Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, is Vietnam’s largest and most exciting city. It was nothing more than a small village a few hundred years ago but then the French came in the mid-19th century and it haven’t looked back since. They stayed there for about a century until their defeat against the Vietnamese in 1954. The city then became the capital of the independent state of South Vietnam from 1954 until the Vietnam War ended when the Communist north invaded in 1975.
The mystery of Asia came to the forefront of the Western psyche during French/English colonization so lucidly detailed in the great writers of the time. Places like Kuala Lumpur and Singapore sprang to life in the short stories of Maugham and suddenly the region was the exotic dream destination of an emerging mobile moneyed class. Hong Kong, Bombay, and Katmandu to name but a few were full of colorful images ripe for exploration. Saigon was one such pearl of the orient, full of an illustrious Colonial past that drew many an expatriate to call it home. A ravaging war that was anything but civil stole most of its tourist appeal and the Communist triumph all but made it off limits for even the intrepid traveler. Ultimately money has won out and once again Vietnam is open to all visitors willing to deal with some red tape. Saigon once again is calling.
Saigon presents many dichotomies. Right off the bat, it has two names. Officially called Ho Chi Minh City after Vietnam’s once illustrious leader and savior, locals still affectionately use Saigon to not only refer to the very core area still deemed as such but also to the entire sprawling metropolis. But the striking contrasts merely begin there. Though the country’s most modern city by far, it retains a unique Vietnamese flavor that is sometimes mysteriously lacking in less westernized enclaves. By far, the hotbed of both foreign investment and development, it remains one of the easiest of places to find tradition, be it in the realm of medicine or culinary delights. From a governmental viewpoint overshadowed by capital Hanoi, it stands unequivocally as the nation’s commercial center. Located in the once enemy south, it resists the north’s pressures to conform beyond the requisite name change. It may be the former leader’s namesake city but his body is still laying peacefully in Hanoi and perhaps it is a good thing. If he saw modern Saigon, he would realize that though he won the American War, he obviously didn’t defeat capitalism. Ho Chi Minh stands as Vietnam’s rush towards all that western world dangles as enticements: opportunity, freedom, and growth. But underneath Ho Chi Minh City, lies the Saigon, quaint in ways Colonial but still full of bustling Southeast Asia. And that’s where you will find Vietnam too.
Here are the best things to do in Ho Chi Minh City:
1. Ben Thanh Market
This market is an easy walk being 700 meters (2300 feet) from the city centre and the Rex Hotel. As we were staying at the Rex we visited this market several times, both early morning (10am) and late afternoon when it is very crowded.
The walk along Le Loi street south to the market takes you past many shops and street vendors selling much of what you will find in the market. It is your chance to check the quality and price before you reach the market.
At the market there are hundreds of stalls selling designed label clothing, bags, beads, shoes, jewellry, cosmetics, crafts, lacquer ware etc, all at very low prices. Do not accept the first offer price, bargain hard but remember the exchange rate is over 18,000 Dong to the US $ and 1,000 Dong is approximately 5 cents. Be reasonable with your offer.
There is a large food market which we walked through but did not eat here. It all looked good and most likely was safe to eat.
The market was constructed by the French in 1914 and has a stylish clock tower.
2. Out of Saigon – Cu Chi Tunnels
In war movies, you may have seen the Cu Chi tunnels, famed for being an intricate network of underground facilities through which the Viet Congs launched surprise attacks against Americans in the 1960’s. These tunnels are such an integral (and scary) part of that war, and I think visitors to Ho Chi Minh City should go and visit and see for themselves.
Cu Chi is actually a rural district 30-40 kilometers (18-25 miles) from Ho Chi Minh City, so tourists will usually have to hire a car/driver or be part of a tour group in order to reach the tunnels. And it’s not just tunnels in one location! Remember that the network can cover over 250 kms (155 miles), tunnels being several stories deep – some of them probably even undiscovered still.
So, you have two choices as to where to go. The most popular one where most tourists go is at Ben Dinh, just 50 km (31 miles) from HCMC (admission about 65,000d as of 2019). Here you will learn the history of the tunnels and also see large maps showing their extensiveness. A few hundred meters of tunnels are available for visiting to tourists – most tunnels being only 1.2 m (40ft) high and 80cm (31 inches) across – and not lighted at all! The Vietnamese were of very small stature allowing them to navigate through these tunnels with ease – and the bigger American soldiers would find it too cramped and almost impossible to traverse. Definitely, going into the tunnels is not for the claustrophobic!
