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SAIGON - VIETNAM

Ho Chi Minh city is the largest city of Vietnam, in the southern part of the country near the South China Sea. An ancient Khmer settlement, it was known as Saigon throughout most of its history, serving as the administrative center of French Indochina and, after 1954, as the capital of South Vietnam. The city was renamed after the end of the Vietnam War in 1975.
Pulsating with boundless passion and energy, Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, is Vietnam’s largest city and economic heartland. An urban pandemonium, the city’s traffic-clogged streets, sidewalk cafes, bustling markets and crumbling wood shops are a surreal attraction within themselves. Thanks to the Vietnamese economic boom, Ho Chi Minh City is witnessing a massive wave of development placing it among the undisputed rising stars of the region. Lacquerwork and beaded handbags and shoes are the things to pick up in Ho Chi Minh City, as the sheer amount of variety is staggering. The work that goes into attached hundreds or even thousands of beads onto items is not reflected in the price, so women are able to purchase standout pieces that could cost a lot more at home.
 
For a city renowned for its energy, noise and bustle, Ho Chi Minh City is a remarkably accessible and manageable metropolis. The city lives up to its billing as the dynamic powerhouse of the thriving Vietnamese economy, but the modern development is complemented by the architectural heritage of the colonial era, making it an elegant and appealing destination. Riverside Saigon, the former capital of French Indochina and subsequently the Southern Vietnamese government, was renamed after the American-Vietnam War in 1975, though the former name remains in common colloquial use throughout the country. The leafy downtown District 1 is home to the great majority of sites of interest for visitors, as well as most hotels and restaurants, making exploration on foot (once the art of crossing the road has been mastered) a pleasant and simple prospect. The heart of District 1 is the Dong Khoi area, where the Opera House, People’s Committee Building and many of the city’s grandest hotels are located.

The American-Vietnam War (referred to locally as the American War) features heavily in many of Saigon’s popular sites, but the perspective is eye-opening for a Western audience, and rarely oppressive or over-bearing in tone. For the young majority the war appears a historical fact bearing little impact on their lives or ambitions, and a lack of McDonalds aside, there appear few tangible signs of the turbulent past on scooter-strewn streets of modern Saigon.
Whether the city is your introduction to Vietnamese life, or the final chapter in a journey through the country, its infectious enthusiasm and humour will leave a substantial imprint.

Lying along the Saigon River near the Mekong Delta in southern Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City was formerly known as Saigon and served as the capital of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. Today, Ho Chi Minh City is the largest city of the reunified country, offering plenty of reasons to visit, from its blend of historic and modern attractions to vibrant shopping, dining and nightlife. For over a hundred years, Saigon was the capital – first under the French colonizers, and later the regime of South Vietnam. Following the end of the Vietnam War, Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City, though locals still refer to it by its old name. Today, Saigon is the industrial and commercial heart of the country, attracting green youth and seasoned businessmen alike with its rapid expansion and numerous opportunities. While development is rampant, the city still retains infrastructure from its days as the colonial capital - with quaint, European-style architecture alongside newly-constructed commercial buildings. Ho Chi Minh City is a sprawling metropolis of approximately 10 million people. Formerly known as “Saigon” prior to 1975, today the city is Vietnam’s commercial center. The city’s dynamic energy is apparent in the bustling street scenes with thousands of people on motorbikes constantly on the move. Although Saigon has rapidly developed into a modern city with skyscrapers and shopping centers, there are still remnants of its past visible in the historic landmarks and beautiful French colonial buildings dotted throughout the city. In Saigon, you will still see women dressed in Vietnam’s traditional ao dai tunic stroll past modern trendy boutiques and crowded cafes. You’ll find great nightlife and some of the best shopping in Southeast Asia in this vibrant, fast-changing city. The city is home to people from all aspect of Vietnamese society. You’ll see newly wealthy entrepreneurs in their luxury cars driving past beggars on the street side. As in any large city, petty theft exists and you must exercise caution. From Saigon you can make a day trip to the Cu Chi tunnels and Cao Dai Holy See temple.

