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With Vietnam’s history dating back around 4000 years, the country has seen its share of conflict. Chinese rule for 1000 years saw sisters, Trung Trac, and Trung Nhi, gather forces, unite the Vietnamese people and launch one of the first rebellions in 39AD. Their efforts granted them just 3 years rule before the Chinese were back. Chinese history states they gunned the sisters down, while in Vietnam, the history books say they preferred to drown themselves than be eliminated by their oppressors.

Saigon. Vietnam
Artist’s interpretation of the Trung Sisters uprising against the Chinese in 39AD

At the Southern Women’s Museum, the focus is on more recent history. Displaying the importance of women in war and their role once the fighting ceased, revolutionary exhibits sit alongside traditional dress, textiles, weaving and cultural artifacts.

Saigon. Vietnam
Entrance to Southern Women’s Museum.

For an in-depth account of the Vietnam War, (the American War to locals) you’ll find the War Remnants Museum fascinating. Aircraft, tanks, artillery and a replica prison displaying treatment of communist sympathisers occupy the grounds. Inside, a tribute to 58 international photojournalists portrays the complexities of war through their eyes. The journalists’ bios, stories, and subjects are compelling. Photographic details of the immediate and long-lasting effects of napalm and agent orange are sure to make a lasting impression.

Saigon. Vietnam
War Remnants Museum

Reunification Palace is famous for the final assault through its gates at 11:30 on April 30th, 1975. The war room, complete with maps, and communication devices is open to the public. The museum is closed for lunch so plan this one for the morning then enjoy delicious local cuisine at Quan An Ngon.

Saigon. Vietnam
Blood Cockles & Banana Flower @ Quan An Ngon

Visit the Revolutionary Museum for history on the development of Ho Chi Minh City. Exhibits include life on the Mekong Delta, traditional marriage rites and a day in the life of a North Vietnamese soldier with weaponry, uniforms, and sleeping materials. Vietnam’s economic growth through local and foreign investment is a feature.

Saigon. Vietnam
Revolutionary Museum

France claimed possession of  Vietnam officially in 1874 and their presence is still felt in the architecture. In district 1, at Lam Son Square, take in the 360° view. The Rex Hotel, Ho Chi Minh People’s Committee, Hotel Continental, Municipal Theatre, and the Opera House, all built in grand French colonial style for the well-heeled of the day. The Post Office & Notre Dame Cathedral are impressive, as are the mansions built for dignitaries in the Embassy area.

Saigon. Vietnam
A Statue of the man himself outside Ho Chi Minh People’s Committee

For contrasting architecture and religious beliefs, take a wander from Notre Dame to the Jade Emporer Pagoda. This is an active Buddhist temple, often crowded with worshippers making offerings and burning joss sticks. If you only have time for one pagoda, IMHO, this is the one to see.

Saigon. Vietnam
Lanterns at Jade Emperor Pagoda.

Aside from Ho Chi Minh City attractions, there is much to see on day tours. The Cao Dai Temple and famous Cu Chi tunnels tour  reveals the Cao Dai religion (Taoism, Confucianism, Christianity and Buddhism in a single sect) and an afternoon underground where Viet Cong soldiers waged their unique style of warfare.

Saigon. Vietnam
Cu Chi Tunnels west toward the Cambodian Border.

The Battle of Long Tan is remembered in Australia on August 18th; Vietnam Veterans Day. The video below is narrated by Australian actor Sam Worthington and includes interviews with survivors of the battle. You can tour Nui Dat; base camp for the Australian Task Force, the rubber plantation where the battle took place and Long Tan Memorial where a moment’s silence remembers the fallen Australian and Vietnamese soldiers.

How does a lazy day in the resort town of Vung Tau sound? For a self-guided day trip take the express hydrofoil from central HCMC on the Saigon River. On arrival in Vung Tau, enjoy beaches, pagodas, and the steep climb to the statue of Jesus. Restaurants and bars follow the cliff around with views over the East Vietnam Sea serving ice cold beer and some excellent oysters.

Saigon. Vietnam
Vung Tau Coast. At low tide, the island can be reached on foot.

You’ll want to see the Mekong Delta so for a unique experience go by speedboat. Les Rives have 1 and 2-day tours taking in floating markets, wetland farming, temples and local villages. Tours are small, 7-9 people, and visits to attractions are timed to avoid the large coach tours. Breakfast and lunch are included and you get to sample Mekong Whiskey!

Saigon. Vietnam
Can Tho Floating Markets. (Photo courtesy of vietnamvisa.com)

First Timer Tips:

While walking Ho Chi Minh City’s museum district you may be overwhelmed by the volume of motor scooters. Pedestrians crossing this throng should (apparently) have no fear. Hesitation is not advised. Step out confidently and if fear grips you, simply stick your hand up and wave it around a little; the riders will take extra care.

Check online to book tours, often it’s a lot more cost effective than the hotel concierge. Find out travel times, especially for Mekong Delta coach tours. Can Tho floating markets is a 3.5-hour drive so consider staying overnight and visit the markets before the tourist buses arrive.

Next time we’ll be relaxing and indulging in retail therapy in HCMC. Until then, have you explored Ho Chi Minh City? Have you been to the Mekong Delta, Vung Tau or paid your respects at Long Tan Memorial? We’d love to hear your stories in the comments below. Exploring HCMC and surrounds: it’s a thing we love….