The other place where tourists go is at Ben Duoc which where our tour guide decided to bring us. He said there are “less tourists” here (less crowded) and on the map, it does seem to be farther from HCMC than Ben Dinh. The tunnels here are still small but some of them have been enlarged to accommodate the tourists, and in the tunnels themselves, there are mannequins depicting how life was during the war – there is a surgery facility, meeting areas, dining hall, etc. With us was a Vietnamese in Viet Cong attire and he would show us how the Viet Congs used the tunnels through camouflaging the “cover” with leaves. He would vanish under the leaves and reappear a few feet away through another opening! My friend who was no too tall was able to go through that tunnel – but I must warn you not to attempt it if you are very claustrophobic!
Overall, a very enriching experiencing to see the tunnels, but I enjoyed more walking through the jungle-like areas before we saw the tunnels. Just be watchful of bats (also inside the tunnels), spiders and ticks – I advise wearing pants and not shorts! Also, you will sweat a lot, especially during the summer (so bring an extra shirt, or in my case, I just bought some T-shirts on sale there which were just about $5 or less each).
3. War Remnants Museum
A museum not to be missed while in Saigon. As you enter the site, you are greeted with a number of US military planes, tanks, and other equipment from the American/Vietnam War. The museum itself is comprised of six rooms that exhibit vivid and sometimes gruesome memories of the war. This includes bottled fetuses deformed by Agent Orange and pictures from the My Lai massacre. You can take a look at a partial reconstruction of the Tiger Cages found on Con Son Island. Also outlined are protests from around the world that helped bring an end to the war. The best part of the museum is the exhibit on frontline photographers. Some visitors feel that the museum is one sided and Communist propaganda. In fact, this museum was originally called the “American War Crimes Museum” which has been toned down for tourism purposes. However, as Basil Fawlty put it, “Who won the bloody war anyway?” So I guess that the Vietnamese can say anything that they want. I don’t see many western museums dealing with issues such as Agent Orange and My Lai. Thus, we get to examine both sides and come to our own conclusions about western involvement at that time. No, the place doesn’t outline VC atrocities and makes some interesting comments on certain pictures. However, what this museum does for me, and for some others that I know, is eliminate the notion that westerners always hold the moral highground. Take a look around and learn from what you see. That said, the museum is getting better at balancing out but it is what it is. Admission – 10,000 VND.
4. Mekong Delta
We took a day trip to the Mekong Delta with a private guide. Our guide was originally from the Mekong Delta, and so had an insider’s knowledge to the area.
We were driven in a car and taken to the river to a place where we were placed in a small boat.
It was a surreal feeling gliding up a small canal amongst deep water reeds. It felt for a moment like we had stepped back in time, and we really were in a different world. It was fantastic, and it was peaceful, gliding along a very small arm of the mighty Mekong.
The Mekong River is a life line to millions of people in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand. It is a source of food, and a source of livelihood and income. People live on the river in house boats. People fish on the river. People take tourists on the river. People use the river to get from A to B. People live by the river. The Mekong Delta also supplies food to other parts of the country. It is of major importance and significance.
We had a lunch of a whole fried fish with tangy sauce, a Vietnamese specialty. And then we were taken for a drink and a special performance of a traditional Vietnamese love song, a duet between a male and a female.
We were also taken to a place which makes hand-made sweets/lollies from coconut and other locally abundant fruits.
We were then driven back to bustling Saigon.
It was a wonderful day.
5. Notre Dame Cathedral
The French colonists did it again – They built this lovely Cathedral between 1863 and 1880.
The style of the Cathedral was chosen by holding a “design’ competition.
Well, French Colonists wanted French building materials, so all of them were imported from France.
The first stone was laid in 1877. Finally, 3 years later, the Cathedral was complete. Inside the main entry gate is a plate commemorating the start and completion dates and designer. In 1895, two bell towers were added to the cathedral and crosses were installed on the top of each tower.
Paris Square is in-front of the Cathedral. It had a lovely flower garden where Brides and Grooms were having their photos taken, a very popular place!
The Virgin Mary statue, is also within the small garden. In 2005, the statue was reported to have shed tears attracting thousands of people to come and see for themselves. Later, it was declared the statue didn’t shed tears!