Ho Chi Minh City is most commonly explored by motorbike taxis, but buses and car taxis are also plentiful. Sightseeing the city’s center awards elegant boulevards lined with French colonial architecture, beautiful churches, pagodas and prominent landmarks like the Reunification Palace, City Hall, the Opera House and Notre-Dame Cathedral. A number of museums exhibit war history and local culture. The city’s business and entertainment district offer modern attractions like the Bitexco Financial Tower skyscraper and the Dai Nam Tourist Park, which features a man-made mountain range, zoo, temples, hotels, shops and restaurants. The Night Market and the Ben Thanh Market are lively places to buy food, handicrafts, souvenirs and experience local food and culture. Outside the city, jungle and river tours are available to see bamboo villages and floating temples. From market stalls to street vendors, cafes, coffee shops and international restaurants, Ho Chi Minh City offers the largest variety of dining choices in Vietnam. Local cuisine consists of traditional dishes like Pho beef and chicken noodle soups and Com tam, a plate of rice, grilled pork and vegetables. Nightlife in Ho Chi Min City buzzes with a wide selection of bars, lounges, nightclubs and theaters.

Once romantically referred to by the French as the Pearl of the Orient, Ho Chi Minh City is still called Saigon by almost everyone who lives there. It is a modern city by Asian standards and has only been under firm Vietnamese control for a little more than 200 years. The city's character remains essentially French with wide boulevards, colonial villas, and a lively café society but also resolutely Asian. It has more of a cosmopolitan feel than Hanoi, although much of the old French colonial city is vanishing beneath the rapidly rising skyline and the sheer weight of recent history. Combined with this vivacious street life, the city's French influences have bred a charm all their own. But it is the people even more than the city that you will remember most. Ho Chi Minh City, the former Saigon, is by far the largest urban centre in Vietnam. It has a population of around five and a half million, a figure that is expanding rapidly as poor people migrate to the wealth of the metropolis. Saigon is the country's main commercial area: brash, noisy and, in Vietnamese terms, expensive. People seldom seem to be indifferent about it – they either love or hate the place.

Welcome to Vietnam’s high-octane southern metropolis. From tantalizing street food, striking historical landmarks, bountiful shopping options and a dazzling nightlife, Ho Chi Minh City is a city that has it all. Saigon, as its inhabitants call it, has an innate energy that is contagious to visitors. Being the commercial hub of Vietnam, the city has experienced a terrific boom of investment and infrastructure over the last ten years that has caused the skyline to rise higher and business to grow. For visitors, it means a chance to witness a city in transition. It’s where old French architecture stands bravely next the towering lotus flower inspired skyscraper, the Bitexco Tower.

Ho Chi Minh City has set a precedent as to how luxury tourism, accommodation and service should be done. A wide array of 5 start hotels and chic villas means you’re never short of options when wanting to relax in style. The beautifully preserved downtown boasts dozens of boutique shops and designer malls. While, a burgeoning gastronomy scene makes it one of S-E Asia’s top cities for dining out.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be all glitz and glamour all the time. It would be a shame to visit Saigon without experiencing the buzzing street life atmosphere. The grand bazaar of Vietnam, Ben Than market, is a fun and lively shopping arena to explore. For the foodies, the city is a continuous odyssey into one of Asia’s most loved cuisines.

For history buffs, The War Remnants Museum – while being a sobering experience –is a must see for anyone interested in learning about Vietnam’s difficult past. A short walk away is the Reunification Palace, a grand edifice, which holds historical significance as the place where the country reclaimed its independence.

The possibilities seem endless in Saigon and with so much to see and do, the expert consultants at Luxury Travel will help you create a unique and enjoyable experience.

Colonial Saigon
Explore the streets of Saigon and see some of the gorgeous old colonial architecture, such as the stunning Opera House, the former Hôtel de Ville town hall (now the People’s Committee Building), Notre Dame Cathedral and the lovely Continental Hotel, made famous by Graham Greene’s novel, "The Quiet American."

Ben Thanh Market
Go shopping in the lively Ben Thanh Market, where you can buy some lovely handmade silk goods and other Vietnamese handicrafts.

Cholon
Visit the huge Chinese neighborhood called Cholon. Here, you can have lunch at any one of a number of delicious Chinese eateries; we recommend My Huong, a bustling restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating that serves superb, authentic fare, including a noodle soup with duck. Explore the district’s many religious sites, which include places to worship Chinese, Christian, Islamic and Buddhist deities.

