HO CHI MINH CITY: A PULSATING MIX OF OLD AND NEW
The jewel of Southeast Asia; bastion of Vietnamese culture; thriving economic powerhouse; hub for adventure around southern Vietnam. The city formerly known as Saigon is all these things. You'll still see and hear the historic name used around the city today, but Ho Chi Minh City never stops moving forward.
A complex city that seamlessly blends historic monuments and a French colonial past with a status as one of Asia's major start-up hubs and a thriving cultural scene, Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC for short) is an important transport centre for getting around southern Vietnam, including the Mekong Delta. But the city itself also demands exploring.
There are street markets and ancient temples to see, of course – but there’s also a striking contemporary side to this beguiling city waiting for you. All you need to do is discover it.
Set off from anywhere in Ho Chi Minh City and within a few minutes' walk you get a sense of the shifting identities here. Stroll past Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral and the City Hall, then stop by night markets for your fix of street food. Even though Vietnam is half the world away from London, Paris and New York, you’ll still find modern shopping centres packed with designer boutiques, and cocktail nightspots where the rich and famous hang out.
Although its roots are firmly planted in Vietnamese tradition, Ho Chi Minh City’s modern world of tech start-ups has brought entrepreneurs from all over the world to play in this shimmering city that strides confidently between its traditional past and its sharp contemporary atmosphere of today.
The history of Ho Chi Minh City is captivating, not least because it stretches out in so many different directions. Starting in the centre of the city, look to the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Old Post Office, with their striking European architecture, for a sense of the French colonial past of Saigon. In another example of French colonial flamboyance, the Municipal Theatre (aka Saigon Opera House) is a must-visit in central District 1. In direct contrast, visit the Jade Emperor Pagoda to experience the most famous temple of Vietnam’s Taoist community, with its serene atmosphere. The city's tallest building, the Bitexco Financial Tower, is testament to HCMC's 21st-century prosperity and ambition, while the landmark Reunification Palace is inextricably linked to the fall of Saigon, and a must-see.
Of course, acknowledging Ho Chi Minh City’s reconstruction after the Vietnam War is also a big part of the city’s draw for many travellers. To better understand the city's wartime past, make sure to visit the moving War Remnants Museum.
Ho Chi Minh City's dining scene is another perfect reflection of the city's seamless blend of tradition and modern innovation. You'll find delicious street food on almost every corner, and fine fusion dining is everywhere, from innovative restaurants like Noir in District 1, to traditional kitchens dotted around the city.
When you’re thirsty, great bars and cafés are never far away. Coffee is huge in Ho Chi Minh City, with a real Melbourne-style coffee culture that focuses on craft. For a drink with a view, get a coffee above the hustle and bustle at Cafe EON’s sky-high viewing deck in the city’s tallest building. See if you can find traditional cà phê sữa đá too – locals have been enjoying this iced coffee made with condensed milk for decades.
A visit to Ho Chi Minh City wouldn’t be complete without a stroll through one or two of the city’s famous night markets. Originally opened by traders to beat the heat of Vietnam’s sizzling daylight hours, these markets are now attractions in their own right. Ben Thanh, Ho Chi Minh City’s biggest, is open every night from 1800. Phan Boi Chau (named after another independence figure) is also well worth a visit for local food, souvenirs and clothes.
Ho Chi Minh City’s locals love the buzz of their favourite late-night bar. Whether you enjoy sipping cocktails overlooking the city at a rooftop club, or you’re more of a craft-beer-and-authentic-street-food kind of traveller, you’ll find your own corner of Ho Chi Minh City nightlife to fall in love with. From champagne under the stars to live jazz and rượu nếp cẩm (sticky rice wine), going out in Ho Chi Minh City is a way of life.
Ho Chi Minh City is the perfect place to start a Vietnamese adventure. Perfectly positioned in the centre of south Vietnam, close to the Mekong Delta and served by a major airport, it’s ideal if you want to see more of this beautiful part of the world.
Find waterfalls and thick rainforest, paradise beaches and red sand dunes in Mui Ne and Phan Thiet. Travel to Nah Trang and see Po Nagar Cham, an ancient temple complex, and explore Lang Son Pagoda before hitting the beach. Whether you're interested in a river cruise on the Mekong or want to explore on a jungle trek, there's a huge amount to see in this region.
The Củ Chi tunnels are perhaps the area's most visceral reminder of the country’s war-torn past. Dug by members of the Viet Cong to defend the city and keep food and medical supplies passing from one area to another, the vast maze of tunnels, which stretches for 75 miles (120km) underground, is now a world-famous memorial park open to the public.
The Mekong River meanders through the heart of Southeast Asia from high in the Tibetan plateau through China and Myanmar into Thailand, Laos and Cambodia before emptying into the Mekong basin in south Vietnam. Taking a cruise on the river is one of the most peaceful ways to enjoy the sights of the delta, watching lush jungle and rural life pass you by. It's possible to cruise upstream as far as Phnom Penh, but you can also take shorter boat trips around the delta and its connecting waterways. A typical itinerary involves a couple of days' cruising from Cai Be (a two-to-three-hour drive southwest of the city) to Can Tho, passing rice paddies and stopping off at one of the area's famous floating markets.
The Cao Dai Great Temple in Tay Ninh, northwest of HCMC, is one of the more unusual cultural landmarks in the south Vietnam. Adorned with the juxtaposing ornaments of French, Chinese and Islamic religious art, there’s more than a touch of the everything-goes Baroque about this 20th-century temple. The Cao Dai faith amalgamates ideas from other religions, and the temple is an intriguingly unique sight.
Travelling through the south Vietnamese heartlands around the Mekong Delta region will bring you closer to the traditional way of life that’s been lived here for hundreds of years. Visit rice wine distilleries, fishing harbours and authentic local markets, and see some fascinating cottage enterprises by visiting villagers who still make rice paper in noodles in the traditional way, spreading dough by hand. You'll find whole villages dedicated to particular crafts; in Sa Dec you can visit a famous rice flour-making village, while Tan Ly Dong is famous for making Vietnam's traditional conical hats.
Ready to fly? You can choose from two departures each day from London Heathrow to Ho Chi Minh City, making a short stop in Bangkok – choose from flights at either 1230 or 2125. Your choice of return flights is between a morning departure at 1005, or an evening departure at 2050. It takes around 14 to 16 hours to fly from London Heathrow to Ho Chi Minh City. Of course, you needn’t feel restricted by this – if you’d like to see more of Bangkok, it’s easy to plan a longer layover to extend your trip.
Whenever you choose to travel, you can expect the usual top-notch THAI service. Our recent wins at the Skytrax 2018 World Airline Awards are testament to our onboard experience and value for money – THAI was awarded World’s Best Economy Class and Best Economy Onboard Catering. Or choose to book a seat in Royal Silk or Royal First Class, and you can also the World’s Best Airline Lounge Spa, as awarded in our third Skytrax win.
Browse for flights from London Heathrow to Ho Chi Minh City today to start planning an unforgettable journey to Vietnam’s beautiful south.