Things to Do in Southern Vietnam
A former fishing village, the seaside town of Mui Ne has evolved into a boutique beach resort that provides a convenient escape from the metropolitan madness of Ho Chi Minh City. In addition to a golden-sand beach, Mui Ne boasts vivid red and white sand dunes and the otherworldly Fairy Stream.
At the heart of Cho Lon, Ho Chi Minh City’s Chinese district, sits Binh Tay Market (Chợ Bình Tây). Built in 1928 after the original bazaar burned down, Binh Tay is the city’s largest market teeming with vendors selling a mind-boggling array of wares, including pottery, flowers, and cheap souvenirs, as well as piping hot noodles and wholesale produce.
A must-visit when in Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City’s War Remnants Museum (Bảo Tàng Chứng Tích Chiến Tranh) is a poignant reminder of the horrors of war. The grounds house American planes, tanks, helicopters, and weaponry captured during the Vietnam War. Pictorial displays cover everything from the My Lai Massacre to the traumas of Agent Orange and the work of war correspondents.
Originally developed by the French in 1868 to commemorate the establishment of the colony of Indochina, the Reunification Palace (formerly Independence Palace) as it stands today was built during the 1960s. Known in Vietnamese as Dinh Độc Lập or Dinh Thống Nhất, it was most famously the symbolic site of the liberation of Saigon by communist forces that reunited the nation on April 30, 1975.
Often referred to as the “rice bowl of Asia” for its emerald-green rice paddy fields, the Mekong Delta is surrounded by fertile land. On Vietnam’s mighty Mekong, sleepy floating communities live alongside an abundance of tropical fruits, buffalo wallowing in paddy fields, and mangroves rich with birdlife.
Hailed as one of the most beautiful beaches in Vietnam, Sao Beach is the epitome of coastal beauty. Shallow waters lap fine white sands backed by lush jungle and palm trees. The beach’s remote location makes it a less crowded alternative to Long Beach for travelers looking to spend the day sunbathing and swimming in relative tranquility.
Built at the turn of the 20th century and dedicated to the Taoist god, Emperor Jade Chua Ngoc Hoang (or the God of Heavens), the Jade Emperor Pagoda is a working temple that’s widely considered to be one of the finest and most atmospheric in Ho Chi Minh City.
Beneath a roof adorned with elaborate depictions of dragons, birds, and animals, this fascinating pagoda is filled with exquisite gilt woodcarvings and reinforced papier maché statues of various Buddhist and Taoist deities.
The statue of the Jade Emperor, shrouded in robes and flanked by his guardians, resides in the dramatically named Chamber of 10 Hells. Out the door and to the left of this main chamber is a semi-enclosed room presided over by Thanh Hoang, the Chief of Hell, sitting alongside his red horse, while the Goddess of Mercy, Kuan Yin, an important part of any Taoist temple, has an altar on the top floor.
To the right of the treelined courtyard in front of the temple grounds is an overcrowded tortoise pond, earning the temple its nickname, Tortoise Pagoda.
The Museum of Traditional Vietnamese Medicine (Bảo Tàng Y Học Cổ Truyền Việt Nam) is housed in a unique traditional building in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 10. One of two Fito Museums, it offers an in-depth look at the fascinating world of traditional Vietnamese medicine, which is heavily influenced by Chinese philosophy.
The museum features a collection of almost 3000 items in relation to traditional remedies, some of which date back to the Stone Age. Visitors can browse the vast and detailed displays of some of the instruments used to prepare traditional medicines, such as mortars and pestles, grinders, and knives. There is also a large collection of books and documents on the subject.
Particularly interesting are the items found in traditional pharmacies, such as scales, printing molds, medicine cabinets, and a variety of pottery and ceramic pieces. The museum is also fitted with audiovisual equipment, which it uses to screen a documentary about the history of traditional medicine in Vietnam.
Bach Dang Wharf (Bến Bạch Đằng) is located next to the ferry terminal and close to the Renaissance hotel in central Ho Chi Minh City. The pier is a popular launching point for boat trips along the Saigon River.
From the area, visitors can get involved in all manner of trips and activities. From accessing various parts of the city to explore, to weaving through its canals on a sunset dinner cruise, both tourist and trade boats bustle in and out of Bach Dang Wharf throughout the day and night. Some operators also arrange trips to attractions further afield, such as the Cu Chi Tunnels.
As well as being a good place to find out more about tours and activities available on the river, Bach Dang Wharf has an appeal all of its own, with a number authentic coffee shops, bars, and eateries on offer. It’s a bustling area where you’ll find locals doing tai chi in the mornings and sipping drinks overlooking the river come the early evening.
