Ho Chi Minh City

Commonly known as Saigon, the former capital of South Vietnam and the largest city in Vietnam offers a chaotic whirl of colourful sights, sounds and activities.

Following the fall of Saigon in 1975, Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City. However the old Saigon name is still used by both Vietnamese and foreigners; alternatively you might hear Ho Chi Minh City abbreviated to HCMC or HCM.

No matter how you wish to refer to the city, there’s a lot to see and do.

What to see in Ho Chi Minh City

See the Reunification Palace where, in 1975, tanks crashed through the gates of the president's palace. At the War Remnants Museum – formerly called the Museum of American War Crimes – learn about the American War through a range of fascinating exhibits.

Don’t miss the elaborate woodcarvings of gilded characters and local deities at the Emperor of Jade Pagoda. Visit the bustling markets of Cholon, located in the ancient Chinese quarter or the visitor-friendly Ben Thanh Market.

For a 360-degree view overlooking the city head to the 49th floor viewing platform at the towering Bitexco Financial Tower.

Elsewhere you can sign-up for a VIP speedboat tour to see the Cu Chi Tunnels, The Mekong Delta and even to the beach resort of Vung Tau.

Must-see attractions in Saigon – and nearby – include…

Reunification Palace

Take a step back in time as you wander around the deserted halls and rooms of the former Presidential Palace, left largely untouched since Saigon fell to the communist North Vietnamese forces in April 1975.

The present building was built in 1966 on the site of the Norodom Palace – the former French governor general's home; following the French withdrawal in 1954 it became the home of Ngo Dinh Diem, the U.S.-backed leader of Vietnam, until dissident pilots of the South Vietnamese airforce bombed and destroyed the Norodom Palace in 1962. (A few months later Diem was assassinated while the present building was under construction.)

Formerly known as Independence Palace, the building was once the symbol of the South Vietnamese government.

See tank #843 – the first tank that crashed through the presidential gate – now parked on the lawn outside.

Check out the eerie 1960s period kitsch as you tour the private quarters, dinning rooms and entertainment lounges. Ponder the president’s office that feels like he just left yesterday and don’t miss the war command room, with its huge maps and old communications equipment.

In the basement, see vintage 1960s phones, radios and office equipment, supposedly left exactly as it was found in April 1975. Then view the photo gallery and watch a propaganda film depicting South Vietnam’s defeat at the hands of the revolutionary North Vietnamese forces.

There is a nice outdoor café on the grounds of the palace. Free tours are available, but not necessary.

Location: 106 Nguyen Du Street, (enter at 135 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street); Admission: 30,000DVN; Hours: Daily 7:30-11am & 1- 4pm..

War Remnants Museum

At the War Remnants Museum – formerly called the Museum of American War Crimes – learn about the American War through a range of fascinating exhibits.

Stroll through a series of eight rooms filled with exhibitions about the war, including period military equipment and graphic photos depicting the effect of Agent Orange and other chemical defoliants as well as atrocities such as the My Lai massacre.

Especially poignant are stories told by the victims of US military action. One room is dedicated to the journalists who were lost during the war.

In the outside courtyard, see defused, unexploded ordinance and a range of military equipment including a UH-1 "Huey" helicopter, an F-5A fighter, an M48 Patton tank, an A-1 Skyraider attack bomber and an A-37 Dragonfly attack bomber.

Note: The museum is operated by the Vietnamese government and does not exhibit anything critical of the North Vietnamese Army or the Viet Cong’s war efforts and atrocities.

Location: 28 Vo Van Tan Street, Ho Chi Minh City (A short walk from Reunification Palace.); Admission: 15,000DVN; Hours: Daily 7:30-12noon & 1:30- 5pm.

Emperor Jade Pagoda

Explore one of the most spectacularly colourful pagodas in HCMC. Built by the Cantonese community in 1909, the Emperor Jade (Tortoise) Pagoda (Chua Ngoc Hoang or Phuoc Hai Tu) is dedicated to the Emperor of Jade, the supreme Taoist god. Today, it still bustles with worshippers.

Built by the Cantonese community in 1909, the Emperor Jade (Tortoise) Pagoda (Chua Ngoc Hoang or Phuoc Hai Tu) is dedicated to the Emperor of Jade, the supreme Taoist god. Today, it still bustles with worshippers.

Stroll though the pungent smoke of burning joss sticks, and in the Hall of Ten Hells admire exquisite woodcarvings decorated with gilded Chinese characters that illustrate the varied torments awaiting evil people in each of the Ten Regions of Hell.

Check out the statue of the Jade Emperor himself (the ‘god of the heavens’) flanked by spear-wielding guardians and, in several anterooms, ponder characters from both Buddhist and Taoist traditions depicted in a fascinating collection of statues representing phantasmal divinities and heroes, such as the Chief of Hell together with his red horse.

