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15 Interesting Sites to See in One Day in Ho Chi Minh City

15 Interesting Sites to See in One Day in Ho Chi Minh City


By avatar  Scott
Posted On 08/29/2019 17:25:49
Trip Date 03/13/2011  

Destinations | Cruises | Vietnam | Phu My Cruise Port | Ho Chi Minh City | Saigon | Vietnam Tour Guides | Thien Hau Temple | Pho 2000 | Ben Thanh Market



Sailing aboard the Diamond Princess, we departed from Tianjin (the nearest port city to Beijing) and were headed toward Singapore. After spending a day in Nagasaki, Japan plus visiting two additional ports in China, we made our way further south to Vietnam. Our first Vietnamese port of call was Nha Trang which was followed by the Phu My Cruise Port.

While we explored many of the port cities on our own, getting to Ho Chi Minh City required a rather lengthy drive. Some online research pointed us in the direction of some private Vietnam Tour Guides. After correspondence by email, we had answers to our questions as well as an agreed upon itinerary and price.

Should you be considering cruises with destinations within southeast Asia, this series of posts will help you make plans for your time in port. Ho Chi Minh City, also known as Saigon, is well known for shopping at the Ben Thanh Market. Have you heard of some of the other popular sites including Thien Hau Temple, the War Remnants Museum or the popular restaurant Pho 2000? This post will give you a brief introduction to 15 interesting sites found in Ho Chi Minh City and will help as you begin to decide which have the biggest appeal to you and your traveling companions.



Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

Ho Chi Minh City is the result of the 1976 merger of Saigon with the surrounding province. The city was named after Ho Chi Minh, the communist leader recognized for uniting northern and southern Vietnam following the Vietnam War. Today, you'll often see the city's name abbreviated as HCMC and you will still hear many of the Vietnamese people (especially long time residents) continuing to refer to the central area of the city as Saigon.

You'll often hear that Ho Chi Minh City is divided into districts. As part of their address, buildings, businesses, restaurants and tourist attractions will often include a district number. District 1, located in the central part of HCMC, is commonly called by its former name of Saigon.


The Iconic Saigon Central Post Office (photo courtesy of Zoom)

The Iconic Saigon Central Post Office (photo courtesy of Zoom)

Phu My Cruise Port

Small and mid size ships can navigate along the Saigon River to dock at one of the three piers near the city center. Larger ships like the Diamond Princess, however, must dock at Phu My, a commercial container port located about a 1 1/2 hour drive away from central Ho Chi Minh City. Even with the extra time required to drive the 80 miles to the city center, we enjoyed getting to know our guide and learning more about his home country.

We encountered similar docking issues at several ports in southeast Asia. Should we return to this part of the world, based on the knowledge that we now have, we would do additional research on itineraries that include the ports that we hope to visit. By researching and learning about where each ship will dock in each port, we will be armed with the knowledge of how much time is needed just to get to the sites that we hope to see. A comparison of a variety of factors including price, size of ship, itineraries and ports will help us decide whether a smaller or larger ship will meet most of our goals.



Touring with "Zoom"

Our tour guide, Zoom (Nguyen Tri Dung), had previously served as a guide for Chelsea Clinton as well as other VIPs and Vietnam Veterans. He was very responsive to emails and provided a suggested itinerary with pricing within 24 hours of our initial request. Once we were in agreement, we were asked to make a deposit via PayPal with the balance being paid on the date of our tour. By providing Zoom with information from our passports, he was able to apply for a port entrance permit which allowed him to pick us up right at the berth of the ship in the port city of Phu My.

We were joined by one other couple and transportation for the four of us was in a very comfortable air conditioned van. With a driver, Zoom in the passenger seat and the four of us settled into the back of the van, we were off to Ho Chi Minh City. The agreed upon price of our tour included transportation, entrance tickets to included attractions, lunch, coffee, cold water and towels plus a DVD of artistic photos.


Creative Photography courtesy of Zoom

Creative Photography courtesy of Zoom

While our ride was a long one, it was filled with many interesting stories told by Zoom. One very memorable part of our return to the port was Zoom attempting to teach us a traditional Vietnamese tongue-twister. Although we tried, we unfortunately couldn't repeat it at the time, yet the whole scene was very funny!

In addition to tours of Nha Trang, Danang, Hoi An, Hue, Halong and Hanoi which are led by members of his team, as of the date of this posting, Zoom personally offers the following:

  • City Tour of Saigon,
  • Mekong Delta Tour, and
  • Cuchi Tunnels Excursion.
Zoom can most easily be contacted via email (dungzoom@gmail.com).


