District 3 in Saigon, Vietnam (also known as Ho Chi Minh City) is the second heart of the city - stitched side by side with District 1. This leafy neighbourhood is home to many antique colonial-era buildings that were built during the French colonial period, giving the streets here a more distinct European style, with intricate details and grand facades swooping the Southeast Asian metropolis. At the same time, the district also has a number of modernist buildings and skyscrapers, reflecting Saigon’s rapid development and growth in recent years. While I live in District 1, I often find myself in District 3 for its nature. Walk around District 3 and you will be taken in by its tree-lined streets and parks, the snaking Nhieu Loc-Thi Nghe Canal, and zen-like temples that infuse the best of what makes this neighbourhood so beloved by many Saigonese and travellers alike. Curious? Follow me on Instagram and YouTube for more adventures!
1. Turtle Lake
Turtle Lake, also known as Hoan Kiem Lake, is a magical and historic destination that should be on every traveller's to-do list when you are in Saigon. This beautiful lake is located in the heart of the city, and it's the perfect place to be a part of the local life here. The lake has a rich history and legend too, it is said that in the 15th century, a turtle appeared in the lake and gave a magic sword to a Vietnamese king, which helped him drive out the Chinese invaders. This legendary story gives the lake a mystical and magical feeling that will make you feel like you are in a Vietnamese fairy tale.
As you walk around the lake, you will be surrounded by beautiful scenery, and you will see locals practising tai chi and other forms of exercise, while at night, the younger generation of Vietnamese hang out, legs over water, snacking on the various street food vendors that pops up after sundown.
2. The War Remnants Museum
The War Remnants Museum is a powerful and moving destination that will give you a deeper understanding of one of the most significant events in Vietnam's recent history. If you are planning to go here, make sure you take some time to be in the right mind space for it, as some visuals are quite graphic and the museum itself is quite a sombre experience. Dedicated to preserving and presenting the history of the American War (also known as the Vietnam War from a Westerner’s perspective) and its impact on Vietnam and its people, the museum features a wide range of exhibits and artefacts that cover different aspects of the war, including weapons, vehicles, photographs, and personal items that will give you a sense of the reality of the war.
Visitors can learn about the causes of the war, the experiences of soldiers and civilians on both sides, and the lasting effects of the war on the country and its people. It is an opportunity to reflect on the human cost of war and the importance of peace. The museum also features a section dedicated to the role of foreign correspondents during the war and the impact of the war on the environment and the people of Vietnam. It's an interesting way to understand the role of media in shaping perceptions of war. It's a powerful reminder of the devastation of war, the importance of peace and the resilience of the human spirit.
From the outside, it may be a tricky place to find - as this spot is hidden away inside a hem (Vietnamese alleyway) - making it all the more a fun adventure to explore District 3. At first glance, this is a playful cafe serving up delicious drinks, from classic Vietnamese coffee to thoughtful concoctions like coconut kumquat. However, the creator of this space, whose name is Cheeky; wanted to make a place to support local Vietnamese artists and exhibit their work in a modernist architectural apartment. He found this perfect spot, which turned out the building to be a former US-based party house, especially the rooftop where they would dance and rave back in the day. Tapping into that history, at night NEO- becomes a 70s bar with craft beer brewed in-house by Cheeky. NEO translates to anchor - as in an anchor for the ship, for the arts in Saigon. You can visit it at: 393/7 Hai Bà Trưng, Phường 8, Quận 3, Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam.
4. Vinh Nghiệm Buddhist Temple
The Vinh Nghiem Buddhist Temple is a place where you can discover the beauty and serenity of Buddhism while exploring one of the most vibrant cities in Vietnam. It's dedicated to Mahayana Buddhism, a branch of Buddhism that emphasises the universal nature of Buddha-nature and the possibility of universal enlightenment. The temple features a large statue of the Buddha, as well as several smaller statues and shrines. What I love about this spot in District 3 is that the architecture of the temple is a blend of traditional Vietnamese and Chinese styles, with intricate carvings, colourful decorations, and a large bell tower that will transport you to another world. The temple also features a large pond and gardens, which will make you feel like you are in a peaceful oasis in the middle of the city.
Inside, visitors can participate in prayers, meditation and other religious activities. This is a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in the local culture and spirituality and to gain a deeper understanding of Buddhism.
5. Ho Chi Minh City Children's Center (HCC)
Architecture lovers, this one is for you! This is a non-profit organisation that provides education and care for disadvantaged children. The organisation was founded in 1992 and its mission is to provide education, healthcare, and other essential services to children from low-income families, children with disabilities, and children who are at risk of abandonment or abuse.
The gem of this structure is the Ho Chi Minh City Children's Center building itself. It is housed in a unique and striking building designed by the Japanese architect, Tadao Ando, who is known for his minimalist and modernist architectural style. The building has a playful design, featuring an open courtyard, high ceilings, and natural light. It is made of white concrete, steel, and glass, and it has a clean and modern aesthetic that wraps itself within the lush greenness of District 3. This here is a great example of how contemporary architecture can be integrated into the urban landscape, and it's considered as a cultural landmark in Saigon. It's also a place where children from disadvantaged backgrounds are given opportunities to learn, grow, and thrive.
6. Shadow Lounge
Part cafe, part artistic innovation hub - you cannot miss out on how striking Shadow Lounge is. From outside, the first impression you will have is a drop of wonder, with its metallic curve-built staircases in an open courtyard that reminds me of a whirling ribbon engulfing the open terrace. Inside, Shadow Lounge's decor is an exquisite fusion of contemporary sophistication and timeless Vietnamese aesthetics. Dark wood accents, plush velvet furnishings, and subtle mood lighting create an ambience that's both seductive and inviting. You'll find yourself sinking into one of their comfortable knooks, feeling the city's chaos fade away. Shadow Lounge is renowned for its masterfully crafted cocktails and coffee.
