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cheap flights to Ho Chi Minh City

High-rise buildings loom over shabby French colonial villas and saffron-robed monks collecting alms walk past karaoke bars; this is 21st century Ho Chi Minh City.

It may be officially known as Ho Chi Minh City but it is often still referred to as Saigon, the name evocative of a city with a past. One of the most poignant symbols of this is the Reunification Palace, where the last days of the Vietnam War were played out.

Today, Ho Chi Minh City is a mesmerising gateway for visitors to Vietnam where traditional and modern influences live side by side. Imagine incense-filled pagodas filled with a constant stream of worshippers; streets buzzing with the engines of countless motorbikes and pavements teeming with street vendors, barbers, dentists and cafés selling steaming bowls of noodle soup by the roadside.

Amid this vibrant Asian backdrop are gleaming shopping malls, skyscrapers, coffee shops and bars that would not look out of place in the west. Ho Chi Minh City is the face of the new Vietnam.


Things to see in Ho Chi Minh City

Tourist information: 

Tourist Information Center
92-96 Nguyen Hue, District 1
Tel: (08) 3822 6033.
www.ticvietnam.com
Opening hours: 0800-2100.

Buu Dien Truong Tam (Post Office)

Across from the Notre Dame Cathedral, the vast Post Office was also built in the late 19th century in European style. The elegant, high-ceilinged interior has hardly been touched since it was built and is dominated by a huge portrait of Ho Chi Minh. The building always seems busy but most people are just visitors rather than customers. Fascinating collections of colourful stamps can be purchased here.

Opening Times: Daily 0700-2000.
Admission Fees: No.
Disabled Access: No
Unesco: No
Address: 2 Cong Xa Paris, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Telephone: (08) 3827 1149.
Chua Ngoc Hoang (Jade Emperor Pagoda)

The Jade Emperor Pagoda is one of the most attractive pagodas in the city and was built in 1909 by the Cantonese community. Dedicated to various Chinese-Vietnamese divinities, in a mixture of Taoist and Buddhist styles, the pagoda houses numerous statues and delicate woodcarvings with intricate tiles on the roof. The interior is full of the smells from incense spirals hanging down from the ceiling and the altars are richly decorated. There is a pleasant courtyard with a pond full of tortoises. 73 Mai Thi Luu, District 3

Opening Times: Daily 0700-1700.
Admission Fees: No.
Disabled Access: No
Unesco: No
Address: 73 Mai Thi Luu, District 3, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Dinh Thong Nhat (Reunification Palace)

The Reunification Palace is beautiful in its ugliness, a 1960s monstrosity designed with the help of Soviet architects. Most people will remember the image of a North Vietnamese tank crashing through the gates on 30 April 1975, signifying the fall of Saigon. The tank still graces the front lawn. Rooms open to the public remain exactly as they were in 1975, showing where important meetings were held during the war, as well as some of the private quarters of the president and his family. Most fascinating are a series of underground tunnels housing a telecommunications centre.

Opening Times: Daily 0730-1100; 1300-1600.
Admission Fees: Yes.
Disabled Access: Yes
Unesco: No
Address: 135 Nam Ky Khoi Ngia, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Telephone: (08) 3822 3652.
Giac Lam Pagoda

Located 3km (2 miles) from Cholon, the Giac Lam Pagoda, dating from 1744, is believed to be the oldest pagoda in the city and is a calm place to visit. The pagoda is surrounded by a tranquil walled garden and there is a seven-storey stupa storing relics of the Buddha. Families of the old and sick regularly go to the pagoda to pin supplications to the large bronze bell, in the belief that when it is rung, the messages will be sent to the heavens above.

Opening Times: Daily 0730-1700.
Admission Fees: No.
Disabled Access: No
Unesco: No
Address: 118 Lac Long Quan, District 11, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Ho Chi Minh City Museum

Housed in the former building of the Government of Cochinchina, the Ho Chi Minh City Museum (formerly the Revolutionary Museum) contains artefacts, such as weapons, uniforms, medals and old photos, from the period of Communist struggle against the French and the Americans. Unfortunately, the exhibits are only labelled in Vietnamese but some are self-explanatory. Outside the museum is a collection of military hardware including a tank and a helicopter. The museum building itself is of interest, built in classical style in the late 1880s and was formerly the palace of the governor of Cochinchina and the Supreme Court.

Opening Times: Daily 0800-1700.
Admission Fees: Yes.
Disabled Access: No
Unesco: No
Address: 65 Ly Tu Trong, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Telephone: (08) 3829 9741.
Notre Dame Cathedral

The twin towers of the beautiful, red-brick Notre Dame Cathedral have been a familiar landmark in Ho Chi Minh City since the 1880s. In front of the cathedral in a small garden lies a delicate statue of the Virgin Mary. The interior of the cathedral is rather plain, unlike most French cathedrals, with no stained glass, but it offers a cool respite from the heat outside. It is also an oasis of calm from the incessant traffic that circles the cathedral. There is still a significant Christian community in the south of Vietnam and church services are well attended.

Opening Times: Daily 0800-1000 and 1500-1600.
Admission Fees: No.
Disabled Access: No
Unesco: No
Address: Dong Khoi, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Thao Cam Vien (Zoo and Botanical Gardens)

The Botanical Gardens were established by the French in 1864 and once had the reputation of being some of the finest in Asia. Now, however, the area is just a pleasant one for a stroll in the heart of the city, among tropical plants and trees. The zoo is not up to Western standards, but many of the animals and birds are now housed in better enclosures and the zoo now has its own conservation programme. Make sure you visit in the afternoon to watch the animals being fed.

Opening Times: Daily 0700-1800.
Admission Fees: Yes.
Disabled Access: Yes
Unesco: No
Address: Nguyen Binh Khiem, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Telephone: (08) 3829 3728.
Vien Bao Tang Lich Su (Historical Museum)

Located just inside the entrance to the Botanical Gardens and Zoo, the Historical Museum houses a collection of artefacts covering the last 2,000 years of Vietnamese history, including items belonging to ancient cultures such as Dong Son, Oc Eo and Cham, right up until 1945. There are also collections of ceramics, weapons and Cham sculptures as well as a wing devoted to ethnic minorities. The museum was built in 1929 and the collection assembled by the Ecole Francaise d'Extreme Orient.

Opening Times: Tue-Sun 0800-1100 and 1330-1700.
Disabled Access: Yes
Unesco: No
Address: Nguyen Binh Khiem, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Telephone: (08) 3829 8146.
War Remnants Museum

This is not a museum for the sensitive as it houses instruments of torture and hundreds of photographs of atrocities committed during the 20th century and, in particular, the Vietnam War. Visitors cannot fail to be moved as the exhibits provide a context for a period of history many only know from old newsreels and Hollywood movies. At the front of the museum is a small collection of military hardware and, most interestingly, the mobile guillotine used by the French colonists to dispense justice throughout the country before WWII.

Opening Times: Daily 0730-1200; 1330-1700.
Admission Fees: Yes.
Disabled Access: No
Unesco: No
Address: 28 Vo Van Tan, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Telephone: (08) 3930 5587.