Sometimes it seems that Saigon was designed with tourists in mind, because all of the main sights are concentrated near the centre of the city, apart from a few venerable temples that are worth making the ride out to the suburbs to visit. This means it’s possible to see several of the city’s principal attractions on foot, though it’s wise not to try to fit too much into one day as the heat and humidity can sap your energy.
Be prepared to get caught in horrendous traffic from time to time – Saigon’s streets get more congested day by day, so allow lots of travelling time when visiting sites far from your hotel. Plenty of companies offer cheap city tours, and just about every cyclo rider in town will happily take you around, though it’s best to fix this up through your hotel or guesthouse to avoid any misunderstandings.
Saigon sightseeing guide for Ho Chi Minh City
Notre Dame Cathedral
This huge, redbrick building set at the head of the city’s main street, Dong Khoi, is a stark reminder of the French intention to stamp their mark indelibly on this country. Its twin spires look down over a statue of the Virgin Mary and thousands of photo-snapping tourists.
This grand structure with its 1960s design and furnishings became the focal point of the American War when troops from the north smashed down its gates and raised their own flag in April 1975. A guided tour takes visitors through the palace’s many rooms.
Jade Emperor Pagoda
This is the most atmospheric of several ancient, Chinese-style temples scattered around the city and is well worth a visit to appreciate the religious fervour expressed by Vietnamese Buddhists. The brightly-coloured statues and fog of incense make for photogenic scenes.
Lam Son Square
Towards the north end of Dong Khoi, the street broadens out into Lam Son Square, location of the Municipal Theatre, a classic piece of colonial architecture with an arched entrance approached by a broad sweep of stairs. The Continental Hotel, still operating on the north side of the square, was a favourite hang-out for French colonials.
Ho Chi Minh City Museum
It’s worth visiting this huge museum if only for the building in which it is housed – the former palace of the governor of Cochinchina. The museum tells the story of Saigon’s development, with a strong focus on the struggle to liberate the country from French and American domination.
Vietnam’s Chinatown is located just a short ride west of the city centre. It’s worth visiting just for people watching in the busy Ben Tay market, but there are also some memorable temples tucked away in the backstreets.
War Remnants Museum
Of all museums portraying the tragedy of the American War, none is more moving than this one, with its display of rusting ordnance and shocking images of cruelty and hatred.