6. Reunification Palace
We found our visit to the Palace very interestering and gave us an excellent insight into the recent history of the South Vietnamese people over the last 60 years. Easy to get to from the City Centre, a pleasant 15 minute walk and we were soon at the front entrance, a small entrance fee of approximately US 50 cents and we were soon walking through the large grounds.
Upon entering the Palace we were approached by an official who took us to join a free tour, the guide spoke English and was easy to understand. The tour is the best way to see the palace and appreciate its importance to the Vietnamese people.
The original Palace was built by the French and inaugurated in 1871, however on 27th February 1962, two pilots of the coup d’etat group of the Saigon Army bombed and destroyed sections of the Palace. The Prime Minister Ngo Dinh Diem ordered the demolition of the Palace and the building of a new Palace on the site. This new Palace combines modern architecture with traditional oriental architecture.
The Palace was used by the South Vietnamese as a headquarters during the war with the North and you might recall the television news reports on 30th April, 1975 showing the final stage of the war as the North Vietnamese tanks crashed through the Palace gates and took control as the Generals desperately fled in their helicopter.
During the conflict between the North and South Vietnamese the Palace was used as a army command centre and an extensive control centre was established underground, protected by huge concrete fortification which gave protection from bombs.
A heliport was established on the top floor of the Palace and was constantly used by the President. The helicopter presently on display is the same model as that used during the conflict.
7. Post Office
The Saigon Post office has been built by the French colonisers at the end of the 19th century, as the dates remind it above the main entrance. It was the time of the French third republic, and lots of the public buildings you see in France (schools, prefectures, city halls, post offices, train stations, etc) were built in a typical style. This style is also present in the former colonies and the post office of Saigon is an example. It is a big, welcoming building, where it must be a pleasure to go to the shelters placed on the sides, and buy stamps, give the mail to the employees, etc. Mails take lots of time to leave Vietnam for oversea. I do not know why but my postcards arrived in Europe very late after I sent them.
Uncle Ho smiles, looking at the customers, not stressed, under the green-gold-white décor. This employee is just making the check for postcards and stamps I purchased here. You also can buy collection stamps, and for those who like it, there are some nice assortments.
Let us now leave the post office, with a last look at the façade and the medallions with the names of great physicists between the closed green windows, and a bye to the heroes at the left of the entrance. Even if you have no mail to send, it is worth to go to the Saigon post office!
There is a strong chinese presence in all the city, in spite of the efforts of the Government to keep them out. But where this presence is harder is in the western district of Cholon.
There you will find traditional chinese shops (tea, medicines, clothes, etc), restaurants and the main market, which really deserves a visit to get lost among the hundreds of stalls selling everything that could get out of your mind: name it, it’s there!
Saigon’s Chinatown is in District 5. The heart of this bustling area is the Binh Tay Market. Although it is primarily wholesale, it is well worth a visit for the activity and the shrine in the middle — where the vendors pay their respects before the work begins.
Cho Lon means “big market” and the Binh Tay Market is the largest market in Saigon’s Chinatown. Much like Ben Thanh Market, the aisles are full of just about anything that you would need for the modern Vietnamese life. However, the prices are generally cheaper than Ben Thanh.
At the center of the market is a courtyard garden for you to escape the craziness of the shopping.
Although many Chinese fled after the fall of Saigon and the anti-capitalist, anti-Chinese campaigns of the late 1970s, the place still has a distinctly Chinese flavour. You can hear Chinese dialects being spoken and can easily find shark fin soup in the area.
Let’s face it, we all need to unwind. For some, it is a frosty brew from Coors while others prefer shopping as their therapy. My hubby and I prefer the soothing music of a spa plus the sound of trickling water. The aroma of lemongrass infused with peppermint is relaxing in itself.
So, after days of touring HCMC, we hied off to Aqua Spa in Sheraton Hotel. Welcomed by warm lemongrass handtowels and iced tea (tasted like Lipton mix though). Choosing the coffee scrub for me and oriental scrub for hubby, we started with a warm floral foot soak with lime slices. The lime slices were rubbed to our feet then off to the massage table with aroma pillows. Oil with coffee grits were rubbed unto my body followed by a warm shower. I soaped the oily residue then they applied lotion all over my body. Warm soothing ginger tea was offered after the session.
