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Exploring Ho Chi Minh City

Although not the capital of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh is the country's largest city and it's close to popular tourist resorts in the south of the Vietnam, like Duong Dong on Phu Quoc island.

It provides a fascinating mix of modern and ancient Vietnamese architecture along with splashes of historic Chinese and French buildings. You could choose to spend your time exploring temples and markets, learning about the American War or traversing the nearby Mekong Delta waterways.

A city that spans ages and cultures

As well as having many utterly modern buildings, Ho Chi Minh has been graced by multi-ethnic influences over the years, which can be seen in striking Chinese and French architecture.

To see them all at once, for the equivalent of around £7, go sky-high at the Saigon Skydeck on top of the Bixteco Financial Tower. The far-reaching views of the sprawling city from here are amazing.

For French colonial architecture, the Dong Khoi area is the place to go. It houses the Saigon Opera House and many grand French hotels flowing down the streets around it, as well as the Central Post Office, which has an opulent arched interior. And the 19th-century Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica, in the appropriately-titled Paris Square, was built by the French with red bricks all the way from Marseille.

Among the beautifully-intricate Cantonese buildings in Ho Chi Minh, Thien Hau Temple is brimming with carvings and lanterns. Situated in Chinatown, and still in use by the local Chinese community, it displays bronze statues of the worshipped deity Thien Hau.

And for a taste of true Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Complex is the final resting place of the Vietminh leader Ho Chi Minh who gave the city his name. The traffic-free botanical gardens contain Ho Chi Minh's Stilt House and One Pillar Pagoda, the Presidential Palace and a museum where you can learn about the former leader, known affectionately as uncle Ho.

War relics

Between 1955 and 1975 Vietnam was at war with America and its allies, and there are several interesting places you can discover more about this period. At the War Remnants Museum you'll find wartime weapons and vehicles as well as photographs that are sure to raise emotions. It costs 15,000 dong to get in, which is about the equivalent of 50p, and will take at least an hour to get round.

For a more hands-on experience – and one not for those afraid of the dark – head to Cu Chi Tunnels, a 100-kilometre network of underground passages used as hideouts by the Viet Cong during the war. Around two hour's drive from Ho Chi Minh, these secret tunnels are loaded with booby traps – but don't worry, you'll be taken through the safe passages. Although they've been enlarged for modern visitors it is still crawling room only, so the claustrophobic among us may wish to stay above ground, where you can try your hand at shooting targets with a range of jaw-dropping weaponry.

Another great visiting spot is the Reunification Palace, a site of diverse history that symbolises the end of the war, because the North Vietnamese Army stormed its gates in tanks. Perhaps the most interesting part of this five-storey building is the basement with war room, telecommunications centre and rooms displaying war propaganda.

Mekong Delta boat tour

Known as the rice bowl of Vietnam, the Mekong Delta covers nearly 40,000 square kilometres with houses, restaurants and even markets floating along the waterways. Join an organised tour and you'll be taken to the delta and board a boat to visit places such as Vinh Trang Buddhist Pagoda and Cao Dai temple, while being treated to authentic Vietnamese food along the way.

Just watching Vietnamese life and river trade as you go is fascinating, but a stop at Cai Rang floating market is definitely recommended so you can immerse yourself in the lifestyle. Other highlights include visiting a coconut candy or rice paper factory.

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