The Saigon Opera House (Opéra de Saïgon), aka Ho Chi Minh City Theater (Nhà Hát Thành Phố Hồ Chí Minh), is a landmark piece of French colonial architecture. (Saigon was the colonial name for Ho Chi Minh City.) Built in 1897, it is home to the Ho Chi Minh City Ballet and Symphony Orchestra, but is best known for evening cultural shows, such as A O and Teh Dar.
More Things to Do in Southern Vietnam
Built by the Viet Cong in the 1940s as protection from French air raids during the Indochina conflict, the Cu Chi Tunnels extend underground for more than 155 miles (250 km) in the vicinity of Ho Chi Minh City alone. This network of subterranean passageways later provided vital access to and strategic control over the rural areas surrounding the city during the Vietnam War (also known as the Second Indochina War or the American War), when the tunnels housed living quarters, hospitals, booby traps, and storage facilities for the Viet Cong.
Cholon (Saigon Chinatown) is Ho Chi Minh City’s Chinese quarter, and the largest in Vietnam. It’s full of Chinese Buddhist temples, as well as other religious buildings and markets. It contrasts with much of the rest of the city, with its narrow streets and varied architectural styles. This is a great place to come to see a different side of Ho Chi Minh City.
Adding to the variety of Vietnam’s natural landscape are the White Sand Dunes of Mui Ne, one of the only desert areas in Southeast Asia. Most commonly visited at sunrise or sunset, the dunes are inspiring to budding photographers, and the surrounding pine forest and freshwater lake only add to the visual drama.
Near Tay Ninh town, in Long Hoa village, this temple is considered the greatest of all Vietnam’s Cao Dai temples. Founded in 1926, the Cao Dai Temple (Tòa Thánh Tây Ninh) complex functions as a Holy See for the Cao Dai religion (Caodaism), Vietnam’s third most popular belief system after Buddhism and Catholicism. Visitors are welcome at prayer sessions in the Great Temple.
Right in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City is the Ben Thanh Market (Chợ Bến Thành). More than a place to go shopping, the market is also an architectural landmark, a center of local Vietnamese life and commerce, and a meeting point all rolled into one.
Thien Hau Temple (Chùa Bà Thiên Hậu), built by Cantonese immigrants in the early 19th century, pays tribute to Thien Hau (sometimes called Mazu), goddess of the sea and protector of seafarers. Situated on a busy street in Ho Chi Minh City’s Chinatown, the active temple displays intricate porcelain dioramas from Chinese mythology both inside and out.
A high-speed elevator inside the Bitexco Financial Center zips travelers up 49 floors to a glass observation deck ribbed with neon lights. Visitors say views from Saigon Skydeck are some of the best in Ho Chi Minh, offering a 360-degree bird’s-eye view of Ben Thanh Market and Notre Dame Cathedral, among other city icons.
The Mekong River, the 12th-longest river in the world at 2,700 miles (4,345 kilometers), is the main artery of Southeast Asia. Its flowing waters are the beating pulse for a region that includes the fertile Mekong Delta around Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City, the scenic hills of Laos, and the jungle-lined waterways of Thailand and Cambodia.
Dong Khoi Street (Đường Đồng Khởi), with its elite boutiques, French architecture, and trendy cafés, is the premier commercial center of the city andthe place to see and be seen. Stores range from high-quality silk sellers to high-end luxury brands. City highlights such as Notre Dame Cathedral and the Central Post Office are both within easy walking distance.
Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral (Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Saïgon) boasts a striking red façade and towering stone arches constructed with materials imported from France in the 1800s. But its architecture isn’t the only draw. In 2005, visitors reported seeing a tear flow from the eye of a statue of the Virgin Mary here, making it a destination for Catholics on a religious pilgrimage.
Spanning around 25 acres (10 hectares) in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City, Tao Dan Park is a fresh green space where locals exercise, particularly tai chi in the morning, aerobics after work, and badminton on weekends. Besides the pool, tennis courts, and sculpture garden, many travelers love the bird café, where local men bring pet birds.
The design of Ho Chi Minh City’s Central Post Office, completed in 1891, mimics an old-world European railway station with soaring ceilings and a giant clock face. These rich details lead travelers to pause and soak up the brilliant interior of this architectural landmark, which includes hand-painted maps of the old city.
The Saigon River (Sông Sài Gòn), the fast-flowing main artery of Ho Chi Minh City, is flanked by both modern skyscrapers and rural villages that give insight into old Vietnamese traditions. Used by locals to escape the urban bustle, the riverbanks are dotted with picnic benches and greenery, making for a pleasant refuge from the metropolitan mania of Saigon.
Located southeast of Ho Chi Minh City, close to where the Saigon River meets the South China Sea, the low-lying Can Gio island houses a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. This is an important natural wetland with attractions like Monkey Island, Rung Sac Military Base, Vam Sat Salt-Marsh Forest Ecological Tourist Center, and a crocodile farm.
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