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Ho Chi Minh city

Once dearly called Diamond of the Far-east with the luxury level overriding that of Hong Kong or Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City is now the most populated city in Vietnam. Modern office skyscrapers, amidst Chinese style pagodas and food stalls along the street, create a dynamic urban area in very special sense. It is not oddly tidy like in Singapore, nor is urban slumps omnipresent like in India.

Ho Chi Minh City’s architecture and lifestyle is the reconciliation between American and Chinese influence, with many dots of modernity yet without losing Vietnamese traits and as much historical as it is modern.

Reunification Palace is definitely the place to visit, for its significance and archival of Vietnam War. If this building still does not impress you enough, rest assured that museums are abound and the admission fees are generally low. Among the most recommended ones are: Ho Chi Minh Museum, Revolutionary Museum and Vietnam History Museum.

If you are tired of talking about the past and want to learn more about the present, District 1 may be the best way to experience a dynamic and booming economy. Streets and boulevards are lined with tall evergreen trees and you can easily walk around with a map. Here and there you will see men walking and dressed up like those in the Wall Street, amid women wearing conical hat and selling street drinks.  A few notable sights you will spot on the way are the city post-office, Notre Dame church and Ben Thanh market.

If Ho Chi Minh has things to win the rivalry against Hanoi, it is the colorful night-life. Bars are open late and vary in style. Adding to that, Ho Chi Minh has many tea-houses which hosts live music performance of both Vietnamese and international artists. For a change, you can also go local for one night or two, hop into one of the street food stalls, order some drink and roasted peanuts and chat until midnight (more ideas to spend your night in Ho Chi Minh City).

Reunification Palace

Like Long Bien Bridge in Hanoi, Reunification Palace (formerly known as Independence Palace) has stayed in the mind of many generations of not only Vietnamese but also foreigners. It is known as the famous historical witness who passed through the two fierce wars against the French and American colonists. The palace was built on the site of the former Norodom Palace, a landmark in Ho Chi Minh City and designed by architect Ngo Viet Thu. As Vietnam was split into North Vietnam and South Vietnam, the building served as presidential home and workplace. Today in most locals' minds, the palace is remembered vividly as a marked end to the war, just like the fall of Berlin Wall, as the North Vietnamese tank crashed its gates on April 30th, 1975.

Its current address is at 135 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City - right at one end of Le Duan Street. It borders other 3 streets: Huyen Tran Cong Chua Street in the back, Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street on the right and Nguyen Du on the left.

Reunification Palace’s architecture is a blend of traditional ritual and modern architecture, typical of the 60s’. However, the design of the complex is not as appealing to tourists as all the historical events related to this building. Wandering around its rooms, visitors may be reminded of various important moments in the past of Vietnam, especially the war command room with its huge maps and old communication equipment, as well as the basement labyrinth. The building now functions as a museum, where visitors can view the F5E fighter plane which bombed the palace on 8thApril 1975 and tank 843 which led the final assault through the palace gate at 11.30AM on 30th April 1975. 

Since its construction, the building has gone through several renovations.  A major work was undertaken from 1962 to 1963, which made the President change his office temporarily to Gia Long Palace, which is now the location of Ho Chi Minh City Museum. Much political turbulence led to the come and go of several South Vietnam Presidents, until 1975 when the war officially ended and Vietnam became one country.

War Remnants Museum

The War Remnants Museum is located at 28 Vo Van Tan St, District 3, Ho Chi Minh City. Operated by the government, the museum was opened in September 1975 as "The House for Displaying War Crimes of American Imperialism and the Puppet Government”, focusing on exhibits relating to the American phase of the Vietnam War. Since then, it has undergone many changes and renovations due to the process of normalization of relation between Vietnam and the United States, such as the change to its current name in 1993.

Vietnamese Wars possibly the only thing in mind of foreigners before coming to this nation. Though the country has changed itself and the prejudice has somehow been replaced by a new modern developing image, it’s crucial for tourists to look at the war from a different perspective. And this famous museum is where they can transform an ordinary visit to an intellectual yet remarkable trip.

Nowadays, the museum functions as a place to display devastation of the war between 2 countries from 1961 to 1975. It comprises several buildings storing military equipment, as well as disturbing photographs about the traumatizing consequences of Agent Orange, napalm and phosphorus bombs. There are also pictures about atrocities such as My Lai massacre, a guillotine used by Southern Government of Vietnam. In addition, last but not least three jars of deformed human features indicating haunting effects of the war on the next generations. A number of unexploded ordnances are stored in the corner of the yard, seemingly with their charges removed. Not only does the museum illustrate a phase of painful history, but it also tells unknown stories about war to people, especially to Westerners. Many preceding travelers have failed to hold their tears in front of the pictures here.

