Ho Chi Minh City, still widely known by its earlier name – Saigon – is centuries old, and reflects its colourful history all throughout the bustling streets. Because the city has changed hands many times, amongst the Cambodians, French, Chinese, Japanese, and the locals themselves, the prevailing ambiance is a mix of European and Asian cultures. With this history of occupation, including the 1960’s war with America, the relics have become of great interest to many.
One of the most popular war-related sites is the Cú Chi Tunnels, a network of underground tunnels in the northwest of the city. During the conflict these passageways, said to be in the tens of thousands of miles in total, housed local soldiers, hospitals, kitchens and more, complete with secret entrances across the city that still exist today. Sections of these mysterious tunnels are open to tourists.
There are many other historic sites including the Reunification Palace, the Hotel Majestic, and museums exhibiting the country’s diverse history. The Chinese influence has left its mark in the many pagodas scattered across the city; among the most popular are the Nghia An Hoi Quan pagoda known for its ornate attention to colour and detail, and the Vinh Nghiem pagoda, one of the city’s largest.
Visit the Ben Thanh Market, one of Vietnam’s oldest marketplaces, and immerse yourself in Vietnamese culture, from cuisine to clothing and much more. It’s the perfect place to sample Vietnamese coffee and banh cuon, one of the most popular local dishes, usually eaten for breakfast, made with a mixture of meat, rice-based pastry and other local ingredients.
Indulge in banh xeo, or pancakes, along Dinh Cong Trang Street, known for its many pancake shops, and other local fare, along with the many eating establishments that cater to more Western tastes. Cho Lon, Ho Chi Minh’s Chinatown, is very popular for its food and affordable shopping – if you want to sharpen your bargaining skills, this is the place to do it. And all throughout the area known as District 1 are opportunities for great deals in jewellery, silk goods and home accessories, among other things.
Ho Chi Minh City has three theme parks, one of the biggest being the Suoi Tien Cultural Theme Park that, as the name suggests, is primarily focused on local culture and mythology. This focus is reflected the park’s design, décor and attractions, and is geared to be educational as it is entertaining. The park also exhibits wildlife, including local creatures such as crocodiles and tortoises.
Ho Chi Minh City has a vibrant nightlife with countless bars, cafés and clubs to enjoy, which can be found across the city. Some of these establishments offer live local music, including Karaoke, which is very popular with locals.
The Marble Mountains are a much-visited destination in Vietnam, located south of Da Nang City. These five limestone mountains, each named after the five elements – wood, water, fire, metal and earth – are a major attraction for curious visitors, with caves and other historical sites to be discovered amongst these monoliths.
Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a picturesque coastal destination in north Vietnam, intimately tied to the mythology of the region. It is said to be the place where dragons descended to protect the local people from invaders. The distinctive feature of the bay is the many small islands jutting out of the sea; riddled with caves and home to local wildlife, they present a breath-taking landscape to visitors.
In the southern end of the country watered by countless canals and streams, is the lush Mekong Delta, known as Vietnam’s rice basket. The region is home to friendly locals, floating markets, orchards, beaches and countless rice paddies – something for everyone. Almost all land is used for agriculture, but there is plenty of room to relax and enjoy your surroundings.
Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital, located by the Red River, is a treasure of French influence and local culture. Take in a water puppet show at a local theatre, such as the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre, and enjoy the beauty of Vietnam’s pagodas. Considered to be the oldest, the Tran Quoc Pagoda dates back to the 6th Century, and there are many other similar structures with fascinating folklore and history associated with them, including the Tay Ho Pagoda, one of the most visited in the region.