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The Must Sees of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Published 30 March 2016

Joe Jamieson

Joe Jamieson

Ho Chi Minh City is home to some of the world’s most interesting backpacker haunts and offers a unique insight into the cultural nuances that separate Vietnam from the rest of Southeast Asia. It has some great tourist hot spots like museums, pagodas, giant markets and monolithic government buildings, and in this post Joe Jamieson reveals his must-sees for those visiting the city.

Ben Thanh Market

Ben Thanh market offers a serious bang-for-buck ratio if you’re any good at haggling. The market’s undercover alleyways house hundreds of vendors selling everything from rusty spoons to laptops from the 90s. Unlike some of the other tourist locations across the city, Ben Thanh is a place where the locals can be found going about their daily business. Even if you’re not buying anything it’s a great place to absorb some of the Vietnamese culture through its people.

People shopping inside Ben Thanh Market

Unlike some other Southeast Asian countries, it’s completely fine to try and haggle – you certainly won’t get the best price without putting up a bit of a fight. On the other hand it can get quite intense in the market if you’re not used to high-pressure salesmen grabbing at you to get your attention, but saying No isn’t a crime. Politely decline any offers you don’t want and go on your way to the next attraction.

Cu Chi Tunnels

These dark and dingy tunnels were home to the Viet Cong (and the resident rats), for literally weeks at a time during the Vietnam war. The tunnels were originally used to launch surprise attacks on the enemy by catching them off-guard. When you’re above the ground you can really see how inconspicuous the tunnels are and how easily the US troops must have overlooked them completely.

Local man standing in one of the Cu Chi Tunnels in the ground

Going down into the tunnels is an eye-opener; the space in which the soldiers lived looks too small to have had room for a few men, let alone a troop of soldiers. The tunnels themselves span across hundreds of miles underground and cut deep into the Vietnamese hillside. One of the tour’s highlights is that you get to fire a weapon at the end… $1 + 1 bullet = excellent fun.

Reunification Palace

The Reunification Palace is an immensely symbolic building for the Vietnamese. The famous scene of North Vietnamese tanks smashing through the palace gates after three decades of political struggle is something to call to mind when you’re there. It’s almost as though no time has passed since 1975, as the tanks that broke through the enemy defenses still sit at the palace’s entrance.

It’s said that the building was designed with Chinese Feng-Shui principles in mind, but when you enter the building’s interior an entirely new world of time-frozen kitsch is there to greet you.

A view of the Reunification Palace from above

War Remnants Museum

The War Remnants museum is the single most important museum in the whole of Saigon. Previously known as the Museum of American War Crimes, the museum is housed in what were the wartime offices of the USIS (US Information Service). Irony aplenty.

One of the local favourite exhibits is the ‘Requiem’ photo gallery. It’s made up of photos taken during the war by both Vietnamese and American photojournalists who were killed in action. It’s a pretty emotional experience, but at the same time it’s an excellent reminder of what truly happens behind the scenes during a war.

A tank displayed at the War Remnants Museum

Expert tip: Eat the street food. Many people are afraid of trying the street food in Vietnam in case it makes them ill, but I can’t possibly recommend anything more highly. Get yourself along to a food market early in the morning and prepare to sample some of the finest tastes in all of Vietnam.

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