Although Ho Chi Minh City was renamed after its fall at the end of the Vietnam War, Vietnam's largest city is still known to most as Saigon. This apparent discord is mirrored across a city that is one part modern metropolis, full of lively bars, lavish restaurants and high-end boutiques, one part colonial grandee and one part ancient Asia, where catfish wriggle on the lids of steel drums in lunchtime markets and incense wafts from centuries-old pagodas. There's Dong Khoi Street, formally Rue Catinat, running from the river to the Notre Dame Cathedral and lined with some of the city's most impressive colonial architecture. Bounded by high-end boutique shops, galleries and smart hotels, Dong Khoi Street takes you on a nostalgic trail of Saigon as it was before 1975.
Cholon is a sprawling Chinese section of the city, home to some fantastically colourful markets as well as a number of the city's landmarks, including the Thien Hau Temple, an ornate 19th century temple dedicated to the Lady of the Sea. Centrally located Ben Thanh Market, is perhaps the best place to experience a real Vietnamese market place. Almost anything that's eaten, worn or used by the Saigonese is available here: vegetables, meats, spices, sweets, tobacco, clothing, hardware and so forth. And that's not to mention the range of souvenirs, from conical hats to bullet-case key rings and Vietnam War-themed Zippo lighters. It's one of the city's largest and oldest markets and is a cultural hot spot and social meeting place for many of Saigon's residents.
Perhaps the symbol of Saigon's French legacy, Notre Dame Cathedral holds centre stage at the head of >Dong Khoi Street and is the city's main Catholic cathedral. The twin-spire, red-brick cathedral was built in the late 1800s, supposedly using materials only sourced from France, and as recently as 2005 it became the centre of attention as reports spread across the Catholic world that the statue of the Virgin Mary, which stands in the square outside, had shed a tear.
Perhaps one of the most iconic images of the Vietnam War was that of a North Vietnamese tank smashing through the gates of the Reunification Hall, formerly the Presidential Palace. It is now a museum, preserved as it was found in 1975. Formerly, and rather controversially known as the America War Crimes Museum, the renamed War Remnants Museum is one of the most popular museums in Ho Chi Minh City. The museum shows some fairly graphic images, displaying the effects of various chemical warheads used by the US during the war. Some may argue that the museum is one grand - and largely successful - propaganda exercise, entirely biased against the American and South Vietnamese forces. Nonetheless, the images on show are hugely affecting and will leave visitors with a strong sense of the horrible nature of war - perhaps a solid memorial to the people, from both sides, who suffered during the course of the conflict.
A short distance from the city are the notorious Cu Chi Tunnels, an extensive and impressive network of fighting tunnels developed by the Viet Cong to attack US forces during the Vietnam War. The end to the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the tunnels were used as supply routes, hospitals and sleeping quarters and took the Viet Cong deep into South Vietnam.; they are undoubtedly one of the key reasons for the eventual defeat and withdrawal of US troops from Vietnam and make for fascinating viewing.