It was in 2012 when I visited Ho Chi Minh City. Though it was a business trip, I had the chance to explore the city in one day. If you’re a first-time visitor and don’t have the luxury of a week-long holiday in Saigon, it’s crucial to bypass some not-so-important tourist attractions and activities to make the most out of your short stay. From partying at a swanky rooftop club to crawling through tight tunnels dating back to the Vietnam War, check out the places I went to.
Visit the Historical Landmarks in District 1.
Whether you are exploring on foot or by motorbike make sure to have a map with you. This helps a lot to maximize your time. District 1 houses most of Saigon’s historical landmarks.
Notre Dame Cathedral
Take a pause and pray at historical Catholic Church located in Paris Square. The building was designed in France and built under the supervision of a well known French engineer named Bourad. It was built in the late 18th century.
Saigon Central Post Office
Right across the way from Notre Dame Cathedral, Ho Chi Minh City’s striking French post office is a period classic, designed by Marie-Alfred Foulhoux (though often credited to Gustave Eiffel) and built between 1886 and 1891. Painted on the walls of its grand concourse are fascinating historic maps of South Vietnam. Although the experience is a fascinating glimpse into history, the fact that this is still a functioning post office makes the experience even sweeter, and when you visit this place I would suggest to send a letter or postcard from here – it’s a piece of living history where even the old fashioned glue pots are still in use for sticking stamps to letters. There are two wings branching out from the main office, selling souvenirs, postcards and lacquerware but the prices are inflated and the same products can probably be found elsewhere for a better price.
The Reunification Palace
Reunification Palace’s architecture is a blend of traditional ritual and modern architecture, typical of the 60s’. It’s good to know all the historical events related to this building. Wandering around its rooms, and every corner reminded me 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 8th April 1975 and tank 843 which led the final assault through the palace gate at 11.30AM on 30th April 1975.
The Saigon Opera House
Take a seat and watch the Saigon whiz by. It was afternoon when I pass by. Fortunately there was a drum and lyre band performing in front of the Opera House. Located on the famous Dong Khoi Street. This is another French colonial building and very well-preserved.
Stop by at the famous local coffee shop.
If there were three things I remembered about Vietnam, they would be scooters, pho, spring rolls, and coffee.
There are so many great coffee shops in the City. The most famous Vietnamese brand would be Trung Nguyen Coffee, founded in 1996 with over 1,000 coffee shops nation-wide. They were everywhere in Ho Chi Minh, with a selection so wide they needed a newspaper format for their menu.
Very creative too such that they named their ‘creative’ coffee from Creative 1 to Creative 5 (for level of strongness), at the price of about 40000 dong ($2.80).
Enjoy the Dinner Cruise at Saigon River.
Whether you’re traveling with loved one, friends, family, or even alone you shouldn’t miss your chance to spend a special dinner as you cruise along the Saigon River. The reflection of the lights on the water surface and traditional music and dance performances makes your night an unforgettable experience.
Cap off the night at one of the rooftop bars in the city.
When it comes to nightlife in Ho Chi Minh City, there’s no better place to party in style than a sleek rooftop bar. I stayed in one of the hotels at District 1 and few steps away is a famous Chill Sky Bar Saigon. This rooftop bar and clubs sit on the 25th floor of AB Tower and attracts a lively crowd who are dressed to impress and keen to party. There is a strictly enforced dress code here, so make a little effort if you plan to enjoy a cocktail up here (and definitely don’t wear slippers or flip-flops).
Ho Chi Minh City, though more commonly referred to as Saigon is Vietnam’s most lively and action packed city, growing and developing at a rapid rate.
As soon as you arrive in the city you’ll be surrounded by a sea of motorbike traffic, delicious street food everywhere you look, and a host of attractions that will keep you busy and entertained.
I hope it gives you great ideas and helps you plan your trip especially if you have only ONE Day to explore the city!