City Orientation Walking Tour (Self Guided), Saigon/HoChiMinh City

Ho Chi Minh City, otherwise known as Saigon, is a busy, vibrant metropolis, largest in Vietnam and perhaps one of the coolest in the world, popularized by numerous Vietnam war movies. The city streets are filled with bikes and curious visitors admiring local sights. The latter are plentiful and include museums, palaces and skyscrapers, among others, featuring both SouthEast Asian and French Colonial tradition. This orientation walk will lead you to some of Ho Chi Minh City's most notable attractions.
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City Orientation Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: City Orientation Walking Tour
Guide Location: Vietnam » Saigon/HoChiMinh City (See other walking tours in Saigon/HoChiMinh City)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 12
Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.4 Km or 2.7 Miles
Author: vickyc
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Ho Chi Minh Square
  • Nguyen Hue Walking Street
  • City Hall (People's Committee Building)
  • Hotel Continental
  • Municipal Theater
  • Central Post Office
  • Notre-Dame Cathedral of Saigon
  • Reunification Palace
  • War Remnants Museum
  • Saigon Trade Center
  • Saigon Zoo and Botanical Garden
  • Museum of Vietnamese History
1
Ho Chi Minh Square

1) Ho Chi Minh Square (must see)

Located right at the heart of bustling, traffic-filled Ho Chi Minh, the historic Ho Chi Minh Square is an oasis of tranquility and elegance of French Colonial architecture, perfectly manicured hedges and fragrant blooms of hibiscus and poinsettia. A snapshot of 19th- and 20th-century South Vietnamese heritage, today it is dominated by the statue of communist revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh standing in front of the Ho Chi Minh City Hall, built by the French in 1908, and coexisting peacefully with western consumerism of today emerging in the form of high-end boutiques and big brand stores dotting the surrounding streets. Siding the square on the east is the Rex Hotel, also built by the French, in 1927. During the Vietnam War, its rooftop bar was a popular haunt for military officials, diplomats, and war correspondents. Other nearby attractions include Saigon Opera House, Central Post Office, and several large hotels.

Why You Should Visit:
Perhaps early morning, late afternoon, or evening would be a more appropriate time to visit and 'go the distance'.
2
Nguyen Hue Walking Street

2) Nguyen Hue Walking Street (must see)

The idea to convert the old Nguyen Hue Street from an average downtown thoroughfare into a wide elegant promenade was brilliant! Located right in the centre of downtown Ho Chi Minh City, this pedestrian area is a great hangout for tourists and families on an outing. With the infamous city traffic now banished, the street is gradually becoming a major cultural hub. Among its attractions already in place is the water fountain set in front of the Sun Wah Tower – particularly impressive at night when it is lit up with multicolored lights; the iconic Municipal Theatre; and the monument of the city namesake, revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh himself. An additional lure for visitors to Nguyen Hue Street is the free high-speed Wi-Fi.

Tip:
Wear comfortable shoes and try to avoid the heat of the day (have good hydration otherwise).
Even though the street has been pedestrianized, keep your eyes out for errant motorbikes on the pavement, especially during peak hours.
3
City Hall (People's Committee Building)

3) City Hall (People's Committee Building) (must see)

The Ho Chi Minh City Hall is the present name of the former Hotel de Ville or City Hall of Saigon. The ornate yellow French style building is located on the Le Thanh Ton Street at the end of the Nguyen Hue Boulevard.

The building was designed by the French architect P. Gardes and built between 1898 and 1908. It was called the Hotel de Ville until 1954. Between 1954 and 1975, it was called the City Hall of Saigon under the then South Vietnam Government. After the reunification of the country in 1975, it was given its present name, the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee Head Office.

Visitors to the building are greeted by a statue of Ho Chi Minh teaching a child. It is a popular spot where locals and tourists get their photographs taken. The City Hall has a renaissance style that was inspired by the design of town halls in France. It has a main hall and rectangular wings. A notable feature of the building is the bell tower that stands on a pyramid-shaped pedestal. The City Hall is spectacular when lighted up at night. It consists of working government offices and is not open to visitors.

