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15 Interesting Sites to See in One Day in Ho Chi Minh City
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
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
Phu My Cruise Port.
While we explored many of the port cities on our own, getting to Ho Chi Minh City
rather lengthy drive. Some online research pointed us in the direction of some private Vietnam
Guides. After correspondence by email, we had answers to our questions as well as an agreed
itinerary and price.
Should you be considering cruises with destinations within southeast Asia, this series of posts will
you make plans for your time in port. Ho Chi Minh City, also known as Saigon, is well
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
Minh City and will help as you begin to decide which have the biggest appeal to you and your
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
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
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)
Phu My Cruise Port
Small and mid size ships can navigate along the Saigon River to dock at one of the three
near the city center. Larger ships like the Diamond Princess, however, must dock at
My, a commercial container port located about a 1 1/2 hour drive away from central Ho Chi
City. Even with the extra time required to drive the 80 miles to the city center, we enjoyed getting
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
ship will dock in each port, we will be armed with the knowledge of how much time is needed just
get to the sites that we hope to see. A comparison of a variety of factors including price, size of
itineraries and ports will help us decide whether a smaller or larger ship will meet most of our
Touring with "Zoom"
Our tour guide, Zoom (Nguyen Tri Dung), had previously served as a guide for Chelsea
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
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
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
conditioned van. With a driver, Zoom in the passenger seat and the four of us settled into the
the van, we were off to Ho Chi Minh City. The agreed upon price of our tour included
entrance tickets to included attractions, lunch, coffee, cold water and towels plus a DVD of artistic
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
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
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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
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
The bar is located right in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City and is within walking distance of most of
city's sights. Although the Rooftop Garden Bar is only five stories high, it still has an awesome
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
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
City People's Committee building in 1975. While visitors are not permitted inside these
offices of the government, admiring the architecture from the outside is!
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.
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
Thien Hau Temple
The classic temple has a wooden entry, small central ponds flanked by heavy, bright red pillars
elaborate carvings of gods and monsters. As you enter, you'll quickly notice the scent coming
many large incense burners. Make sure to also look overhead where you will find too many
coils suspended from the ceiling to count!
Incense at Thien Hau Temple Entrance
Peering Up (Creative Photography courtesy of Zoom)
Approaching the altar, you will notice the three bronze statues of Lady Thien Hau adorned
brightly colored clothing. Known as the Lady of the Sea or Goddess of the Sea,
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
Plan on spending some time admiring all the beautiful decor on the walls, ceiling and throughout
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
Chinese temple also located in the Chinatown area. Upon approaching, visitors will immediately
the temple's bright red portal accented with a yellow overhang.
Quan Am Pagoda
Once inside, the painstaking details include extremely intricate carvings on just about every
space of the temple's pillars and walls. One of the most interesting things about this temple is
addition to the shrine dedicated to Quan Am, the temple also has areas dedicated to Lady Thien
Amitabha and the Jade Emperor. Built in 1818, the temple is frequented by Buddhists of both
and Vietnamese heritage.
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
It was interesting to learn that temple worshipers stroke the mane and ring the bell hanging from
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,
columns and hanging lanterns.
Inside Phuoc An Hoi Quan Pagoda
6. Binh Tay Market
Also known as Cholon Chinatown Market due to its location, Binh Tay Market is
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
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
browse the many aisles filled with vendors!
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
generations in Vietnam. Seeing a demonstration of beautiful handcrafted pieces being made in
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
to be done. Some pieces are painted and others have either eggshells or mother of pearl inlaid
numerous coats of lacquer seal the design.
Eggshells used in Lacquer Mozaic Art
Phuong Nam Lacquerware Artists at Work
The adjacent showroom has an extensive collection of pieces for sale including wall hangings,
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
a purchase for a friend or family member (or even yourself), after seeing all that goes into
the beautiful finished products!
Showroom 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
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
wall from the president's meal, but the tagline posted everywhere reads "Pho for the President".
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
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
9. Ben Thanh Market
Located just a short walk away from Pho 2000 is Ben Thanh Market, one of the busiest
in all of Ho Chi Minh City. Dating back to 1914 in its current location, the market occupies a
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
moved to where it stands today. Although it has since been modernized, the clock tower
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
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
be inflated, so be prepared to bargain.
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
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
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
the former "Saigon Church" built in 1863. Bestowed the recognition of basilica in 1962, it is one
oldest and biggest Catholic churches in Vietnam. Constructed with materials which were all
from France, the architecture is reminiscent of cathedrals in Paris.
Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica
In addition to the architectural beauty of both the inside and outside, one of the biggest tourist
is the statue of the Virgin Mary which stands in front of the cathedral. It is believed that, in the
2005, the statue miraculously shed a tear. Although the sighting has not been confirmed, visitors
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
Office) began in 1886. The magnificent building which is home to the country's largest post
was completed in 1891. Located just above the outside entrance to the building is a large still
clock which was hung when the post office first opened.
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
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
"Saigon and its Environments"
13. War Remnants Museum
The primary focus of the War Remnants Museum, an important historical stop, is the
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
Stacy at the War Remnants Museum
United States Air Force Display
History buffs who want to dig deeper into the horrors of war as presented from a communist point
view may have an interest in spending an extended period of time at this quite popular museum.
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
(a preserved fetus deformed due to Agent Orange exposure), children and even some adults may
that the museum is too disturbing.
14. Reunification Palace
For another view into the country's past, Reunification Palace or Independence
is said to be frozen in time. The former Presidential Palace which served as both the home and
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.
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
Vietnamese tank in 1975 which signaled the Communist victory. Also located on the grounds are
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
driving about. Starting as early as your drive from the port, make sure to be on the lookout for
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
You are sure to see cars and buses, but our guess is that nothing will beat the number of
that you'll see. We were amazed at the number of passengers riding on some of these two
vehicles, and lest we forget, the large household items being carried as well.
Families Shopping by Motorcycle
Lots of Interesting Items Carried by Motorcycles
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
a Nha Trang local. We've included both a description and photos of some of our favorite places in
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
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
a future visit, so we'd love to hear recommendations from our readers on what the "must see"
are in Ho Chi Minh City.
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