircrafts. We found the palace quite interesting, especially the portraits of female leaders, aged gramophones and luxurious settees at the ground floor. In a nutshell the Independence Palace has preserved Vietnam’s history and the transformation it went through over the years.

Pro Tip- The souvenir shop at the top most floor sells expensive items. You can avoid shopping here.    

Entry Fee- 65000 Vietnamese Dong

Timing- 8 am to 4 pm

Time to spend- 2-2.5 hours

Dress Code- None

Notre Dame Cathedral

The Cathedral of Notre Dame is Ho Chi Minh city’s one of the most prominent and perhaps among the oldest attractions. This revered church with French architecture was made between 1863 and 1880. The red brick exteriors’ most notable feature is the 58 meters high twin bell towers (almost 190 feet). It is accentuated by the manicured garden and Virgin Mary’s statue. Locals claim that the statue had shed tears in October 2005 and they still hope for another miracle. Everyone wants a picture with the church backdrop. (So did we. Lol) Notre Dame looks more beautiful when it’s all decked up in evening. The silhouette against the soothing lights looks no less than heaven.         

Pro tip– The church is less crowded before 9 am post which the crowd never thins. Try visiting early morning or in evening.

Entry Fee- None. Only Catholics can enter the church though.

Timing- 6 am to 8 pm

Time to spend- 20 minutes if outside. Half an hour or depending on service hours, if inside.

Dress Code- None outside the church. Dress up decently to go inside.

Saigon Post Office

Right opposite to Notre Dame Cathedral is Saigon Post Office. The history of this building dates back to the 19th century when Vietnam was a part of the French Indochina. Built between 1886 and 1891, the post office has French and Gothic influences in its construct and design. What made our experience nicer was the fact that this is a functional post office in the modern era of email and text messages. You can send a letter or postcard from here and relive the charm of a time when writing letters was a thing. The glue bottles and fountain pens transported us to our childhood days. The post office also has a large section of counters selling colorful souvenirs that we couldn’t take our eyes away from.   

Entry Fee- None

Timing- 7 am to 7 pm

Time to Spend- 30- 45 minutes

Dress Code- None

War Remnants Museum

We have seen enough museums and were not in a mood to see another. Initially we had removed War Remnants Museum from our itinerary later realizing we would have regretted not visiting. Dedicated to Vietnam war victims, the museum exhibits stories of horror and atrocities of US during the Vietnam war. The pictures and war artifacts across three floors are quite disturbing. Parents guidance for children is advisable. I (Shilpi) broke into tears and could not gather courage to tour the remaining two floors. What further trigged my grief was seeing the offspring of war victims, all handicapped, working in the souvenir shop. We both were shattered to pieces and eventually changed our mood by going out to see the US aircraft models on display. The museum bears a testimony to the devastating affects of a 19-year long war and a remarkable recovery that Vietnam made.  

Entry Fee- 40,000 Vietnamese Dong

Timing- 7:30 am to 7:30 pm

Time to Spend- 2-2.5 hours

Cu Chi Tunnels

Going to the Cu Chi Tunnels is a half day tour usually done through a local travel operator. It can be done individually too but who wants to go through the hassles of being in a long queue? Our travel group assembled at District 1 street and departed at 8:30 am in an air-conditioned bus. The bus halts at a workshop where war victims (mostly disabled) create masterpieces of art. The jovial tour guide Ben kept the mood light while narrating the war stories. You can enter the dark tunnels to experience the ghastly condition that the soldiers faced during the Vietnam war. The site displays traditional warfare techniques, deadly traps and bunkers. The tour ends with target practice and tour of a museum after which the bus drops you back at the pick-up point.

Pro tip- Advisable not to buy bullets as souvenirs. They are not allowed in flight and will be confiscated even on producing purchase certificate.

Total Fee- 120,000 Vietnamese Dong. This includes return fare in bus to Cu Chi Tunnel, entry to the tunnel premises and guide service. Target practice costs60000 VND

Timing- 7 am to 5 pm

Dress Code- None

Binh Quoi Tourist Village

If you are looking for a space for day picnic or spending some leisure time, we recommend Binh Quoi Tourist Village. Located in Thanh Da peninsula on the Saigon River, the villages are segregated in 1, 2  and 3, located close to each other. The lush green spaces offer activities like boating, fishing, delicious cuisines and nature walks. It is an ideal place for workplace conferences or team building activities. We just walked in for free and did our own photo shoot against the beautiful backdrop. This is such a happy place to be in.   

Entry Fee- Free. You would be required to only on reserving tables or eating at the restaurant. Parking fee  is around 8k-9k Vietnamese Dong.

Timing- 7 am to 10 pm

Dress Code- None

Time to spend- 1.5- 2 hours

Buu Long Pagoda

Away from the chaotic city and commercialized structures, stands the tranquil Buu Long Pagoda . Unlike traditional Vietnamese architecture, this Buddhist temple has a blend of Thai and Indian style. Built in 1942 across 11 hectares space, it stands across an emerald green pond. Ornate stairways lead you to the main shrine on the first floor with a prayer hall. Behind the pagoda is an open-air temple, a golden pagoda, spectacular gardens, monks’ residence, a vegetarian restaurant and a space with reclining Buddha. Buu Long offers peace of mind and inspires you to slow down sometimes. Definitely worth visiting!

Pro Tip– Pack enough water and eatables as is it located in an isolated place with hardly any shops around.

Entry Fee- None

Timing– 8 am to 6 pm

Time to spend- 2-3 hours

Dress Code- None but it is advisable to be decently dressed.  

Bui Vien Street

The happening Bui Vien Street

After a long day of sight-seeing, if you want to chill with good food and live music, Bui Vien Street is the place. The street in District 1 comes alive in the evening with flashy lights, happy hours for barbecue and beer, loud music and entertainment. You would find several eating joints and coffee shops to choose from. Since our hotel was on this street, we would stroll here every evening and soak in the joyous vibes. You cannot miss this happening place while touring Ho Chi Minh.  

A lot happens at Bui Vien Street

Pro Tip- Vegetarians need not worry. Bui Vien Street has a large number of Indian restaurants as well, like Namaste India, Ganesh Restaurant, Baba’s Kitchen Restaurant.

Entry Fee, Timing and Dress Code– None. However, four wheeled vehicles are not given entry in evening.

Ho Chi Minh Itinerary

Day 1- Reach Ho Chi Minh Airport and transfer to hotel. Rest.

Day 2- You can club Independence Palace, Saigon Post Office, War Remnants Museum and Notre Dame Cathedral on one day. Enjoy coffee in the evening.

Day 3- Set aside half a day for Cu Chi Tunnel tour. Return by lunch time and go shopping in evening.

Day 4- Buu Long Pagoda would occupy the first half. Chill at Bui Vien street in the evening.

Day 5- Tourist village would occupy the day if its in your itinerary or depart for airport. Don’t forget to visit Da Nang if you have more time in hand.

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