This year is about to come to a close. If Vietnam is still on your wish list of countries to visit, there’s no better time to tick it off than during Visit Vietnam Year 2019, to discover the country’s “timeless charm”.
Officially known as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, it represents Indochina, alongside Cambodia and Laos. Vietnam is the 15th most populous country in the world and one of the fastest-growing economies in Asia. While Hanoi is the capital city of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) is the largest city with highest population in the country.
Today, Ho Chi Minh City is a vibrant financial centre of Vietnam, and a major tourism gateway into the country. Are you in Ho Chi Minh City for the first time? Here’s a simple itinerary for your maiden visit to maximise your time from morning till night.
Reunification Hall – a national relic
Built on the site of Norodom Palace along Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street, Reunification Hall in Ho Chi Minh City was previously known as Independence Palace. A major landmark in the city, it was designed by an award-winning Vietnamese architect by the name of Ngô Viết Thụ in the 1960s.
Beyond its grand facade and floor-to-ceiling windows with elegant bamboo sections for feng shui and good ventilation, some of the most important decisions of Vietnam’s dramatic past were made here during the war as the 100-room building served as the headquarters of the authority of the Republic of Vietnam. Its then president, Nguyễn Văn Thiệu, also lived here with his family, until his abdication on 21st April, 1975.
The main feature of this impressive building, which consists of three main floors, two mezzanines, and two basements, is probably its bunker, equipped with state-of-the-art telecommunications technology of the time.
Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of The Immaculate Conception
A historical reminder of French colonists in Saigon is the Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of The Immaculate Conception (originally Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Saïgon).
With all building materials imported from France, including red tiles from Marseille and bricks from Toulouse, the cathedral was consecrated in 1880. Although not the exact replica of Notre-Dame de Paris, the pair of bell towers reaches a height of 58 metres.
Note: The cathedral is currently under renovation, but photography is still possible in front, or to seek blessings from Blessed Virgin Mary, her statue inscribed with “Regina Pacis Ora Pro Nobis” (Queen of peace, pray for us).
Central Post Office
Just across the street from the cathedral is the majestic building with a neoclassical architectural style that looks more like a railway station in Europe than a post office in Southeast Asia.
Designed by French architect Alfred Foulhoux and constructed from 1886 until 1891, one word to aptly describe the post office is “pretty”, as its cream-coloured walls are trimmed with dark green wrought-iron pillars. The post office still offers mail services today, even as tourists stream in and out, taking photos, sending postcards to themselves, and shopping for Vietnamese souvenirs, under the watchful eye of the late President Ho Chi Minh, through an imposing portrait.
War Remnants Museum
Located in District 3 of Ho Chi Minh City, War Remnants Museum is one of the more popular museums in Vietnam, receiving half a million visitors annually, especially those who are interested in the histories of Vietnam War and Indochina War.
First to greet visitors is the artillery and armour collection within the museum compound. Exhibits include an F-5A fighter, M48 Patton tank and UH-1 “Huey” helicopter.
An on-going project at this museum is to create awareness on the consequences of Agent Orange used in the US war of aggression in Vietnam and to convey the message to help Agent Orange victims integrate into society.
Ben Thanh Market
Looking for handicraft, apparel and street food? Then Ben Thanh Market, centrally located in District 1 of Ho Chi Minh City, shouldn’t be missed for anything authentically Vietnamese.
As one of the oldest landmarks in the city, the bustling market built in 1914 is busy from morning till night, not only with tourists but also locals on their daily errands. This shopping paradise is best visited with an empty stomach, because you certainly need the tummy space to stuff yourself with mouth-watering local delicacies.
Saigon Sky Deck
Get an unparallelled panoramic view of the whole of Ho Chi Minh City from one of the highest viewing points, Bitexco Financial Tower’s Observation Tower (Saigon Sky Deck), on Level 49.
The best time to be there is just before sunset, so that you can catch the sky in its glorious orange hues in stunning 360° views. From there, you can even take a photo with Landmark 81 super-tall skyscraper, the country’s tallest building, as backdrop.
Although Bitexco Financial Tower stands at “only” 262 metres, CNNGo ranked it 5th in their list of the world’s 20 most iconic skyscrapers, as its tower design is inspired by the shape of the lotus, Vietnam’s national flower.
While you’re on the Saigon Sky Deck, it’s a good idea to wrap up your day with a tour of The World of Heineken, the only such experience for Heineken fans without having to travel to its headquarters in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
Immerse yourself in an interactive tour through cutting-edge virtual reality technology, and in the process learn how a humble brewery established in 1873 has become the world’s most popular premium lager-cum-lifestyle brand. At the end of the hour-long journey, sip on your cool drink at the highest bar in Vietnam on the 60th floor of Bitexco Financial Tower, as you enjoy a mesmerising aerial night view of Ho Chi Minh City.
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Note: An edited version of this article is published in the December 2019 issue of Malindo Air in-flight magazine.