Ho Chi Minh City: An Introduction
Saigon, originally a swamp and marsh, was formerly called Prei Nokor by the Cambodians who ruled the region during the Angkor era. In the 18th century, the region was renamed Saigon by the Nguyen rulers of Vietnam.
After some time under French rule, Saigon was freed in 1975, completing the reunification of the country and leading to the city’s last name change to Ho Chi Minh City. The name paid homage to ‘Uncle Ho’, the revolutionary hero who led Vietnam’s fight for independence. Despite the name change, the city is still often called ‘Saigon’ by tourists and residents alike.
A long-established center for commerce and trade for Asian traders, Ho Chi Minh City is now focusing on international investments. Despite its fast modernization, much of its colonial aura remains beautiful and accessible.
Classical European structures have been transformed into apartments, offices, and high-end hotels. The gigantic General Post Office, envisioned by M. Eiffel, and the Notre Dame Cathedral, stand next to department stores, luxury vehicles, and modernization.
Ho Chi Minh City is home to many of the country’s finest eateries, be they stalls along Ben Thanh Market, the fine dining restaurants, or something in between, you have plenty of food choices. This bustling city has an energy that you can’t find in other cities in Vietnam.
The renowned Rue Catinat of Graham Greene’s Saigon is now referred to as Dong Khoi Street, but it is still recognized as the most affluent street in the city, teeming with art galleries, superb restaurants, and unique boutique shops. During his visit, Greene stayed at the Hotel Majestic. He enjoyed the bar, where visitors can see the sampans moving up and down the Saigon River.
The Cu Chi Tunnels
A stay in Ho Chi Minh would be incomplete without a trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels, a network of tunnels that are more than 250km in length and is three levels deep in some places. The network of tunnels played a crucial role in the Viet Cong’s victory over the US Army. The Viet Cong used the tunnels to move artillery, weapons, ammo, and men around, making it extremely difficult for the Americans to find them. Nowadays, some of the tunnels are open to visitors, providing insight into what life was like underground during the war.
The district of Cu Chi was the most bombed and devastated region in warfare up to that time. The US declared Cu Chi a ‘free fire zone’ during the war, wherein artillery fire rained at night and that bombers were encouraged to drop unused napalm and bombs on the region before returning to camp.
What to do
A walking tour to make the most of the city. Ho Chi Minh is best explored on foot
Have fun bartering at the bustling city’s markets, Cho Ben Thanh and Cho Lon
Discover the country’s eye-opening history at the War Remnants Museum or the Cu Chi tunnels
Dine on some of the world’s most delicious cuisine
When to go
All year round with the better months being November to April to avoid the highest rainfall.