Nguyen Tri Dung ("Zoom")

Nguyen Tri Dung ("Zoom")

Now for our list of 15 interesting sites to see in Ho Chi Minh City:



1. Rooftop Garden Bar at Rex Hotel

After our long drive from the port, our memorable first stop was at the Rooftop Garden Bar at the Rex Hotel. The prewar built hotel was the center of social life during the Vietnam War. American troops on leave visited the popular rooftop bar and restaurant as did the press always in search of the next breaking news story.


Rooftop Garden Bar at Rex Hotel

Rooftop Garden Bar at Rex Hotel

The bar is located right in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City and is within walking distance of most of the city's sights. Although the Rooftop Garden Bar is only five stories high, it still has an awesome view of some of the city's historical buildings. It's a great place to enjoy a morning coffee with a view, get your bearings during a first time visit to the city . . . and even take a few minutes to catch up on e-mail!


Ho Chi Minh City from Rex Hotel (Photo courtesy of Zoom)

Ho Chi Minh City from Rex Hotel (Photo courtesy of Zoom)

2. Ho Chi Minh City People's Committee

Just a short distance away is the Ho Chi Minh City Hall, officially named the Ho Chi Minh City People's Committee building in 1975. While visitors are not permitted inside these working offices of the government, admiring the architecture from the outside is!


Ho Chi Minh City Hall

Ho Chi Minh City Hall

3. Thien Hau Temple

Built in 1760, Thien Hau Temple is regarded as the city's most beautiful Chinese temple. Most of the materials used in the construction of the temple were transported from China to Vietnam. Although the temple has undergone numerous upgrades and renovations since, its original design remains unchanged.


Thien Hau Temple

Thien Hau Temple

The classic temple has a wooden entry, small central ponds flanked by heavy, bright red pillars and elaborate carvings of gods and monsters. As you enter, you'll quickly notice the scent coming from the many large incense burners. Make sure to also look overhead where you will find too many incense coils suspended from the ceiling to count!


Incense at Thien Hau Temple Entrance

Incense at Thien Hau Temple Entrance

Peering Up (Creative Photography courtesy of Zoom)

Peering Up (Creative Photography courtesy of Zoom)

Approaching the altar, you will notice the three bronze statues of Lady Thien Hau adorned with brightly colored clothing. Known as the Lady of the Sea or Goddess of the Sea, the temple is dedicated to her for the protection that she provided to those who traveled by sea from China to Vietnam.


Lady of the Sea surrounded by Burning Incense

Lady of the Sea surrounded by Burning Incense

Plan on spending some time admiring all the beautiful decor on the walls, ceiling and throughout the open space in the temple which is located in the city's Chinatown district.



4. Quan Am Pagoda

Named after Guanyin, the Chinese goddess of mercy, Quan Am Pagoda is another beautiful Chinese temple also located in the Chinatown area. Upon approaching, visitors will immediately notice the temple's bright red portal accented with a yellow overhang.


Quan Am Pagoda

Quan Am Pagoda

Once inside, the painstaking details include extremely intricate carvings on just about every available space of the temple's pillars and walls. One of the most interesting things about this temple is that, in addition to the shrine dedicated to Quan Am, the temple also has areas dedicated to Lady Thien Hau, Amitabha and the Jade Emperor. Built in 1818, the temple is frequented by Buddhists of both Chinese and Vietnamese heritage.


Entering Quan Am Pagoda

Entering Quan Am Pagoda

5. Phuoc An Hoi Quan Pagoda

Dedicated to Quan Cong, the nearby Phuoc An Hoi Quan Pagoda was built early in the twentieth century. Similar to the previous two temples, bright colors, meticulous carvings and the unmistakable scent of incense immediately greet those entering.


Entrance to Phuoc An Hoi Quan Pagoda

Entrance to Phuoc An Hoi Quan Pagoda

It was interesting to learn that temple worshipers stroke the mane and ring the bell hanging from the neck of the sacred horse which greets visitors at the entrance, oftentimes prior to traveling. The temple is filled with porcelain figurines, brass ritual objects and fine wood carvings on the altars, walls, columns and hanging lanterns.


Inside Phuoc An Hoi Quan Pagoda

Inside Phuoc An Hoi Quan Pagoda

6. Binh Tay Market

Also known as Cholon Chinatown Market due to its location, Binh Tay Market is the central market in the country's largest Chinatown district. The market is housed in a two story building from the 1880's and caters primarily to the local residents.


