Our first stop in Vietnam is its capital Ho Chi Minh (also called Saigon). We arrived there from the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh with Mekong express. The journey was endless because of traffic jams, but we survived 😀 We spent 5 days in Ho Chi Minh, celebrating Tet, which is one of the most important holidays for Vietnamese, exploring the Mekong Delta and gathering information about the Vietnam War. In this article we summarize the places we recommend to visit in and around Ho Chi Minh. We will also tell you all our experiences, so we hope you enjoy it! 🙂
Guide to Ho Chi Minh with must visit places
Ho Chi Minh is a modern and vibrant city. We were surprised how many modern and stylish restaurants or cafes are located here. It’s also a city of motorbikes, just wherever you look, you’ll find a motorbike! But the local bikers don’t care about traffic rules or traffic lights, so get ready for suicide missions as you try to cross the road. You just have to take a deep breath and go: D
1. Trip to Mekong delta
The Mekong Delta is really large and there are a few starting points to explore. For example, the city of Can Tho and its floating market, Chau Doc and its floating fishing villages or Ben Tre and canals with mangrove trees. Then the city of My Tho, where is located one of the most beautiful pagodas (Vinh Trang Pagoda) in the Delta and is a starting point for exploring the surrounding islands. Tet celebration made it more complicated for us as there was limited transport and the floating market was closed. Despite the reluctance to organized tours, we eventually purchased a day trip to My Tho and Ben Tre for 180 CZK per person at Lanc Hong Tours (many tour companies can be found in the Backpacker street area). We wanted to go there on our own but Tet celebration totally destroyed our plans (Cancelled buses, closed floating market).
In a group of 25 people we first arrived to My Tho and saw the site of the famous pagoda. First the guide told us some basic information and then the 20-minute break was up to us.
Then we boarded a larger motor boat and finally sailed down the Mekong River to the island where was a bee farm. We got a tasting of tea with honey, dried fruit and one lady put on us some honey creams. Another activity was listening to traditional music from the delta, which is even listed in UNESCO World Heritage Site. It seemed to us only as an effort ask tourists for money, because they gave us baskets for money in front of face. The only thing we liked here was fruit tasting :D.
Then was a small boat ride on the program. Both was created for 4 people and we sailed together through a canal around the mangroves trees. This was disappointing because it was terribly touristy and it was a struggle to keep the ships from colliding. The cruise was very short and organized, but what could be done:D A visit of the coconut farm included tasting of delicious candies and weird kind of alcohol. What was it unusual about? Inside were leached dead snake and lizard :O After tasting we have to say ….we are in love with Czech alcohol 😀 Well and the joke of the day was a stop in a company that manufactures clothes, toys, towels and other things from bamboo. At first they chased us into the room where their products were shown. Lady was really trying and her scene was appreciated by a huge applause. In the end we had to go through the whole store, but we didn’t buy anything :D.
To sum up, we do not recommend this type of tour. Unfortunately, it is offered by most tour operators in Ho Chi Minh, so it is best to go to Can Tho and arrange a trip/boat there. The lunar year celebrations really impacted us us. There were fewer buses, the floating market did not work, and we were worried about renting a boat.
2. Cu Chi tunnels – Ben Duoc
A tour of the Cu Chi tunnels gave us a glimpse into the course of the Vietnam War, and we definitely recommend their visit. You can get there with a tour from Ho Chi Minh or on your own by bus, which is much cheaper.
How to get to Cu Chi tunnels by bus from Ho Chi Minh
First take a bus number 13 from the Trạm Điều hành xe buýt Sài Gòn station that will take you to the city Cu Chi (1 ticket = 10 000 VND). Then you have to take a bus number 7 that will stop you close do Ben Duoc tunnels (1 ticket = 7 000 VND). The journey is 2,5 hours long but you can see nice Vietnamese nature and Ho Chi Minh surroundings.
