The final stop of our trip to Vietnam was Ho Chi Minh City. I’d been looking forward to returning to Ho Chi Minh City as it is the gateway to most of Vietnam’s tourist-friendly war sites. My dad used to be a history teacher, and while I decided not to study history at university, it was my favourite subject in high school. As my modern history studies focused on the conflict in Indochina and Ho Chi Minh (hence the school trip to Vietnam in 2011), I was looking forward to a refresher in my knowledge of what the country had been through.
Things To Do:
The War Remnants Museum
One the most confronting museums I have ever been to, The War Remnants Museum is a heartbreaking look into what the Vietnamese people suffered during the conflicts surrounding Independence. As a Vietnamese museum, there is a lot of bias against the Americans (and, in doing so, Australians), but it shows a lot of the realities that you don’t learn in school or through the Western media. The exhibition is over three indoor levels, as well as an outdoor area with aircraft and tanks, and a side exhibit with replica cells and torture devices.
Cost: 15,000 VND per person
Long Tan, Nui Dat and Vung Tau
This one’s for the Australians – these three sites were some of the key locations for the Australian army during the war. Located around 1.5-2hrs outside of Ho Chi Minh City, the best way to see the sites is on a tour. After a lot of research, we booked with Water Buffalo Tours who offer private guided tours (which, as someone who hates group tours, was a dream to find). I honestly cannot recommend the organisation enough – our guide and driver were lovely and knowledgeable and made sure our family had the best possible experience. If you’re looking for tours in the region, shoot them an email.
Nui Dat literally means “Dirt Hill” and it’s not until you get there that you realise why it was named that. The base for Australian infantry in the region, all that remains now is…a dirt hill and some cracked bitumen which used to be a helicopter landing pad. A visit to Nui Dat takes less than ten minutes
Long Tan was the site of the most significant Australian battle of the war where eighteen Australian lives were lost, and there now stands a memorial cross. When I visited in 2011, the cross was located in the middle of a rubber plantation, much as it was during the actual war. However, about three years ago the trees were cut down to be replanted and so the cross now sits in the middle of a pretty bleak field.
Note: There are a lot of rules and regulations surrounding visits to Long Tan, and you just can’t rock up by yourself. You need to go on a tour and the company will organise permits required. You need to apply at least three days ahead of your visit, so plan in advance! More information can be found here.
Cost: $100USD per person ($400 USD total for our group), which included air-conditioned mini-bus with wifi, two excellent tour guides, cold bottled water, and lunch at a lovely water front restaurant in Vung Tau. The whole tour went from 8am-4pm, and included pick up and drop off at our hotel.
The Cu Chi Tunnels
The Cu Chi Tunnels are a small segment of a wider network of tunnels and forest in which Viet Cong soldiers lived and fought during the war. At the complex, you can walk (well, it’s closer to a crawl) through a 20m segment of the tunnels, see all the mind-blowing traps used by the VC, and (somewhat controversially) fire guns used in the war.
You can also get inside one of the holes used by the VC to hide from enemy soldiers in which the entrance to the tunnels were fully camouflaged. I would advise making sure you’re small enough to fit, and have enough upper body strength to get out, as…let’s just say I’m speaking from experience:
The Cu Chi Tunnels see around 4,000 tourists through each and every day, so it’s best to plan to get there early. We again booked our tour with Water Buffalo Tours who run a private tour which leaves hotels in central Ho Chi Minh city at 7am. The early start is more than worth it, as we were some of the first people into the complex. As we were leaving about an hour and a half later, the entire carpark was full of coaches and there were huge queues to walk through the tunnels. Meanwhile, we breezed through and were back in Ho Chi Minh City for a delicious Pho lunch by 12pm!
Cost: $50USD a person ($200USD for our group of four) which included private guided tour on an air-conditioned bus with wi-fi, cold bottled water, and lunch back in Ho Chi Minh City.
Special Mentions That We Ran Out of Time To Visit But You Should Add To Your List:
- The Mekong Delta
- Ben Thanh Markets
We stayed at the Central Palace Hotel Saigon which was located in the most convenient location possible. Mere minutes walking from basically everything you could want to see (ten minutes to the War Remnants museum, five minutes to the Ben Thanh Markets…), as well as right near a huge range of delicious places to eat.
The rooms were comfortable, and the rooftop pool and bar were definitely lovely added extras. Breakfast and their restaurant were nothing to write home about, but for $175/night for two rooms with breakfast included, well, there’s not much to complain about!