Delivery to Binh Tay Market

Delivery to Binh Tay Market

Binh Tay Market (Photo courtesy of Zoom)

Binh Tay Market (Photo courtesy of Zoom)

Although the market does offer some handcrafted items, it is best known for selling both fresh and preserved ingredients needed to make Chinese and Vietnamese dishes. There's also a food court which offers a variety of prepared food dishes for those interested in sampling unique Vietnamese- Chinese delicacies. The market is a great place to get a feel for life with the locals of Cholon as you browse the many aisles filled with vendors!


Need Some Shoes?

Need Some Shoes?

Did you know that the country of Vietnam is among the largest exporters of shoes in the world?



7. Phuong Nam Lacquerware

A visit to Phuong Nam Lacquerware provides a glimpse at the fine art which goes back many generations in Vietnam. Seeing a demonstration of beautiful handcrafted pieces being made in the workshop made us realize how labor intensive and time consuming the process is to make a single piece of lacquerware. Once pieces are designed and the wood is prepared, there is still a lot of work to be done. Some pieces are painted and others have either eggshells or mother of pearl inlaid before numerous coats of lacquer seal the design.


Eggshells used in Lacquer Mozaic Art

Eggshells used in Lacquer Mozaic Art

Phuong Nam Lacquerware Artists at Work

Phuong Nam Lacquerware Artists at Work

The adjacent showroom has an extensive collection of pieces for sale including wall hangings, trays, curved wine bottle holders and so much more. It was in the sales room that we realized that the artists often work on multiple identical pieces simultaneously. It is nearly impossible to resist making a purchase for a friend or family member (or even yourself), after seeing all that goes into creating the beautiful finished products!


Showroom at Phuong Nam Lacquerware

Showroom at Phuong Nam Lacquerware

Shopping at Phuong Nam Lacquerware

Shopping at Phuong Nam Lacquerware

8. Lunch at Pho 2000

The Vietnamese noodle restaurant Pho 2000 boasts of hosting Present Bill Clinton along with his daughter Chelsea during his state visit to Vietnam. It is ironic that "2000" represents both the year that the restaurant opened and the restaurant's claim to fame! There's not only pictures on the wall from the president's meal, but the tagline posted everywhere reads "Pho for the President".


Pho 2000 Restaurant

Pho 2000 Restaurant

With so many tourists dining here, you'll hear a lot of people speaking in English. In fact, you can easily get a menu printed in English and many of those taking orders speak it as well. We followed Zoom's recommendation and had a bowl of pho noodles with beef along with some spring rolls. Touristy or not, we thought it was tasty and we gobbled up every last bit of the soup. Having a coconut drink served in the coconut was the perfect complement to our meal.


Pho Noodle Soup

Pho Noodle Soup

9. Ben Thanh Market

Located just a short walk away from Pho 2000 is Ben Thanh Market, one of the busiest spots in all of Ho Chi Minh City. Dating back to 1914 in its current location, the market occupies a pavilion with an entranceway topped by an easily recognizable clock tower. (A much smaller market of the same name began in the early 1800s. The market was rebuilt following a fire in 1870 before being moved to where it stands today. Although it has since been modernized, the clock tower continues to stand tall over one of the markets many entrances.)



There are a wide variety of vendors, and unlike Binh Tay Market, this central market caters to both locals and tourists. In addition to souvenirs (including lacquerware), you'll find food, household goods, jewelry, accessories, clothing and more. You can even have a suit custom made inside the market while you shop! Being the most famous location in Ho Chi Minh City for shopping, prices often tend to be inflated, so be prepared to bargain.


Inside Ben Thanh Market

Inside Ben Thanh Market

10. Saigon Opera House

As no tours are offered of the Saigon Opera House, we just caught a glimpse of the magnificent building as we drove by. Built at the turn of the 20th century, the building was badly damaged by bombers in 1944. After being restored, the building housed the Assembly of South Vietnam for the nearly 20 year period beginning in 1956.


Municipal Theatre of Ho Chi Minh City

Municipal Theatre of Ho Chi Minh City

Also called the Municipal Theatre of Ho Chi Minh City, the building returned to its original purpose in 1975. Many of the statues and engravings on the building's facade are original. We've also heard that the interior of the Opera House is quite impressive.

11. Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica

Constructed between 1877 and 1880, today's Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica replaced the former "Saigon Church" built in 1863. Bestowed the recognition of basilica in 1962, it is one of the oldest and biggest Catholic churches in Vietnam. Constructed with materials which were all imported from France, the architecture is reminiscent of cathedrals in Paris.


Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica

Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica

In addition to the architectural beauty of both the inside and outside, one of the biggest tourist draws is the statue of the Virgin Mary which stands in front of the cathedral. It is believed that, in the year 2005, the statue miraculously shed a tear. Although the sighting has not been confirmed, visitors still hope to witness a miracle during their stay in Vietnam.