Notre Dame Cathedral

Ask any local people about the location of the city’s center or its symbol, the answer would definitely be Ben Thanh Market or Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral (officially Basilica of Our Lady of The Immaculate Conception). While the market stands at a modern and crowded corner of the business district, the ancient cathedral is located in a very peaceful picturesque corner in the downtown of Ho Chi Minh City.

Constructed between 1863 and 1880 by the French colonists, following their conquest of the city, the building reaches a height of up to 60m. Bishop Lefevre put the first stone for construction of the church on 28 March 1863. Initially, it was called Saigon Church. The name Notre-Dame Cathedral was given after Bishop Pham Van Thien held a ceremony to install the statue of Peaceful Notre Dame, made with granite from Rome, in 1959. In 1962, Vatican anointed it as Saigon Chief Cathedral conferred it basilique. Since this time, this cathedral is called Saigon Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica.

The cathedral’s address is No. 1 Cong truong Cong xa Paris St., right at the intersection of Pham Ngoc Thach St, Le Duan St and Cong xa Paris St.

Its design, apart from the intention to create a religious look, aims at showing the influence of French civilization and Christianity over Saigon. At the time it was built, the Basilica was the most beautiful cathedral of this kind amongst all French colonies. All the materials were directly imported from France like red bricks of the outside walls, which retain their bright and lively red color until today. To people’s amazement, the two bell towers, each with the height of 60.5m and 6 bronze bells have just been added in 1895.

In front of the cathedral stands a Virgin Mary statue, which is said to have shed tears in 2005, causing thousands of people to stop around the Basilica. Amidst an active and continuously moving Saigon today, the French-influenced design of Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral still acts as a stop for people who seek for old beauties and calmness. Not only followers keep praying under candle lights in front of Virgin Mary statue everyday but tourists and local people also come there to discover the true soul of the city. The cathedral looks most beautiful in daylight, together with the smiles of couples coming to take photograph and record movies, especially for wedding.

Ben Thanh Market

Believe it or not, even though you have spent years shopping at several malls and commercial centers that shopping has become a boring and ordinary task to you, exploring an Asian market is always an exhilarating experience. Visit Ben Thanh Market in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and you will understand. Being a bustling market in the daytime and a social center after sunset, Ben Thanh Market is absolutely a must-see attraction of the most dynamic city of Vietnam.

Built in 1870 by the French, the market was initially called Les Halles Centrales before being renamed Ben Thanh in 1912. From a wet market created by street vendors by the early 17th century, Ben Thanh has experienced many ups and downs throughout it’s history, and is now the oldest surviving market and one of symbols of Ho Chi Minh city. That makes it a must for any visitors travelling to this 300-year-old city.

Today, because the market possesses one of the most crucial locations in District 1 (the intersection of Le Loi, Ham Nghi, Tran Hung Dao Avenues and Le Lai Street), transportation is extremely convenient and trade is bustling. In the morning, you can find almost everything from dry food to clothes for a reasonable price. The market atmosphere can sometime be a real hustle and bustle, but it is an exciting experience after all. However, always remember that bargain is a must in any Vietnamese market.

From late afternoon until late night, the shops inside the market are closed, but several restaurants are open outside on the surrounding streets. These small yet interesting restaurants can offer you a variety of choices: bubble teas, grills, seafood, etc. When you are tired of eating, stand up and take a walk along the neighborhood which has in no time transformed into a night market full of lights and glamour.

Ben Thanh Market is possibly the most well-known symbol of Ho Chi Minh City, showing up in a large number of publications, movies, online articles. Why it is so? Because your trip to Ho Chi Minh City cannot be completed without a visit to Ben Thanh market to experience the “real Vietnam”!

Ben Thanh is firstly well-known as the place for real Vietnamese food. There a number of vendors and food stalls in the market food section that offers guests dishes freshly made to the order. Here, one can taste various kinds of local dishes like banh xeo, banh cuon, banh beo, cha gio, hu tiu… In the evening, while all stalls inside the market are closed, sidewalk restaurants around the market open and make it extraordinary lively area. One of the most recommended foods by tourists is deep fried whole fish, so remember to try it at least once when you dine here. Besides, one can also taste seafood and enjoy cool beer at cheap price (only $1-2 for a beer only). One advice for tourists is not sitting deep into the crowded food tent to avoid the heat.

