Ho Chi Minh City (also known as Saigon or HCMC) is Vietnam's largest city. Located around 1,000 miles from Hanoi, this place is a kaleidoscope of old and new.
With dizzying skyscrapers, food markets and all the hustle and bustle of an Asian metropolis, it's easy to overlook the timeless passages and streets, which lead to incense-infused temples and pagodas. The city is home to several internationally renowned museums, a thriving expat community and some of the best restaurants in Asia. One thing’s for sure – for anyone experiencing a river cruise stop here, there is a wide variety of things to see and do.
Most visitors use taxis to get around between attractions, while the cyclo bike taxis are good for short journeys. Despite the traffic, the city's roads are considered relatively safe. However, booking your taxi in advance is the best way to avoid the tourist traps.
No trip to Ho Chi Minh City would be complete without a visit to the Jade Emperor Pagoda. Constructed in 1909, this classical Asian temple honours the Jade Emperor, from the Taoist religion. Nestled in the lush surrounding greenery, this pagoda is an incredibly atmospheric place to visit and ideal for feeling connected to Vietnam. With statues of divinities and legendary heroes at every turn, all infused with scented smoke and the sound of bells, visitors are left with a memory that will last a lifetime.
Ho Chi Minh City is world-famous for its food, but very few people know what to expect. Walking around the city, many visitors are struck by the sheer number of carts selling banh mi and sadly, many never try it because they don't know what it is. Banh mi is simply a very tasty crusty baguette stuffed with luncheon meats, pâté, mayonnaise, radish and carrot. This local speciality can be picked up for less than a pound, so do stop to try some. Likewise, a bowl of pho – the local noodle soup – is also very cheap, and this healthy version is stuffed full of fresh green herbs.
In Vietnam, New Year's Day 2018 will be celebrated on 16th February. The Tet celebration, as it is known locally, is a time when families come together and pay their respects to their ancestors. This means temples can be busy in the weeks leading up to Tet, but visitors are still welcome, and it is a beautiful time in the city as spring blooms arrive. Visiting Ho Chi Minh City by river cruise is especially advantageous at this time of year, as hotels are usually booked up. Also, most shops are closed for a few days after the celebration.
For those with an interest in the Vietnam War – or the American War, as it is called over here – a visit to the War Remnants Museum is essential. US tanks, artillery pieces, defused bombs and infantry weapons are on display outside the front door, and inside there is a collection of artefacts and photographs. Visitors should be aware that the collection, although educational, is not everyone's idea of a fun day out.
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