Ho Chi Minh, Formerly Saigon – Bright Lights City

by Huy Huỳnh Ngọc

Ho Chi Minh, Formerly Saigon – Bright Lights City

Ho Chi Minh Tour Package – Vietnam Relaxing Holiday: In 1975, Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) but today they are both used interchangeably by foreigners and locals alike, most preferring the former. Technically speaking, Saigon is actually downtown District 1 of the larger HCMC (which has 19 urban and 5 rural districts). Downtown Saigon is the most popular tourist destination in Vietnam. In the past it was referred to as the Pearl of the Orient and Paris of the East because of its wide boulevards, colonial-style villas and lively café society. Today, it is a curious mix of the past and present.


The streets bustle with pedestrians, cyclos, bicycles, motorbikes, taxis and SUVs all vying for right-of-way. Foreign businessmen and tourists share the walkways with noodle soup vendors and pajama-clad Vietnamese women balancing their weight’s worth of seasonal fruit on their shoulders. Modern skyscrapers loom beside elegant, dilapidated villas. Bars, cafes and Hotels for every budget and taste and restaurants for every cuisine line the streets. Shop in multiple-storied, upscale malls or haggle for bargains on the street. Get a manicure, facial, shampoo or foot massage for under US$ 10 with a cup of tea or be fitted for a suit or gown in a boutique. Saigon has it all within an area no more than a 15 minute walk from end to end. Ho Chi Minh City is Vietnam’s commercial hub and its center of international business.

Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City – Vietnam Tours

Things you should do:

Visit to the Reunification Palace, the former President Palace of South Vietnam, and the War Remnant Museum.
Ride on Cyclo to get close view of Saigon bustle life.
Dinner on the Saigon River cruise.
Experience the underground village of Cuchi Tunnels.


When to go:

There are two seasons in Southern Vietnam, with the annual average temperature is around 27ºC, rains during wet season from May and November, the best time to visit tropical climate zone – Ho Chi Minh City is in the dry season – from December to April. Even rainy season, but it rains some days. So, you can travel to Saigon all year around. You should ovoid to visit Saigon during Tet (Vietnamese Lunar New Year, it fails around the end of January or the beginning of February, very close to Chinese New Year) as you won’t see a busy daily activities of this City.


Getting there & away:

+ Flights: Only one airport in Ho Chi Minh City is Tan Son Nhat, used to be a American Air Base, located about 5 miles (over 7 km) from downtown Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) serving both international and domestic flights. It takes 30 minutes to 45 minutes to drive to the downtown.

Two hours to fly to Hanoi, 1200 miles or 2000km.
One hour to fly to Danang or Hue, 630 miles or 1000km.
Over an hour flight to Siemriep or Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
+ Trains: The Thong Nhat Express train runs from Saigon to Hanoi serving nearly all of the major cities along the coast. The travel time from HCMC to Hanoi by train may take up to 34 hours, but many people prefer to stop along the way in Mui Ne, Nha Trang, Qui Nhon, Da Nang, and Hue…etc. There is also a tourist train from Saigon to Phan Thiet, Nha Trang and Qui Nhon.
+ Roads: Ho Chi Minh City is a great starting and ending points for tours that go up the coast towards Hanoi or down to Mekong Delta.


Where to stay:

Saigon has wide range of hotels for you to choose from. Below are some of recommendations, please contact us for more options if those do not meet your inquiry.


Park Hyatt Saigon, 5 stars from USD 290- The best Hotel in Saigon, a world-class, residential-style hotel with international flair, custom-designed for the discriminating traveler who seeks privacy, personalized service and outstanding quality. The Park Hyatt Saigon is near the elegant Opera House in downtown Ho Chi Minh City and within easy walking distance of the city’s best shopping areas, entertainment and main tourist attractions. www.saigon.park.hyatt.com


Caravelle Saigon Hotel, 5 stars from USD 250 – Centrally located in the midst of Ho Chi Minh City’s business, shopping, and entertainment district. The ever changing, beautiful city views and those of the Saigon River await you. Caravelle Hotel is considered as Vietnam-American War Radio Station as international journalists stayed in this Hotel during the War. www.caravellehotel.com


Majestic Saigon, 5 stars from USD 200 – One of Saigon’s most beautiful and historic hotels. Opened in 1925 as the city’s finest hotel, the Majestic has gone through several renovations over the years in order to maintain the first class accommodations for which it is known. www.majesticsaigon.com.vn


Saigon Grand Hotel, 4 stars, from USD150 – Built in 1930 and completely restored in 1997, nestled in Saigon’s scene riverside area and within walking distance to major commercial and entertainment addresses, and still retained its French colonial area style, provides a perfect base for conducting business or for having completely relaxed vacation in Vietnam. www.grandhotel.vn


Continental Hotel, 4 stars, from USD 130 – Opened in 1880, Continental Hotel Saigon has been a central Saigon landmark for almost a century and a quarter. Built in grand colonial style and overlooking the majestic Opera House, Dong Khoi Street and Lam Son square, the Continental Hotel could hardly be better situated for business, leisure and shopping. If you have read or seen the movie: “The Quiet American”, this is the place for you as Gram Greene, the author of this story stayed once in 1950’s.


Bong Sen Hotel, 3 stars, from USD 100 – The Bong Sen Hotel Saigon, the Asian styled unique 3-star boutique hotel, is strategically located on hustling Dong Khoi street, also know under the name of shopping paradise. The heart of the city’s business, entertainment and shopping district. www.hotelbongsen.com


Vien Dong Hotel, 3 stars, from USD 70 – The Vien Dong Hotel is convenient to everything Ho Chi Minh City has to offer. Guests will find all of the finest amenities in each of the 109 rooms in this popular 3-star hotel Included in all rooms are hair dryer, telephone, air conditioning, television, minibar. Sauna, massage area on-site for guests’ enjoyment.