Why You Should Visit:
Easy to walk around; plenty to see at your own pace; night time is great as well; great garden and food around the place.
4
Hotel Continental

4) Hotel Continental

The Hôtel Continental is a hotel in Ho Chi Minh City. It was named after the Hôtel Continental in Paris, and is located in District 1, the central business district of the city. The hotel is situated on Dong Khoi Street by the Saigon Opera House and was built in 1880 during the French colonial period. The hotel has undergone refurbishments over the years, whilst still maintaining the essence of its original architecture and style. The hotel is owned by the state-owned Saigon Tourist. During the Vietnam War-era the hotel was renamed the Continental Palace and became popular with journalists who nicknamed the ground-floor bar the Continental Shelf. Newsweek and Time magazines each had their Saigon bureaux on the second floor of the hotel. Following the Fall of Saigon in April 1975 ownership of the hotel was taken over by the Ho Chi Minh City Government and Tu Do Street was renamed Dong Khoi Street. The hotel was closed in 1976 and reopened again in 1986 as the Dong Khoi. The hotel was completely restored from 1988-9 and reopened in 1989 as the Hotel Continental.
5
Municipal Theater

5) Municipal Theater (must see)

The Municipal Theater, also called the Saigon Opera House, is one of the finest examples of 19th-century French colonial architecture in Ho Chi Minh City. It was built to stage plays and operas for the entertainment of French troops stationed in the city.

The Municipal Theater was designed by architect Felix Olivier and its construction was supervised by architects Ernest Guichard and Eugene Ferret. It was built between 1898 and 1900. The theater was damaged by the allied bombs of World War II. After the victory of the forces of the Viet Minh in Dien Bien Phu, it became the temporary shelter for French families fleeing North Vietnam. The theater was renovated to house the lower house of parliament of South Vietnam in 1955. Its function as a performing arts venue was restored after the fall of Saigon in 1975. Extensive restorations were carried out in 1998 by the Municipal Government as part of the celebrations of the 300th anniversary of Saigon.

Visitors are greeted by two white female statues at the gate. The stairs are lined with ornate chandeliers and bronze statues. There is a main seating floor with two upper floors. The theater can seat an audience of 1800 people. Today, the Municipal Theater is the venue for Jazz concerts, operas, traditional Vietnamese dances, and ballet performances.

Why You Should Visit:
Attending a show here is a great evening out, as you get a welcome drink as well as a tour of the beautiful Opera House before the performance.
Definitely worth the price of a ticket, and cheaper than the performance center in Hoi An.

Tip:
If you pre-book online they have some specials that include free dinner with the purchase of mid-priced tickets.
6
Central Post Office

6) Central Post Office (must see)

The Central Post Office is an elegant colonial-style building in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City. It has a Gothic architectural style and was designed by the world famous French architect, Gustave Eiffel. Constructed between 1886 and 1891, it resembles a European railway station. It was and is a working post office where visitors can send postcards and purchase stamps.

The Central Post Office building is the biggest post office structure in Vietnam. There are ornately wrought iron gates in the main entrance. The central hall has a large clock and two similar extensions on both sides covered by a large skylight. The arched windows have decorated capstones and green shutters that are a typical feature of French colonial buildings. The interior of the main chamber has two large maps of Vietnam and Saigon that date back to the 18th century. At the far end of the chamber hangs a giant portrait of the Vietnamese revolutionary leader, Ho Chi Minh. Besides postal mail services, the post office offers public phone and fax facilities. The specialty stamp counter sells some unusual philately sets.

Why You Should Visit:
You really feel transported back in time here, plus it's a great opportunity to send a postcard to your family back home and show them what we did before e-mail!

Tip:
Souvenir shop prices are steep, but there's a sweet spot by the entrance for air con/breeze.
The building is particularly beautiful when lit up at night.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Sat: 7am-7pm; Sun: 8am-6pm
Free entry
7
Notre-Dame Cathedral of Saigon

7) Notre-Dame Cathedral of Saigon (must see)

This Roman Catholic cathedral constructed by the French colonists is the seat of the Archbishop of Saigon. The red building with two pointed bell towers is a distinctive landmark of Ho Chi Minh City.

The French Bishop Isidore de Colombert laid the foundation stone of the Saigon Notre Dame Basilica in 1877. The building was designed in France and built under the supervision of a well known French engineer named Bourad. It was consecrated on Easter Day, 1880 in the presence of the then Governor of Cochin China, Charles Le Myre de Vilers. The church became a basilica in 1959 after receiving approval from the Vatican.

