SAIGON - Top 7

For more things to do, see Attractions.

Reunification Palace, Saigon


Reunification Palace Interiors, SaigonConsidering it housed the leader of the South Vietnamese government during the war that brought communist-army tanks through its gates in 1975, the fact that the ‘Reunification Palace’ (and easily one of Saigon’s biggest and most prominent landmarks) has remained essentially unchanged since the in-bed-with-the-American-imperialist days is amazing. Walking through is like walking through Vietnam 1966 – original faded carpets, lacquer wall art, and burnt-orange curtains still hang in grand welcome rooms and offices, as seen on guided tours (in English) that leave every 10 or so minutes. You have to see it. Tours begin in the wide-open ground floor – nothing to stop the lizards from walking in – and go through each floor to the fourth-floor rooftop, where you can see helicopter landing. The tour ends in the basement, where’s there’s war planning rooms and a mercifully air-conditioned museum; it goes through the buildings history (go clockwise around) from an earlier building on location – an 1868 French residence and later on the Norodom Palace. In 1962, bombs dropped on the building in a failed effort to assassinate South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem (he’d get it, along with his brother, a year later); the present building was completed in 1966. Note the famous photo of the VC tank ‘crashing’ through the front gates on April 30, 1975 – the photo was actually restaged (you can see the gate is already knocked down).
106 Nguyen Du; adult/children 15,000/2000D (US$0.95/0.15); open 7.30-11am, 1-4pm daily


Tuan & Tu’s, SaigonOne of Saigon’s best eating places is down an alley near the Ho Con Rua – a lily pad structure in a tree-lined roundabout. The small villa with six tables and a small courtyard (with jackfruit tree) is easy to miss; look for a door that simply reads ‘Tuan & Tu’s’ to get in (then knock). Those who find it get splendid Hanoi-style dishes include local TV stars and other members of le nouveaux Saigon society. Don’t pass on the cha gio here or the canh hen thia la (a clam soup with dill, tomato and green onions; 35,000D, or US$2.20). It’s easily as good but half the price of far less tasty high-end restaurants. .
Tel 08-829-7732; 28/38B Tran Cao Van, D3; open 11am to 2pm, 6 to 9pm daily
Check the Restaurants section for more good places to eat.


War Remnants Museum, SaigonOne of the world’s most compelling cases against war is here. Gone are the days when it was a dusty ‘Museum of American War Crimes’ with over-the-top propagandistic messages. But it’s still not likely a place that a French or American tourist will leave feeling very proud. The new complex – rebuilt in 2000 – has eight themed rooms, with some surprising inclusions, like an exhibit tributing international photographers (including US, French, Japanese ones) who died while documenting the wars against France and the USA. Outside is a recreation of a Con Dao island prison – where VC captured were taken during both wars – as well as a French guillotine, supposedly last used in 1960. Military tanks and artillery line the yard. In the main building are deformed babies in jars – victims of Agent Orange – and grisly war photos of decapitated VC soldiers. A video on agent orange was too heart-breaking for me to sit through – it shows at 9am, 10am, 11am, 2.30pm and 3.30pm daily.
Tel 08-939-2112; [email protected]; 28 Vo Van Tan, D3; admission 15,000D (US$0.95); open 7.30am to noon, 1.30 to 5pm


Post Office Outside, SaigonWhether you’re coming to mail a post card or not is beside the point – this ultra-grand French post office, finished in 1891, is one of Saigon’s great buildings. Inside the ornate peach-and-green interior a huge portrait of Ho overlooks the decidedly colonial-era setting. Note the maps of Saigon et sus Environs (1892) and of Sud Vietn Nam et Cambodge (1936) on either wall as you enter – these were renovated recently. It’s 9000D (US$0.55) to send a post card or letter to the USA, 8000D (US$0.50) to the UK, 7000D (US$0.45) to Australia. There are plenty of post cards available.
2 Coq Xu Paris Q1, open 7am-9pm daily


Jade Emperor Pagoda, SaigonYou can’t take a side alley in Saigon without bumping into a pagoda, but – no offense to Cholon’s many historic ones – the Jade Emperor (Chua Phuoc Hai, or Phuoc Hai Tu) is Saigon’s most impressive. Colorful outside, with a turtle pond to the right side of the red building, inside is where it’s most atmospheric. Joss sticks smoke have blackened the walls – and the Chinese tablets and ceiling fans that hang motionless above. Built around 1900, the pagoda combines Tao and Buddhist elements, evident in moustached dragon-killing figures in altars inside. Most notably the Jade Emperor – who is responsible for monitoring the entry to heaven – is in back of the main building, with a moustache for the ages. Follow the direction he looks – to a side ride, down a betel juice–colored hall – to the ‘Hall of Ten Hells,’ where you can see ten woodcarved panels representing the fiery ten.
73 Mai Thi Luu St, half a block north of Dien Bien Phu St; open 7am-6pm daily


Coffee, SaigonCoffee’s important anywhere, but particularly so in Vietnam. It’s available all over town, and finding a good vantage point to sit and sip is a peak of most Saigon days. In recent years HIGHLANDS COFFEE raised its hand to become the ‘Vietnam Starbucks,’ with the slickest, Westernest-style locations in the best spots of the city. The best one is across from the Rex Hotel (corner of Le Loi and Nguyen Hue Sts; open 7am to 11pm), atop the refashioned ‘Russian market.’ But! If you’re outrageously serious about coffee, go out of your way to get coffee from TRUNG NGUYEN, who have several, slightly less swank, locations across town. There are eight beans to choose from – try ‘number eight’ (about 20,000D per cup; US$1.25), ‘weasel’ coffee that’s supposedly picked, eaten and digested by choosey weasels in the highlands. See the Coffee section for locations.


Cholon ShopperSaigon’s ‘Chinatown’ — a couple miles west of the center in District Five — makes for fascinating walking, shopping and gawking at the sights of a neighborhood that looks, at first glance, more in the past than District One. The sprawling FABRIC MARKET (Tran Hung Dao & Phung Hung Sts), made of inside-and-out stalls, is where to go if you’ve wondered where local women get those loud, floral pajama-style clothes they wear.

At the end of Tran Hung Dao St, a few blocks west, you’ll see CHA TAM CHURCH (Tran Hung Dao & Hoc Lac Sts),, where South Vietnam president Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother hid following a 1963 coup attempt. (Eventually they surrendered and were killed in the vehicle taking them back to central Saigon.)

From the church head south (left) a couple blocks to Thap Muoi St and turn right. Four blocks west this busy thoroughfare becomes Hau Giant St and reaches Cholon’s top attraction, the golden French-era BINH TAY MARKET (Hau Giang St), with a clock-tower and Moorish-style domes and a cramped maze of stalls on two floors, some overlooking the central courtyard. Good exploring. See the Cho Lon section for more.