1. Vietnamese Water Puppet Show
Vietnamese water puppetry dates back to the 11th century and has changed very little since. Bulky wooden puppets are actually controlled from beneath a pool of water; the performance is accompanied by traditional music. How the puppeteers do their jobs underwater is a well-guarded secret.
Although the authentic shows are exclusively in Vietnamese, the tales depict rural life in villages and are easy to understand. Vietnamese water puppet shows typically last for one hour and offer a colorful way to enjoy an ancient tradition.
2. War Remnants Museum
War Remnants Museum – once known as the Museum of American War Crimes – is still an interesting stop in Ho Chi Minh City. The museum has displays of war paraphernalia, artifacts, unexploded ordinance, and several permanent exhibitions. Although the depiction of the Vietnam War is rather one-sided and fraught with propaganda, the War Remnants Museum does show the true horrors of war for all parties involved.
3. Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral
The twin-towered Notre Dame Cathedral in Saigon merits at least a visit and a photo. Constructed between 1863 and 1880, the church was built by the French colonists entirely from materials brought over from France. The somber atmosphere inside Notre Dame Cathedral in Saigon is a testament to the thousands of prayers for peace given there throughout both the French and American wars in Vietnam.
A highlight of seeing the cathedral is the Virgin Mary statue which reportedly shed tears in 2005, causing a frenzy of traffic and onlookers. Although the church’s official stance is that no tears were shed, thousands of witnesses claim otherwise.
The Notre Dame Cathedral occupies a large block east of the Reunification Palace on Pasteur Street.
4. Reunification Palace
Probably the most popular stop for tourists with a short time in Ho Chi Minh City, the Reunification Palace was the official ending point of the Vietnam War. On April 30, 1975 North Vietnamese forces smashed through the gate – with photographers waiting – and captured the compound.
The Reunification Palace, also called Independence Palace, served as the home of the president of South Vietnam and as the command center for operations against communist forces. The building itself is stark and depressing, however the command bunker in the basement is a time capsule of war history.
5. Ben Thanh Market
The Ben Thanh Market is a popular, crowded market where overpriced junk and excellent bargains are found side by side. A hodgepodge of goods, souvenirs, and food items can be purchased for cheap in the sprawling market.
The Ben Thanh Market is a good place to buy unique coffee – an excellent cultural gift for friends at home. Be on the lookout for Vietnam’s famous “Weasel coffee” which is created by feeding coffee beans to civets and waiting for the finished – and relatively expensive – product to be “processed”!
6. Pham Ngu Lao Area
A large city rectangle formed by Pham Ngu Lao Street and Bui Vien Street has transformed into the backpacker and budget travel area in Ho Chi Minh City. Both major roads as well as small connecting streets are buzzing with cafes, restaurants, bars, and places to spend money.
Nightlife is lively along Bui Vien Street where drinks, live music, and new friends are easy to find. The area is also home to a host of budget hotels and travel agencies with tours and buses to all points in Vietnam.
7. Try Vietnamese Pho
No visit to Vietnam is complete without eating your weight in their delicious signature dish: pho. Vietnamese pho is a thin but flavorful noodle soup garnished with bean sprouts, basil, greens, lime, and chilli peppers on the side. The extra ingredients allow people to season the broth to taste. Either chicken, beef, or pork is added in thin pieces, however vegetarian versions are found in tourist areas.
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