Ho Chi Minh city’s best destinations

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Some of the most popular attractions in Ho Chi Minh city.

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War Remnants Museum

War Remnants Museum @ Wikimedia Commons

Formerly the Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes, the War Remnants Museum is consistently popular with Western tourists. Few museums anywhere convey the brutal effects of war on its civilian victims so powerfully. Many of the atrocities documented here were well-publicised but rarely do Westerners hear the victims of US military action tell their own stories. While some displays are one-sided, many of the most disturbing photographs illustrating US atrocities are from US sources, including those of the infamous My Lai Massacre.

US armoured vehicles, artillery pieces, bombs and infantry weapons are on display outside. One corner of the grounds is devoted to the notorious French and South Vietnamese prisons on Phu Quoc and Con Son Islands. Artefacts include that most iconic of French appliances, the guillotine, and the notoriously inhumane ‘tiger cages’ used to house Viet Cong (Vietnamese Communists; VC) prisoners.

The ground floor of the museum is devoted to a collection of posters and photographs showing support for the antiwar movement internationally. This somewhat upbeat display provides a counterbalance to the horrors upstairs.

Even those who supported the war are likely to be horrified by the photos of children affected by US bombing and napalming. You’ll also have the rare chance to see some of the experimental weapons used in the war, which were at one time military secrets, such as the flechette, an artillery shell filled with thousands of tiny darts.

Upstairs, look out for the Requiem Exhibition. Compiled by legendary war photographer Tim Page, this striking collection documents the work of photographers killed during the course of the conflict, on both sides, and includes works by Larry Burrows and Robert Capa.

The War Remnants Museum is in the former US Information Service building. Captions are in Vietnamese and English.

Notre Dame Cathedral

Notre Dame Cathedral @ Wikipedia

Built between 1877 and 1883, Notre Dame Cathedral enlivens the heart of Ho Chi Minh City’s government quarter, facing Ð Dong Khoi. A brick, neo-Romanesque church with 40m-high square towers tipped with iron spires, the Catholic cathedral is named after the Virgin Mary. Interior walls are inlaid with devotional tablets and some stained glass survives. English-speaking staff dispense tourist information from 9am to 11am Monday to Saturday. Mass is 9.30am Sunday. If the front gates are locked, try the door on the side facing the Reunification Palace.

Giac Lam Pagoda

Giac Lam pagoda @ Vietnam tourism

Believed to be the oldest temple in HCMC (1744), Giac Lam is a fantastically atmospheric place set in peaceful, gardenlike grounds. The Chinese characters that constitute the temple’s name (覚林寺) mean ‘Feel the Woods Temple’ and the looming Bodhi tree (a native fig tree, sacred to Buddhists) in the front garden was the gift of a Sri Lankan monk in 1953. Prayers are held daily from 4am to 5am, 11am to noon, 4pm to 5pm and 7pm to 9pm.

Next to the tree stands a gleaming white statue of compassionate Quan The Am Bo Tat (also known as the Goddess of Mercy) on a lotus blossom, a symbol of purity.

As at many Vietnamese Buddhist temples, aspects of both Taoism and Confucianism can be found here. For the sick and elderly, the pagoda is a minor pilgrimage sight, as it contains a bronze bell that, when rung, is believed to answer the prayers posted by petitioners.

The main sanctuary lies in the next room, filled with countless gilded figures. On the dais in the centre of the back row sits the A Di Da Buddha, easily spotted by his colourful halo. The fat laughing fellow, seated with five children climbing all over him, is Ameda, the Buddha of Enlightenment, Compassion and Wisdom.

About 3km from Cholon, Giac Lam Pagoda is best reached by taxi or xe om (motorbike taxi).

Hope you enjoy your stay in Ho Chi Minh city!

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