The differences between Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and Hanoi go some way toward explaining the division between the North and South Vietnam of the Vietnam War. Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, is a bustling, slightly chaotic city sporting a healthy collection of five-star hotels and restaurants. While Hanoi stays truer to older Vietnamese traditions. Ho Chi Minh holds a special fascination for those Americans who grew up with constant images of the War broadcast into their living rooms and for those who served in the conflict. Ho Chi Minh City lacks the ancient history of Hanoi, although it makes up for it through its modern importance, both as a vital part of French Colonialist history, and as the capitol of South Vietnam from 1955 to 1975.
As the one-time “Paris of the Orient,” Ho Chi Minh City features the kind of fine broad boulevards that characterize the French Capital, and many of the iconic buildings in the city recall the French Colonial era including the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Municipal Theatre (also known as the Opera House). The Reunification Hall was built in 1966 as the Presidential Palace and residence of the former South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem. On the grounds is the tank that crashed the gates of the palace on April 30, 1975. Guided tours explain the significance of various rooms, which are virtual time capsules of the Vietnam War era, still decorated in 1960s style. Such war-era hotels as the Carravelle and the Rex played a pivotal role as headquarters for American military leaders. The War Remnants Museum chronicles many of the atrocities committed during the war. Ben Thanh Market is the largest and busiest of Ho Chi Minh City’s markets.
Several museums are worth visiting including the Museum of Vietnamese History, the Revolutionary Museum, the War Remnants Museum, the Museum of Fine Art and the Ben Duoc Relic of Underground Tunnels. Among the most memorable attractions are the Chi tunnels located just outside the city. They tell the story of the tunnel war that was fought. Excursions out of the city often include cruises on the Mekong Delta, a beautiful area with deep history during the Vietnam War.
As Vietnam’s only truly global city, Ho Chi Minh features superb restaurants serving cuisine from around the world. The Vietnamese food served in Ho Chi Minh City reflects a more Cantonese influence than you’ll find in either central or northern Vietnam.
Ho Chi Minh is a tropical city with a distinct rainy season from May to November and a dry season running from December to April. Winter temperatures hover in the 60s and summers regularly reach beyond 100 degrees. Tan Son Nhat International, the largest airport in Vietnam, is the gateway to both Ho Chi Minh and Vietnam as a whole.