Visiting Ho Chi Minh
With a population of 5½ million people Ho Chi Minh City is the largest city in Vietnam, although it isn’t the capital. Unofficially still known as ‘Saigon’, it is also sometimes referred to as HCMC. While it is the country’s busiest city, the tree-lined streets are wide and you can walk around the city for hours looking at life go by.
About Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
Situated in the southern region of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon, or HCMC (take your pick!) is Vietnam’s largest city and is the economical and commercial centre of the country. Its unofficial title of Saigon comes from just one district (called Saigon) which lies on the western banks of the Saigon River that flows through the city.
Captured by the French in 1859, it was made capital of their colony called Cochinchina over 90 years later. It was then divided into 16 urban districts, or ‘quans’ which came from the French word ‘quartier’, and 5 rural districts called ‘huyens’.
While it may lack some of the history that is found in other Vietnamese towns and cities, this doesn’t mean it is totally devoid of any sense of the past. What it does have to supplement its lack of history is a strong sense of character not found in too many other South-East Asian cities.
Eating Out in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
There is something for everyone in the Vietnamese capital. If you want to eat as the locals do this isn’t a problem as many restaurants specialise in Vietnamese cuisine. District 5 (Cholon) is where the best Chinese restaurants are situated, while if you want something other than spicy food with rice there are lots of international restaurants to choose from too.
Prices in most restaurants are quite reasonable, although if you are on a tight budget stick to the stalls where you will get some noodles or soup for next to nothing.
Predictably, the best and widest range of restaurants can be found in the Saigon district. This is also the busiest place when it comes to nightlife so be prepared to weave your way past other tourists and locals to get to the eateries.
Like all South-East Asian food, rice is pivotal in many meals, as are noodles, soup and prawns. If you wish to try out some of the local specialities, these include Cha which is pork paste boiled over hot coals, Ech tam bot ran which is frog meat in batter fried in oil, and Bo bay mon which are sugar-beef dishes.
Restaurants in Ho Chi Minh
138 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, District 1, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
The word ‘ngon’ means delicious in Vietnamese. Thankfully, this restaurant lives up to his name as the food here is just that – delicious! This restaurant is regarded as one of the most popular in town and is always full with both locals and tourists alike. It has a distinct feeling of being in a market as the kitchen is actually in the restaurant rather than behind closed doors.
4 Nguyen Thiep St, District 1, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
Lemongrass restaurant is one of Saigon’s most authentic Vietnamese restaurants and specialises in native gastronomy. Spread out over three floors, it is known for its duck dishes, while the clay pot fish is also very popular.
86 D Le Thanh Ton, District 1, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
Miss Saigon specialises in seafood and serves it Vietnamese style. You have the option of eating either indoors or out and is decorated in a nice fashion to give you the sense of being away from home.
185/30 Pham Ngu Lao, District 1, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
This vegetarian restaurant is very, very cheap but makes its meals very, very tasty. Some meals on the menu cost as little as US$0.50 but they are still bound to fill you. The small lane it is situated in is a great place to watch Saigon life go by and staff always are keen to greet new customers.
10 Nguyen Thiep, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
If you’re taste buds are crying out for something other than Asian food then this small restaurant is the place for you. Specialising in French cuisine, you can expect a warm welcome here and the menu consists of beef, seafood and other dishes.
Transport in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
By air: HCMC’s main airport is Tan Son Nhat Airport which is 7km north-east of the city centre. This is where international and domestic flights arrive. There is an tourist desk in the airport which is a good source of information.
The easiest way to get from the airport into the city centre is by using one of the metered taxis. Just as in Bangkok and other South-East Asian cities, when you leave the airport you will be greeted by a large group of taxi drivers, so make sure you either set a price with your driver before leaving or ensure a metre will be used.
Airport tax is US$12.
By train: If you are travelling to Ho Chi Minh City on train you will more than likely arrive at Saigon train station in District 3 which is marginally east of the city centre.
By bus: There are many different bus stations dotted around HCMC, all with services to different parts of the country. Buses coming from the north go to Mien Dong bus station, those coming from Mekong Delta towns go to Cholon bus station and buses travelling to HCMC from the south go to Mien Tay station.
By bus: Buses generally aren’t used by tourists. Most attractions are in and around Saigon (District 1). You might need them for is for getting between the various bus stations around the city.
