Tour the city on Vespa
Left: Tour the city on Vespa Right: Coffee culture
UNCOVER HIDDEN GEMS
Ho Chi Minh City is brimming with hidden hot spots, best discovered on the back of a classic Vespa, which you can easily rent from BikesBooking or Saigon Scooter Centre. Make a pit stop at 14 Tôn That Dam, a dilapidated colonial building known for its vibrant coffee culture and one-of-a-kind boutiques. Next, head to Saigon Outcast, a multi-purpose venue, located on the city’s river banks. It is constantly bustling with a variety of events like live music gigs, indie art exhibitions, flea markets and outdoor cinema screenings. For an evening option, dine under the stars at Secret Garden, a dimly-lit rooftop restaurant perched on a quaint apartment tucked behind an alley. You will have to climb five flights of stairs to get there, but it is well worth the effort to feast on delicious and authentic Vietnamese fare.
Temple of Ten Thousand Buddhas
The Temple of Ten Thousand Buddhas, or the Chùa Vạn Phật, as the name suggests, is home to a breathtaking number of Buddha statues. The four-level pagoda, tucked away in a remote part of the city, is well worth a visit. The largest of these statues is the Ty No Gia Na Buddha, and it can be found at the central altar resting on a lotus flower with a thousand petals. Smaller sculptures sit neatly in small recesses in the walls, filling the entire room from floor to ceiling. Feel the calmness as you marvel at authentic Vietnamese craftsmanship, and get up close to the intricate wood carvings, dragon cast metal sculptures and wall paintings. Entry is free, but donations are appreciated.
Army tank outside Independence Palace
War room in the Independence Palace
Left: Army tank outside Independence Palace Right: War room in the Independence Palace
ENJOY A HISTORY LESSON
History buffs are in for a treat when they step inside Independence Palace. Home to the president of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War, the palace made its mark in 1975 when a Vietnamese army tank crashed through its main gates to signify the end of the war. Today, it is a museum that is frozen in time. Two of the original tanks still stand outside while indoors, the rooms are fitted with the original furniture and old-school kitchen appliances. The palace also boasts James Bond-esque interiors; a well-preserved war room in the basement; a helicopter pad; and a stunning casino and movie theatre.
View of the city from Bitexco Financial Tower
CATCH THE SUNSET
Where does one catch the sunset in Ho Chi Minh? Head to Bitexco Financial Tower. At 262 metres, it has earned the reputation for being the city’s second tallest building, and fifth tallest in Vietnam. The glass-encased Saigon Skydeck awaits you on the 49th floor, where you will be rewarded with a spectacular bird’s eye view of the best that Vietnam has to offer. By daylight, you will enjoy the gorgeous skyline of the city’s urban landscape, plus breathtaking views of the Saigon River. As the sun sets, the city will dazzle you with its lights. Use the free binoculars for a closer look or enjoy the magical sight as you enjoy a drink at EON Heli Bar on the 52nd floor.
Pig’s offal congee
Left: Pig’s offal congee Right: Fried insects
CHALLENGE YOUR TASTE BUDS
Exotic Vietnamese fare is an alternative way to experience Vietnam’s culture. Daredevils can tuck into fried insects — we are talking termites, grasshoppers and ants dunked in hot oil and devoured as a crunchy snack. For the less adventurous, grilled frog legs are a safe and delicious option. Dip them in soy sauce and enjoy with steamed white rice. Cháo lòng or pig’s offal congee is another popular dish prepared with the pig’s intestines, tongue, heart, stomach and kidney. For something milder, yet exotic, try bún bò huẽ — a spicy noodle dish made with vermicelli, sliced beef shank, oxtail chunks and pig’s knuckles. Cubes of congealed pig’s blood are thrown in to give the broth its intense flavour and colour.