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Ho Chi Minh city

Ho Chi Minh city

It is said that Ho Chi Minh (formerly named Saigon) is a city of contrasts. If Hanoi is the capital, then here is the Vietnam’s commercial metropolis always at its most dazzling. From the luxurious hotels to the cheapest guesthouses, from the finest restaurants to the famous Saigon baguette on street stalls, it has so much to see and savor.

Ho Chi Minh city
But lie beyond its hustle and bustle, the glorious shining past is still alive in numerous historical monuments and fine examples of French colonial heritages. A stroll down Dong Khoi Street will reveal the remaining of grand colonial architectures in the city which now are overshadowed by modern high-rise building dominating the skyline, like Majestic, Continental and Caravelle hotels as well as dozens of tempting boutiques and galleries.

Next stop is the former Hôtel de Ville which is now known as Ho Chi Minh City Hall. Its cream and yellow French colonial building is one of the city’s most striking monuments especially when floodlit at nights. However the interior entry is not allowed, you can only take photo at the statue of Uncle Ho in front instead.

Another point of interest is Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica. A brick, neo-Romanesque church was built in 1877 by the French with all original materials imported from France. And the nearby Saigon Central Post Office was designed and constructed by the famous French architect Gustave Eiffel in the late 19th century. Its vaulted roof and arched windows bring to mind the early European railway stations.

For those interested in history, begin with the former Presidential Palace now renamed Independence Palace.  This building which is the harmonious blend of the Eastern and Western styles remains almost the same as it was on 30th April 1975 when the fall of the Saigon regime marked the end of the Vietnam War. For more history-related sites, the War Remnants Museum with an extensive collection of exhibits relating to the Vietnam War and Museum of Vietnamese History featuring a rewarding collection of artifacts illustrating the evolution of Vietnamese cultures from all periods are worth visiting.

Far afield 70km to the northwestern city lay the incredible Cu Chi tunnels. It is actually a defense system of 250 km of connecting underground tunnels built by Vietnamese resistance fighters during the long time of struggling for independence. The tunnels now are widened and turned into a war memorial park with two other display sites. Not only exploring the tunnels itself, visitors also have chance to fire AK47s and M16s at a shooting range on site. The site can be visit within a day from Ho Chi Minh. En route, you can make a short stop to the bizarre Cao Dai Temple in Tay Ninh province. This is home to a syncretic religion that incorporates aspect of Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism and even Catholicism named Cao Dai with unique architectural style that reflects its blended traditions.

In addition to historic sites, there are many temples and pagodas in the city, most of them being Buddhist or Taoist. They vary in size, with the biggest pagodas being highly decorated, and filled with many religious relics. Among them, Vinh Nghiem Pagoda is the largest with architectural blend of traditional Japanese and Vietnamese style in concrete. It is home to a sanctuary and a seven-story, 40m tower. People come here to show their respect to Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha himself, and Samantabhadra, the Lord of Truth and Manjusri. Move on Thien Hau temple or Chua Ba was built in the 19th century by the Chinese and dedicated to the Lady of the Sea. It features magnificent furnishings, bas reliefs and the remarkable porcelain dioramas that decorate the temple’s roof. One of the city’s oldest temples, Giac Vien pagoda has a scholarly serenity and more than 100 lavish carvings of divine beings. Lastly, Jade Emperor Pagoda was built in the early 20th century by the Chinese.  This is a rare Taoist structure filled with statues of phantasmal divinities, grotesque heroes and burning incense.

Ho Chi Minh is a real shopping paradise with modern commercial centers and trendy boutiques associating with traditional street markets. The best known market is Ben Thanh market where tourists can find almost everything from meat and vegetables, fruits to local handicrafts, textiles, souvenirs and dishes. Despite being crowded and bustling with over 3,000 vender stalls, everything is laid out in an organized grid. It is really the feast for your senses, especially at nights when the market moves outside. Be sure to taste some authentic dishes at local prices and bargain when buying anything (though some stalls have 'fixed price' sign).

Ben Thanh Market Map

Cholon or the city’s Chinatown, about some 5km southwest of the city center on the banks of Saigon River, is the frenetic commercial center where every building has a shop or workshop on the ground floor. It has Binh Tay as the central market and a wealth of Chinese temples, including Thien Hau Pagoda, Phuoc An Hoi Quan pagoda, and Quan Am pagoda can be found here.

For winning and dining it is hard to beat Ho Chi Minh City. Cramming with restaurants and bars, ranging from simple street stall where you can sit down on plastic chairs and enjoy a bowl of noodles at cheap price to sophisticated restaurants serving fine international dishes. Life at nights becomes more vibrant and alluring than anywhere in Vietnam with hundreds of bars, pubs, night clubs and discotheques.
Located in the southern Vietnam, the city owns a tropical climate with two distinct seasons of wet and dry. Dry or wet, it's always hot. If you visit here during the rainy season which is from May to November, be prepared for sudden downpours or showers every day.

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