1. Notre Dame Cathedral
The Notre Dame Cathedral is an imposing red brick building built between 1877 and 1883 by the French. At nearly 58 meters (190 feet), the two towers in the front of the cathedral rise above visitors and the neon-lit statue of the Virgin Mary. The cathedral still functions as a religious site and a major tourist destination, especially after gaining international recognition for a supposed sighting of a teardrop falling from the Virgin Mary statue in 2005. (Note: The Notre Dame Cathedral is temporarily closed for renovations until 2023.
2. War Remnants Museum
This museum has a very “pro-communist, down-with-the-capitalists” bend to it but is nevertheless very interesting. Focused on the Vietnam War, which killed between 1,500,000-3,500,000 people, the museum’s best exhibit is the collection of bombs, tanks, planes, and war machinery, including an American F-5A fighter jet at the front entrance. The entrance fee is 40,000 VND.
3. Ho Chi Minh City Museum
At one point or another, this city museum has been a Governor’s Palace, a committee building, and a Revolutionary Museum. Today, you’ll find a collection of weaponry and memorabilia from the country’s revolutionary struggle as well as captured U.S. fighter planes and tanks from the Vietnam War. Located in the former Gia Long Palace, there are some permanent exhibitions along with special exhibitions that rotate on a regular basis (check the website for details; it has an English version). Admission costs 30,000 VND plus 20,000 VND if you want to take photos.
4. Ben Thanh Market
Though this market in District 1 is crowded and rife with pickpockets, it is the ideal place to pick up some handicrafts, bargain souvenirs, and try some traditional (and inexpensive) Vietnamese food. It’s the largest market in Vietnam, so get lost in the chaos and enjoy it all. Don’t be afraid to negotiate the price since you will be given the “tourist price” on items here. Just keep your wallet secure and out of reach as you wander.
5. Cu Chi Tunnels
Here you can crawl through the extensive network of narrow tunnels used by the Viet Cong in the 1960s to fight American soldiers during the Vietnam War. Tours involve a walk-through of the tunnels (over 100 meters of tunnels are open to visitors) which give you a sense of how the Vietnamese were able to defend their country for so long against a stronger force. It’s a sobering experience and not one for anyone claustrophobic. Tours cost around 350,000 VND.
6. Saigon Skydeck
For a 360-degree panorama of the city, head to the Saigon Skydeck, one of the tallest buildings in the country. The observation deck is on the 49th floor of the Bitexco Financial Tower and offers amazing views. Admission costs 200,000 VND and includes a bottle of water. Just check the weather forecast ahead of time. You can also go at night to see the city lit up. Open daily from 9:30am-9:30pm.