Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) is the business and financial hub of Vietnam, with a prominent history going back hundreds of years. The Khmers originally settled the region, with the Vietnamese taking over in the 17th century. The French conquered Saigon, as it was then known, in 1859, and made it the capital of Cochin China in 1862, which resulted in numerous elegant architecture and broad boulevards that are still present to this day. At the peak of the Vietnam War in 1969, the city had 4.5 million inhabitants who were all evacuated when Saigon and the rest of the South fell to North Vietnam in 1975.
The city has recovered in the 30 years since then, with the current population at over 7 million. It was renamed Ho Chi Minh City, after the spiritual leader of Vietnamese Communism, but residents were so reluctant to adopt the new name that authorities kept the official name but the city centre is still called Saigon.
Today, Ho Chi Minh City is a popular tourist destination due to its fascinating culture, classic French architecture, and sleek skyscrapers as well as ornate temples and pagodas. The city is also filled with rooftop bars that overlook Saigon and beyond, while fantastic restaurants offer a combination of French, Chinese, and, of course, local Vietnamese cuisine.
Ho Chi Minh City has a tropical climate with wet and dry seasons. The dry season which is from December to May. The most pleasant time to visit is from December to February when temperatures and humidity are lower. March and April are hot with temperatures that can reach up to 40°C (104°F). The wet season is long, usually beginning in May and ending in October is characterized by high temperatures and humidity. Cloudy weather is more common although periods of sunshine do occur during the wet season.
Tourist attractions in Ho Chi Minh City are mainly related to periods of French colonization and the Vietnam War. The city’s center has some wide American-style boulevards and a few French colonial buildings. The majority of these tourist spots are located in District 1 and are a short distance from each other. The most prominent structures in the city centre are the Reunification Palace (Dinh Thống Nhất), City Hall (Ủy ban nhân dân Thành phố), Municipal Theatre (Nhà hát thành phố, also known as the Opera House), City Post Office (Bưu điện thành phố), State Bank Office (Ngân hàng nhà nước), City People’s Court (Tòa án nhân dân thành phố) and Notre-Dame Cathedral (Nhà thờ Đức Bà) the cathedral was constructed between 1863 and 1880. Some of the historic hotels are the Hotel Majestic, dating from the French colonial era, and the Rex and Caravelle hotels are former hangouts for American officers and war correspondents in the 1960s & ’70s.
The city has various museums including the Ho Chi Minh City Museum, Museum of Vietnamese History, the Revolutionary Museum, the Museum of south-eastern Armed Forces, the War Remnants Museum, the Museum of Southern Women, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Nha Rong Memorial House, and the Ben Duoc Relic of Underground Tunnels. The Củ Chi tunnels are north-west of the city in Củ Chi District. The Saigon Zoo and Botanical Gardens, in District 1, dates from 1865. The Đầm Sen Tourist and Cultural Park, Suối Tiên Amusement and Culture Park, and Cần Giờ’s Eco beach resort are three recreational sites inside the city which are popular with tourists. Aside from the Municipal Theatre, there are other places of entertainment such as the Bến Thành theatre, Hòa Bình theatre, and the Lan Anh Music Stage. Ho Chi Minh City is home to hundreds of cinemas and theatres, with cinema and drama theatre revenue accounting for 60–70% of Vietnam’s total revenue in this industry. Unlike other theatrical organisations found in Vietnam’s provinces and municipalities, residents of Ho Chi Minh City keep their theatres active without the support of subsidies from the Vietnamese government. The city is also home to most of the private film companies in Vietnam.
Like many of Vietnam’s smaller cities, the city boasts a multitude of restaurants serving typical Vietnamese dishes such as phở or rice vermicelli. Backpacking travellers most often frequent the “Backpackers’ Quarter” on Phạm Ngũ Lão Street and Bùi Viện Street, District 1.
It was approximated that 4.3 million tourists visited Vietnam in 2007, of which 70 percent, approximately 3 million tourists, visited Ho Chi Minh City. According to the most recent international tourist statistic, Ho Chi Minh City welcomed 6 million tourists in 2017.
According to Mastercard’s 2019 report, Ho Chi Minh City is also the country’s second most visited city (18th in Asia Pacific), with 4.1 million overnight international visitors in 2018 (after Hanoi with 4.8 million visitors).