The receptionist at the hotel where I was staying was very straight forward in her summation of her city.
“You can explore much of Saigon (the preferred name of Ho Chi Minh among locals) in less than 24 hours and you can even do it while walking,” she said.
When I first heard this, I got mad because for a traveler, being told that the city you just visited holds very little stuff to offer is a big disappointment.
It turns out that she was right and I was wrong.
After spending less than a day in the city, I learned that Saigon is a quaint city where almost all the interesting and historical sites are located in very close proximity to each other. But make no mistake, these are the official tourist spots listed in almost every travel guide.
If you take a closer inspection, there are other places, while not very famous, which can surprise avid travelers like me. And what the city offers is actually limitless.
In Quan 1 or District 1, the big guns of Saigon tourist are located in streets parallel an perpendicular to each other.
Cho Ben Thanh market
From my hotel in Le Lai street, you can take a 10 minute walk and suddenly, Cho Ben Thanh market looms in the horizon.
Inside, the market contains stalls selling a host of Vietnam memorabilia (t-shirts, necklaces, ref magnets, food and anything you can think of).
It is the exterior of this building that is actually capturing the interest of most tourists.
The market’s architecture is reminiscent of old French design, a fact that’s quite easy to accept since Vietnam is a former French colony.
What’s in front of the market, is actually very interesting. Most travel pieces do not even mention this, but the the rotonda in front of the market depicts Gen. Tran Ngyuen Han, one of the most important men in Vietnamese history.
Another five-minute walk and you will then locate the famous Reunification Palace or formerly Independence Palace was the home and workplace of the president of Southern Vietnam during the Vietnam War.
My favorite of all the important sites in Saigon is the Notre Dame. From its name alone, it already gives you an idea that this cathedral is French in design and is simple one of the most grandiose pieces of architecture in all of Vietnam.
It is a favorite place of most Vietnamese couples to hold their weddings and during my visit, there were three couples having their wedding photos taken.
Central Post Office
Some tourist don’t bother to go there, but I find this building with their classic archway a very striking structure. Inside, the ATM and telephone booths are made of elegant wood, reminiscent of European booths. There are stalls selling stamps, postcards and other Vietnamese products.
Huyen Si Church
Walking around Le Lai street, I chance dupon this gorgeous church called Huyen Si. The facade of the church is very striking but what appealed to me are the hundreds of dedication stones to the Virgin Mary.
By nightfall, I was done visiting the historical and architectural marvels of Saigon and it’s time to finally see what this city has to offer when it comes to nightlife.
I wasn’t able to go there because it’s way too expensive but I ewas told that the “in” place now is the Chill Sky bar at the rooftop of AB Tower
But most packpackers, who comprise the biggest bulk of tourists in Vietnam converge in the famous Bui Vien street, the country’s equivalent of Thailand’s Kao San Road.
The place is teeming with travel agencies, clubs, restaurants and stores.
There is also Pham Ngu Lao street, which is basically a second tier Bui Vien
All over Saigon, there are perfectly maintained parks that provide the much needed green in this fast rising city. In the morning, the elderly exercise at the free machines inside the park. At nightime, these parks become exhibition sites for skateboarders.
Note: I intentionally did not go to the War Remnants Museum because I condemn wars and I hate looking at memorabilias.