AKA Ho Chi Minh city, whatever you prefer to call it.
These are what I believe to be the tourist necessities when visiting the city of Saigon.
1. Cu Chi Tunnels
To come to Ho Chi Minh and not travel to see the Cu Chi tunnels is almost criminal.
A system of underground access tunnels and living space at 3, 6 and 10 metres deep, that spans over 250km. The area inhabited 48,000 people over its decades.
Equipped with live booby traps, deliberate misdirected pathways to confuse and capture the enemy and hidden termite holes on all levels to allow oxygen to pass through the caves. The place is a well thought out architectural phenomenon.
I cannot, for the life of me, understand why this hasn’t been voted as a man made wonder of the world?
There was so much creativity and genius involved in the building and upkeep of the Cu Chi tunnels. It really reflects the intelligence, strong will and pride of the Cu Chi people and the lengths in which they went to to survive and fight for their country.
A Tour guide takes you around the area to show the different entrances, weapons made and gives you a great history lesson of the war and its affect on Vietnam and Cu Chi. My favourite part was when we had a chance to crouch through the caves. The holes have been expanded by 30% to allow for tourists to pass through and they are still tiny!
The tour only cost around 120,000 VND per person which includes an English speaking tour guide and your transport. Entry fee at the tunnels is 110,000 VND. Well worth the day out for 7 or so pound.
2. War Remnants Museum
This is not a place for the weak stomached.
The War Remnants museum documents the decades of war between the Vietnamese and the U.S. from a Vietnamese view point. This is achieved through a series of 8 themed exhibits including ‘aggressive war crimes’ and ‘Historical Truths’.
Inside, you can expect some facts, figures and showcases of weapons but its mostly filled with graphic war photography. Including my personal favourite ‘Requiem’; a collection of photographs taken by photojournalists who died in Vietnam and Indochina.
The outside display of the prison conditions are gruesome and barbaric. This was a tough one, even for me. I had so many mixed emotions when visiting here and left in a state of shock. I witnessed a few tears shed by fellow tourists too.
To think that the Vietnamese and Americans now have a good relationship is quite remarkable; considering that millions of Vietnamese (10% of the population in fact) are still affected by Agent Orange. It really reflects the loving, forgiving and peaceful nature of the Vietnam people.
There isn’t really any way you can prepare for this beautiful yet terrifying tourist attraction, but it’s a definite must see.
3. Notre Dame Cathedral
This 60m high attraction officially known as the ‘Basilica of our Lady of Immaculate Conception’ was built by the French colonists following their conquest of the city.
The attraction was purposefully designed to show the influence that the French civilisation and Christianity had over Saigon and was the most beautiful of its kind when it was built in the 1860s.
4. Saigon Post Office
..parked right next to the Cathedral so you can kill two birds with one stone (Not literally. I love birds).
Aww what a beautiful site. The palace is symbolic of the end of the Vietnam War.
On April 30, 1975, the famous 843 North Vietnamese Army tank crashed through the gates of the palace, which at the time was the residence of the President of the Republic of Vietnam.
There is a lovely fountain out front and lots of perfectly mowed grass which makes it a great picnic spot. Unfortunately I hit the town early doors and the park didn’t open until 1.20pm, so I only see the view from behind the high security bars. Fear not, just go at the right time and you can take a tour around the palace and it’s grounds.
What we missed/passed on that may be of interest
We missed another puppet show! I completely forgot that they had them in Saigon as well as Hanoi.
There is also a lovely big theatre if you have time to catch a performance.
A tour across the Mekong Delta – I’ve heard this is great from fellow travellers but we just didn’t have the time. An alternative to a day trip would be 2 days border crossing to Phnom Penh which includes getting a boat across the river if you’re heading this way.
Feel free to add your own must sees or opinions on these below!