Outside, take a moment to admire the elaborate tile work and statuary on the pagoda's roof and then see how many turtles you can spot in the courtyard’s pond.

Location: 73 Mai Thi Luu Street, Ho Chi Minh City; Admission: 15,000DVN; Hours: Daily 7:30-12noon & 1:30- 5pm.

Vietnam History Museum

Housed in a large pagoda-style Sino-French building, the museum is a showcase of Vietnam’s history from prehistoric archaeological artefacts to period costume of the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945).

See Metal Age artefacts, stone and bronze displays of Cham sculpture, ancient ceramics, cannons and other weapons from the 14th century and even an embalmed body that dates back to 1869.

Nguyen dynasty clothing and housewares are also on display as are a collection of photographs, costumes and household implements dedicated to ethnic minorities of the south.

Inside the museum is a small theatre that shows regular water puppet performances. (Tickets 32,000 VND, performances Tuesday through Sunday every hour 9-11am and 2-4pm.)

Afterwards, take a stroll around the Botanical Gardens, which features many rare orchids, ornamental plants and various species of mammals, reptiles and birds in the zoo. However, if you care about animal welfare, you may wish to avoid the zoo.

Location: Intersection of Le Duan Street and Nguyen Binh Khiem (just inside the zoo gates), Ho Chi Minh City; Admission: 15,000DVN; Hours: Daily (except Monday) 8-11am & 1.30-4.30pm.

Hoa Binh Noodle Shop

Enjoy a tasty bowl of steaming pho bo (Vietnamese beef-and-noodle soup) in the former secret headquarters of the Vet Cong (VC) in Saigon.

It was from this humble noodle shop that the secret F100 Viet Cong cell planned its attack on the US embassy and other places in Saigon during the Tet Offensive of 1968, a surprise attack on U.S. forces region-wide including Saigon.

While American GI’s slurped noodles downstairs, Viet Cong leaders plotted part of the Tet Offensive of 1968 upstairs.

The name of the noodle shop means ‘Peace Noodles’ and except for a small red plaque and a flag of the Communist regime above the entrance, the shop itself resembles countless others around Saigon. However, the plaque marks this discreet little shopfront's important place in history.

After the failed offensive, police arrested its owner, Ngo Toai, who survived torture and imprisonment until his release in 1975, when he returned to his shop. His relatives still operate the noodle shop to this day.

Ask to be shown the top floor – complete with period furniture and a display of photographs and medals.

Location: 7 Ly Chinh Thang Street, Ho Chi Minh City; Cost: Noodle soup 30,000DVN; Hours: Daily 7am - 11pm.

Giac Lam Pagoda

Built in 1744 and renovated many times since then, the Giac Lam Pagoda is believed to be the oldest pagoda in HCMC.

Stroll through the pretty garden under a rare Bodhi tree – a species of which Prince Siddhartha sat under while gaining enlightenment to become Gautama Buddha – then ponder the gleaming white statue of Quan The Am Bo Tat (Avalokitesvara, the goddess of mercy) standing on a lotus blossom, a symbol of purity.

Enter the 32m-high, seven-storied stupa through an entrance adorned with dragons into a series of three atmospheric ceremonial rooms full of gilded hand-carved wooden statues, surrounded by colourful wall panels (depicting the path to enlightenment and the tortures awaiting those condemned to hell among other things).

The oldest of the three altars depicts Gautama Buddha on a lotus seat that dates back to the 18th century.

Don’t miss the bronze bell that when rung is believed to answer the prayers posted by petitioners: the pagoda is a pilgrimage site for the sick and elderly.

Giac Lam Pagoda is home to several monks and although Buddhist the pagoda also incorporates aspects of Taoism and Confucianism.

Climb to the top for a fine view of the city.

Location: 118 Lac Long Quan, Ho Chi Minh City; Hours: Daily 5am-noon and 2-9pm.

Other must-see attractions near Siagon, include…

Cu Chi Tunnels

For an insight into the life of a Viet Cong guerrilla during the American War, head underground into the 250km-long complex of tunnels that crisscross the Cu Chi district of greater Ho Chi Minh City.

Located just across the Saigon River at the end of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the underground guerrilla base of Cu Chi made it easy for around 15,000 Viet Cong fighters to infiltrate Saigon at will, and successfully launch attacks against US forces.

As a result, Cu Chi was declared a ‘free-fire’ zone and carpet-bombed relentlessly by US forces.

As well providing sanctuaries for the Viet Cong, the tunnels served as communication and supply routes, hospitals, food and weapon caches and living quarters for numerous guerrilla fighters.