I would preferred that a body wrap be applied after the body scrub to soak the oil into the skin. This would ensure that a smoother and silkier skin afterwards.
The whole process costs U$40/person not inclusive of service charge and VAT. We paid nearly U$80 for 2 people. Great facility but I’ve seen better ones in Suzchou and Manila. The service orientation is acceptable but I was waiting for fabulous service considering it is one of the most expensive hotel in HCMC.
10. City Hall
The People Committee (City Hall) is located at the end of Nguyen Hue Street and was built between 1898 and 1908 in French colonial style – designed after the Hotel de Ville in Paris. The building has been known as Hotel de Ville, the Town Hall, and the City Hall of Saigon – but renamed to Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee in 1975.
The place is not open to the public so you have to enjoy it from the outside only, but it’s nice to do and there is a nice little park in front of it where it’s nice to hang out with the locals.
I did a day trip to CAO DAI HOLY SEE temple and the Cu Chi tunnels. This temple is really a must see, make sure that you are there for the midday mass.
The main attraction is the Great Divine Temple built between 1933 and 1955.
Cao means “high” and Dai means “dais” meaning the highest spiritual place where God reigns. Caodaiists credit God as the religion’s founder.
The Divine Eye represents supreme knowledge and wisdom, so I saw plenty “divine eyes” situated around the Temple. Standing on the balcony along with many other tourists, I looked down to where the people were attending Mass. Here, they didn’t wear normal clothes. Monks were dressed in bright colors, excluding the three monks in the front in white. Other bright coloured gowns were worn, ranking is by colour worn.
In total, there are six different officially recognized branches of the Cao Dai church in southern Vietnam and in total the Church has 3 million followers.
It was quite an experience to see. The tour cost to see both was $7, lunch not included.
It’s quite impossible to find a place where there’s no or low pollution. Motorcycles are zipping all over the place, and the honking adds noise to the pollution.
It was great that my hotel was just in front of Tao Dan Park. One of the larger parks in Ho Chi Minh City, walking into it brings you to another dimension.
Somehow, the noise seemed to stop, and the place was a tinge bit cooler. Nice water fountain and big hanging trees adds to the serenity of the place. The park was teeming with life. Older folks were just sitting around for a morning chat, and adults were doing their morning exercise “Qi Gong”.
To the left of the park was a children playground. It was really impressive in terms of the overall quality of the equipment and the effort that the government has placed on giving the young a place to call their own.
13. Out of Saigon – Cao Dai Temple
Cao Dai Temple or the Great Holy See Temple is one of the places you must have to see when in HCMC. This is the second place we visited for the whole day tour so we can witness the midday mass held by the Cao Dai followers.
We arrived in the temple at 11:30am which is just on time. Our tourist guide advised us that we can take a picture with the temple but once inside it is prohibited to take pictures of you (I don’t know why and I didn’t bother to ask). The temple is very colorful and beautiful. The very sunny weather adds more admiration to the temple visitors. Before entering the temple, you have to remove your shoes and leave it outside.
In front of the temple is the “Divine Eye” inside in a shape of triangle which is the sect’s symbol and also can be seen on the sides. On the altar lies 3 golden glasses of water, wine and tea. I was really amazed by the temple’s colorful surroundings. The dome ceiling is painted with the light blue color imitating the appearance of the sky. We were able to go upstairs in the balcony to have a different view. In the balcony, you’ll see the musicians.
The head of the worshippers wear red representing Confucianism, yellow representing Buddhism and blue representing Taoism while the followers wear white. When the ceremony started, you’ll see that the men come in the right side while the women enter in the left and they face each other praying.
I admit that I can’t get over admiring this temple: it’s really beautiful!
14. Water Puppet
Within the gates is the enjoyable water puppet show which is suitable for all. The highly skilled puppeteers enact a lively traditional drama in waist deep water from behind a screen. Leaping dragons, frantic hunters and water-squirting demons lighten the mood for those depressed by the War Museum. A hit with kids.
15. Rex Hotel
If you are not staying here, then come for a look! The Hotel is located next to City hall and has an important place in the history of Ho Chi Minh City. The Hotel is now a 5 star, 284-room, five-story building.
During France colonial rule of Vietnam in 1927, a French business man built the building as a two-story auto dealership and garage complex, show-casing Citroën and other European cars. Then between 1959 to 1975, the Hotel was renovated and became the 100-room “Rex Complex” hotel, which featured three cinemas, a cafeteria, a dance hall and a library.
