When we arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, also known as Saigon, we were blown away by its difference to Hanoi. This is a metropolitan city with a melting pot of different cultures. The hand of Communism is felt less strongly here in the south and there is a huge commercial vibe. This city has everything, great street food, good shopping and fantastic museums. We thought it was funny how all the parks have exercise equipment dotted around and everyone actually uses it!
Definitely visit the War Remnants Museum, I have never seen a museum that showed the brutal effects of war so powerfully. It is quite shocking and in no way watered down, they even have actual specimens of the effects of agent orange. I know, crazy. Even though it is told from the Vietnamese perspective, the atrocities committed during the Vietnam/American war are undeniable and terrible to see up close. Definitely visit it if you get a chance.
Ho Chi Minh City is a great place to use as a base to visit a lot of places nearby. We spent a day visiting the Cu Chi Tunnels which is an extensive tunnel network and in the 1960s it stretched all the way to the Cambodian border. It played a huge role in Vietnamese guerilla warfare and was very effective in controlling large parts of the rural areas. You can actually go inside these tunnels, although many of them are extremely narrow and dark, so you can’t help but feeling very claustrophobic! They are pretty incredible with hidden trapdoors, kitchens, hospitals and communal living areas. You can also shoot an AK-47 for a small fee which of course we did. This place is very interesting and such an important aspect of war history. Plus it’s really cheap to go on a tour here, around US$10.
Another place to visit from Ho Chi Minh City is the Mekong Delta, known as the ‘rice bowl’ of Vietnam. We took a day trip out here (a very reasonable US$10, in a small boat and cruised through the canals and saw how people basically live on the water with floating homes and markets. We enjoyed learning how Vietnamese coconut sweets are made, exploring some of the larger islands on bicycles, and floating through the narrow channels on canoes.
We enjoyed our time in Ho Chi Minh City, it is an easy city to explore with so many activities to fit in. Cost wise, Ho Chi Minh City is slightly more expensive than the other places we visited in Vietnam, still you are only looking at around US$35 (NZ$50) per day.
Editor’s Note: Visited Vietnam in 2014, updated in 2017.