We did this walk over several days but it could easily be done in one day if time is of the essence. Bear in mind though that it can be uncomfortable walking around in the heat and the relentless traffic can make crossing the road a nightmare, so you might want to prioritise what you want to see.
The main street Le Loi was under construction for the new metro system when we went to Ho Chi Minh city (formerly Saigon) in March 2018 so it was a bit confusing. The pavements were very narrow as a result but that didn’t stop the motorcycles from using them! The traffic is pretty bad in Ho Chi Minh, but no worse than Hanoi.
I would definitely recommend a visit to the War Remnants Museum while you are in Ho Chi Minh city. It was one of the most moving museums I have ever been to. I had heard of Napalm and Agent Orange but hadn’t realised the devastation it had caused, and is still causing, to the fourth generation after the war. It was truly horrifying.
You can read more about my visit to the War Remnants Museum and the Cu Chi tunnels here.
The central market, Ben Thanh, was a bit of a tourist trap but a very interesting building. The prices were quite expensive compared to other places we’d been to in Vietnam. There were signs everywhere saying the prices were fixed, but they weren’t. Everywhere you went, people were pulling at your shoulder offering ‘handbag for you, madam’, ‘t-shirt, madam’ which was a bit of a hassle after a while. We were going to eat in the food court but there were rats running around which put us off!
Our next stop was the City Hall (the former Hotel de Ville) and then a walk down Nguyen Hue (which becomes a night market at the weekends) and along the posh shopping area of Dong Khoi which was full of designer shops, like Prada and Gucci, etc. and some extremely grand hotels. We went past the Opera House, although you couldn’t go inside.
The Notre Dame Cathedral is close by. It was covered in scaffolding when we went and we didn’t go inside. There is a statue outside of the Virgin Mary which legend has it sheds real tears.
Next to the cathedral is the Post Office (main picture) which was really interesting. It looked like something out of Harry Potter with its old maps on the walls and little wooden booths.
After getting a little lost, we finally found the Reunification Palace, which was the Government headquarters during the Vietnamese War. Some of it was quite interesting: the bunker, the communications area with the old radios and transmission equipment, but a lot of it was just board rooms and reception halls which could have been any civic building to be honest.
On our second day walking around Ho Chi Minh, we went to the Tan Dinh church, which is painted a vibrant pink colour! It was closed for lunch when we got there, but we sneaked a few pictures through the gates.
It was a bit tricky to find the Fine Arts Museum. There wasn’t any air conditioning in the museum either, although the shutters were left open to create a breeze. It is a pleasant gallery to spend a couple of hours but you’re not missing much if you don’t get there.
A complete contrast is the nearby Bui Vien backpackers’ area where you will find plenty of bars, restaurants and entertainment! There is a vibrant night-time economy in operation in this area, although it’s not quite as obvious or seedy as Bangkok. I would recommend the Bun Cha restaurant, named after its signature dish.