Today, two sections of this remarkable tunnel network are open to the public: one near the village of Ben Dinh and the other 15km beyond at Ben Duoc.

Here, you can clamber down and through widened tunnels. Or, bent-over, squeeze through the dark, claustrophobic half- to one-metre wide original passageways that lead to underground hideouts, shelters and entrances to other tunnels. Don’t worry – all lethal booby traps and trap doors have been removed!

Exhibits show the horrors that American and Australian ‘tunnel rats’ faced when trying to hunt the VC inside their own lair, as well as display the ingenuity of the Vietnamese when it came to protecting themselves.

At the end of the tour, visit the underground dining room and sample a dish of steamed tapioca – a Cu Chi staple for Viet Cong fighters.

The tunnels at Cu Chi have been preserved by the government of Vietnam and turned into a war memorial. The tunnel network was first discovered by men of 3 Field Troop, Royal Australian Engineers operating in support of 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (and troops of the U.S. 1st Infantry Division and 173rd Airborne Brigade) during Operation Crimp in January 1966.

Nearby is a shooting range where, for $1 per bullet, you can try your hand at firing Vietnam-era assault rifles, such as an AK-47 or an M16.

Location: 65km northwest of Ho Chi Minh City; Admission: 70,000VND; Hours: Daily 7am-5pm

Vinh Long

Located along the banks of the Mekong River, Vinh Long is a great base for exploring the many islands in the Mekong River and taking interesting boat trips into the Mekong Delta.

Enjoy timeless river scenes, visit tropical fruit gardens and ancient pagodas and don’t miss the colourful Cai Rang Floating Market, probably the most famous and the largest floating market in the Mekong Delta.

Watch the early morning rush of hundreds of boats packed with fruit, vegetables, plants and various foods. Or discover life along the riverbanks on a bicycle tour.

Phu Quoc Island

Discover some of Vietnam’s most beautiful, palm-fringed, white-sand beaches on the country’s largest offshore island, just 15km from Cambodia. Swim, dive or snorkel in the clear turquoise waters.

Or rent a motorcycle to explore interior forests and far-flung beaches on both sides of the island, which are ideal for picnics, swimming, snorkelling or fishing.

Cat Tien National Park

Explore this amazing UNESCO biosphere reserve on foot, by mountain bike, jeep or by boat along the Dong Nai River.

Take your binoculars and spot numerous bird species, including white-winged ducks, Siamese firebacks, great hornbills and black eagles.

And from well-established hiking trails that meander through the lowland tropical rainforests, look out for Javan rhinos, elephants, gaur, sun bears, yellow-cheeked gibbons, silvery langurs, crab-eating macaques as well as civets, mouse deer and treeshrews.

Reunification Express

Experience the journey as well as the destination on the Reunification Express as it puffs its way from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi, passing through Nha Trang, Da Nang and Hué en route.

With several trains and a range of carriages, you can choose your style of comfort for the 30-hour ride.

Where to stay

Ho Chi Minh City offers an excellent range of accommodation options to suit all budgets, including the hotels below…

Park Hyatt Saigon
Location: District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Rating: 5-star
Prices: from AUD406 per double room
Description: This French colonial-style hotel enjoys a prime location in central Ho Chi Minh City, overlooking the Opera House on Lam Son Square. Only 100 m from Dong Khoi Shopping Street, it offers a 20-metre outdoor pool and the pampering Xuan Spa. Luxurious and elegant, the air-conditioned rooms at Park Hyatt Saigon all come with free WiFi, and 24-hour butler service. Bathrooms are equipped with a soaking tub and a walk-in rainshower. All rooms also come fully equipped with a coffee machine and ironing facilities. The hotel offers residential-style meeting venues which includes the unique Pool House, equipped with its own private barbecue area and the Guest House, which boasts a show kitchen. The business centre, concierge desk and room service are all available 24 hours. The cosy Opera restaurant serves Italian cuisine, while the stylish Square One offers Vietnamese and grilled Western delights. The hotel also features the modern and popular 2 Lam Son bar and the elegant Park Lounge, which offers afternoon tea in a casual setting. Guests may also enjoy rejuvenating wellness treatments utilising traditional Vietnamese rituals and ingredients at Xuan Spa or exercise at the fitness centre. Park Hyatt Saigon is within walking distance of Notre Dame Cathedral, Central Post Office and the Reunification Palace. It is a 45-minute drive from Tan Son Nhat International Airport and 2.5 km from Saigon Railway Station.

