Dinh Thong Nhat (Reunification Palace)
The Reunification Palace is beautiful in its ugliness, a 1960s monstrosity designed with the help of Soviet architects. Most people will remember the image of a North Vietnamese tank crashing through the gates on 30 April 1975 signifying the fall of Saigon. The tank still graces the front lawn. Rooms open to the public remain exactly as they were in 1975, showing where important meetings were held during the war, as well as some of the private quarters of the president and his family. Most fascinating are a series of underground tunnels housing a telecommunications center.
135 Nam Ky Khoi Ngia, District 1
Tel: (08) 822 3652.
Nha Trung Bay Toi Ac Chien Tranh Xam Luoc (War Remnants Museum)
Formerly known as the Museum of American War Crimes, the name has been toned down so as not to offend its US visitors and is now the War Remnants Museum. This is not a museum for the sensitive as it houses instruments of torture and hundreds of photographs of atrocities committed during the 20th century and, in particular, the Vietnam War. Visitors cannot fail to be moved as the exhibits provide a context for a period of history many only know from old newsreels and Hollywood movies. At the front of the museum is a small collection of military hardware and, most interestingly, the mobile guillotine used by the French colonists to dispense justice throughout the country before WWII.
Notre Dame Cathedral
The twin towers of Notre Dame Cathedral have been a familiar landmark in Ho Chi Minh City since the 1880s. In front of the cathedral in a small garden is a delicate statue of the Virgin Mary. The interior of the cathedral is rather plain, unlike most French cathedrals, with no stained glass, but it is a cool escape from the heat outside.
Dong Khoi, District 1
Buu Dien Sai gon (Post Office)
Across from the Notre Dame Cathedral, the vast Post Office was also built in the late 19th century in European style. The interior has hardly been touched since it was built and is dominated by a huge portrait of Ho Chi Minh. The building always seems busy but most people are just visitors rather than customers.
2 Cong Xa Paris, District 1
Tel: (08) 824 4244.
Thao Cam Vien (Zoo and Botanical Gardens)
The Botanical Gardens were established by the French in 1864 and once had the reputation of being some of the finest in Asia. Now, however, the area is just a pleasant one for a stroll in the heart of the city, among tropical plants and trees. The zoo is not up to Western standards, with poor enclosures.
Nguyen Binh Khiem, District 1
Tel: (08) 829 3728.
Ho Chi Minh City Museum
Housed in the former building of the Government of Cochinchina, the Ho Chi Minh City Museum (formerly the Revolutionary Museum) contains artifacts, such as weapons, uniforms, medals and old photos, from the period of Communist struggle against the French and the Americans. Unfortunately, the exhibits are only labelled in Vietnamese but some are self-explanatory. Outside the museum is a collection of military hardware including a tank and a helicopter.
65 Ly Tu Trong, District 1
Tel: (08) 940 2060.
Vien Bao Tang Lich Su (Historical Museum)
Located just inside the entrance to the Botanical Gardens and Zoo, the Historical Museum houses a collection of artifacts covering the last 2,000 years of Vietnamese history including items belonging to ancient cultures such as Dong Son, Oc Eo and Cham. The museum was built in 1929 and the collection assembled by the Ecole Francaise d’Extreme Orient.
Nguyen Binh Khiem, District 1
Tel: (08) 829 8146.
Cholon is in District 5 and is a maze of narrow streets, bustling with people. Most of Vietnam’s ethnic Chinese live here and they are the largest single ethnic minority group in the country. Merchants began to settle in Cholon in the 1770s, although many ethnic Chinese fled the country in 1975.
The Thien Hau Pagoda is one of Cholon’s must-sees. It is dedicated to the goddess Thien Hau, protector of the sea. Photographers are spoilt for choice with the ornate decoration inside the pagoda and the statues of Thien Hau. It is popular with worshippers (the air is always heavy with the smell of incense) and there are regular festivals during the lunar calendar.
Binh Tay Market throngs with people from early morning and until 2300 as a night market, and the gloomy, narrow walkways are crammed with consumer items and exotic foodstuffs. The sound of bargaining, quite often in Chinese rather than Vietnamese, and the calls of the vendors constantly fill the air. This is one of the best places to see the locals going about their daily lives.