Inspired by the walk described in the Lonely Planet, today I recommend this route, which I did in the ancient Saigon, and that will allow you to discover, in a day, the main attractions of the District 1 of Ho Chi Minh City. The starting point is the 23/9 Park: here you can walking in the green, admiring how the Vietnamese people love to spend many hours outdoors doing gymnastics, dancing under the gazebo or simply sitting on benches in the shade of big trees.
Walking straight in the park you reach the second stop of the itinerary: the Ben Thanh Market. The main entrance is located under a clock tower. Here you can find all kinds of merchandise: clothing, handbags, sunglasses, jewelry, food, shoes, souvenirs, perfumes and much more. (Soon I’ll do an article to explain the basics rules to buy at the market because, if you don’t know it, you risk buying fake merchandise).
Out of the market, you continue to walk until you see the Museum of Fine Arts and continuing the route, according to the instructions of the map, you’ll find yourself near to the modern skyscraper Bitexco Financial Tower. Following the road that leads you along the river, here you can see the hotel Majestic: built in 1925 was requisitioned during the Second World War by the Japanese and used as a barracks.
If you follow the panoramic walk along the river you will reach the semi-circular square where there is the statue of Tran Hung Dao: the national hero who have stopped the advancing of the Mongols. From the square, you continue to follow the road and in front of you there is the Caravelle Hotel: this building, during the Vietnam War, was used like offices by journalists and by embassies of Australia and New Zealand.
On the opposite side of the street you will find the Municipal Theater better known as Opera House. Another iconic building that you will see if you continuing the walk, will be the Continental Hotel: the most famous hotel in the entire city. It was built in 1880 and hosted many journalists during the period of the war.
Not far from the hotel Continental there are a large pedestrian street and the Lam Son Park where there is the statue of Ho Chi Minh and behind him there is the Palace of the People’s Committee.
A few steps from the building there is another great avenue that leads to Notre Dame Cathedral which was built between 1877 and 1883. Next to it you will find the building of the main Post office: you will admire the structure in the French style and send some postcards.
From the post office go straight ahead and than turn around the cathedral of Notre Dame: in front of you will see the huge Park 30/4. Go straight ahead at the end of the park and you will see the Reunification Palace (you can get into paying 30,000 dong and is’s open from 7.30 am to 11 am and from 13 pm to 16 pm). The structure, style 60s, is linked to the fall of Saigon in 1975. Here, in fact, are arrived the first communist tanks that entered in the city in the morning of April 30, 1975.
From the palace you come back into the park and go straight until you’ll find yourself on the boulevard near the cathedral: now go in the north of the street where there is the big roundabout called Turtle’s Lake. Pets aren’t there but at least you will see this huge installation reminiscent of a lotus flower. (Here for lunch we tried the restaurant Noodles where we enjoyed the traditional soup, and than we went for coffee at “Shri” that is a lounge bar on the roof of a skyscraper where you can enjoy a wonderful view of the city).
If you have others energies i recommend you to visit two other sites that are near from the Turtle’s Lake: from the roundabout you have to take the avenue that will lead, walking for others 20 minutes, to the Museum of the remnants of war. You will recognize it because in the courtyard there are planes and tanks used during the conflict. (Ticket Entry 15,000 dong, it’s open with these times 7.30 am- 12 am / 13.30pm -17 pm). Worth a visit: you will open your mind and your heart watching certain images.
The last place that I recommend you to visit isn’t far from the lounge bar Shri.
You have to pass the skyscraper where there is the rooftop bar and go straight until you will arrive at the Museum of Ancient History. The building is near the Zoo (so keep that as a reference point). Here you can get a taste of the ancient culture of Vietnam, its history and its traditions. In the summer there are some students that are in the museum like a voluntary guides and that will be happy to explain to you their culture.
In the next article i will tell you some of the rules that are helpful during the visit in the Ben Thanh Market.