Major Sights in and around Ho Chi Minh City

By Jan Dodd

Larger and more cosmopolitan than its northern rival, Ho Chi Minh City (or Saigon as most locals still call it) is a fury of sights and sounds. It can be bewildering at first, but it's never dull. Just find a sidewalk café and watch the world go by.

Cholon in Ho Chi Minh City

This ethnic-Chinese enclave - the name means "big market" - is an exuberant manifestation of Vietnam's new economic freedoms. The best thing is just to wander, taking in at least one of the Chinese pagodas, such as Quan Am.

War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City

Formerly known as the War Crimes Museum, this is one of those places you should visit, though it's not for the squeamish. Despite some obvious omissions, such as crimes committed by Communist troops, the museum is gradually adopting a more balanced, reconciliatory tone.

Reunification Palace in Ho Chi Minh City

The former Presidential Palace is a museum-piece of 60's and 70's kitsch, complete with private casino, penthouse bar and red-plus cinema, while a helicopter moulders on the rooftop landing pad. Downstairs in the basement, combat maps still plaster the walls of the command room.

Jade Emperor Pagoda in Ho Chi Minh City

Of Saigon's many pagodas and temples, this is the most captivating. It was built by the Cantonese community and is dedicated to an exotic array of deities, sheltered by a roof seething with dragons, birds and other, nameless beasts.

Cao Dai Temple

Charming little temple built in 1956. You should get a warm welcome from the guardian, keen to explain his religion's colourful intricacies.

The most popular day-trip from HCMC takes you west to the Cao Dai Cathedral and the Cu Chi Tunnels. The cathedral is the headquarters of a wonderfully eclectic religion whose saints include Mohammed and Winston Churchill. Worshippers gather four times a day in front of the Supreme Being, represented by a rather unnerving "Divine Eye" on a star-spangled globe. The tunnels of Cu Chi have been enlarged for bulky Western frames, but it's still a sobering experience to crawl through this Viet Cong complex which reached underneath an American army base. If you've got more time, take a couple of days exploring the Mekong Delta.

My Son

Once a magnificent Cham temple complex, My Son now comprises an atmospheric collection of ruins mouldering away in a bowl of lush, wooded hills.

Jan Dodd is the author of The Rough Guide to Vietnam, as well as guides to Japan and Tokyo, and a contributer to the guide on France. She writes for various newspapers and journals, including the Independent on Sunday and National Geographic Traveler Magazine