The bar staff here are true artisans, concocting drinks that are as much a feast for the eyes as they are for the taste buds. Whether you're into classic cocktails or prefer more adventurous concoctions, there's something here for every palate. Don't miss out on their signature drinks (which also changes seasonally), which are as mysterious and alluring as the lounge itself! Several months out of the year, there is a rotation of new art exhibitions happening at Shadow Lounge - so be sure to keep an eye out for new events and art installations that you can experience here!
7. South Vietnamese Women Museum
This museum is a place where you can step back in time and discover the incredible stories and achievements of the women who have shaped Vietnam's history and culture. This beautiful colonial-style building is like a treasure trove of information, where you can learn about the traditional roles of women in Vietnamese society, and the contributions they made during times of war and peace.
The museum features fascinating exhibits and artefacts that highlight the lives and experiences of women throughout Vietnam's history, from traditional clothing and textiles, to personal items, photographs and other antiquity. You will be able to see and touch the items that tell the stories of the women who have come before us, and be inspired by their strength and resilience.
The museum also has a section dedicated to the role of women during the Vietnam War, including their participation in the resistance and the sacrifices they made. You will be able to learn about the real-life heroines who stood up against adversity and made a difference. The museum also has a library and a research centre, where you can find more information about women's history and culture in Vietnam.
8. Archbishop's Residence
Also known as the Archbishop's Palace, located at 180 Nguyễn Đình Chiểu, Phường 6, Quận 3, serves as the residence of the Archbishop of Ho Chi Minh City and is considered a significant historical and religious site in the city.
From outside on the street, you can see the residence was built during the French colonial period of the 19th century, with a blend of European and Asian styles in its intricate carvings, colourful rustic yellow decorations, and a large courtyard. As a residence for the Archbishop of the Catholic Church in Vietnam, the residence is also home to several religious artefacts, including statues, paintings, and other items of historical and religious significance. Visitors can learn more about the history of the Catholic Church in Vietnam, and the role of the Catholic Church in the country's history and culture.
The Archbishop's Residence is open to visitors, however, it's a working residence, and visitors are expected to dress modestly and follow the guidelines and rules of the residence. Visitors are also asked to check the schedule of the residence before visiting, as it may be closed during certain times or events.
9. Nhiều Lộc-Thi Nghe Canal
Nhieu Loc-Thi Nghe Canal is a historic canal that runs through District 3 and is one of the city's most famous landmarks. The canal was built in the 19th century, during the French colonial period, to provide a source of fresh water for the city and to help with flood control. The canal stretches for several kilometres and it's lined with trees, gardens, and small parks. It is a great place to take a walk or a bike ride, admire the beautiful scenery, and learn about the history of Saigon.
10. Hẻm 113 Võ Thị Sáu
I’m a big fan of uncovering hidden gems. Saigon is a city that has a treasure trove of them, ready for you to discover. One such place is Hẻm 113 Võ Thị Sáu, which is not your typical go to spot. It's a vibrant, narrow alley located in District 3 and if you blink, you might just miss it. The charm of this place lies in its hidden and unpretentious nature. It is a local haunt, known mainly to those who are in the know. Once you venture into this hidden alley, you'll be met with tons of cafes. Hẻm 113 Võ Thị Sáu is renowned for its wide array of local cafes serving up some of the most authentic Vietnamese coffee and drinks you can find. What truly sets this place apart is the warm and welcoming atmosphere. The local vendors take pride in their craft and are more than happy to share their caffeine secrets with you. Don't be shy to strike up a conversation and learn about the traditions and stories behind these incredible drinks. Hẻm 113 Võ Thị Sáu provides an authentic glimpse into everyday life in Ho Chi Minh City. It's where locals gather to share drinks, stories, and laughter. If you want to immerse yourself in the true culture of Vietnam and rub shoulders with friendly locals, this is the place to do it.
11. Xa Loi Buddhist Temple
This is a temple where you can discover the beauty and serenity of Buddhism while exploring one of the most vibrant cities in Vietnam. This temple is located at 89 Bà Huyện Thanh Quan, Võ Thị Sáu, Quận 3,, and it's considered a center of Buddhism in Vietnam. The temple was built in 1956, and it's dedicated to Mahayana Buddhism, a branch of Buddhism that emphasises the universal nature of Buddha-nature and the possibility of universal enlightenment. The temple features a large statue of the Buddha, as well as several smaller statues and shrines, that will transport you to another world. The architecture of the temple is a blend of traditional Vietnamese and Chinese styles, and a large bell tower that will take your breath away. The temple also features a large pond and gardens, which will make you feel like you're in a peaceful oasis in the middle of the city.
The Xa Loi Buddhist Temple is also known for being the headquarters of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), the largest and most influential Buddhist organization in Vietnam. It was a centre of political and religious activism during the Vietnam War. Inside, visitors can participate in prayers, meditation and other religious activities, this is a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in the local culture and spirituality and to gain a deeper understanding of Buddhism. It is a great place to explore the spiritual side of the city, to learn more about Buddhism and to find peace and serenity amidst the hustle and bustle of the metropolis.
Hẻm 113 Võ Thị Sáu, Hồ Chí Minh CityHẻm 113 Võ Thị Sáu, Vo Thi Sau Ward, Quận 3, Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
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