Saigon was part of the kingdom of Cambodia until the 17th century, when settlers moved south, and Nguyen Lords gained control of the area. Saigon was captured by the French in 1859 and named the capital of Cochinchina a few years later. The city served as the capital of the Republic of Vietnam from 1956 until 1975, when it fell to advancing North Vietnamese forces and was renamed “Ho Chi Minh City” by the Hanoi government.
This event, known in the U.S. as the “fall of Saigon”, ended to the country’s roughly 15-year conflict, in which North Vietnam and its supporters in the South fought to unify the country under communism. The U.S. intervened on behalf of South Vietnam’s anti-communist government. More than 58,000 American soldiers died in the fighting between 1960 and 1975. The estimated number of Vietnamese soldiers and civilians killed varies widely, from 2.1 million to 3.8 million.
Ho Chi Minh City is still called Saigon. The North Vietnamese government changed the city’s name after they deposed the South Vietnamese government in 1975. The change wasn’t voluntary, and the locals still refer to the area as “Saigon.”
City streets in Vietnam are packed with pedestrians traveling on motorbikes and foot. The first lesson you learn after arriving at Ho Chi Minh city in the south, or Hanoi in the north, is how to cross the street. It’s not so easy when you have 8 million people on motorbikes crossing with you. The trick is: You do not stop walking and you do not hesitate or pause. Instead, you walk at a natural pace. The motorbikes anticipate this and move around you.
An itinerary for what to do in Ho Chi Minh City should involve gastronomy. The city is famous for its coffee, fresh beer, banh-mi, and pho (traditional Vietnamese noodle soup). The best places to eat are small, mom and pop food stalls, and small shops often called “Aunty” or “Chi” (meaning “sister”), followed by a numeral.
One of the greatest Ho Chi Minh City points of interest is the street food scene. Maneuver your way through the crowded tables, then perch on a miniature stool. There’s no better way to experience authentic Vietnamese dining than being part of the local crowd.
Introduced by the Czechs, Bia hoi ― or “fresh beer” ― is free of preservatives and meant to be chugged. The glasses cost you around 35 cents USD. There’s also great tasting coffee to try.
Since French colonists introduced it to Vietnam in the 19th century, coffee has become a national obsession. Thanks to the intense humidity, iced coffee, known locally as “ca phe sua da”, is brewed with a dark roast and served with sweet condensed milk poured over ice.
Vietnam is also famous for it’s not so ordinary culinary treats, such as fermented snake whiskey, fermented scorpion wine, deep-fried snake, and fried rat. I tried all of it, as I like to experience everything a city offers. The snake was tough, the rat was surprisingly enjoyable, and the wine and whiskey tasted so wrong! But, if extreme culinary adventures are your forte, simply eating your way through town is one of the best options for what to do in Ho Chi Minh City.
Ho Chi Minh offers so much culture and so much to do. Exploring the streets from the back seat of a Vespa is an exhilarating way to see everything. You can also take an organized tour, with an emphasis on food, nightlife, iconic sights, or unusual attractions. A guide can help you discover the hotspots.
Manicure and pedicure shops are everywhere ― particularly around the Pham Ngu Lao area ― and most are open late into the night. Happily, some will even serve you a glass of wine or offer a massage. A basic treatment will probably cost you $12 USD, making it one of the most relaxing and affordable options for what to do in Ho Chi Minh City.
Not for the squeamish, the War Remnants Museum documents the brutality of the Vietnam War. Although the museum has received criticism for its propagandist tone, it remains one of the most visited museums in the country, attracting more than half a million visitors a year.
I have to warn you: The war photos in the museum are intense and heart-breaking. However, if you’re a 20th Century history buff, the museum may be one of your personal Ho Chi Minh City points of interest.
Equivalent to Bangkok’s famed Khao San Road, Pham Ngu Lao Street is the backpacker district. Try The Rex, Caravelle, and Majestic hotels. For a refined feel, go to the Temple Club. Live music is in the Dong Khoi area. There are also lots of great rooftop bars.
Often dubbed the “rice bowl” of Vietnam, this 39,000 square-kilometre labyrinth of waterways remains one of the most densely populated parts of the country. About four hours’ drive from the city, it’s another world, where markets, villages, and schools float on life-sustaining estuaries.
18 miles of interconnecting underground tunnels in Ho Chi Minh City was used as operational headquarters by the Vietcong Guerillas during the Tet offensive in 1968.
The Viet Cong played a decisive role in defeating American forces, as is explained on the tour. One of the ways they eluded US soldiers was by making shoes whose footprints pointed in the opposite direction of which the wearers traveled. They also created disturbingly painful traps, with buried bamboo spikes and swinging triggered spikes. Basically, they turned the jungle into a giant booby-trap. There’s a shooting range to use after to tour; try your hand at an AK-47.
High-end shopping is in the diamond plaza or Saigon center, while great ready to wear is found on Nguyen Hue Street. Trai street is favored by locals, and the market is a budget option to bring home trinkets from your travels.
I love everything Vietnamese: the friendly people, the food, the culture, and even the rice paddy hats. I started my tour of Vietnam in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and had my first dose of learning how to cross the street with no hesitation, while motorbikes clustered around me. This is an exhilarating memory, but my most memorable moment came while touring the Chu Chi Tunnels.
I have uncles that fought in the War in Vietnam, and I’ve heard stories from when American soldiers attempted to plow through the jungles. Now, I got to experience the other side of the story. History tends to be written by the winners, so I make it a point to try to understand both sides.
Prior to traveling to Vietnam, I read The Girl in the Picture: The Story of Kim Phuc. It made the Chu Chi tunnels even more intensely emotional. The tunnels were opened wider for tourists, which is phenomenal because of how small they still are. The booby traps of shaved bamboo spikes were gut wrenchingly horrific.
War is never the answer to a problem, and regardless of which side side you are on, war is a crime. The people who suffer most are the citizens, who are duped by warlording government officials. This has been true since the beginning of civilization ― and history tends to repeat itself.
There are tons of exciting Ho Chi Minh City points of interest. After you have a plan for what to do in Ho Chi Minh City, visit our online store to choose the perfect clothings and accessories for you trip. Visit Packed Perfectly today.