You wouldn’t expect the first guests at the Hotel to be 400 U.S. Army soldiers who were billeted at the Hotel while their tents were set up. This was in 1961 before the Hotel was completed. The Soldiers enjoyed a Thanks-giving dinner which was cooked in the men’s field kitchen on the rooftop of the Rex.
During the Vietnam War the US military officers would give the daily press briefings, these became known as the “FIVE O’CLOCK FOLLIES.” The Rex was also was used as a social venue for American soldiers.
Since the war ended in 1975, the state’s Saigon Tourism Bureau renamed hotel “Fortified Port”. It then hosted the 1976 press conference that announced the reunification of Vietnam.
In 1986, the hotel was renamed Rex Hotel and now anybody can come and enjoy a drink at the very popular roof top Bar.
16. Jade Emperor Pagoda
At some walking distance from the city hall area (walking distance, as I am not afraid to walk a few miles) is one of the most famous pagodas of Saigon, Chua Phuoc Hai Tu, renowned for its impressive statues of Taoist deities inside.
This Pagoda, also known as the “Pagoda of Turtles” has been built in 1909 by Cantonese religious and is hidden in a small street, between high buildings and may soon “disappear” in the city jungle, as another high rise building is just now growing on its back.
When you enter passing under a red porch, a huge banyan tree greets you, before you pass by a small shrine with a golden Buddha dominating a safe, reminding you that, if entrance is free, you can donate. There are other safes everywhere in the building.
The Pagoda still tries to be worthy of its name of “Pagoda of Turtles” as there is a pond where a few of these animals are swimming and are also an attraction for locals. Before entering you can have a look at the beautiful tiles covering the pagoda, and at some of the ceramics which decorate the yard in front. It’s a pity that the building at the back spoils the tile work on the gable above the main entrance. In the yard are some animals watching the visitors near the entrance of the pagoda.
The Jade Emperor is the main Taoist deity, and you can see lots of other deities aligned in two rows nearby. I know only few of the Catholic saints wonderfully displayed in the European churches, so I am not at all able to tell a lot about all the characters displayed there. I just can say that in the main “chapel”, where the air is thick of incense smoke, the statues, in dim light, are really impressive. In this pagoda is also Phat Mau Chuan De, the multi armed goddess who gave birth to the five Buddhas and many famous heroes. You may spend hours looking at each individually! I liked to look at all these statues, but also liked to see the local worshippers, coming to pray, make offerings and burning incense.
In a corner of the main “chapel” is a staircase leading to the first level, and then to the roof terrace. On the first floor are also some small chapels, shrines, statues of different style from the lower level, and then you can reach the roof, where, if you do not have a great view of the surroundings, you can have a closer look at the tiles and ceramics.
Near the roof are a number of ceramics representing dragons, which keep you in the atmosphere of a Buddhist place.
17. Saigon River
Ton Duc Thang Street runs along the edge of the Saigon River in the heart of the city. On this side of the river there is a very busy park area and docks for boats to Vung Tau and other destinations. There are also a few touristy floating restaurants which I passed up. The far side of the river is lined with huge billboards.
Ton Duc Thang Street is very busy at times and can be difficult for a newcomer to HCMC to cross. The trick is to just walk out and bob and weave like a boxer. Just don’t step out in front of the big trucks as they can’t maneuver as much as the motorcycles will. On our first time crossing the street a local moto driver who wanted our business (and later became our personal driver) actually drove beside us to block oncoming traffic.
18. Museum of History
An excellent introduction to Vietnamese history and culture from the primitive era (circa 500,000 years ago) and through the dynasties of Hung Kings, Ly, Tran, Le, Tay Son and Nguyen.
Formal dressing required and no pictures allowed.
There is also a water puppet theatre but will only performed if more than 5 persons have bought tickets. If you are going to Hanoi, the puppet show is better there.
Open Monday to Sutarday 8am=11am, 1:30pm-4pm.
Sunday and holidays 8:30am-4pm.
HCMC’s History Museum is a model of what such institutions ought to be: well laid out, with good lighting, and a fine overview of the history and customs of the peoples of Vietnam. The museum also has many Cambodian items, especially from the Khmer civilization that existed in Mekong Delta region until a couple hundred years ago.
