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Travel guide

Ho Chi Minh City

The dense city – its small roads overcrowded with taxis and motorcycles – struggles with a painful dichotomy, tugging between bustling Ho Chi Minh City and Saigon’s quaint hodge-podge architecture. Furrows and distrust are etched onto faces of older folks that line the backpackers lodging squashed between people’s homes in nondescript back alleys, a reminder of a war not long past. Take to the main streets, and you will be surrounded by friendly faces, helpful hands, and the incessant mingling of locals and tourists in bars over fresh brews and Jager bombs. It is hard to trust this Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde city, yet one cannot help but fall head over heels in love with its asymmetrical buildings

HO CHI MINH CITY

Paris of the Orient

The dense city – its small roads overcrowded with taxis and motorcycles – struggles with a painful dichotomy, tugging between bustling Ho Chi Minh City and Saigon’s quaint hodge-podge architecture. Furrows and distrust are etched onto faces of older folks that line the backpackers lodging squashed between people’s homes in nondescript back alleys, a reminder of a war not long past. Take to the main streets, and you will be surrounded by friendly faces, helpful hands, and the incessant mingling of locals and tourists in bars over fresh brews and Jager bombs. It is hard to trust this Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde city, yet one cannot help but fall head over heels in love with its asymmetrical buildings, street cart banh mi, and the amalgamation of experience pried from the cracks of her battered streets.

Halong Tours Booking's Pick: Top 5 Must See

Cu Chi Tunnels

The elaborate underground structure that played an important role in North Vietnam winning the war is a remnant of the resilience and resource of the Viet Cong.  Tourists may hop into the camouflaged trap doors, or crawl through the restored tunnels for an experience of what life was for the folks who had to carry out their lives scurrying in the still darkness.  Be wary as these tunnels can be impossibly narrow.

Reunification Palace

This historical site marks the end of the Vietnamese War, its palatial presence in the middle of the city a constant reminder of both victory and suffering. Try to visit the site during the late afternoon where it is quieter with an air of grandeur pride and sadness that emanate from the stately walls.

War Remnants Museum

An archive of distressing horrors that took place during the war, the deeper one delves into the displays, the more gruesome it becomes. Horrific pictures of death, pickle jars of foetuses disfigured by Agent Orange, and an outdoor mock-up of the lock-ups Viet Cong prisoners of war were placed into are among some of the more chilling displays.



Notre Dame Cathedral

A majestic cathedral furbished with 19th century French architecture amidst the bustling of cars and motorcycles. An important religious site for the large Catholic population in Vietnam, the cathedral is a beautiful structure that makes for amazing photographs.

Cao Dai Temple

A Vietnamese curiosity, the Cao Dai religion boasts of saints like William Shakespeare, Joan of Arc, and Muhammad painted in bright colours on the walls of the temple. Walking the impressive temple grounds only gets more bizarre and puzzling, but the service of the congregation lined up before the altar amidst its outstanding architecture is quite the sight to behold.

Halong Tours Booking's Pick: Top 5 Must Do

Discover the Mekong Delta

Bobble in river boats manned by unassuming women with the strength and dexterity to manoeuvre the heavy paddles. Visiting the delta is usually an overnight affair, but it is well worth the trip as it takes one away from the hustle of Saigon. The floating market is usually filled with local produce on colourfully painted boats, and is a minefield of scenic compositions for photographers.

Shopping

Head to Ben Thanh Market – an ostentatious landmark of District 1 fully furnished with a clock tower – during the day for some serious souvenir shopping and gift getting. When the sun sets, the doors of the clock tower closes to make way for the night market that takes place right beside.

Party like the locals

A huge concentration of bars and clubs are located at downtown District 1, particularly around the backpackers’ accommodations. While trendy bars and clubs are all the rage, take a night to sit in the local equivalent of a coffee shop: a street-side beer stall with low tables and lower stools where one may order a ‘bia hoi’ (fresh local brew) on tap or a bottle of local beer for as low as VND6000 / less than USD1.

Classic Mani-Pedi + Hair Wash

While appearing pedantic, the salons and mani-pedis here are world famous. Usually located in actual homes, one may sashay in to get their nails done, with some fancy nail-art to boot, for as low as USD2.  

A pick-up game of Ofda cau

Pick-up games of ‘ofda cau’ can be found in the park or the square near Ben Thanh market. The locals are very willing to let tourists try their feet at keeping the brightly coloured shuttlecock in the air, mostly because it is highly amusing to watch uncoordinated amateurs attempting athletic feats.

Halong Tours Booking's Pick: Top 5 Must Eat

Bit Tet (Breakfast Steak)

A thin slice of steak, topped with pate with an egg cracked into a sizzling cast-iron hot-plate that sputters and oozes with greasy goodness and sin. Served with a bread roll, fries, and pickled vegetables, it marries American fare with Vietnamese flare for a heart-stopping start to the day.

Chao Ga (Vietnamese Rice Porridge)

Thick porridge made with glutinous rice that threads a sweet and salty balance. Flavoured with savoury hits of chicken, fish, or beef, it is the perfect comfort breakfast dish just after waking up from a long night out.

