Ho Chi Minh City, formerly called (and sometimes referred to as) Saigon, is the most populous city in Vietnam. It is a fast-paced city, with ancient architecture standing beside sleek skyscrapers. It was founded in 1698, though early history of the area traces human occupation further back than 820 BC. The city has changed names many times and been controlled by several different political entities; most notably, it was called Saigon under French control from the 1860s to 1975. Today, this vibrant city reflects its unique history while offering visitors an exciting array of opportunities.
History enthusiasts and travelers seeking a unique experience may enjoy exploring the Cu Chi Tunnels that the Viet Cong used as a base for the Tet offensive. Tour guides provide visitors with a history lesson about the war. The tunnels are small, giving tourists an understanding of what it might have felt like to be a Vietnamese soldier. Complete the experience by shooting machine guns and AK-47s at a shooting range.
The Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral is a nod to Ho Chi Minh City’s French past. This Catholic cathedral was built in the neo-Romanesque style, with tall spires and stained glass. The bricks that make it up were originally brought over from France. After you see this historical structure, walk over to the Saigon Central Post Office. Its historic maps on the walls of the grand concourse take visitors back to the time of French rule.
To see the city in a different way, choose from one of many boat tours that take visitors down the Saigon River. There are several types of excursions, from informational group tours to dinner cruises. The Saigon River is still commercially active, giving tourists an authentic Vietnamese experience.
Go to the coastal district of Can Gio island to enjoy the natural beauty of southeastern Vietnam. Monkey Island, as the name suggests, is home to many mischievous monkeys. Visitors can also enjoy a small, well-kept beach. Some boat tours stop by Monkey Island as part of a larger tour, making it an easy destination for visitors.
To experience some of Vietnam’s spectacular biodiversity, visit Cat Tien National Park. This lowland tropical area is home to 100 species of mammal, 350 types of birds, 400 butterfly species, and more. In fact, it is so beautiful and diverse that UNESCO designated it as a biosphere reserve in 2001. Some lucky visitors may even see tigers and elephants!
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Out of town visitors can book their flights into Tan Son Nhat International Airport, which is only three miles from the city center. There are several services that transport visitors from the airport to their lodging for a very reasonable price. Once you arrive, you can travel throughout the city on the back of a motorbike taxi, which is an exhilarating experience. There is also an efficient system of buses and taxis throughout the city.
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