Cathedrals, Parks and Puppets
From sobering remnants of a war-torn past to awe-inspiring neo-Romanesque architecture and dreamy hazes floating along the Saigon River, there’s something to inspire and intrigue on every street corner in Saigon.
To start your tour, head to two of the most historical sites in the city, both located in the central District 1. The Gothic-inspired is one of the most iconic structures of Saigon, and still operates after more than 100 years. Send a postcard off to relatives, then walk to
across the way, a majestic church boasting iron spires, stained glass windows and two 60-meter-tall bell towers. Considered the most beautiful church in all the French colonies at the time of construction, the cathedral still stands as a remnant of Saigon’s colonial past.
From there, it’s a short 10-minute walk to Tao Dan Park, a 10-hectare green space in the heart of the city outfitted with towering trees and shaded benches. On the edge of the park lies the Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theater (goldendragonwaterpuppet.com.vn), where you can catch a slice of local culture while resting your feet.
At the east end of the park, while away a few hours at Independence Palace, known for marking the end of the Vietnam War when a Northern Vietnamese tank crashed through its gates in April 1975. The complex is a mix of old and new architecture, and houses an extensive collection of mementos, maps and old communication equipment. For an even more poignant—and sobering—reminder of the devastation of the Vietnam War, visit the War Remnants Museum (warremnantsmuseum.com), which displays tanks, planes, artillery pieces and infantry weapons, as well as unfiltered photographs of the victims of war. It’s not for the faint of heart—and decidedly one-sided—but it serves as a standing symbol of Vietnam’s resilient spirit.
With many more places to explore, from golden temples smoky with incense to bustling local markets like central Ben Thanh brimming with Vietnam’s famous coffee beans, knickknacks and souvenirs, it’s worth hopping on one of the scooter tours (Scooter Tour Saigon and Back of the Bike Tours come highly recommended). You’ll go from feeling like an outsider as you dodge the endless throngs of scooters motoring on by, to being instantly assimilated into the rhythm of the city as you whiz with traffic under canopied, tree-lined streets and along the serene banks of the Saigon River.
Nguyen Hue Street, Central Post Office Dame Cathedral Notre-