12. Saigon Central Post Office

Construction of the Saigon Central Post Office (also known as the Ho Chi Minh City Post Office) began in 1886. The magnificent building which is home to the country's largest post office was completed in 1891. Located just above the outside entrance to the building is a large still working clock which was hung when the post office first opened.


Stacy at the Saigon Central Post Office

Stacy at the Saigon Central Post Office

Once inside, its hard to miss the portrait of Ho Chi Minh which hangs high on the far wall of the building. Located on the two opposing side walls, visitors can also see two interesting historical maps. Saigon and its Environments was created in 1892 and Telegraphic Network in South Vietnam and Cambodia was created in 1936.


Inside Saigon Central Post Office

Inside Saigon Central Post Office

"Saigon and its Environments"

"Saigon and its Environments"

13. War Remnants Museum

The primary focus of the War Remnants Museum, an important historical stop, is the Vietnam War. In addition to indoor exhibits which include a model of a tiger cage and other very graphic displays and photos, the museum also has some military equipment in an outdoor display.


War Remnants Museum

War Remnants Museum

Stacy at the War Remnants Museum

Stacy at the War Remnants Museum

United States Air Force Display

United States Air Force Display

History buffs who want to dig deeper into the horrors of war as presented from a communist point of view may have an interest in spending an extended period of time at this quite popular museum. It's good to know in advance that the majority of the museum displays are presented with a distinctly anti-American / anti-French slant. Because of the explicit nature of some items within the museum (a preserved fetus deformed due to Agent Orange exposure), children and even some adults may find that the museum is too disturbing.



14. Reunification Palace

For another view into the country's past, Reunification Palace or Independence Palace is said to be frozen in time. The former Presidential Palace which served as both the home and office of the leaders of Southern Vietnam (Cochinchina) is now a museum.

Touring the inside of the museum is said to be similar to a trip back in time to the year 1975. Original equipment such as radios, printing machines and maps are on display. From the front steps of the building, visitors can look across the courtyard to the main gate. The gate was breached by a North Vietnamese tank in 1975 which signaled the Communist victory. Also located on the grounds are two of the original tanks used in the capture.

15. Typical Modes of Vietnamese Transportation

Last, but certainly not least, make sure to have your eyes open throughout the day to see the locals driving about. Starting as early as your drive from the port, make sure to be on the lookout for the most common modes of transportation. Keep looking as you are walking and driving about Ho Chi Minh City and, of course, on your return back to the ship.


Driving to Ho Chi Minh City

Driving to Ho Chi Minh City

You are sure to see cars and buses, but our guess is that nothing will beat the number of motorcycles that you'll see. We were amazed at the number of passengers riding on some of these two wheeled vehicles, and lest we forget, the large household items being carried as well.


Motorcycles Everywhere!

Motorcycles Everywhere!

Families Shopping by Motorcycle

Families Shopping by Motorcycle

Lots of Interesting Items Carried by Motorcycles

Lots of Interesting Items Carried by Motorcycles

Even Washing Machines carried by Motorcycle!

Even Washing Machines carried by Motorcycle!

Cruising China and Southeast Asia

Following time spent cruising around China and Japan, our southeast Asian odyssey brought us to Vietnam. Don't miss our post titled Experience the Authentic Culture of Nha Trang on a Countryside Drive and River Cruise. It's there where you can read about our port day spent with a Nha Trang local. We've included both a description and photos of some of our favorite places in Nha Trang. You'll also find contact information for a guide who is worthy of your consideration.

This series is filled with ideas for anyone planning a cruise around Southeast Asia. As Ho Chi Minh City was the last of our two ports of call in Vietnam, two Thai ports will be featured next. Now is a great time to subscribe to our weekly e-mail notifications! You will receive no more than one notice each week alerting you when upcoming ports of call from this cruise (as well as other travel posts) are published. Subscribing is super quick and easy - just head to Create a User Account and fill in the blanks.



Favorite Sites in Ho Chi Minh City

Although the drive was rather long from the nearest cruise port to the city center, we learned a lot during our few hours in Ho Chi Minh City. We definitely know that there's much more for us to see on a future visit, so we'd love to hear recommendations from our readers on what the "must see" sites are in Ho Chi Minh City.


15 Interesting Sites to See in One Day in Ho Chi Minh City






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Created On 07/19/2019 12:50:19  
Updated On 09/17/2019 16:51:17
Scheduled On 08/07/2019 15:25:49
Posted On 08/29/2019 17:25:49
Last Editor Stacy
Location  Saigon Central Post Office, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
LinkId  HoChiMinhAsia6
StoryId  1563555019228





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