Bun Rieu Cua (Spicy Crab Noodle Soup)

A tomato based broth flavoured with pounded crabs, shrimp paste, and spices, this rich dish range from watery to thick depending on the chef’s fancy and is poured over vermicelli.

Vu De Nuong (Grilled goat’s udders)

Goat udders grilled to a crisp and served with a spicy sauce, this gamey dish is for brave palates who enjoy strong flavours and showing off.

French food and desserts

French elements are still strong in Saigon, and nowhere is it more evident than in the presence of French restaurants and patisseries.

Where To Go

Pham Ngu Lao, Bui Vien Street, and De Tham Street

These roads are spattered with guest houses, backpacker’s dormitories, and mid-range hotels and are known as the backpacker’s hangout in Saigon. There is also an abundance of tour agencies that cater to backpackers and budget tourists and just as many bars to fulfil alcohol-fuelled cravings.

Ben Thanh

Location of Ben Thanh Market and the night market right next to it, this is shopping central. Across the street is a square where families congregate at night. It is the Vietnamese equivalent of Scrabble night, or going to the shopping mall during the weekends.

Dong Khoi

Access this street when in need of capitalist retail therapy. An upscale locale with well paved roads and buildings boasting French architecture.

Getting Around

Taxis are abundant in District 1, and prices are generally very competitive. With the going rate of around VND15,000 for the first two kilometres and VND8,000 for subsequent kilometres, it is a relatively budget-friendly way of getting around if you want to avoid the heat and humidity.

For experienced riders and brave souls, one may attempt to manoeuvre the crazy traffic on a motorcycle. The riders are fearless, and the traffic is always heavy. If you wish to experience the infamous traffic without manhandling the machine, you could ride pillion on a motorcycle taxi. Just look out for the fellows hanging around the backpacker’s area and hollering ‘Moto? You want?’.

Cyclos are a fun way to see the city and breathe in its curiously fresh air. Truth be told, it is hard to get anywhere on a cyclo, but it is a fun way to people watch as the rider leisurely peddles past a few sights and attractions. Prices start from USD1 for a short 10-minute ride.

When to Travel

Peak Season: Oct – April

Low Season: May – September

Groupon’s favourite: March – April

Weather in Ho Chi Minh City is unapologetically warm and tropical. Temperatures range from as low as 21˚C to as high as 40˚C at the peak of the hot season.

The best time to visit Ho Chi Minh City is during the dry season between November – March. The weather isn’t too humid for all the traveling you will be doing, especially if you are planning on making a trip to the Mekong Delta, as rainy days are few and far in between.

The hot season hits between March – April, where the heat is rather unforgiving and taxis are God’s gifts to tired tourists.

May – October signals the monsoon season. Expect downpours to occur suddenly and dramatically throughout the day. Don’t let a little H20 deter you from visiting however, as these showers generally do not last long and are a welcome respite to the humidity.

The Tet festival celebrates the Lunar New Year, and is closely tied to Chinese New Year. The streets erupt in colours, filled with an air of excitement and celebratory quiver. It occurs between late January to mid-February depending on the Lunar calendar, so if you are visiting around that time do attempt to coordinate your visit to coincide with the festivities.

Getting There

By Air: depend on which country you come from

Airport Transfer

Getting in by taxi is by far the easiest way to get to the city centre. The price from the terminal to District 1 is usually VND150,000. Although a relatively short distance from the airport, the traffic can be brutal especially on weekdays. Best to be mentally prepared for a slow ride and near heart attacks induced by the fearless motorists.

Between VND3,000 – VND4,000, getting to the city centre by bus is the much cheaper albeit more inconvenient method.

By Bus

For the seasoned backpacker in Phnom Penh, Northern Vietnam, or Central Vietnam planning to make a trip to Saigon, you could ride a bus to the city. While undeniably cheaper than flying, the long distance and poor roads spell to a full-day trip on the bus

Maps

Google coordinates: 10.838651,106.621908

Survival Phrases

Hello: Xin chao (Seen-chow)

Thank you: Cam on (Gam unh)

Excuse me / Sorry: Xin loi (Seen-loy)

1, 2, 3, Cheers!: Mao, hi, ba, YO!!!

Beer: Bia - Beer

How much: Bao nhieu (Bow-new)

Coffee: Ca phe (Car-feh)

Responsible Travel

There are a lot of non-profit organizations found within the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City, dedicated to various causes including those devoted to post-war victims of those affected by Agent Orange. If you have the time and half a day to spare, then head to a charity organization where you could lend a helping hand.

Eat local food. It sustains the local industries and reduces the ‘food miles’ incurred.  Plus the local fare is ridiculously good.

Practical Tips & Information

Pick-pocketing is a very common problem here. If you are carrying a backpack, do sling it to the front and keep a close eye on it at all times.

Avoid leaving valuables in hotel rooms. Put them in a safety box or leave it at the staff counter, as there have been reports of thefts occurring while guests are out or even sleeping.

 

 

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