What to eat:

All cuisines are available in Saigon and most of the restaurant has menu in English. You may not know that Ho Chi Minh City was voted as the best dining destination in 2007 by Bon Appetit Magazine. Just name a few Saigon specialties. Join us, we will show you the best dining in Saigon.


Pho (Vietnamese Rice Noodle Soup): Considered as Vietnam’s Mc Donald, but it is healthier. Pho, pronounced fuh, is Vietnamese beef noodle soup which is perfect for any time of the day, lunch or dinner. There are over 20 different Pho’s made with the best tasting beef broth ever, which goes well with any kind of meat, although beef is preferred. Pho is made up of a combination of meat pieces (beef, chicken, etc.), meatballs, herbs, chili (plain chili or sauce), lemon/lime to give it the sweet and sour taste, hoison (a rich thick brown sauce), white rice noodle’s, and a fantastic broth which takes hours to cook.


Banh Xeo (Vietnamese Pan Cake): Vietnamese crepe-type pancakes made out of rice flour and turmeric powder and coconut milk stuffed with slivers of fatty pork, shrimp, and bean sprouts and pan fried. They are served wrapped with lettuce leaves and stuffed with mint leaves and other herbs, and dipped in nước mắm (Vietnamese fish sauce).


Goi Cuon Tom Thit (Vietnamese Fresh Spring rolls with pork and shrimps): These spring rolls are a refreshing change from the usual fried variety, and have become a family favorite. They are great as a cool summertime appetizer, and are delicious dipped in the sauces special for those rolls.


Cha Gio or Nem Ran (Vietnamese Deep fried spring rolls): Quintessentially Vietnamese, these delicate, crispy rolls are a refinement from the more robust Chinese rolls. The basic ingredient is minced pork, to which either prawns or crab can be added for savory flavor. The gossamer thin banh trang (rice paper) is hard to handle. You can use conventional spring roll skins as an easy alternative, but you won’t achieve the same crispy results.


Fresh Coconut Ice Cream: If you like fresh coconut and ice cream, how about the idea of fresh coconut and ice cream all together with fresh fruits and some little jam.


What to see & do:

Reunification Palace: The former presidential palace of Saigon. This is where the North Vietnamese tanks smashed through the gates on April 30, 1975 and hung their flag. Replacement tanks are still on the grounds; the actual ones that crashed through the gate are in Hanoi. The palace is mostly kept “as is” and not much restoration going on. Cool bunkers down below and old equipment. It’s worth a visit.


War Remnants Museum: even small, but it is the most popular museum in Saigon. Very interesting but depressing to view all the graphic photos. Outside there is hardware such as tanks, planes, helicopters, etc..


Saigon Central Post Office: In the downtown Ho Chi Minh City, beside Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica. The building was constructed by the French colonists in early 20th century during French Indochina. This post features the Gothic architecture style and was designed in well harmony with the surrounding ward. Today, this post office is an attraction for tourists in this city.


Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica: A cathedral located in the downtown of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Established by French colonists, the cathedral was constructed between 1863 and 1880. It has two bell towers, reaching a height of 58 meters (190 feet). Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica, in Vietnamese Nha Tho Duc Ba, is a cathedral located in the downtown of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. This cathedral was built by the French colonists in 1863. It has two bell towers of 58 m height. All the building materials were imported from France.


Ho Chi Minh City Hall: originally called the Hôtel de Ville built in 1908 and now formally re-branded the People’s Committee Hall, it’s a striking cream and yellow French colonial building beautifully floodlit at night. No entry, but the statue of Uncle Ho in front is a very popular place for photos.


Giac Lam Buddhist Temple: the most archaic pagoda in town, which built in 1744. Here is the inheritance of Buddhism preachers from China. Giac Lam Pagoda has architecture of unusual excellence with huge columns where golden – plated parallel sentences engraved. Within its precinct, there is collection of religion – oriented flowers and 113 Buddhism statues made from valued woods and copper.


Vinh Nghiem Buddhist Temple: Built in 1964, the seven-storey Vinh Nghiem Buddhist Temple in Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street, District 3, opened in 1973. It is one of the largest and most beautiful Buddhist Temples in HCM City. It is half way from the airport to downtown.


Ben Thanh Market: The largest old-style market in the central district, with several hundred small stalls stuffed with goods on almost impassably narrow aisles. Due to its popularity with tourists, the market is now divided about half and half between tourist goods (Jeans, T-shirts, smaller souvenirs in abundance) and the stuff of regular life (fruit and vegetables, rice, kitchen wares, flowers, meat, fast food, and local-style pickled fruits and candies). Most items are not price-marked, and vendors always quote a higher price to tourists, so the fortitude to haggle will save you some money.


Saigon Water Puppet Show: An unique art which has it origin in the delta of the Red river in the tenth century. The farmers devised a form of entertainment using what natural medium they can find in their environment. In ancient times, the ponds and the rice paddies after harvest were the stage for these impromptu shows. If you don’t go up to Hanoi, you should see water puppet right in Saigon.


What to buy:

Saigon is the largest city in Vietnam, so it has a wide range of souvenirs, handy crafts, silks, especially lacquer paintings…join us we introduce you the best shoppings in Saigon.


How to design your tours in Saigon:

three days in Saigon are enough for this city, the first day you can do City tour of Saigon, the second day tour to Cuchi Tunnels, the last day to have a full day tour to Mekong Delta, in case you don’t have more time left. If you have one more day, I would recommend you stay one night in Mekong Delta./.

Palm Vietnam Travel – Posted by Para Fin

Huy Huỳnh Ngọc

Written by Huy Huỳnh Ngọc