The Notre Dame Basilica is made from construction material imported directly from France. The bricks were made in Marseilles and the stained glass that once adorned the windows came from Chartres. It has a neo-Romanesque design with three arched façade. The two bell towers are 57.6 meters high and hold six bronze bells. Each tower is topped by a 3.5-meter high cross. In 1959, Bishop Joseph Pham Van Thien of the Saigon parish installed a statue of the Holy Mother in front of the church. In 2005, a story that the statue had shed tears circulated and thousands of visitors came to view the phenomenon. The clergy later denied the occurrence of the incident.

Tip:
It looks nice from the outside and a great place to take pictures, but you can not go in, as it is being renovated until 2022.
8
Reunification Palace

8) Reunification Palace (must see)

The Reunification Palace is a historic landmark in Ho Chi Minh City. It was here that North Vietnamese tanks breached the gates and were declared victorious in the Vietnam War resulting in the reunification of the country.

The Reunification Palace was built on the site of the former Norodom Palace. The Palace was the former residence of the French Governor of Cochin China and was also called the Governor’s Palace at the time. It was occupied by Japanese colonists during World War II. After the independence of Vietnam, it became the residence and office of the president of South Vietnam. The building was bombed by two rebellious pilots in 1962. The present building was designed by architect Ngo Viet Thu and opened its doors in 1966.

Visitors to the Reunification Palace are welcomed in the front lawn by the tank that breached its gates and signaled the end of the Vietnam War. The rooms of the building are preserved as they were during the war. The recreation room has many pieces of period furniture. The War command room is the most interesting part of the museum displaying early communication equipment and maps used during the war. There are also a series of underground tunnels leading to the Gia Long Palace including a basement wartime communications room. Visitors can also view a video about the Vietnam War in English at the Reunification Palace.

Tip:
When you enter, explore the ground floor first and then venture upstairs. Do the bunkers last as they exit right out of the building.
Free guided tours are available in English, French, Japanese and Chinese (invaluable as there are not many signboards inside).

Opening Hours:
Daily: 7:30am-11am; 1-4pm
9
War Remnants Museum

9) War Remnants Museum (must see)

The War Remnants Museum is currently one of the most popular museums in Vietnam, attracting approximately half a million visitors every year. According to the museum's own estimates, about two-thirds of these are foreigners. US anthropologist Christina Schwenkel wrote the museum attempts to convey historical truths with 'self-representation', presenting images and other features without contextualizing them as other museums do.

The museum comprises a series of themed rooms in several buildings, with period military equipment placed within a walled yard. The military equipment includes a UH-1 "Huey" helicopter, an F-5A fighter, a BLU-82 "Daisy Cutter" bomb, M48 Patton tank, an A-1 Skyraider attack bomber, and an A-37 Dragonfly attack bomber. There are a number of pieces of unexploded ordnance stored in the corner of the yard, with their charges and/or fuses removed.

One building reproduces the "tiger cages" in which the South Vietnamese government kept political prisoners. Other exhibits include graphic photography, accompanied by a short text in English, Vietnamese and Japanese, covering the effects of Agent Orange and other chemical defoliant sprays, the use of napalm and phosphorus bombs, and war atrocities such as the My Lai massacre. The photographic display includes work by Vietnam War photojournalist Bunyo Ishikawa that he donated to the museum in 1998. Curiosities include a guillotine used by the French and South Vietnamese to execute prisoners (the last time being in 1960) and three jars of preserved human fetuses allegedly deformed by exposure to dioxins and dioxin-like compounds, contained in the defoliant Agent Orange.

Why You Should Visit:
To gain extensive insight into the warfare history of the American War from the Vietnamese perspective.

Tip:
Start from the top floor and work your way down – it makes more sense. Begin with hall 2, only then move to 1.
Budget a minimum of 2 hours for this activity (more if you like to spend time reading).
If you're American, expect to read a lot of anti-American sentiment in the exhibition.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 7:30am-6pm
10
Saigon Trade Center

10) Saigon Trade Center

Saidon Trade Center is the 2nd tallest skyscraper in all of Ho Chi Minh City, standing at 145 m tall. The skyscraper is surrounded by the embassies and consulates of the city. There are plenty of shops inside the building and, as every other major skyscraper, it offers a gorgeous panoramic view of the city.
11
Saigon Zoo and Botanical Garden

11) Saigon Zoo and Botanical Garden

The Saigon Zoo and Botanical Garden offers a peaceful getaway from the bustle of the city. It is one of the oldest zoos in the world and the adjacent botanical garden has some rare, native Vietnamese species of orchids.

