Walking Tour of Ho Chi Minh City Day 2
This week I plotted out a second walking tour of Ho Chi Minh City. In my first itinerary, I mapped out a route between many of the major sites in District 3 and District 1. This tour covers more sites in District 1 and diverts briefly across the river to District 4 to see the Ho Chi Minh Museum. The tour introduces you to a typical Asian temple, a mosque, a Hindu temple, two entirely different museums, the tallest building in Ho Chi Minh City and the central tourist market in town. I’ve also added in a couple of suggestions for a rest, refreshment, and meals, but on this route, you’ll be spoilt for choice. There’s even the option to have a massage after a long day on your feet.
If you feel the distances between the different sites are too long, it’s a simple matter to jump in a cab or on the back of a Xe Om (motorbike taxi) to get to the next point. It should not cost you more than $1 or $2 for any of these trips. None of the distances should take you more than 20 minutes to walk directly to, even if you walk quite slowly. There are lots of diversions you can make. However, that will make your day longer. I’ll mention some of those at the relevant point.
I started my day at the Saigon Zoo and Botanical Gardens. By international standards, it’s not brilliant although there are ample places to sit and relax, stop for a cold drink or rest in the shade. If you are not keen on visiting the animals in their rather cramped conditions, check out the map almost directly as you enter and avoid the animal enclosures, concentrating instead on the gardens and lake area. I also recommend you drop off at the Temple of King Hung Vuong on the way in or out of the main entrance. Another good reason to begin here is the Museum of Vietnamese History, directly across from the temple. It traces the history of Vietnamese people through a huge are of exhibits. The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday 8.00 -11.30 am and then 1.30-5pm. Tickets are 15 000 VND
The Main Entrance to the Zoo and Botanical Gardens are on Nguyen Binh Kiem Street directly opposite Le Duan street. Entry is 20 000VND for adults.
After wandering about for well over an hour, I headed towards the center of District 1. Keep the Bitexco Financial Tower (the tallest building in Saigon) as a marker and you won’t go wrong. Cross the road directly in front of the main entrance and walk straight down Le Duan until you reach Ton Duc Thang and turn left. The route has good shade in places, and as you walk further down the street, the bars and cafes will become more prevalent.
When you reach Le Thanh Ton, turn right and go straight ahead. This street is filled with both International and Vietnamese restaurants and cafes and is a great place to stop for something to eat. A sign for a three-course lunch special for 75 000 VND (plus tax) enticed me into the Silverland Sakyo Hotel and Spa at number 10. I wasn’t expecting too much for less than $4, but I was pleasantly surprised. A large oriental salad, beef rolls stuffed with enoki mushrooms and a glorious dessert of watermelon balls in iced passion fruit syrup set me up for the day. The service was friendly and efficient and the surrounds very refined. It’s an excellent find in an expensive part of town. Curious, because I always thought this part of the city was expensive. I checked out the menus of the other restaurants on the way through. It seems I had chosen one of the best value (without having tried the others).
My original plan was to leave much earlier than I had and stop off at one of my favorite cafes, on Nguyen Hue (Walking) St for morning tea. If you have the time, check out one of the selections in the Cafe Apartment at number 42. Seeing as I’d left it so late and just eaten lunch, I diverted left down Hai Ba Trung Street. It’s the busy street before your reach the large Vincom Shopping Centre. Keep walking straight until you reach Dong Du Street. Turn right and walk until you reach the Saigon Central Mosque at number 66. It’s one of several that serve the Muslim community of Ho Chi Minh City. There’s a cheap Halal restaurant on site and some street vendors around the entrance.
Turn left when you reach Don Khoi and spend a little time checking out some of the classier art galleries, souvenir, clothing and accessory stores. With my credit card safely at home, I was restricted to window shopping, but it was an enjoyable diversion none the less. Keep walking until you reach the beautiful Vietnamese House Restaurant and turn right at the corner of Ngo Duc Ke Street. Walk straight towards the tallest building you can see, crossing over Nguyen Hue (Walking) Street to reach it. You are now at your next destination, the Bitexco Financial Tower.
Once here you have a couple of options. Entry to the Saigon Skydeck on the 49th floor is 200 000 VND to get a birds eye view from the tallest building in Saigon. If it’s after 10 am, you can head up to the Alto Helibar on the 52nd floor, pay less than the entry ticket for a drink, get an even higher view and take a look at the helipad. This option is even cheaper if you strike one of their happy hours or special deals. Click here to read more.
If it’s lunchtime by now, thee’s a selection of restaurants in Bitexco and the surrounding area. Everything from upmarket sushi through to cheap and delicious local food from the market close by. See my suggestion below.
The next leg of the itinerary will take you over the water to District 4 to visit the Ho Chi Min Museum at Dragon House Wharf. NOTE, If it’s between 11.30am and 1.30pm, take some time to explore District 1 some more as the museum isn’t open between these hours. One excellent diversion is the market on Ham Nghi Street between Ho Tung Mau (right near Bitexco) and Ton That Dam. Here you’ll find lots of color, cheap eating stalls, and authentic Vietnamese market vibe.
