48 hours in: Ho Chi Minh City

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Vietnam's biggest city packs in fresh flavours, French relics and a futuristic skyline

Travel Essentials

Why go now?

The dry season in the southern portion of Vietnam runs from December to April, making now the ideal time to visit the country's biggest metropolis. The city will also be in party mode on 30 April. Liberation Day celebrates the anniversary of the end of the American War and the reunification of the two halves of Vietnam in 1975.

Touch down

British citizens travelling to Vietnam require a 30-day tourist visa to enter the country. It costs £38 through Vietnam's embassy in London (020-7937 1912; vietnamembassy.org.uk).

Tan Son Nhat airport (hochiminhcityairport.com) sits 7km north-west of the centre of the city. Vietnam Airlines (020-3263 2062; vietnamairlines.com) offers the sole direct service from the UK – twice weekly from Gatwick.

Indirect options include Air France (0871 663 3777; airfrance.co.uk) and Emirates (0844 800 2777; emirates.com) from a variety of UK airports via Paris and Dubai respectively; and Singapore Airlines (020-8961 6993; singap oreair.com) and Qatar Airways (0844 846 8380; qatarairways.com) from Heathrow and Manchester via Singapore and Doha respectively.

Malaysia Airlines (0871 423 9090; malaysiaairlines.com) flies from Heathrow via Kuala Lumpur.

Transfers will be included if you are on a wider tour. I travelled with Wendy Wu Tours (0844 875 2433; wendywutours.co.uk), which sells an 18-day Vietnam Highlights package from £2,590pp. Taxi firm Mai Linh (00 84 8 232 323; mailinh.vn) has a booth in the arrivals hall. Cabs to the centre cost 200,000 Vietnamese dong (£6), taking 15 to 30 minutes. Bus 152 runs to the main bus station (1) on Tran Hung Dao street, for V$5,000 (15p), during daylight hours.

Get your bearings

Although it has borne its official name for almost 40 years since Vietnamese reunification (it was the capital of the anti-communist, American-supported South Vietnam), Ho Chi Minh City is still largely referred to by locals as Saigon.

It straddles the Saigon River in the south of the country, north-east of the Mekong Delta. It is split into 24 districts, but District One – the core of the French colonial city of the 19th century – holds the key sights.

Taxis are the easiest method of transport – Mai Linh (green and white livery) or Vinasun Taxi (white livery; 00 84 8 3827 9259; vinasuntaxi.com) – and far safer than the informal motorbike rides (xe om) that can be hailed. The centre can also be covered on foot. There is no tourist office – but vietnamtourism.com is a solid resource.

Check in

The Asian Ruby Hotel (2), a comfy mid-range option in a good location at 26 Thi Sach (00 84 8 3827 2839; asianrubyhotel.com), has doubles from V$1,176,000 (£35), room only.

The Grand Hotel (3), an elegant French colonial relic of 1930 at 8 Dong Khoi (00 84 8 3915 5555; grandsaigonhotel.com) has doubles from US$106 (£68), with breakfast.

The Caravelle Hotel (4), a five-star landmark dating to 1959 at 19-23 Lam Son Square (00 84 8 3823 4999; caravellehotel.com), offers doubles from US$182 (£115), room only.

Day One

Take a hike

Begin outside the Reunification Palace (5) at 135 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia (00 84 8 3822 3652; dinhdoclap.gov.vn). This concrete giant, the former presidential palace of South Vietnam, witnessed the symbolic end of the war on 30 April 1975 when a phalanx of North Vietnamese tanks smashed down its gates. It is now a museum (open daily 7.30-11am and 1-4pm; tours V$30,000/90p). Its echoing interior is all Cold War phones, map rooms and reinforced bomb shelters.

From here, stroll two blocks north-east along Le Duan, a leafy colonial boulevard. Turn right into Cong Xa Paris square and pass the red-brick cathedral of Notre-Dame de Saigon (6) before entering (at No 2) the Central Post Office (7), another splendid French leftover (open daily 6am-10pm).

Window shopping

If you leave the square at its south-east end, you arrive on to Dong Khoi, one of the city's key drags. Among the jewellery and fashion stores, you'll find the mega-mall of Parkson Plaza (8), just off the avenue at 41-45 Le Thanh Ton (00 84 8 3827 7636; parkson.com.vn). Diamond Plaza (9), at 34 Le Duan (00 84 8 3825 7750; diamond plaza.com.vn), does similar retail modernity, but there's a far more traditional vibe to Ben Thanh Market (10), a cluttered pocket of stalls, where you can buy everything from fruit to T-shirts.

Lunch on the run

Pop into Pho 24 (11) at 71-73 Dong Khoi (00 84 8 3825 7505; pho24.com.vn) where pho bo (the national dish of beef with noodles) is V$49,000 (£1.50).

Cultural afternoon

The War Remnants Museum (12) at 28 Vo Van Tan, traces what happened to Vietnam during its turbulent 20th century (00 84 8 3930 6325; daily 7.30am-noon and 1.30-5pm; V$15,000/45p). Perspective is unsurprisingly one-eyed, but the bleakness cuts through the bias. US tanks and helicopters are lined up outside.

Next to the river at 1 Nguyen Tat Thanh, the Ho Chi Minh Museum (13) focuses on the man whose vision helped wrest Vietnam from foreign control. Open daily except Monday, 8-11.30am and 2-5pm (V$10,000/30p), it has a limited collection of personal artefacts.