The building itself was erected by the French in 1929.
19. Former US Embassy
The United States Consulate occupies a huge building along Le Duan Street. This is the exact site where the former US Embassy stood throughout the Vietnam War.
Many people are familiar with the television scenes of the Tet Offensive in 1968 when the Viet Cong breached the compound and got in a firefight with the US Marines.
Another event that made the Embassy famous was the helicopter evacuations of US and South Vietnamese at the end of the Vietnam War in 1975.
This building stood empty until the US consulate was built and opened in 1999.
20. Revolutionary Museum
Ba (Uncle) Ho’s connection with Saigon was pretty much limited to a short visit in 1911, during which he signed onto a French ship as a crew member. After stays in New York, London, Paris, Moscow, and Hong Kong, he returned to Vietnam in 1941 to lead the revolt that led to Vietnam’s independence and unification.
As the country’s largest city, Saigon — now Ho Chi Minh City — could not be without its HCM museum (almost every town has one) despite the brevity of Ho’s stay.
Though the building itself, erected in 1863 is quite beautiful, HCM City’s HCM museum is not rich in exhibits. Several dioramas represent moments in Ho’s life and in the French and American Wars. One shows a representation of the famous “Ho Chi Minh Trail” which “North” Vietnam used to infiltrate personnel and materiel into the south during the American War. (It shows a US plane that has been struck by a missile of some sort).
There is a small souvenir stand on the 1st floor, with many items featuring photos of Ba Ho.
21. Binh Tay Market
This is a local market where you can buy a lot of things in wholesale. The problem here is that the place is too crowded and hot inside and the vendors were not speaking English. If youre into haggling, you can do it better in Ben Than market.
The guide explained that once there was a life size bronze statue of the Chinese businessman who built and invested in the construction of this market in the center of the Binh Tay that was encircled by four bronze lions, and four bronze dragons. The dragon’s mouths form the opening of the fountain under which the statue of the businessman was standing. The statue was replaced with a smaller glass-altar later, though the four bronze lions and dragons are still there.
Not commonly on the tourist trail, Cho Binh Tay predominantly caters to the local populace shopping for daily staples, wholesale vegetables, groceries or anything else they may require. The variety and quantity of goods is staggering, with shops spilling out into the neighbouring streets.
Binh Tay is situated in a principally Chinese-style building with inner courtyard. A huge clock tower indicates the main entrance. Expect to get lost among the myriad stores, which is half the fun!
Look out for the food carts outside the main entrance.
Ladies, if you are in HCMC, there are many shops around that specialize in making ao dais. It is better to get a custom-made one as the ao dai only looks good if it is fitting. However, if you are in a touristy area, the prices for a custom-made one will be rather high. I got mine for US$18 which is rather steep I must say, but thats because we wanted it to be done in a day. So if you have the time, scout around for a better deal. Don’t forget to get a traditional straw hat too, it cost about US$1.
22. Opera House
This building is beside the Continental Hotel, and right in front of Caravelle. It is one of those many buildings in HCMC that reflect its colonial past with its architecture.
The National Theatre (also called Opera House) was built in 1900 to cater for the cultural cravings of the French colonialists. Today, it still caters for cultural buffs, and is another fine example of beautiful French architecture.
This magnificent building was built at the turn of the century and renovated in the 1940s. Three stories and 1,800 seats are inside. Today it does very little in terms of performances, but it is a stalwart atmospheric holdout amid steel and glass downtown.
23. Saigon Water Park
Saigon Water Park is a short 20 min ride from downtown Saigon. The park leaves a lot to be desired. My husband and I went on a weekday around 1pm and found the park to be almost completely deserted. We saw maybe five other groups, mostly tourists like us. Since the park was so empty, several of the slides were closed. About the slides they do have, there is nothing to write home about. Maybe its because I’m from the Great Lake State and we are so close to many great water parks (a must recommendation is Soak City in Cedar Point Amusement Park in Sandusky, Ohio), but I wasn’t too impressed. The park has a large wave pool which is nice to relax at, there is also a relaxing water river that lesiurely takes you through the park.
