Port in Focus: Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City is the pulsating heart of Vietnam; a frenetic and chaotic metropolis that injects excitement into sailings along the Mekong River which generally include a pre or post-cruise stay in the city.

Sitting on the banks of the Saigon River, from which it originally took its name, this city crackles with energy and life; its roads packed with mopeds that race past in a cacophony of beeping horns and revving engines as they swerve around pedestrians brave (or foolhardy) enough to cross in front of them.

Temple visitor lighting incense sticks in Ho Chi Minh CityA bowl of Pho and a berry smoothie in a restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City

Swish department stores offer a modern contrast to steamy street markets, the best-known being the vast covered Ben Thanh Market – a must for picking up fake designer goods, lacquer-ware and vividly-coloured silks.

But Ho Chi Minh City isn’t short of history, and memories from the infamous Vietnam conflict linger, especially at the fascinating War Remnants Museum that documents the country’s torrid history. The Central Post Office is a beautifully-preserved reminder of Vietnam’s colonial roots under French rule and well worth popping into for a closer look, while the National History Museum showcases national costumes of the Vietnamese people.

Notre Dame Basilica bathed in sunshine in Ho Chi Minh City

Notre Dame Basilica

Distinctive twin spires mark the city’s neo-classical Notre Dame Cathedral, which dates from the 1800s, and you can’t miss the imposing Sixties-style Reunification Palace where armed tanks crashed through the gates as Saigon fell to the Communists on April 30, 1975.

Visitors looking for a more authentic way to explore can take a pedi-cab, where a guide pedals you through tucked-away streets past colourful temples and tiny shops.

Another relic of the war is the vast maze of Cu Chi tunnels, stretching for more than 150 miles, where determined Vietnamese fighters lived and battled against their American foes. It is a short drive from the city but well worth the journey

The City Hall and gardens in Ho Chi Minh City illuminated at night

Top tip

Drink in the city’s history at the Rooftop Garden bar at the colonial Rex Hotel, which opened under French rule in the 1920s and became a hub for US military briefings during the Vietnam War.

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Sara Macefield

About Sara Macefield

Sara Macefield is an award-winning travel journalist of more than 20 years standing, and has spent the last decade writing about the cruise industry – exploring the world's oceans and rivers on ships of all sizes. Having notched up more than 100 cruises, her most memorable trips have been to Alaska with its superb wildlife, and sailing along Burma’s remote Chindwin River to villages far off the tourist track. She writes regularly for The Times and Daily Telegraph and has written for the Daily Mail, The Guardian, Daily Express and Woman & Home Magazine.

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