Visit of Cu Chi Tunnels
Price: 90 000 VND (4 USD)
The tour started with documentary movie about tunnels, in which we learned that it was essentially a Vietnam-American war. Not a word about the war of North Vietnam against the South. Then a local guide picked us and led us through several tunnels. He showed us the hospital, the meeting or dining room. The aisles in the tunnel were terribly narrow and low, so we sweated after a few meters and Tom even caught claustrophobic seizures :D. Fortunately, it all turned out well, we did not take wrong aisle anywhere and found the way out 😀 Local tunnels are up to 250 km long and without a guide you would not have a chance and get lost. Without a guide it would be even hard to find the entrance to the tunnels, as they are usually covered with leaves and invisible to the ordinary mortal.
3. Bitexco Financial Tower
The famous building became the model for Iron Man movie because its shape is similar to the headquarter of Tony Stark. The upper bridge offers view of the entire Ho CHi Minh city.
4. Landmark 81
The tallest building in Vietnam is called Landmark 81 and is located about 3 km from Ho Chi Minh city center. We kept her visit for watching the fireworks to celebrate the start of the new Lunar Year. The plan paid off because, thanks to our unique location across the river, we could see all 4 fireworks, including what was fired directly from the Landmark 81.
The most famous sight in Chinatown is Pagoda Ba Thien Hau. We didn’t go inside because it was overcrowded due to Tet.
6. Ben Thanh Market
The most famous market in Ho CHi Minh is located in the city center. It is full of clothes, food, shoes, handbags, sunglasses, souvenirs and whatever you can think of :D. Tom bought there a pair of sunglasses and he bargained price from 550 VND to 100 VND. So do not forget to bargain! First Prices are really high because of tourists.
Saigon Square 1 is also an alternative shopping option, where you can find mainly clothes, shoes or handbags. You can’t do shopping without bargaining! 🙂
7. Cathedral (Saigon)
The cathedral was built by French colonizers in the second half of the 19th century. It is interesting Christian building in Buddhist world and reminds us Nothe Dame in Paris.
8. Central Post Office
The building of the Central Post Office was built during the French colonization which can be seen at the first sight by its architectural style. It still functions as a post office and there is no entrance fee.
9. Pink church (Tan Dinh Church)
Church painted pink? Have you even seen cuter church? 😀 This is the most famous and visited church in Vietnam famous because of its color and lanterns. Genial idea… 😀
10. War Remnants museum in Ho CHi Minh
The War Museum commemorates the horrors of the Vietnam War, which took place between 1955 and 1975. Here you will find American warplanes, tanks, weapons, prison demonstrations, information about the war and interesting videos. Basically, you will learn that it was not a war between North and South Vietnam, but a war between the US and Vietnam.
Tet – New Lunar Year celebration
And how was Tet celebration? Now we can say never travel to Vietnam during Tet! Accommodation, transport, service..everything was more expensive during this holiday. Most of the places were closed so it was really hard and almost a miracle to find open restaurant outside of tourist sites. The charm of the celebration was mainly in the floral decoration and midnight fireworks to celebrate the beginning of the Tet. We were expecting parades with dragons or something similar, a wild celebration in Chinatown, but none of these happened. We found the dragon dance by accident on the way to the accommodation and there was no official parade (we probably dreamed it because of some movie :D). Hell with higher prices and closed businesses lasted another week, so planning our trips To catch the Tet celebration in Vietnam wasn’t really worth it 😀
What we liked was floral decorations in the city. People were carrying huge flower pots on a motorbike (they even had them transported via Uber), selling flowers at every corner and there was a special floating flower market near Chinatown.
Bunus: Tip for best Bun Bo Nam Bo in Ho Chi Minh
Bun Bo Nam Bo is typical Vietnamese dish and must try if you are in this country. It consists from vermicelli noodles, grilled pork meat, vegetables, peanuts and delicious sauce! The one we liked the most is called Bún Bò Nam Bộ Bà Bà on this address 76 Nguyễn Thái Bình