While HCMC is known more for its brash cosmopolitan lifestyle that seems to be hurtling unchecked towards the future, the “ghosts of the past” still haunts the city with pagodas, museums and other historic cultural sites. For those looking for a cultural experience, we have listed below some sites of cultural and historical interest. For religious centres, please refer to the Living section.
Bitexco Financial Tower
2 Hai Trieu, D1; +84 28 3915 6156
This gleaming marvel of steel and glass is HCMC’s tallest building for the time being. It rises more than 260 metres with 68 storeys – including a 49th floor observatory and 52nd floor helipad. According to principal architect Carlos Zapata, the tower’s design was inspired by the lotus, Vietnam’s national flower.
It includes a shopping mall, a cinema, a complex of three restaurants and bars on the 50th, 51st and 52nd floors. If you have a business meeting there in the office building, you will be asked for your ID or passport in order to get in.
86 Le Thanh Ton, D1; +84 28 3829 6052
This French colonial treasure owes much of its flair to its Parisian predecessor. Finished in 1908, the structure’s yellow- and cream coloured plaster looks good enough to eat, and is a very popular photograph subject. The roof houses a bell tower. Also known as the HCMC People’s Committee, the property is especially captivating at night, bathed in floodlights, fringed by penumbras. Unfortunately public access to the building is not permitted.
Hotel Continental Saigon
132-134 Dong Khoi, D1; +84 28 3829 9201
The oldest hotel in Vietnam, built in 1880, the Continental, with its ubiquitous door and window arches, is a classic example of French colonial architecture. Named after its French hotel forebear, the Continental has seen its fair share of famous guests, Bengali writer Rabindranath Tagore and journalist Graham Greene amongst them.
Fine Arts Museum
97A Pho Duc Chinh, D1; +84 28 3829 4441
Price: VND10,000 for general admission
The first floor of this museum exhibits contemporary art by local and international artists. The second floor features a permanent collection of sketches, paintings and statues, many of which focus on Vietnam’s resistance to colonial rule. The third floor displays older works.
65 Ly Tu Trong, D1; +84 28 3829 9741
Price: Vietnamese VND5,000;
The Museum displays HCMC culture divided into nine categories.
National History Museum
2 Nguyen Binh Khiem, D1; +84 28 3829 8146
Price: VND15,000 for general admission
Occupying an area of more than 2,000 square metres just next to the zoo, the National History Museum traces the history of the Vietnamese people with displays of cultural and ethnological significance.
7 Lam Son Square, D1; +84 28 3823 7419
Built in 1897 by French architect Eugene Ferret, HCMC’s Opera House has been retooled constantly, most recently in 1995. The building’s facade borrows from the Petit Palais, a Paris museum, and was once covered with ornate inscriptions and reliefs, typical of the building’s style. Most ornamentation was removed in the 1940s after being judged too flamboyant.
135 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, D1; +84 8 8503 7080
Price: VND30,000 for general admission
This palace was designed by Ngô Viết Thụ for South Vietnam’s former president Ngô Đình Diệm during the American War. The official handover of power took place here on 30 April 1975 and the palace became a monument to that historic date. Do not miss the basement set up like a war-time movie set.
Saigon Central Post Office
So 125 Cong xa Paris, Ben Nghe, D1; +84 28 3822 1677
The largest post office in Vietnam, Saigon Central was conceptualised by Frenchman Gustave Eiffel and finished in 1891. The vaulted ceiling and arched windows of this Gothic-style edifice suggest the ingenuity of 19th century European railway stations. Note the giant wall maps of the city, Vietnam and Cambodia, in addition to the portrait of Hồ Chí Minh.
If ever you’re in District 2 and you’re looking for a place you must see, how about visiting the Minh Đăng Quang pagoda?
Minh Đăng Quang pagoda
505, Xa Lo Ha Noi, D2; +84 28 3501 9988
Built in 1968, and currently under construction from 2009 to 2018, this pagoda will be one of the largest Buddhist destinations in HCMC with a surface area of 37,490 square metres. The pagoda features four towers around the main hall, large statues of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara inside the hall and a special bodhi tree originating from the famous 2,000-year Sri Maha Bodhi tree in Sri Lanka.
To learn more about other pagodas in HCMC, visit Photo Story: Pagoda Charm.
For information on District 1 go to District 1- Point of Interest
For information on Saigon attractions go to Beer From an Altitude: The World of Heineken at Bitexco
Click here to read about A Brief History of the Ho Chi Minh City Zoo and Botanical Gardens