If you curious about what the local eats, wears or uses daily just come here and find out the answer. From clothing, shoes, bags, jewelry to kitchen ware, grocery, sweets, and great Vietnamese coffee… everything that Saigonese need for their daily life can be found here. Taking a look at things for sale here, seeing how people make transactions or which kind of goods is purchased most by the locals, one can learn much about the local life and get useful experience for shopping in Vietnam also. For the ones who are keen on shopping, here is exactly the place you are looking for.

Besides goods for daily use, tourists can find here variety of eye-catching local handicrafts, souvenirs. Just pick up some cute fridge magnets or delicate small piece of lacquer, one has got small gifts for friends and family at home or something to remind him/her about the trip to Ho Chi Minh City.

Fine Arts Museum Ho Chi Minh City

Being one of the largest fine arts centers of Vietnam, Fine Arts Museum is conveniently located near the Ben Thanh Market, at 97A Pho Duc Chinh Street, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City. The building that houses the museum was originally a mansion of a Chinese during colonial time and after - Mr. Hoa, the wealthiest man of Saigon at the time, who also owned other famous buildings in the city such as Majestic Hotel and Tu Du Hospital.

This yellow-white grand colonial-era mansion is a combination of French and Chinese styles which brings about a typical colonial feeling through its marble floors throughout and the spacious, airy rooms. It’s no wonder that the building is considered as a masterpiece itself by most people. As Saigon became Ho Chi Minh City and the country reunited, the building was reformed into a museum in 1987 as the result of a decision of the City’s People's Committee, though it was not officially opened until 1991.

The Fine Arts Museum is indispensable for those who are keen on Vietnam arts and culture. Although the museum itself is not big and modern enough, its abundant collections can make up for these mistakes. The museum focuses on collecting, keeping, preserving and displaying fine artworks typical of Vietnamese people, especially Ho Chi Minh City and the South. It comprises three floors of exhibition space.

The 1st floor is for domestic and international arts display. The 2nd floor is where to store arts work – both paintings and sculptures of Vietnamese and non-Vietnamese artists. Some leading Vietnamese artists of the last 50 years whose paintings are displayed there include: Trinh Cung, Do Quang Em, Diep Minh Chau and Nguyen Gia Tri. 

The 3rd floor holds a collection of historic arts ranging from 7th century to early 20th century, featuring Champa and earlier civilizations such as Oc Eo archaeological site in Mekong Delta. The contemporary Blue Space Contemporary Art Centre, located near the entrance, is run by the museum. There's a warren of galleries in the basement, accessed through the courtyard in the center of the building.

Central Post Office

Located right in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City - at number 2, Paris Commune Street, District 1, The Central Post Office is one of the oldest buildings in Ho Chi Minh City. It was built around 1886 – 1891, based on the design of Gustave Eiffel – a famous French architect and has become a significant symbol of the city, just like its opposite neighbor Saigon Notre-Dame Cathedral. It has long been the busiest post office of the country.

Being a mixture of Gothic, Renaissance and French influences, this building fascinates tourists by its typical colonial French features, from exterior to interior decorations. By the first time, visitors may feel that they’re brought back to 20th century railway station in Europe, rather than a post office in an Asian country. From its ornate furnishings, gorgeous-pattern-tiled floor to its massively high ceilings and numerous wickets, all speak of another place in time. The interior design is even more elegant with the phone booths, which are just the same since the colonial period.

Walking inside, the first things you notice are the two maps: Saigonet ses environs, 1892 describing Ho Chi Minh City in the past and Lignes télégraphiques du Sud Vietnamet du Cambodge which is the postal route from Vietnam to Cambodia. The building inside is big and airy with a lot of space. The ceiling was designed with arc shape which was carried by the two rows of steel pillars. This makes the building look grander and more stable. Also, the building looks just perfectly in harmony with the outside, considering its arched windows creatively designed with engaged piers, green window shutters or the main entrance with intricate ironwork.

The Post Office offers all kinds of traditional postal services like mailing, selling postcards or stamps (there is a big array of stamps to choose, which ranges in price from cheapest ones). Foreign money exchange is also available.

Don’t ignore Mr. Duong Van Ngo – an old man sitting at the end of a long wooden table underneath a mural of Ho Chi Minh, behind the sign “Information and Writing Assistance”. Mr. Ngo has been working here since he was 17, as a polyglot public letter writer. Being the last letter writer in old Saigon, he’s a source of stories of how could he connect people across the planet with his fountain pen.

