Formerly known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) is a sophisticated city of more than seven million people, making it the largest city in Vietnam. It is also a city of contrasts, with modern skyscrapers dotting the horizon and colonial-style buildings lining many of the streets.
How to Get to Ho Chi Minh City
Larger cruise ships will dock at Phu My, a port on the South China Sea, about 2.5 hours from Ho Chi Minh City. Smaller and mid-size ships that are able to navigate the Saigon River dock much closer to the city. Many ships will provide shuttles from either port into the center of the city. If yours doesn’t, head outside of the dock gates to hail a taxi. From the port at Phu My, taking a hydrofoil is also an option; the ride takes about an hour.
One Day in Ho Chi Minh City
Kick off your day with a visit to Reunification Hall, once the presidential palace of South Vietnam. Take a tour of this somewhat eerie building that has been left mostly untouched since the 1960s. From there, move on to the War Remnants Museum, whose moving and sometimes disturbing exhibits share the story of the Vietnam War from a distinctly Communist perspective. Then, to get a fuller understanding of the country’s history and culture, make your way to the Vietnamese History Museum. Peruse exhibits covering Vietnamese culture from the Bronze Age to the modern day and then enjoy a performance at the museum’s water puppet theater.
Next, head to the Ben Thanh Market, a bustling market that dates back to 1914. Scan the stalls for paintings, porcelain and jewelry before grabbing a late lunch at one of the food stalls.
Spend the rest of the afternoon visiting one or more of the city’s pagodas: the Thien Hau Pagoda, dedicated to the sea goddess; the Quan Am Pagoda, the oldest pagoda in the city; and Phung Son Tu Pagoda, dedicated to the god of happiness and virtue. Or, escape from the heat to one of HCMC’s many water parks, such as the Dam Sen Water Park, closest to the city center.
If you still have time before returning to your ship, head up to the observation deck at the Bitexco Financial Tower for a panoramic view of the city.
The official language is Vietnamese, but many younger people speak at least some English. Older generations may still speak some French as well. The local currency is the Vietnamese dong, but the US dollar is preferred for many cash purchases, including taxis and pedicabs. Credit cards may be used in higher end shops and restaurants. ATMs are available throughout the city center. Port facilities are quite limited.