Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) is an overwhelming place – and not just because of the traffic. There’s so much do here, whether you’re a lover of history, art, cuisine, culture or nightlife.
With so many great options, many travelers worry they’ll leave something out. But don’t fret, here’s what you should do. MATTHEW PIKE reports on The Culture Trip.
Despite the massive influx of new vehicles, Vietnam is still a motorbike nation – so get out of the taxi and onto two wheels. There’s no other way to really feel the manic vitality of this mega city – and no other feeling can quite match the raw adrenaline of flowing along in crazy traffic. But driving in Saigon is also lethally dangerous, so let the professionals do it for you. There’s many tour companies with experienced drivers who are also fluent in English. You could head out on your own, but we highly recommend you let someone else drive until you understand how the traffic flows here.
Nothing can compare with the charm of a river tour – to hear the waves lapping with a drink in hand and a cool breeze on your skin. Even if you’re on a budget, there are options, and if you have money to spend, this is one activity we highly recommend you splurge on. The more reputable companies offer amazing dinner and drinks packages, and on boats you have to see to believe. We love the range of views you get from the river as well, from the skyscrapers of downtown to the lush jungle foliage mere minutes up the river. This is a very cool way to see this city.
For history buffs, the Independence Palace, also known as the Reunification Palace, is an absolute must. This is the site of those famous images of tanks crashing through gates during the Fall of Saigon in 1975. Aside from the stunning grounds and impressive architecture, the inside of this building almost feels like you’ve gone back in time. You can see where the southern government operated the executive branch during the Vietnam War – even the bomb bunker in the basement, where the maps still hang on the walls.
War Remnants Museum
You probably won’t leave this museum feeling too good about humanity, but that’s the point. This museum is there to remind us of the horrors of war. For most people around the world, the Vietnam War is something that happened in a faraway time and place – not for Vietnamese people, though. This museum takes an abstract conflict and shows us the real people it affected. It shows the struggles endured by the Vietnamese people. This museum plays an important role in the healing process for Vietnam, by showing visitors from around the world how the war changed this nation.
Drinks with a view
If you find that the streets are too hectic for your liking, escape the madness by elevating your evening. There are so many excellent rooftop bars, so you’ll probably have a hard time deciding. If you’re in the backpackers area and don’t want to stray too far, The View is exactly as advertised. But if you have some extra money to spend and want one of the best experiences in the city, check out EON51 in the landmark Bitexco Tower. To see most of the better options, go to this article and check out the section on rooftop bars.
Bui Vien Street
When the night is winding down and the respectable places are shoving you out the door, you’re just in time for the peak weirdness of Bui Vien. This notorious stretch of lewd behavior never shuts down, and even if you want nothing to do with the seedier aspects of Bui Vien, this street is a sensory overload that’s worth taking in at least once. There are fire breathers, strange foods, sidewalk bars, dubious massage parlors, beady-eyed “friends”, gangsters and enough bars to keep you hopping all night long. Keep your phones and cameras in safe places, though, as this is also the petty crime capital of Vietnam.
Look over the city from the Bitexco Tower Skydeck
The Bitexco Tower is an unmistakable landmark, rising like a lotus flower out of the cement jungle near the Saigon River. The Skydeck is on the 49th floor — showcasing a 360 degree view of red tile roofs, smog and construction everywhere you look. After you’ve visited the Skydeck, head up another floor to EON51 for cocktails and more panorama views.
- The Culture Trip.