The Saigon Zoo was founded by a French Veterinarian, named Louis Germain, and covered an area of 12 hectares in 1864. Later, eminent botanist Louis Pierre, who designed the botanical gardens of Kolkata in India, was invited to design the landscape for a garden, covering an additional area of 13 hectares, adjacent to the zoo, in 1869. A bridge across the Nghe Channel, built in 1927, connected the botanical gardens and the zoo. It is the biggest biological garden in Vietnam.

The Saigon Zoo and Botanical Gardens are home to over a 100 animals, ornamental plants and rare orchids. The zoo has several species of mammals, reptiles and birds. Visitors can view the deer enclosure from an elevated walkway and there is a petting area with domesticated animals. The botanical garden has plant species from across Asia, Africa and the Americas. There are 20 species of rare orchids, many unique cacti species and 34 Bonzai tree varieties. In 1927, the Japanese government donated to the garden over 900 rare plants.
12
Museum of Vietnamese History

12) Museum of Vietnamese History (must see)

The Museum of Vietnamese History is a repository of objects dating from prehistoric times to the formation of the communist party in 1930. The building housing the museum is a unique pagoda-like structure designed in Neo Vietnamese style during the colonial era.

The museum is divided into two parts. The first part consists of halls with exhibits from each period in Vietnam’s history. Exhibits in these halls are dedicated to the prehistoric period, the reign of King Hung, the Ly dynasty, the Tran Dynasty, the Le Dynasty, the Tay Son and the Nguyen Dynasty. The second part is dedicated to the cultures of Southern Vietnam like the Oc Eo culture, the cultures of the Mekong River, Cham art, ceramics and pottery, ancient weaponry and the crafts, costumes, utensils and of ethnic minority groups in the country. There is also a small theater within the museum where traditional Vietnamese water puppet shows are held.

Tip:
As noted above, the museum is in two buildings so make sure you go to both.
The cost to get in is very reasonable and they do take credit cards.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 8-11:30am / 1:30-5pm

Walking Tours in Saigon/HoChiMinh City, Vietnam

Create Your Own Walk in Saigon/HoChiMinh City

Create Your Own Walk in Saigon/HoChiMinh City

Creating your own self-guided walk in Saigon/HoChiMinh City is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Museums and Art Galleries Tour

Museums and Art Galleries Tour

Ho Chi Minh City is the largest city in Vietnam. The city boasts a rich history and culture, which are depicted through its numerous museums and art galleries. This self-guided tour will lead you to some historically unique museums and art galleries, revealing the past and present of this great city and country:

Tour Duration: 3 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 5.9 Km or 3.7 Miles
Shopping Tour

Shopping Tour

Ho Chi Minh City is a paradise for shoppers, as it offers a great variety of handicrafts, embroidery, and lacquer-ware. There are several streets in Saigon that are especially famous for their shopping venues. This self-guided tour will lead you to the best shops, shopping streets and markets of Ho Chi Minh City.

Tour Duration: 1 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.9 Km or 1.2 Miles
Religious Sites Walking Tour

Religious Sites Walking Tour

Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) is home to a mix of gorgeous Buddhist temples and Catholic churches. All of the religious sites in the city display amazing architecture and have great histories. The next tour highlights some of the most-visited religious sites of Ho Chi Minh City.

Tour Duration: 3 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 6.2 Km or 3.9 Miles
Western Walking Tour

Western Walking Tour

Western Ho Chi Minh City is largely influenced by Chinatown. There are many Chinese temples, or pagodas, and the main market in this area of Ho Chi Minh sells many Chinese items, including food. This self-guided tour will lead you through the districts of Western Ho Chi Minh City, showing you its most popular attractions:

Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 5.2 Km or 3.2 Miles
Everyday Life Walking Tour

Everyday Life Walking Tour

Ho Chi Minh is the largest city in all of Vietnam. The city is bustling with activity from morning to night. Motorbikes, somewhat of a symbol of Ho Chi Minh, fill the streets everyday as locals hurry off to work or school. Shops are crowded with women buying local goods for the home and family. This next tour will give you a taste of daily living in the wonderful Ho Chi Minh City.

Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 5.4 Km or 3.4 Miles