Cha Tam Cathedral
Cha Tam is Cholon’s small Catholic cathedral, with high vaulted ceilings surrounded by the stations of the cross. This little cathedral houses an enormous white statue of Jesus, a standing statue of St. Francis of Assisi and a large relief of the Last Supper.

Chua Quan Am Temple
Chua Quan Am Temple is a classic Chinese temple wafting with incense. Nearly 20 resident monks and a cherubic abbot are on hand to welcome foreign visitors. In fact, they’ll even take the time to show you around and allow you to take photos, but the expectation is a small donation in the alms box at the altar. Just outside the entrance, observe the busy cabinet makers at work in a large street-side workshop.

Thien Hau Temple
Originally built in A.D. 940, Thien Hau Temple has been rebuilt many times over the intervening centuries – most recently in 1900. The temple pays homage to Thien Hau, the goddess of the sea, a deity worshipped across Asia – particularly by sailors, who looked to her for good weather and protection from the elements.

Cholon Mosque
The clean lines and lack of ornamentation of the Cholon Mosque provide a stark counterpoint to its gilded Buddhist neighbors. In the courtyard is a pool for ritual ablutions; note the tiled niche in the wall (mihrab) indicating the direction of Mecca. Built by Tamil Muslims in 1932, the mosque has served the Malaysian and Indonesian Muslim communities of Saigon since 1975.

Cu Chi Tunnels
The Cu Chi Tunnels are an immense network of connecting underground tunnels located about 40 km northwest of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). The tunnels were used by Viet Cong guerrillas as hiding spots during the Vietnam War, and were the base of operations for the Tết Offensive in 1968. The tunnels have become a popular tourist attraction, and visitors are invited to crawl around in the safer parts of the tunnel system. Discover the famed Cu Chi tunnels, an interconnecting network of subterranean passageways under Saigon used during the Vietnam War to evade the American military and stage campaigns such as the infamous Tet Offensive. Crawl through the enlarged tunnels; during the war, Viet Cong guerillas would live in the tunnels for days, emerging only to re-supply or to launch attacks. As a result, the tunnels became a miniature city, complete with barracks, supply larders, weapons stockpiles, medical wards, and the like.

History Museum
Constructed under the auspices of the French colonial government in 1929, the History Museum features a unique fusion of Asian and French architectural styles. The grounds of the museum are home to a series of pleasant gardens that provide a nice respite from the hustle and bustle of day-to-day life in Saigon. Within the museum are all the manner of architectural relics, from Khmer stone carvings dating to the 10th-13th centuries, remnants of the ancient Oc Eo culture of the 1st-6th centuries, and displays on Vietnam’s 54 ethnic groups.

War Remnants Museum
A sobering collection with graphic, often brutal displays of the American War (as it is known in Vietnam), the War Remnants Museum was first opened in 1975, soon after the fall of South Vietnam. While the exhibits are admittedly one-sided, they do provide the Vietnamese perspective on this decade-long conflict, as well as a close, uncomfortable look at the effects of war on soldiers and civilians alike.

Reunification Palace
Originally commissioned in 1962 by South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem, this 100-room residence was designed by a French-trained architect. While Diem himself never lived in the palace, the exorbitant project, which took four years to complete, became a symbol of corruption and waste. Today, the Palace is a museum – and its costly furnishings and finishes have been left intact.

Giac Lam Pagoda

The oldest pagoda in Saigon, Giac Lam was originally built in 1744, and sits in the heart of the Cholon neighborhood. The Pagoda houses tombs of long-deceased monks, stewards of the temple, and a rare Bodhi tree – descended from the very same tree under which Buddha was enlightened. To the right of the entrance is a large out-building filled with aisles of shelves with colorful urns of ashes, Chinese pots with red lights, and candles and offerings.

"Ho Chi Minh is one of Asia's most underrated cities - exciting, energetic, great to explore on foot (once you've worked out tactics for crossing the road) and full of fanastic food!"
Chun Wong - Director
(Source: LuxuryPrivateTravel.com Inc)
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