If you look up Ho Chi Minh’s name in Google you will probably get information about two very different topics. The first and best known is Ho Chi Minh as the city of Vietnam; in fact it is the largest city in the country with about 10 million inhabitants. The second theme is a biography of the poet and political insurgent Ho Chi Minh, who was a key figure in the formation, then prime minister and finally president of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (also known as North Vietnam).

After North Vietnam (the socialist Vietnam founded by Ho Chi Minh) won the war in 1975, the ancient city of Saigon was renamed after him.

The old name of the city -Saigon- is still used among the population in a popular way. Although Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh it never saw unified Vietnam, as it died 6 years before the end of the war in 1969. We wanted to mention the personal figure of Ho Chi Minh as a key character for this city before moving on to talk about the city itself.

History of Ho Chi Minh City

The area in which Ho Chi Minh is located was for many centuries part of the Khmer empire, the founders of present-day Cambodia. Initially the area around the city (then known as Prey Nokor) was filled with a multitude of small fishing villages of no economic or strategic importance.

In the 15th century the whole area was taken over by the Vietnamese after an agreement between the king of Cambodia and the Vietnamese emperor. The Vietnamese then renamed the city Sài Gòn (Saigon in Spanish). In 1859 the French occupied Saigon and left a mark in the form of architecture still visible today: many buildings are of European and colonial inspiration, which has served Ho Chi Minh to be known as the Paris of the East. After the defeat of South Vietnam in the Vietnam War the city was renamed Ho Chi Minh in honor of the founder of socialist Vietnam.

How is Ho Chi Minh

Ho Chi Minh is a mainly service-oriented city, with high population density and commercial areas at various points of the population. Ho Chi Minh also concentrates much of the financial activity of Vietnam, with a fairly important financial district with skyscrapers, luxury hotels and all services associated with the executive and businessman. However, in the historic center of the city we can stroll around and find some more tranquility and although it is not the best place for it, we can breathe something of the more traditional Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh’s tourist attractions are mostly museums and colonial or government buildings. The city can be visited completely in 2 or 3 days.

Main attractions of Ho Chi Minh

The following is a list of some of the main attractions of the city, most of them oriented to cultural tourism. Outside the city, though not far away, you can visit the Cu Chi tunnels

War Remnants Museum

The War Remains Museum is currently one of the most popular museums in Vietnam, attracting approximately half a million visitors each year. According to the museum’s own estimates, about two-thirds of them are foreigners. The museum is divided into a series of themed rooms with period military equipment located inside the museum courtyard. In the museum of vestiges of war can be observed among many other things:

  • A UH-1 “Huey” helicopter
  • An F-5A hunt
  • An M48 Patton tank
  • An A-1 Skyraider attack bomber
  • An A-37 attack bomber Dragonfly
  • Several pieces of unexploded ordnance
  • The “tiger cages” in which the South Vietnamese government held political prisoners

Other exhibits include photographs and graphic material describing the effects of Agent Orange and other chemical defoliant aerosols used by the U.S., the use of napalm and phosphorus bombs, and several of the atrocities committed during the war such as the My Lai massacre. The photographic exhibit includes works donated to the museum by Vietnam War photojournalist Bunyo Ishikawa. Also of interest are a guillotine used by the French and South Vietnamese to execute prisoners (the last time in 1960), and three vials of preserved human fetuses supposedly deformed by exposure to dioxins and similar compounds contained in Agent Orange defoliant.

tank at the ho chi minh war museum

Saigon Skydeck in the BitexCo Tower

The BitexCo Tower became Vietnam’s tallest building in 2010 and maintained this status until January 2011, when it was surpassed by the Keangnam Hanoi Landmark Tower. With 68 floors above ground level and three basements, the building has a total height of 262.5 meters, making it the second tallest building in the city and the fifth tallest in Vietnam. In the BitexCo tower is the Saigon Skydeck panoramic observatory, which opened to the public on January 1, 2011 and was officially opened in July 2011. The observation platform offers a 360-degree panoramic view of Ho Chi Mi City.nh, bares y restaurantes y una tienda de regalos. El Saigon Skydeck abre todos los días y el precio de la entrada es de unos 8 euros al cambio actual.

Bitexco tower of Saigon

Notre Dame Cathedral in Vietnam

Founded by French settlers who initially called it Cathédrale de Notre-Dame de Saïgon, the cathedral was built between 1863 and 1880. It has, like the original, two bell towers, reaching however a much lower height: 58 meters. In the place where the cathedral is located there had been a Vietnamese pagoda, which had been abandoned during the Indo-French war. All the building materials were imported from France: the exterior wall of the cathedral was built with bricks from Toulouse. Although no dye was used in the manufacture of the bricks these have retained their original bright red color to this day.

exterior cathedral of Notre de Saigon

Post Office

The Ho Chi Minh City Post Office is a post office in the centre of Ho Chi Minh City, very close to the aforementioned Basilica of Notre-Dame de Saigon, the city’s cathedral. The building was built by Gustave Eiffel when Vietnam was part of the French Indochina at the end of the 19th century and is a sample of the typical architecture of the time. It has Gothic, Renaissance and French influences. It was built between 1886 and 1891 and is now a tourist attraction.

ho-chi-minh post office

Ben Thanh Market

The market was created from informal markets created by street vendors of the early seventeenth century who met in this area near the river Saigon. The market was formally established by the French colonial powers after the occupation of the city in 1859. The Ben Thanh market is located in the centre of Hồ Chi Minh and is one of the first preserved structures in Saigon that survived the bombardments of the war. The Ben Thanh market is popular with tourists looking for local handicrafts, souvenirs and local cuisine.

Ben thanh's market entry

Palace of Reunification (or Palace of Independence)

The Palace of Independence, also known as the Palace of Reunification, was built on the site of the former Norodom Palace (a palace built by the French after the colonization of Indochina). It was the home and place of work of the President of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War and the place that marked the end of the Vietnam War during the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975: a tank of the North Vietnamese army demolished its gates putting an end to the confrontation between south and north.

outside the palace of reunification

Bar for Pham Ngu Lao

The street of Phạm Ngũ Lao and its surroundings are known as the backpacker district of Saigon , in the 1st district of the city. This area is frequented by the inhabitants of Ho Chi Minh City and by tourists who go to local flea markets to buy cheap clothes, fakes, DVDs, souvenirs and souvenirs from the war. There are numerous bars and cafes that attract many tourists and backpackers. In the Vietnamese language, this area is called “khu Tay ba lo” or the backpackers’ quarter. The Pham Ngu Lão area is also known for its affordable guest houses and hostels, as well as for the availability of tourism agencies that cater mainly to low-budget tourists, similar to the Khao San Road area in Bangkok, Thailand.

pham ngu lao district by night

Do you want to discover more Vietnamese territories? Visit our Organized tours in Vietnam section and choose the one that best fits your budget and time.