For more depth, try the Vietnam History Museum (14) at 2 Nguyen Binh Khiem (00 84 8 3829 8146; daily except Monday, 8-11am and 1.30-5pm; V$15,000/45p), which dissects Vietnam's rich heritage back to the ancient Cham civilisation.

An aperitif

Stylishly metropolitan, ZanZbar (15) (00 84 8 3822 7375; zanzbar.com) at 41 Dong Du, serves cocktails such as the Zan-Z-Tini – mandarin vodka and cointreau, V$150,000 (£4.50).

Dining with the locals

Lemongrass (16), a colourful Vietnamese option at 4 Nguyen Thiep (00 84 8 3822 0496), puts the emphasis on seafood, with mains from V$100,000 (£3). Le Jardin (17) dreams of the French era with steaks in a garden setting at 31 Thai Van Lung (00 84 8 3825 8465). Meanwhile, Xu (18) at 71-75 Hai Ba Trung (00 84 8 3824 8468; xusaigon.com), pushes local cuisine into the 21st century.

Day Two

Sunday morning: go to church

Notre-Dame de Saigon (6) (00 84 8 3822 0477) is so French that during its construction (1863-1880), every stone slab was came from Marseille. Open daily 8am-5pm (Sunday mass at 9.30am), it provides a calm presence at 1 Cong Xa Paris, its twin towers rear 58m above the square.

Of course, Vietnam is largely Buddhist, and the city provides another major religious site in the Xa Loi Pagoda (19). There is no special beauty to this compound at 89 Ba Huyen Thanh Quan (00 84 8 3930 7605; open daily 6-11.30am and 2-9pm), aside from its six-tier bell tower and the shrine to Thich Quang Duc, a monk whose suicide protest by self-immolation was captured by news cameras and became one of the 20th-century's most striking images. It took place four blocks south of the pagoda at Cach Mang Thang Tam and Nguyen Dinh Chieu (20).

A walk in the park

North of the immediate centre, the Botanical Gardens (21) at 2b Nguyen Binh Khiem were another French gift. Part of the Saigon Zoo complex (00 84 8 3829 3728; saigonzoo.net), this verdant space is open daily 7am-7pm, admission V$12,000 (35p). Dating to 1864, its tree-shaded lanes, where young couples stroll, could almost be Paris but for the tropical foliage and chirp of insects.

Out to brunch

A reflection of the city's increasingly international make-up, The Sushi Bar (22) at 2 Le Thanh Ton (00 84 8 3823 8042; sushibar-vn.com) deals in fresh Japanese fare.

Take a view

The city's future as a business hot spot is most discernible in the 263m Bitexco Financial Tower (23), near the waterfront at 2 Hai Trieu. This vision in glass looks like a fragment of Dubai. Its 49th-floor observation deck (00 84 8 3915 6156; saigonskydeck.com) opens 9.30am-9.30pm except Friday and Saturday, 10am-10pm, entry V$200,000 (£6). The view highlights the fast-evolving metropolis west of the river and the predominantly undeveloped east bank.

Icing on the cake

The Rex Hotel (24) at 141 Nguyen Hue (00 84 8 3829 2185; rexhotelvietnam.com), was the site of regular press briefings as the war turned against the United States. Weary reporters came to know these dispatches – infused with a growing self-denial – as "Five O'Clock Follies". These words now flash in neon above the hotel's fifth-floor Rooftop Garden bar – where you can enjoy a ginger mojito for V$160,000 (£4.75) and absorb the city's ceaseless ebb and flow from an outdoor seat.

Life & Style
Sampling wine in Turin
food + drink...and abstaining may be worse than drinking too much, says scientist
Arts & Entertainment
Kingdom Tower
architecture
Sport
Jose Mourinho restrains his assistant manager Rui Faria, Fabio Borini celebrates his winning penalty and Connor Wickham equalises for Sunderland
sportChelsea 1 Sunderland 2: Deafeat is extra bitter as former Chelsea player Fabio Borini scores late penalty to seal victory
Arts & Entertainment
Game of Thrones writer George R.R. Martin has been working on the novels since the mid-Nineties
books
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
Easter a dangerous time for dogs
these are the new ones. Old ones are below them... news
News
Brand said he
people
Sport
Roger Federer celebrates his victory over Novak Djokovic in the Monte Carlo Masters
sport
Voices
Actor Zac Efron
voicesTopless men? It's as bad as Page 3, says Howard Jacobson
Arts & Entertainment
The monster rears its head as it roars into the sky
film
Voices
For the Love of God (2007) The diamond-encrusted skull that divided the art world failed to sell for
its $100m asking price. It was eventually bought by a consortium
which included the artist himself.
voicesYou can shove it, Mr Webb – I'll be having fun until the day I die, says Janet Street-Porter
Extras
indybestFake it with 10 best self-tanners
Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
News
Much of the colleges’ land is off-limits to locals in Cambridge, with tight security
educationAnd has the Cambridge I knew turned its back on me?
News
peopleOrlando Bloom the pin-up hero is making a fresh start
News
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    NGO and Community Development in Cambodia

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: There are many small development projects in ...

    Sports coaching volunteer jobs

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: Kaya Responsible Travel offer a variety of sp...

    Turtle Nesting and Coral Reef Conservation in Borneo

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: Volunteer with Kaya in Borneo and work on a p...

    Elephant research project in Namibia

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: If you have a passion for elephants and want ...

    Day In a Page

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit