Top 10 attractions for first time visitors to Saigon

Sofitel Saigon Plaza

Saigon is a superb city and a fabulous holiday destination. A wonderful mixture of ancient Asian, colonial French and modern architecture, it is pleasing on the eye and the pocket. One of the most exciting cities in the world, here are our top 10 of unmissable destinations to include in your itinerary.

Notre Dame Basilica - A small piece of France in Vietnam’s largest city

Surely one of the prettiest Cathedrals anywhere

This awesome French colonial cathedral stands in Ben Nghe in the heart of downtown District 1. Built between 1877 and 1880, it stands an impressive 190 feet tall and was constructed using building materials imported from France. In a small but delightful garden immediately in front, stands a statue of the Madonna. The red brick of the Basilica has maintained its rich colour for over a hundred years. The cathedral is one of many imposing French colonial buildings in Saigon and a focal point for young Vietnamese, who gather here in the evenings to meet friend and socialise. Everyday, young brides and grooms gather for photo sessions. It was anointed with the status of Basilica by Pope John XXII in 1960.

The Old Post Office - Not every city has one designed by Gustave Eiffel

The grandest post office in the World

Standing in the same square as Notre Dame, the Old Post Office is another testament to the wonderful construction abilities of the old French colonists. Designed and built by Gustave Eiffel, it is quite astonishing to think that a humble post office could have been given such prominence. It is a very busy tourist attraction, perhaps aided and abetted by its proximity to its illustrious neighbour. Inside there are two beautiful painted maps on the side walls, whilst at the far end a painting of Ho Chi Minh oversees all proceedings as the tellers go about their daily business. The magnificent frontage is reminiscent of a grand railway station and is one of the most photographed in the city.

The Bitexco Financial Tower - The tallest tower in town resembles an orchid

The Magnificent Bitexco Financial Tower

Easily the most iconic building in the city the Bitexco Tower dominates the entire city. From everywhere in the city this wonderful building is visible. Designed to resemble Vietnam’s national flower, the orchid, it was designed and built by famous Ecuadorian architect Carlos Zapata. Eight hundred and sixty one feet tall it is the venue of a vertical marathon every year, where runners race to the top, via the staircases. Its iconic helipad, representing an orchid bud, juts out presenting the city with an outstanding silhouette and Saigon Districts, its instantly recognisable logo.

The War Remnants Museum - an emotional ride through the war years

A jet fighter stands in the grounds of the War Remnants Museum

This is one of those places where everyone has to visit even though it sits uncomfortably with everyone who does. Telling the story, in graphic detail, of the Vietnam War, through photographs and other exhibits, it is housed at 28 Vo Van Tan, in District 3 of the city. The gardens have planes and helicopters from the war and the inside areas are given over to smaller exhibits and a large photographic section. It is an extremely emotive and emotional ride.

The Reunification Palace - a time capsule frozen on April 30th 1975

The Reunification Palace, frozen in time

This is an amazing snapshot of history. On the morning of April 30th 1975 tanks of the Vietcong burst through the gates of the former Presidential Palace and so ended one of the worst conflicts in history. The end of the war brought with it a new regime and reunification to Vietnam. Everything is as it was on that fateful morning, within the palace. It makes for a great half day looking round the headquarters of the South Vietnamese forces. This large site, it covers 44 acres, is dedicated to remembering that day in history. The guided tours are excellent and every room has something of value for the tourist.

Cholon - Saigon’s Chinatown is an amazing area of bargains and crowds

Binh Tay market in Chinatown

This is Saigon’s Chinatown and as you can imagine standing where it does, Vietnam has a huge Chinese community. The name is simply Chinese for “Big Market”. It sprawls between districts 5 and 6 and during the war, housed a thriving black market, where American soldiers and deserters traded militaria. Cholon provides a wonderful glimpse into Chinese culture in the heart of the city, it’s like stepping back in time.

The Saigon Opera House

French colonial magnificence - The Opera House stands in the centre of town

The Saigon Opera House or to give it its less romantic official title, the Municipal Theatre of Ho Chi Minh is a superb custom built auditorium that dominates a busy square in the heart of the city. The approach to the awesome building is severely restricted at present as work continues on apace, building the new metro system for the city. This imposing 500 seat, pink and grey theatre was built to resemble Le Petite Palais in Paris. The interior is delightful with ornate carvings, hidden alcoves for lighting, wonderful pillars and amazing plaster work. As a foot note, the Highlands Coffee at the rear is the most popular in the city.

The Cu Chi Tunnels

One of the entrances to the network of tunnels

This unbelievable network of tiny tunnels covers hundreds of miles all over the area to the east of the city. The entrance and exhibition centre is by the village on the outskirts of Saigon out past the airport. During the war Vietcong soldiers live constantly in these tunnels for months on end, emerging at night to attack their enemy and steal provisions. The Americans knew of their existence but such was the cleverness of the disguise never discovered them. It makes for a very interesting excursion.

Binh Quoi Tourist Village

A nice little oasis amidst the crowds and traffic

Just on the edge of District 1, in Binh Thanh district ,this is a tourist attraction built on the Thanh Dinh peninsula an outcrop of land within a loop on the Saigon River. It was set up by the Vietnamese government during 1975 and 1976 and expanded between 1979 and 1980. It has lush green gardens, lakes coconut palms and even small villages. There is an excellent three tiered restaurant here and performances put on demonstrations of traditional wedding parties, crossing the lake for the “wedding”. This is great spot to sit and watch the subj go down over the Saigon River.

Ben Thanh Market

One of the most well known markets in Asia

No trip to an ancient Asian city would be complete without the usual visit to a market. Ben Thanh though, does offer an attraction for even the worst of shoppers. It is an absolutely fascinating look at traditional Vietnamese shopping. Hundreds of stallholders vie for space in very cramped conditions. Walking through here is an experience, that’s for sure. Market traders shout out to tourists as they all try to extract those vitally important tourist dollars. The original having been destroyed by fire, this was built by the French in 1912 and further renovated by the city in 1085. It sits on an important roundabout between the business centre of District 1 and the backpacker area of Pham Ngu Lao.

This is by no means a definitive list, it is merely a list of 10 of the amazing attractions within this fascinating Asian city. What are your favourites? Tell us what you think we have missed out.

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Following a highly successful 25-year career as a singer/songwriter and musician, Keith pulled out of the rat race and moved to Southeast Asia in 2008. First living in Thailand, he moved to Cambodia and then relocated to Ho Chi Minh City in early 2013. Keith has had work published in magazines and websites in the UK, Europe, USA, Australia and Asia. He has written for the BBC and has appeared on TV and radio in many different countries. His great loves are music and travel, but he writes on a whole range of subjects.