By cyclo: There are approximately 50,000 ‘cyclos’ in HCMC. These are 3-wheeled rickshaws and are widely used as public transport around the city. They are also very unique so make sure and get one before you leave.
By taxi: Taxis are an excellent way to get around Ho Chi Minh City, if a little bit more expensive than buses and cyclos. They are easy to flag down on the street, while there are various taxi companies where you can order taxis. These usually work out cheaper.
By moped or bike: Both of these two-wheeled vehicles can be rented from many companies and are a great way to see the city.
Things To See in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
With the help of a bicycle you can to see an awful lot in one day around Ho Chi Minh City. This is because much of what is to see is in District 1, otherwise known as Saigon. These include Notre Dame Cathedral, a host of museums and, well, just the area as a whole.
Flowing through Saigon in the east is the Saigon River which is always full with boats of all shapes and sizes going up and down. As some of the streets are packed with shoppers, street hawkers and ex-pats among others, the banks are a great place to go for a breath of fresh air.
It might not have the historical element of other parts of Vietnam, but there are still some temples in HCMH which are worth a visit to give some sense of the past. And one other thing which Saigon is probably best-known for, the Vietnam War, is represented with memorials and museums.
Attractions in Ho Chi Minh
28 Vo Van Tan St, District 3, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
Even though its subject matter isn’t the most uplifting one in the world, the War Remnants Museum is one of the most popular in HCMC. Vietnam as a whole is famous for various wars, and this museum concentrates on the French and American ones. While some of the imagery in the photos can be quite shocking, it is nonetheless quite gripping. Originally called the War Crimes Museum, it was changed to ensure no other nations were offended.
junction of Tran Hung Dao, Le Loi and Ham Nghi, District 1, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
The city’s best known market is ‘Ben Thanh Market’ in Saigon. It has recently been refurbished making the experience of looking for those bargains an awful lot more enjoyable. Inside you can find everything from clothes to food to tobacco to aftershave. Built in 1914, it also one of Saigon’s best known landmarks.
106 Nguyen Du St, District 1, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
Reunification Palace has probably the most historical significance in regards to modern Vietnam. It was here, on 30th April 1975, that the Vietnam War ended. Tanks of the Liberation Army drove through the gates and a soldier went up to General Minh who then surrendered.
It is now open to the public and you can explore this building which is fascinating both from outside and in.
Open from 7am-11am and then again from 1pm to 4pm.
off D Nguyen Van Troi, District 3, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
All the city’s temples and pagodas are fascinating to visit as, along with their unique architecture, there are always many locals worshipping and meditating. This particular one is eight storeys high and has a statue of Buddha on each one.
Open from 7am-11.30am and 2pm-6pm
Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
These are the tunnels which were hand-dug by the Vietnamese when they were fighting with the French, and then the Americans. The entire network of tunnels covers over 200km and some of them have been made bigger so tourists can crawl through them to experience what it was really like. Situated approximately 90 miles from HCMC, they are well worth the journey.
Admission costs VND65,000. You should be able to book yourself on to an organised tour from the city.
Entertainment in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
While Thailand hold’s the title for most popular south-east Asian country among backpackers, Vietnam is hot on its heels and is getting more and more popular every year. This has led to an increase in the number of bars and nightclubs in the city, particularly in the Saigon area, once notorious for its nightlife during the Vietnamese war.
Saigon is undoubtedly the liveliest place in the city. Weaving your way down between the locals, backpackers, and tourists from all over the globe you can see the extent of the amount of bars and clubs which line the streets. The Dong Khoi area in Saigon is particularly busy.
Cholon, Ho Chi Minh’s second busiest area, is also popular although it is mainly those from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, China and other Asian countries who frequent the streets.
Entertainments in Ho Chi Minh
2C Thi Sach, District 1, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
Apocalypse Now is Saigon’s best known club and has been around for a very long time. Filled every weekend a mix of tourists, ex-pats and locals, there is always a party atmosphere and you will always have a good night here.
169 Pham Ngu Lao, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
As you can tell from this bar’s title, it always and attracts travellers from all four corners of the globe. Everyone here is on holidays and there is always a good buzz around this place.
7 Cong Truong Lam Son, basement of the Opera House, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
Q Bar is one of HCMC’s new ‘trendy’ bars and is a good place to go if you fancy sipping on a few cocktails rather than guzzle a load of beers. The décor is extremely stylish and its layout is quite unique with loads of small nooks and crannies to hide in.