Villa Song Saigon
Location: District 2, Ho Chi Minh City
Rating: 5-star
Prices: from AUD272 per double room
Description: Situated along the banks of Saigon River, Villa Song Saigon is a boutique hotel offering rooms with free WiFi. The elegant rooms are air-conditioned and offer a flat-screen cable TV, Nespresso machine and comfortable beddings. The private bathrooms are equipped with a bath or shower and free toiletries. This hotel is equipped with an outdoor saltwater pool, a gym and a spa centre. Guests enjoy complimentary shuttle boat service to and from Cau Mong Pier. The hotel's restaurant, Bistro Song Vie, serves international cuisine and has an open-air bar with an extensive list of wines and spirits. All-day breakfast is also available. Tan Son Nhat International Airport is 16 km from the property. District 2 is a great choice for travellers interested in culturally diverse food, food and sightseeing.

The Reverie Saigon
Location: District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Rating: 5-star
Prices: from AUD396 per double room
Description: The Reverie Saigon Hotel offers luxurious and stylish accommodation with free WiFi access in the guestrooms. It features an outdoor pool, fitness centre and sauna facility on site. Elegantly furnished, air-conditioned rooms come equipped with a wardrobe, minibar, a flat-screen TV and comfortable seating area. The en suite bathroom features a spa bathtub, shower facility, bathrobes and free toiletries. Ironing facilities are also available. At The Reverie Saigon Hotel, guests can indulge in a pampering massage at the spa, while the 24-hour front desk can assist with luggage storage and airport transfers. The in-house restaurant offers a delectable spread of Asian and Western dishes. Meals can also be provided in the privacy of guests' rooms. The hotel is just 300 metres from Tax Trade Centre and 400 metres from Opera House. Union Square is 500 metres away, while Tan Son Nhat International Airport is accessible with an 8 km drive. District 1 is a great choice for travellers interested in nightlife, markets and shopping.

InterContinental Asiana Saigon
Location: District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Rating: 5-star
Prices: from AUD273 per double room
Description: The Intercontinental Asiana Saigon offers luxurious accommodation with leisure facilities including a 24-hour fitness centre. Rooms at Intercontinental Asiana Saigon feature floor-to-ceiling windows and marble bathrooms with a separate rainforest shower. Rooms are also fitted with ample workspace, an iPod docking station and DVD player. Turndown service is also offered. The Spa Intercontinental Health Club at Asiana boasts state-of-the-art equipment and luxurious signature spa treatments. Yoga classes are available on request. Enjoy a meal at Intercontinental Asiana's on-site restaurant offering a variety of Cantonese, Vietnamese, French and South East Asian cuisines. You can also relax with a refreshing drink at The Library or Purple Jade. Intercontinental Asiana Saigon is linked to the Kumho Asiana Plaza, which offers a variety of retail options. The hotel is Located in downtown Ho Chi Minh City and is close to several historical and cultural attractions including Notre Dame Cathedral, Ben Thanh Market and Reunification Palace.

Caravelle Saigon
Location: District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Rating: 5-star
Prices: from AUD218 per double room
Description: Opened in 1959, the 5-star Caravelle Saigon features stylish French and Vietnamese architecture, an outdoor pool and non-smoking rooms with free Wi-Fi. Only 160 m from the famous Opera House in Ho Chi Minh City, the eco-friendly hotel also has a rooftop bar with live music performances. Elegantly decorated in soothing neutrals, the air-conditioned rooms feature full-length windows which overlook the city or Saigon River. Modern comforts like a flat-screen TV, a pillow menu and 24-hour room service are included in all rooms. Guests may enjoy a refreshing workout at Caravelle's gym, followed by a relaxing massage at Kara Salon and Spa. Cultural tours and cooking classes can also be arranged at the hotel's tour desk, while the first floor Club Vegas game room provides late-night entertainment. International meals are served in a casual buffet style at Restaurant Nineteen, or in fine dining style at Reflections Restaurant. Cocktails and wine are available at Caravelle's 4 bars and lounges. Caravelle Saigon is within 1.1 km from the Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre and Ben Thanh Market.

Best time to visit Ho Chi Minh City

The best time to visit Ho Chi Minh City is during the winter dry season from early-December through February; March and April are still dry months, but are typically uncomfortably hot.

Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) has a hot tropical climate with a dry season from December to April, and a wet season from May to November.

South Vietnam is always hot: temperatures average 30°C (86°F) year-round.

More about Ho Chi Minh City weather

How to get there

Ho Chi Minh City (Siagon) – the largest city in Vietnam – is located on the Saigon River in southeastern Vietnam.

The most convenient route to Ho Chi Minh City (Siagon) is by air to Tan Son Nhat International Airport (SGN), located about 8km (5mi) north of the center of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).

More about how to get to Ho Chi Minh City


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Latest update: Ho Chi Minh City: 16 January, 2023