To get a sense of Saigon’s turbulent past and the influences that have created this modern city, look no further than Dong Khoi, the narrow main street in the city’s heart that runs south from Le Duan to the Saigon River. You could walk its length (just over a kilometre) in half an hour, but it’s worth lingering in front of some of the buildings that have shaped the character of this city.
Begin at the north end of the street, in the square in front of the Notre Dame Cathedral, with its twin spires that once dominated the city’s horizon. It’s also worth going inside to see the stained glass windows and appreciate the hush that pervades its vaulted interior.
To the east of the cathedral stands the Central Post Office, also worth a look inside even if you don’t have to post a letter. On the walls are maps of the city’s past, giving an idea of how it has grown over the decades.
Walk south from here to Lam Son Square, occupied by teeming traffic, which features three of the city’s iconic buildings—the Hotel Continental, the Opera House, now known as the Municipal Theatre, and the Caravelle Hotel. The Hotel Continental was immortalized by Graham Greene’s novel ‘The
Quiet American’, the Municipal Theatre still stages performances of opera and traditional music, while the Caravelle Hotel was a famed haunt of journalists during the ‘American War’.
Walking south from here, the first left turn (on Dong Du) reveals an unusual sight tucked away between towering high-rise hotels—the Central Mosque, which presents a stark contrast to the modern architecture surrounding it.
===> Explore more itineraries via the RELATED links below.
Walk south again on Dong Khoi, passing jewellery shops, exclusive fashion boutiques, art galleries and trendy bars and restaurants. One of the longest-standing restaurants is Vietnam House, set in a shuttered, colonial-style building, on the west side of the road at number 93-95; it’s a fine choice for either lunch or dinner.
Near the southern end of Dong Khoi, where it meets the Saigon River, it’s worth making a short detour west (right) along Ngo Duc Ke to the Bitexco Financial Tower, home of the Saigon Skydeck on the 49th floor, and a neat café on the floor above. See how many of the city’s landmarks you can identify—there are at least a dozen prominent sights visible from here.
Finally, walk on down to the Saigon River, taking care when crossing busy Ton Duc Thang. Cargo boats are constantly chugging up and down the river, and cruisers wait at jetties to take guests out on an evening dinner cruise. Try to imagine it a century ago, when ships from Europe docked right in front and huge crowds came out to welcome new arrivals, for whom a stroll up Saigon’s main street, then called La Rue Catinat, was their first experience in the country.