Formerly known (and often still referred to) as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) is a thriving metropolis and Vietnam’s centre of commerce. This fast-paced city is always alive with the swarm and sounds of motorbikes zooming along tree-lined avenues. With the influx of foreign investments a fine-living vibe has descended on the city and can be seen in the number of fine restaurants, glitzy bars, and luxury shops that have sprung up in recent years. With the plentiful choices for modern day fun you will never be without a distraction or experience while visiting Vietnam. Use our guide to Ho Chi Minh City to ensure your visit is sparkling and memorable.
Ho Chi Minh City is the country’s largest city, positioned right along the Saigon River. Though there are 24 districts, tourists tend to stick to districts one, three, and five. Within these areas, you will find much to see and do.
Whether it is shopping you would like to do, a historical tour through by-gone eras in Vietnam’s history, or a relaxing visit to the spa, HCMC has no shortage of ideas and events for you to participate in.
Previously known as the Independence Palace, when stepping inside, you will feel as though you have been transported back decades to the 1960s. There are phones and office equipment from the 1960’s that were left untouched after the Vietnam War and as you walk through this Palace, an English-speaking guide will tell you about the Palace’s various owners and how it has played an important role in the country’s development and growth.
After you finish getting your introductory lesson on Vietnamese history inside, head outside for a casual stroll through the botanical gardens. If you prefer the history and artefacts, stay inside and tour the exhibits where you can spy unique and rare Vietnamese antiquities.
Standing at 262 metres high with an astonishing 68 floors, the Bitexco Financial Tower is made up of shops and restaurants on the lower floors and an impressive sky deck on the 49th floor. The observation deck will offer visitors a sprawling view of the city below. Once you have seen all you want of the skyline, head to the 50th floor, accessible by stairs, to the small café that is fully stocked with refreshments. If that isn’t enough excitement for you, then keep heading up to the 52nd floor where their bar has happy hour specials, loud, pulsing music, and a guaranteed good time.
The most popular market in the city, Ben Thanh Market has been divided between the more touristy goods of t-shirts & hats and more traditional fare like locally grown vegetables & fruits. A veritable tourist trap, Ben Thanh Market is best for people-watching and browsing over actually purchasing goods. With the constant stream of unknowing tourists flowing through the market, the quality of the goods aren’t great and the prices are very inflated. Try another market for your souvenir-buying needs.
At the night, the Ben Thanh Market turns into a market that offers a various types of goods of a slightly different design. Trinkets and souvenirs will stick around but at night there are more food offerings where small restaurants pop up, seemingly out of thin air, to serve delicious street food to any and all who stop by. The ambience is different as well. At night the crowds thin out and you’ll be able to enjoy a much more authentic experience where locals rub shoulders and relax after a long day of work.
If the incredible amount and variety of tourist-y presents is overwhelming you, head to Cho Binh Tay Market for a more cultural experience. Here, you will find local artisans selling their crafts. Think fine Vietnamese silks and hand carved presents. Beyond hand-crafted goods, you can also find spices for the culinary master in your life and even Chinese medicines for the lover of eastern medicine.
Ho Chi Minh City is the gastronomical capital of the country with foods and restaurants scattered everywhere you look. If you in need of a cheap and easy meal, take a taste of the Vietnamese equivalent for fast food: Pho. This popular meal is made up of beef broth and noodles, and sometimes topped with vegetables. There are any number of additions to the soup that you can make so each bowl of pho is different from the one before.
When you need to rely on a more elegant experience, opt for a sit-down restaurant. Be careful though—there is one large cultural difference that will instantly set you apart if you are unaware of the practice. If someone sets a large bowl that may look like soup in front of you, there is a good chance that it is your finger bowl. This is used to cleanse the hands during a meal. So beware, you don’t want to start sipping because others may throw some strange stares your way.
Vietnam is also the 2nd largest coffee exporter in the world, right behind Brazil so be sure to spend at least one leisurely afternoon in a café, sipping coffee and enjoying the ambience and people around you. When you go up to the counter to order your drink, there are some key words you should know: Sua is sweetened condensed milk, Da means ice and Nong means hot.
Ho Chi Minh City has a tropical climate where the humidity consistently hangs around 75%. Beyond this, Vietnam has two seasons: rainy and dry. The average rainfall hovers around 1800 millimetres, or roughly 150 rainy days per year. The rainy season lasts from May to late November so if you aren’t a fan of the wet stuff, opt to travel during the dry season which runs from December through late April. Year-round average temperatures are around 28 degrees, though the highest temperatures tend to peak at 39 in mid-April and the lowest may drop to 16 degrees.
When travelling to Ho Chi Minh City, be aware that many taxi drivers do not speak English. You may want to learn a few phrases, or at the very least have a phrasebook or translating app on your phone so you may communicate.
Many taxi drivers will escalate the prices for foreigners, so be sure to agree on a set price beforehand so that at the end of the ride, if the driver tries to give you a different price you may decline it. Have some cash on hand so that you can pay and walk away.
Beware of budget food places, since the hygiene of the workers may be questionable and cleanliness of the food preparation areas may be far below your normal standards.
Bag and cell phone snatching is a common problem, as are pickpockets. Beware of children that run up and hug you, they are likely acting in a scheme.
Now that you have some insight into Vietnam and some of the great things you can try, it’s time to make your travel plans. As you confirm plane tickets and itineraries, don’t forget the importance of travel insurance as a part of your planning. Cover-More offers a variety of insurance policies so you can get the coverage you need without paying for extra fluff. Vietnam is a beautiful country that is just waiting for you to come explore, so pack your bags, grab this guide and get going.
Image courtesy of Flickr user jo.sau