Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon, situated in the southern of Vietnam, is still called Saigon by most of the natives. The modern city used to be considered as the Pearl of the Orient by the French. It is a brazen, industrious and dense metropolis, the largest city in Vietnam and the business capital of the country. With a population of five million, this city of Vietnam is crowded, noisy, yet it is also exciting and historic, the essence of the nation.
The wide Saigon River, which takes a huge turn from the east of Saigon, links the city with the sea. Unlike Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) may lack charm and elegance, but the city with its essential French colonial character has enough to draw your attention. The colonial villas, wide avenues and a lively cafe society in the city remind you the days of French dominance.
Over the last 10 years, Ho Chi Minh City has experienced a spectacular change in its cityscape. And today, this city has a cosmopolitan and energetic atmosphere. The once low-rise landscape of the city's central area, District 1, is now marked with shining skyscrapers including high-rise apartments, international hotels, luxurious restaurants and bars and companies. This bustling, vibrant, industrial hub of the nation is the biggest city of Vietnam as well. Saigon is also the cultural center and economic capital of the country.
The city is well connected with rest of the world through air routes and sea and thereby draws huge foreign funds in the fields like oil, gas, agriculture, textiles, and marine products. However tourism contributes a major part of the government's revenue. Visiting Ho Chi Minh City, the travelers have a chance to visit a lot of interesting places from historic sites to entertainment and shopping area.
The city with its teeming metropolis mingled with the elegance of ancient culture, gives you a microcosmic view of the entire nation.
Ben thanh market
Today the market caters to the tourist dollars and is packed tight with stalls selling clothing, pottery, souvenirs, jewels and food. It is rumoured that depending on bargaining ability buyers will be given their purchase in various coloured bags as a sign to other vendors. The market was moved to its current building in 1912 but has existed in the area for hundreds of years. The permanent stalls are passed down in family for generations. Some of Vietnam's specialties can be bought cheaply here such as cobra and scorpion whiskey and silks. The market is open daily from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. but an outdoor night market and food stalls surround the area until much later.
Opening times: Daily from 8am to 6pm
Cho Lon (Big market)
Cholon is the thriving warren of streets comprising the Chinese district of Saigon, first settled by the Chinese Hoa merchants at the end of the 18th century, and now home to the biggest ethnic minority community in the country. The difference in environment is immediately noticeable. The cluster of Chinese-signed streets is a fascinating labyrinth of temples, restaurants, exotic stores, medicine shops and markets. The best place to experience the bustle of trade is at the crowded Binh Tay Market where the corridors are filled with stalls offering a variety of exotic produce, from live tethered ducks to nuts and seeds, as well as other household items. There are several temples of interest in Cholon, including the colourful Emperor of Jade Temple, the Quan Am Pagoda with its ornate exterior, Phuoc An Hoi Quan Temple, its roof exquisitely ornamented with dragons and sea monsters, and the Thien Hau Pagoda dedicated to the goddess of the sea.
Transport: From the city centre take the Saigon Star Co bus to Huynh Thoai Yen.
Dam sen water park
The best way to cool off in the hot dusty city is the Dam Sen Water Park. It is part of a much larger theme park but the highlights all circle the water fun. Part of the adventure is wondering if anything is up to Vietnamese safety standards, or if there are safety standards to be up to. Either way the great selection of water slides hurtle passengers, full speed, up railings and down steep drops. For relaxation a large wave pool and a circling stream are great to float away the heat. A tourist designated section of the compound is a nice place to relax if the crowds are too much. Never visit on a public holiday unless standing shoulder to shoulder in waste deep water sounds fun.
Address: Located in district 11.
Opening times: Open daily
Pham Ngu Lau
This area of Saigon, located in District One, stretching along the streets of De Tham, Pham Ngu Lau and Bui Vien is host to most of the budget travellers in South Vietnam. Often compared to the more famous Khao San road of Bangkok, this district, similarly, is an amalgamation of bars, guesthouses, restaurants, souvenir shops and small travel agencies. Known also to be an expat playground, these bars stay open later than most in the city. The prominent Go2 Bar is the most popular among tourists but dozens dot the area. Day trips to the Mekong Delta or the Cu Chi tunnels are easily organised in any of the travel agencies as well as transport to most of Vietnam. Although prices vary the trips usually are the same despite the agency.
War remnants museum
The disturbing War Remnants Museum highlights the horrors of modern combat, and especially portrays the suffering inflicted on the Vietnamese people during the Vietnam War. Previously called the Museum of American War Crimes, the name was altered so as not to cause offence to American visitors, but its displays do tell the story from an anti-American perspective. The museum houses a collection of weapons, machinery, artefacts and horrific photographs illustrating the devastating affects of napalm, Agent Orange and other weapons of mass destruction. One room is dedicated to biological warfare, including the effects of the defoliant sprays that were dumped over the country. Another room looks at worldwide demonstrations for peace and international opposition to the war. In the courtyard there are tanks, helicopters, planes and bombs on display.
Address: 28 Vo Van Tan St, District 3
Telephone: (08) 829 5587
Opening times: Open daily from 7.30am to 11.45am and 1.30pm to 4.15pm
A small number of Muslims exist in Vietnam, and are mainly found in South central Vietnam, the Mekong Delta, and by the Cambodian border. Islam was introduced to Vietnam in the 7th century via Arab traders and later blended with local customs and religion. Islam is now mostly practiced by the Cham population of Vietnam, although there is a strong Hindu influence in their practice. Today, there are several mosques in metropolitan Saigon.