Giac Lam Pagada

Giac Lam is one of the oldest pagodas in Ho Chi Minh City. Originally, it was built by Ly Thuy Long – a native Minh Huong, in 1744, as a gathering place during Lunar New Year. The new-built temple was like a scenic lookout overlooking Gia Dinh Market while the area was still undeveloped and quite like a jungle. The name Giac Lam was given to the pagoda after the arrival of Monk Thich Lam Quang of the Lam Te Zen lineage, in 1772. After many times renovation and reconstruction, it’s now located at 118 Lac Long Quan Street, Tan Binh District. Local people also call it Cam Son or Cam Dien Pagoda.

“The Third” structure of Giac Lam Pagoda is also typical of southern pagodas. It means the pagoda consists of 3 main buildings: the main ceremonial hall, the dharma preaching hall and the meal hall. The first one is big with many huge pillars engraved with meaningful sentences. It worships many Buddhas such as Buddha Amitabha, Buddha Shakyamuni and some Bodhisattva like Maitreya Bodhisattva, Samantabhadra Bodhisattva and Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva. Giac Lam Pagoda has 118 statues made of wood, bronze and cement. Most of them are very ancient and valuable, which demonstrate the development of Vietnamese art of sculpture in 18th century. Not only is Giac Lam a place to observe traditional southern structure of pagodas, but it’s also where tourists can discover the specific cultural characteristics of Vietnam, like the 4-season fruit pattern.

In front of the pagoda is a big bodhi tree, a gift from Sri Lankan great monk Narada in 1953, accompanied by the arrival of a sample of the relics of Gautama Buddha. With the purpose to store these relics, a seven-storey high stupa was started building in 1970 under the architectural plans of Vinh Hoang. Due to wars, the construction was put off and could only finish in 1993. Today, the east-facing, hexagonal-shaped stupa is considered as a landmark, being the tallest Buddhist tower in the city.

Cho Lon Market

Back in the old days, the place where China Town now sits was regarded as the city’s center of commerce, in comparison with District 1 – the center of administration.

Today, visitors still get much of what the town has remained for years in District 5 and a part of District 6, with the core center surrounded Cho Lon Post Office, Hai Thuong Lan Ong Street and fishbone-shaped streets such as Trieu Quang Phuc, Luong Nhu Hoc, Mac Cuu, etc.

It’s the traditional and distinctive lifestyle of Chinese community here that makes their Chinese Town famous and attractive to people everywhere it exists.

Chinese people have lived and supported their lives by many different activities such as opening food stall serving traditional Chinese food, selling clothes or household items. Not only can tourists enjoy the delicious dishes in Chinese taste like noodle, rice and wontons, they are also appealed by the colorful decoration, housing styles and at most a vibrant life in District 5 of Ho Chi Minh City.

One noticeable characteristic of this area is the structure of shop-house which Chinese brough from South China, at the beginning of 18th century. A typical shop-house is only 3-4m in width but 4-5 times more in length, with an inside yard. Trading activities often take place in the front part of the house while daily activities occur inside.

Since Chinese is associated with wholesale trade, this area is no exception. There are streets which concentrate on selling unicorn head and royal costumes like Luong Nhu Hoc Street, gems like Ham Tu – An Binh Street, rice in Tran Chanh Chieu Street, etc. Especially on Hai Thuong Lan Ong Street, there are many stores selling Chinese medicines, where people get the chance to see how Chinese medicine is made and used.

Tourist attractions in the area are also indispensable, such as Thien Hau Pagoda on Nguyen Trai Street (the oldest Chinese-built pagoda in the city), the old buildings built based on Chinese structure on Trieu Quang Phuc Street, Minh Huong Temple, Quan De Temple on Nguyen Trai Street or Leizhou guildhouse on Tran Hung Dao B Street . Binh Tay Market on Thap Muoi Street is always an attractive destination for foreigners, thanks to its special structure, long-standing history and a well-preserved exciting and lively atmosphere.

Cho Lon is crowded and busy all the times thus tourists don’t have to worry about the suitable time to travel there. Even at night, there are still food stalls serving till midnight.

On special occasions like Lunar New Year, the town is spectacularly hectic and adorned with Chinese features. Specifically, on Mid-Autumn Festival, Luong Nhu Hoc Street becomes “Lantern Street” with shops selling this product and attracts thousands of people coming to enjoy the atmospheric scene of colorful lanterns at night. If visitors happen to be in Ho Chi Minh City at these times, don’t hesitate to join the crowd of people.

TRAVEL BROUCHURE 2013
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