Less than 50 years removed from the Vietnam War, Ho Chi Minh City is the bustling metropolis you never knew you needed to visit. Often shortened to HCMC, Vietnam’s largest city absolutely buzzes with energy night and day while also offering its own kind of tranquility in the most unexpected of places: tiny cafés, secret gardens. If you can keep up with it, you just might discover your favorite new spot.
Before it was known as Saigon, HCMC was also called Prey Nokor (“Forest City”), Preah Reach Nokor (“Royal City”), and Gia Dinh.
Best Time To Go
January – February There’s no getting around the fact that Ho Chi Minh City tends to be hot and humid, but those who don’t mind a little moisture in the air will thrive. It’s relatively dry in the beginning of the year, which also happens to be when the Tết Festival (read: Lunar New Year) takes place. Bring shorts and get ready for a party.
Things To Do
The Vietnam War’s legacy can be felt throughout the city formerly known as Saigon, but there are few places more compelling than the Củ Chi tunnels. Part of a vast underground complex running beneath the country, this particular 75-mile-long labyrinth was used as a base of operations, supply route, and hiding place by the Viet Cong. Claustrophobes may want to think twice before entering, but anyone else — and history buffs in particular — will be endlessly fascinated.
Hang by a Thread
Even if you’ve been to a puppet show before, you’ve probably never experienced anything quite like the Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theater. Harking back to a tradition in which puppeteers put on shows in the waist-deep water of rice paddies, it’s one of the most enjoyable ways to learn about Vietnam’s rich history. The language barrier may be a stumbling block for some, but the highly visual nature of the dinner-theater show — not to mention its beautiful music — assures that little will be lost in translation. If puppets aren’t your thing but you’re still looking to be culturally enriched, head to Cao Dai Temple. It’s beautiful and serene, with tributes to everyone from Jesus and Muhammad to Joan of Arc and Julius Caesar inside.
The Fairy Stream
There’s unique, and then there’s Suối Tiên — a Buddhist waterpark featuring sculptures of dragons and fish, hundreds of live alligators, and a misleading attraction called Unicorn Palace that serves as an underground tour of Buddhism’s version of hell. There are also swimming pools and slides, of course, but the main attraction has to be the delightfully out-there decor. Make sure your camera is waterproof, because your friends might not believe Suối Tiên (English translation: “the fairy stream”) is real unless they see photographic evidence.
Step Into the Frame
Most museums forbid visitors from touching, or even getting too close to, the art. Not Artinus 3D Art Museum, an interactive space where guests are invited to become part of the portrait. Paintings stretch across the walls, ceilings, and floors, creating three-dimensional canvases that are enhanced by the visitors’ presence. Cityscapes, giant puppies, King Kong, a fire-breathing dragon, and dinosaurs are just some of the fantastical subjects you’ll get to pose alongside.