Location: In the core of the Mekong Delta, about 1,760km south of Hanoi.
Access: Through Tan Son Nhat international airport - one hour and 30 minutes by plane from Singapore, one hour from Bangkok, and two hours and 45 minutes from Hong Kong by plane, over 24 international airlines having flights to and from Ho Chi Minh City, a gateway to other cities and provinces in Vietnam by plane, car, train or ship, one hour and a half by plane from Hanoi. Thong Nhat express train connects Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, via many provinces in Vietnam.
Main attractions: Vietnam’s most modern and dynamic city still retains its old charm with colonial style buildings: Notre Dame Cathedral, the City Hall, the Municipal Theatre, etc., old pagodas such as Thien Hau, Giac Lam, Vinh Nghiem and the busy markets of Binh Tay and Ben Thanh, etc., Cu Chi Tunnels.
Yet within the teeming metropolis are the timeless traditions and beauty of an ancient culture with shaded boulevards, pavement cafes and French-styled buildings helping it to retain a bygone colonial atmosphere. The city is bathed by many rivers, arroyos and canals, the biggest river being the Saigon River.
Once romantically referred to by the French as the Pearl of the Orient, the city possesses various beautiful buildings, displaying a characteristic combination of Vietnamese, Chinese and European cultures. These include the Dragon House Wharf, National Ancestors Temple, Municipal Office, Ho Chi Minh Municipal Theatre, Notre Dame Cathedral, as well as many pagodas and churches (Vinh Nghiem, Giac Vien, Giac Lam, Phung Son pagodas...). After more than 300 years of development, Ho Chi Minh City presents many ancient architectural constructions, famous vestiges and renowned sights. It is remarkable for its harmonious blending of traditional national values with northern and western cultural features.
Built in 1868 to serve the French Governor-General of Indochina, the palace comprises of a ground floor, 3 main floors, two mezzanines and a terrace for helicopter landing. It includes many tastefully decorated rooms such as the reception room, the cabinet reference room, the study rooms, the credentials presentation room and the banquet room. It also has a basement with a network of tunnels connecting to the telecom centre and war room and one of the longest tunnels which stretch all the way to the Revolutionary Museum. The grounds outside contain one of the first tanks to burst through the gates of the palace to signify the end of the Vietnam War as well as the fighter plane which dropped further bombs towards the end of the war. Independence Palace was renamed the Unification Palace to denote the spirit and strong will for national independence and reunification
Ben Thanh Market
Ben Thanh market has long been one of Saigon's most famous landmarks. Since the French occupation, the market has been one of the biggest markets in the city where everything can be found, from domestic products, especially sophisticated handicrafts, to modern industrial goods from other countries.
Notre Dame Cathedral
Usually known as a miniature of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, she is an important mark reflecting the colonial influences as well as architecture in Vietnam. Without question, the cathedral itself bears a unique beauty and historic significance, especially as this neo-Romanesque architecture was built with bricks and tiles imported from France. In front of the cathedral in a small garden is a delicate statue of the Virgin Mary.
Cholon is in District 5 and is a maze of narrow streets, bustling with people. Most of Vietnam’s ethnic Chinese live here and they are the largest single ethnic minority group in the country.
Thien Hau Pagoda
Thien Hau Pagoda is one of Cholon’s must-sees. It is dedicated to the goddess Thien Hau, protector of the sea. Photographers are spoilt for choice with the ornate decoration inside the pagoda and the statues of Thien Hau. It is popular with worshippers and there are regular festivals during the lunar calendar.
Binh Tay Market
Binh Tay Market throngs with people from early morning and the gloomy, narrow walkways are crammed with consumer items and exotic foodstuffs. The sound of bargaining, quite often in Chinese rather than Vietnamese, and the calls of the vendors constantly fill the air. This is one of the best places to see the locals going about their daily lives.
Cu Chi Tunnels
Location: 70km from downtown Ho Chi Minh City, 1 hour and 45 minutes by car.
The whole system is an extensive and intriguing network of nearly 200 miles (322m) of tunnels used in the French Indochina war and American war. These tunnels are a symbol of Vietnam’s continual fight against foreign oppression and imperialism. They have complete facilities, from kitchens to printing presses and even street signs, all of which were used to aid the NLF (National Liberation Front) military. They can be seen to represent the Vietnamese attributes of ingenuity, loyalty, hard work and determination.
Although the tunnels were mainly designed with a fighting role in mind they also contained a wide array of chambers including field hospitals, meeting rooms and even private offices and sleeping quarters for senior officers. To repel attacks and infiltration, the tunnels contained many elaborate booby traps including concealed pits with bamboo spikes at the base, and mines and crossbows which would be triggered by trip wires.
With all those terrific features, Cu Chi has boasted itself as an ideal place not only for individual challenges, but also for team building throughout exploration team games organized by Saigontourist.
Before entering the actual Cu Chi tunnels, tourists may be shown a propaganda film. It is also possible to fire an AK - 47 on site for US$1.00/bullet.