About the water slides, there are two tubes (one mainly open, and one mainly closed) that allow you to go in tandem on a large raft to land into a large open pool after one last plunging hill. This was actually quite fun. Another slide is completely enclosed and twists back and forth and looks much like a twizzler candy. This slide was awful according to my husband because it scratches your back and its quite stuffy and warm in the completely enclosed tube in 90°F (32°C) weather. Also another tourist that I saw coming out of it bloodied his nose on it. There is also a set of slides like a normal slide that you see in a playground where you plunge headfirst down on a padded mat. Again this is a fun ride, but be careful, if you are a large person, you will go down with so much velocity that you can go straight off the landing area at the end like my husband did. And then finally there are single tubes that you can go down, either open or closed, but you go down so slowly that it isn’t fun at all.
Also since the park was so empty none of the ice cream vendors or wares vendors were open. We spent only about two hours there. The food from the restaurant was supposed to be beach food, but it was overcooked and awful.
24. Zoo & Botanic Garden
The Zoo and Botanical Garden began in 1864. It is the biggest zoological garden of the country comprising of two separate sections for plants and animals.
The Zoo has more than a hundred species of mammal reptiles and birds.The cages are fairly spacious and include outdoor enclosures for tigers, monkeys, lions, deer, apes, crocodiles, snakes and hippopotami.
The Zoo is very small and not to the standards of other World Zoos, but I did notice that it is being improved. What I could see, is the animals were well cared for, and that improvements were being made for a better enviroment for them.
In saying that, I quite enjoyed walking around in the pleasant surroundings.
For me, it was a quiet place to relax for a while without being hassled by sellers.
The Botanic garden and Zoo are combined together with a concrete bridge across the Thi Nghe Channel connecting the area reserved for growing plants with that for animals.
Ornamental plants and a collection of exotic rare orchids Cacti, Bonsai and other plants including species from Africa and America can be seen there.
The Botanic Gardens was a nice area to walk around. Water features and a lovely green shady area, I found it a good place to get away from the heat!
Also located at the grounds is a Temple.
Saigon hotpot is a voluntary club with students from various universities offering free tour guide service for tourists. They are pasionate about introducing Saigon to the world and it also gives them the chance to practise the use of english. The tours they offer are city tours and traditional meal tours.
The tourists are expected to cover their own expense, transport and tickets as well as those for their volunteer guides. All tours start at 9am and the volunteer guides will meet the tourists at the hotel lobby for the tours. Their website is www.saigonhotpot.com. I sent an email to them and got a reply a few days later. Different volunteer guides can be assigned to the tourist depending on their available free time.
As I was travelling to HCMC, I had enlisted to Saigon Hotpot to show me around the places. I had requested a traditional meal tour, city tour and also a tour in search of local cusine. I especially liked the traditional meal tour where i could participate in the cooking and it was really an eye opener to see that the market is more developed than I had thought.
Other than exploring the places out of interest in a country, I love to eat the local cusines especially those that are known only to the locals. I didn’t expect to be the first person to request for such foodie tour though. I was recommended food like bo la lot, banh canh cua and also che. It was a very satisfying meal for me. Yum Yum.
- Featured image: Diego Delso [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 1. Ben Thanh Market: User: (WT-shared) Shoestring at wts wikivoyage [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
- 2. Out of Saigon – Cu Chi Tunnels: Jorge Láscar from Australia [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 3. War Remnants Museum: Prenn [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 4. Mekong Delta: William Cho [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 5. Notre Dame Cathedral: yeowatzup [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 6. Reunification Palace: Mahen Bala [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 7. Post Office: dronepicr [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 8. Chinatown: senngokujidai4434 [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 9. Massages: Thomas Wanhoff from Phnom Penh, Cambodia [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 10. City Hall: Diego Delso [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 11. Temples: Nijumania at English Wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
- 12. Parks: Diego Delso [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 13. Out of Saigon – Cao Dai Temple: Thomas Schoch [CC BY-SA 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons
- 14. Water Puppet: Daderot [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 15. Rex Hotel: Hieucd [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 16. Jade Emperor Pagoda: Wolfgang Weber [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 17. Saigon River: calflier001 [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 18. Museum of History: Daderot [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 19. Former US Embassy: as a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain
- 20. Revolutionary Museum: Jorge Láscar [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 21. Binh Tay Market, Ho Chi Minh City: User: Bgabel at wikivoyage shared [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 22. Opera House: Jorge Lascar [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 23. Saigon Water Park: Jean-Marie Hullot [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 24. Zoo & Botanic Garden: Daderot [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 25. Tours: dronepicr [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons