11 top tourist attractions in Ho Chi Minh City (part 2)

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Still often referred to by it’s old name, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City is a clamorous, chaotic sensory feast. Motorbikes honk in a tidal wave across clogged intersections, locals crouch on street corners slurping steaming hot bowls of Pho (noodle soup); and the sultry air is thick with exhaust fumes and exotic spices. Ho Chi Minh City is Vietnam’s commercial hub and largest city, and it’s a place where old abuts new with striking contrast. Temples huddle amid skyscrapers and designer shops, locals cast bamboo fishing rods into the languorous Saigon River, and in places, the city feels almost European, with its elegant French colonial architecture and wide, tree-lined avenues. Adding to the fascinating cultural jolt are a clutch of intriguing tourist attractions, from the poignant War Remnants Museum and captivating water puppet shows to colorful markets and the time warp of the Reunification Palace. Not far from the city, the famous Củ Chi tunnels are a must-see attraction, and the lush waterscapes and small villages of the Mekong Delta provide a fascinating glimpse of rural life.

>> Why the Mekong Delta in Vietnam Is Worth the Visit

Saigon Opera House via VIVU 360

5 Saigon Opera House

Also known as The Municipal Theatre of Ho Chi Minh City, the elegant Saigon Opera House, at the start of the famous tree-lined Le Loi Avenue, is eye-candy for architecture buffs – especially fans of the French colonial style. It was built as Opėra de Saigon in 1897 by Eugene Ferret, a French architect, to entertain French colonists, and its striking facade echoes the style of the Petit Palais, which was built in the same year in Paris. After 1956, the building was used as the home of the Lower House assembly of South Vietnam and again became a theater in 1975, after the fall of Saigon. The only way to see the theater’s interior is to purchase a ticket to a show. Both the Ho Chi Minh City Ballet Symphony Orchestra and Opera perform here, and tickets are available at the box office or local travel agents. In the area around the opera house are some of the city’s new shopping malls and exclusive hotels. You can also combine a visit here with the nearby Notre Dame Cathedral and Reunification Palace.

6 Reunification Palace

A visit to the Reunification Palace, once known as Independence Palace, is more about the historic events that took place here than any pomp and grandeur. In fact, this 1960s-style building, with its large, airy rooms and dated furnishings, seems frozen in time since April 30, 1975, when a North Vietnamese army tank crashed through the iron gates here, bringing an end to the Vietnam War. For locals, the palace represents this historic event and and the reunification of the country.

Set on 44 acres of lush lawns and gardens, the palace also offers a fascinating glimpse at the lifestyle of privileged heads of state in 1960s Saigon. It was built on the site of the former Norodom Palace, which was bombed by fighter jets in 1962 in an unsuccessful assassination attempt on the South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem. The current building was completed in 1966 and became the home and workplace of the successive president when Vietnam was split between the north and the south. Notable features include the president’s living quarters, the war command room with large maps and antiquated communications equipment, and the maze of basement tunnels. You’ll also see military vehicles outside, including the fighter jet that destroyed the Norodom Palace and tank 843, which rammed through the palace gate on that fateful day in April more than four decades ago. Guided tours in English are available.

Independence Palace via Ivivu

7 Ben Thanh Market & Saigon Square

For sightseers, the hot and hectic Ben Thanh Market is almost an obligatory stop, even if only to witness the crammed stalls and market chaos. The stalls are piled high with everything from local delicacies, fish, flowers, and tropical fruits to shoes, clothes, colorful candy, and souvenirs. The markets are also notorious for pickpockets, so make sure any valuables are secure and out of sight. After soaking up all the ambiance, head to Saigon Square, about a three-minute stroll away, for a slightly less frenetic shopping experience with the added bonus of air conditioning. Here, you’ll find fantastic deals on everything from clothing and backpacks to jewelry and shoes. Haggling is customary at both locations.

(to be continued)

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