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Although the Communists renamed it Ho Chi Minh City after reunification in 1975, many people still call the city Saigon. The former capital of South Vietnam is one of the country's major tourist draws and points of entry, boasting a solid transportation infrastructure and many attractions. Compared to some other big cities of Southeast Asia, however, Ho Chi Minh City sometimes has a hard edge alongside its gems of interest, and an awareness of both makes a trip much more enjoyable.



Ho Chi Minh City's Tan Son Nhat Airport is serviced by most of Southeast Asia's major regional airlines, such as Thai Airways, Garuda Indonesia and Cathay Pacific. Overnight buses and all-day riverboats down the Mekong with bus transfers at the end also connect the city to Phnom Penh in Cambodia. Buses and trains connect Ho Chi Minh City to the rest of the country.

Within the city, taxis and rickshaws are widely available. A popular story about rickshaw drivers is that they are all "bourgeois elements" who were sent to Communist re-education camps after reunification, then denied state employment after release. While that may have been true once, many rickshaw drivers in Ho Chi Minh City are clearly too young to have been a teacher or policeman in the1970s.


Saigon was the capital of South Vietnam, so the modern Ho Chi Minh City has a number of attractions connected to the Vietnam War. The War Remnants Museum, formerly known as the Museum of American War Crimes, has displays of Vietnam War-era military equipment and exhibits telling the Communist side of the story. Within day-trip distance are the Tunnels of Chu Chi, a Vietnamese-style theme park commemorating the underground tunnels used by the Vietcong during the war.

Ho Chi Minh City also is the seat of Cao Dai, a peculiarly Vietnamese religion mixing elements of Roman Catholicism, Taoism and Buddhism. Its main cathedral is located in the city suburbs, and although Caodaists are technically monotheists, the grounds are decorated with works of art presenting the Salvador Dali-esque spectacle of Jesus, the Buddha and a Taoist god, standing together in gaudy color.

Food and Drink

In addition to its excellent Vietnamese food, Ho Chi Minh City also has preserved the cuisine of its French colonial past. The city just might be the best place in the world to dine on excellent French cuisine at bargain-basement prices.

Vietnam loves its coffee, and according to "National Geographic," it is the world's fourth leading exporter of coffee beans. Combining all that coffee with Ho Chi Minh City's rich French heritage makes savoring a cup of coffee in cafes a daily must for java-lovers. Beer lovers also will find much to savor in Ho Chi Minh City. In addition to the national labels of bottled beer, many neighborhood eateries serve a draft beer that was made that very morning in a neighborhood microbrewery. While watery -- roughly 3 percent alcohol -- the beer is refreshing and served with ice cubes.



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