While we would not recommend that you try to see all that Saigon has to offer in a single day, some visitors are on such a tight schedule and want to visit so many other places that they may only stay 24 hours here. Fortunately for them, most of the city’s top hotels are right in the heart of the city, and many of the most iconic sights are within walking distance of each other.
The obvious place to start an exploration of Saigon is at the Notre Dame Cathedral at the north end of Dong Khoi. With its soaring twin spires, it dominated the horizon until recently, when the glass walls of Diamond Plaza shopping mall rose up behind it.
There’s not much to see inside but there are always crowds of tourists in the small garden in front taking pictures of the cathedral and the statue of the Virgin Mary. Directly east of the cathedral is the main post office, another colonial building that has been well maintained. Walking into its vaulted interior, with ageing maps on the walls and a portrait of Ho Chi Minh gazing down, feels like stepping into another era.
Walk a block west to the Reunification Palace and join a guided tour round this building steeped in history. Tanks in the grounds remind visitors of the forceful taking of the palace as the final act of the brutal American War, and the former command centre in the basement is a chilling reminder of the realities of war.
Just north of the Reunification Palace, Saigon’s most moving museum is the War Remnants Museum. Despite its prosaic name, this repository of rusting weaponry and tragic reminders of the American War is a no-holds-barred assault on the senses, but the nearby water puppet show is fun.
Back across at Lam Son Square in the heart of the city, it’s worth spending whatever time remains of the day looking at sights on and around Dong Khoi, the city’s most famous street. Apart from the striking Municipal Theatre, it’s worth taking a look at the India Jamia Mosque, almost hidden in the shadow of the towering Sheraton Hotel.
When you’ve seen enough sights, you’re in the right place, as Dong Khoi is home to some of the city’s trendiest shops and best restaurants, so you can satisfy consumer and culinary cravings right where you are.