141 Nguyen Hue, corner of Le Loi, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
‘The Rex’ is famous around Ho Chi Minh City for its rooftop garden which boasts some of the best views of the city. Along with the vistas to enjoy, it is great to peer over at the bustling Le Loi Avenue below.
74 A2 Hai Ba Trung, District 1, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
Like Irish bars all over the world, O’Briens attracts many travellers along with locals. It is a quite a quaint place with brick walls but can still get very lively at the weekends. One of its best features is the pizza served which can be a great filler when you are peckish.
General Info about Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
You must have a valid passport and tourist visa to enter Vietnam. Tourist visas are valid for a 30-day period from the day you enter and you should be able to get one at your local travel agent.
If you are travelling through Asia the easiest place to get a visa is in Bangkok, although you should be able to get one in any of Vietnam’s neighbouring countries. If, once you reach Vietnam, you decide you wish to stay longer than a holiday visa permits you (30 days) you can get a 30-day extension.
The currency used in Vietnam is the ‘Dong’. When written it is abbreviated to a ‘VND’ following the amount. Banknotes come in denominations of 200VND, 500VND, 1000VND, 2000VND, 5000VND and 10,000VND. The currency has no coins.
Vietnamese is Vietnam’s official language. There are different dialects spoken throughout the country. The country’s ethnic minorities speak various languages also.
Chinese is spoken widely in Cholon, Ho Chi Minh’s Chinatown.
Ho Chi Minh City has a very seasonal climate, divided into dry and wet seasons. The dry season begins in November and lasts until April. During this time temperatures can soar up as far as the 30s, but the average temperature is 26°C. The wet season lasts six months, beginning in May and ending in October. During these months the average temperature is 29°C and it can experience very heavy rainfall.
The easiest medical centre for tourists to locate is the International Medical Centre on D Han Thuyen in the Dong Khoi Area of District 1. There are more around the city and, as this is Vietnam’s largest city, a pharmacy is never far away.
There are no mandatory vaccinations required to enter Vietnam, although if you plan on visiting other parts of the country other than Ho Chi Minh City it is advised you get them. Check with a doctor before entering for advised vaccinations.
HCMC is 7 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time.
Shopping is excellent in Ho Chi Minh with shops open 7 days a week between 9am and 10pm. Museums are open daily from 10am-4pm. Business hours are 7.30am-11.30am and 1.30am-4.30am and banks open from Monday to Friday and open 7.30am-11.30am and 1.30am-4.30am.
Vietnam’s largest city doesn’t have one official tourist office. Instead it has many travel agencies that, while are basically trying to sell you tours, are also good for information also.
VAT in Vietnam is organised on a four-tiered system – 0%, 5%, 10% and 20%. Most goods are taxed at 10%.
The best place to exchange your currency is in banks which are open on Mon-Fri between 8am-11.30am and 1pm-4pm. If you are travelling direct to Vietnam the best way to bring money is in US dollar traveller’s cheques.
Electricity in Vietnam is 220V at 50Hz. You may find in some cases that it is 110V at 50Hz.
Ringing Ho Chi Minh from a foreign country, dial their international access code which is +84, followed by 8 (the area code) and the local number.
To call overseas from within Vietnam dial 00 (Vietnam’s international access code) followed by the country code for the country you are calling, then the area code (dropping the 0) and the local number.
Vietnam’s emergency numbers are:
Ambulance – 115
Fire – 114
Police – 113
Directory assistance is 116, the international operator is 110 and time information is 117.
The city’s main post office is in District 1 in the Dong Khoi Area on D Nguyen Du. Open daily from 6am-10pm, it is beside Notre Dame Cathedral and is worth popping your head into even if you don’t need to.
Posting a letter costs between 800VND and 1,000VND.
Some restaurants charge 5% service charge, but this should be stated on their bill. Drivers and guides are usually tipped also.
It is worth noting what the public holidays are before you travel as the majority of businesses, banks and shops usually shut for the day.
In Vietnam they are New Year’s Day (January 1st), the Tet Festival/Vietnamese New Year (late January/early February), Founding of the Vietnamese Communist Party (February 3rd), Liberation of Saigon, 1975 (April 30th), International Labour Day (May 1st), Birthday of Ho Chi Minh (May 19th), Birthday of Buddha (June’s eighth day of the fourth moon), National Day (September 2nd) and Christmas Day (December 25th).