Ho Chi Minh City, commonly known as Saigon, is a city in southern Vietnam famous for the pivotal role it played in the Vietnam War. It's also known for its French colonial architecture, including Notre-Dame Basilica made entirely of materials imported from France, and the neoclassical Saigon Central Post Office. Food stalls line the city’s streets, especially around bustling Ben Thanh Market.
The city was once known as Prey Nokor, an important Khmer seaport prior to annexation by the Vietnamese in the 17th century. Under the name Saigon, it was the capital of the French colony of Cochinchina and later of the independent republic of South Vietnam between 1955 and 1975. On 2 July 1976, Saigon merged with the surrounding Gia Dinh Province and was officially renamed Ho Chi Minh City after Ho Chi Minh though the name Saigon is still unofficially widely used.
Conquered by France and Spain in 1859, the city was influenced by the French during their colonial occupation of Vietnam, and a number of classical Western-style buildings and French villas in the city reflect this.
The Viet Minh proclaimed the independence of Vietnam in 1945 after a combined occupation by Vichy France and Japan, and before the Communist revolution in China. The Viet Minh-held sections of Vietnam were more concentrated in rural areas, and more in the Northern half than in the South. During this time, the US supported France in regaining its control over the country, with effective control spanning mostly in the Southern half and parts of the Red River Delta region like Hanoi, Haiphong and Thai Binh province.
Former Emperor Bao Dai made Saigon the capital of the State of Vietnam in 1949 with himself as head of state. In 1954, the Geneva Agreement partitioned Vietnam along the 17th parallel (Ben Hai River), with the communist Viet Minh, under Ho Chi Minh, gaining complete control of the northern half of the country, while the Saigon government continued to govern the State of Vietnam which continued in the southern half of the country and the southern half gaining independence from France. The State officially became the Republic of Vietnam when his Prime Minister Ngo Dinh Diem deposed Bao Dai in 1955 in the referendum. On 30 April 1975, Saigon fell and the war ended with a Communist victory. The former name Saigon is still widely used by many Vietnamese, especially in informal contexts. Generally, the term Saigon refers only to the urban districts of Ho Chi Minh City.
Ho Chi Minh City Tour embraces the spirit of Saigon with a day trip from Ho Chi Minh city soaking up the rich tapestry of history and culture. Visit the iconic landmarks of the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Central Post Office, and hear the tragedy of war at Reunification Palace and War Remnants Museum. Cruise the laneways of Cholon by cyclo and haggle for a bargain at Binh Tay Market.
We’ll pick you up from your hotel lobby with a private car, and then start your day visiting two iconic architectural landmarks the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Central Post Office, which was built between 1877 and 1883 by renowned designer Gustav Eiffel. The cathedral still remains an active church with services each day and is favored backdrop for Vietnamese wedding photographs.
From the cathedral, take a short stroll along Dong Khoi Street to the Opera House. From a bomb shelter to housing the parliamentary Lower House, the Opera House has had an interesting history. Restored in 1995, the Opera House has returned to its roots and is once again a theatre.
Continue onto the Reunification Palace, once a symbol of the South Vietnamese Government. It was here on 30 April 1975 that the war ended when a North Vietnamese Army tank crashed through its gates. See the war room, the banquet hall and the presidential office with the unusual gifts, which have been received. In the afternoon continue on to the War Remnants Museum. Here, your guide will tell the story of the city’s darkest and most tragic hours during the Vietnam War. The museum contains displays of military aircraft, weaponry and many photographs – some that are quite graphic in nature.
Head to Cholon the city’s Chinatown and Thien Hau Pagoda, which is dedicated to the Goddess of the Sea. With intricate friezes, carved tableaus and impressive incense coils make for some great photos. Then observe street life with a rickshaw ride through the narrow streets to wholesale market of Binh Tay. (L)
Trip price: $70
All costs are per person, based on a private guide, car.
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