To get to the museum from Bitexco, head back a little to Nguyen Hue Street and turn right. Walk straight down to Ton Duc Hang Street on the river. Cross to the river side and look to your right. Head towards the large wooden Junk “Elisa” you should be able to see at Dragon House Wharf. Walk down a little and cross to the footpath leading to the bridge. Take a photo of the museum complex from the top as it’s a little hard to get one once you are on the grounds because of the large trees. The museum has an extremely comprehensive collection of everything related to Uncle Ho (Ho Chi Minh) and includes some of his personal possessions, a shrine and several some great historical pictures. Make sure you head down to the river to get a picture of Elisa in all her glory. Tickets for the museum are 10 000 VND. Opening hours are Tuesday to Sunday, 7.30am to 11.30am and then 1.30 pm to 5 pm.
You now have an opportunity of viewing District 1 from the other side of the Ben Nghe Canal. Head out the front gates of the museum and turn right. Head towards the canal and turn left onto the footpath. Walk along this until you reach the walking bridge across the canal and cross back over into District 1. It’s a little tricky to cross the road here so take care. Once safely across, turn left along Vo Van Kiet. Walk until you reach Pho Duc Chinh on your right. You will pass the Saigon Stock Exchange on the way with its sculpture of the bull beating up the bear. Turn right onto Pho Duc Chinh and follow it straight down until you see the Fine Arts Museum on your left.
The museum is in two beautiful colonial buildings over several floors. The main building houses permanent collections and the building to the left as you enter has special exhibits. Art from across the ages is presented in well-labeled displays. The building is fresh and airy and a welcome respite from the heat and humidity outside. There are beautiful shots of the well-maintained architecture from windows on the higher levels. The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday 9am-5pm. Tickets are 10 000 VND.
Note: If you are interested in Vietnamese History and Art, then skip this step and come back as part of Sophie’s Art Tour. You’ll be amazed at how much the art in this gallery reveals about the last 200 years in Vietnam.
As you exit the museum turn left and head towards the huge round-a-bout in front of Ben Thanh market. Hug the right-hand side of the road as you navigate the round-a-bout across Ham Nghi, Hyunh Tuc Khang, and Le Loi. (Use my safety tips for walking Ho Chi Minh City to get across in one piece). Once safely across Le Loi, head straight down Phan Boi Chau on the right side of the market until you reach Le Tanh Ton Street at the back, then turn left. Walk along past the fruit and flowers section and keep heading up the street until you reach Truong Dinh Street. Turn right and you will see Mariamman Hindu Temple a little way up the street on your left.
Traders from India built this ornately decorated temple in the early 19th century. Incense wafts around you as you enter and colorful sculptures adorn the walls. There is a large sign explaining the various deities in detail, but unfortunately, it isn’t in English. There is no problem in entering this temple or taking pictures of the interior. In fact, I was ushered in by an elderly lady sitting on the steps and welcomed by one of the gentlemen inside. It is a fully functioning temple, however, so please do be respectful. Wear appropriate clothing and take your shoes off before you step onto the platform. The temple is open from 7 am to 8 pm and is free to enter. There are plenty of donations boxes around to show your appreciation.
The night market at Ben Thanh doesn’t start humming til later in the evening, so you have a couple of choices until then. There are loads of coffee shops, ice cream shops, and restaurants in this area so take a break before getting into shopping mode. There are also bars if you need something a bit stronger by now. Or better still, if you’re getting a little tired, head further up and left into lý tự trọng to number 271 and get a massage from the girls at Massage Han Cung. Doesn’t a relaxing foot massage and hot rocks and oil sound amazing right now?
If you are still full of energy, then dive into the central area of the market for a spot of souvenir hunting. Make no mistake; you will be hassled at this market, and the prices will start far higher than things are worth. Bargain hard but stay polite. Once you agree on a price, count your money carefully before handing it over. As I’ve mentioned before, some of the different denominations of Vietnamese Dong look remarkably similar especially if you are a little bit rushed. My cousin handed over a 500 000 VND note rather than a 20 000 and it disappeared pretty damn quickly. Also, stay alert and watch your bags and wallets. There are a lot of tourist police in this area for a very good reason.
If you are looking for a great place to have dinner, one of our favorite restaurants, Barbecue Garden, is just down the road. I mentioned it in my Day 1 Itinerary so if you didn’t get there then, maybe today is the day. To reach it, take a short walk up Le Thanh Ton, to the corner of Nam Ky Khoi Nghia. Chill out in the fairy-lit garden and cook yourself a BBQ over a couple of drinks. Our favorite dish is the beef rolls stuffed with cheese, but they also have vegetarian options, chicken, food, and seafood to suit every palate. You can also choose a number of platters with a mix of meats and seafood on offer if you can’t decide on a particular dish. Have a bite to eat here and then head back to the night market to shop till you drop. By that time, I’d say you might just be ready for bed! I know I was after completing this rather tiring but hopefully, interesting walking tour around Ho Chi Minh City.
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