- Also known as Saigon, this is the largest city in Vietnam, and is home to 7,750,000 residents.
- Despite its current size, Ho Chi Minh City began as a fishing village known as Prey Nokor.
- Nicknames: Pearl of the Far East, Big Market
- Currency: Dong (VND).
- Spoken languages: Vietnamese. English is also widely spoken.
- Best time to visit: from November to March to make the most of the dry season. Catch Tet, the city’s national festival, in January.
- Arriving via airport: Tan Son Nhat International Airport (SGN) is serviced by a public bus number 152 that charges ₫5,000 for single tickets not including luggage. Vinasun and Mai Linh taxis charge ₫160,000 to ₫200,000 for the city centre (District 1).
WHERE TO STAY
Pham Ngu Lao Street in District 1 is backpacker heaven, centrally located near the major attractions, markets and bars. A short walk away in Le Thanh Ton the cafés become trendier and the boulevards quieter, but for unsurpassed elegance the tourists head to District 2, the most affluent neighbourhood.
- Public buses cover 152 routes around the city. Cheap and modern, they collect their fares based on distance.
- The Moto is a motorbike taxi ideal for short trips as it can zap through traffic faster than the bus. Fare has to be negotiated prior to boarding but a quick jaunt through town shouldn’t cost more than ₫20,000.
- Vinasun and Mai Linh are the only reliable taxi companies that charge fares with correct meters. Their phone numbers for bookings are, respectively: 188.8.131.52 and 184.108.40.206.
HO CHI MINH CITY NIGHTLIFE
- No official drinking age, and last call is typically at 5 AM.
- Pham Ngu Lao Street is popular for cheap drinks and all-around entertainment.
- Thi Sach is packed to the gills with partygoers off to Apocalypse Now, the city’s most famous nightclub.
- Ly Tu Trong and its gem Lush are busy with the dressed up crowd no matter the day of the week and the best chance to mingle among locals.
UNIQUE LANDMARKS TO VISIT
- The War Remnants Museum has exhibits on military activity pertaining to the American presence in Vietnam.
- Reunification Palace formerly known as Independence Palace is an icon of Vietnam’s survival through the French and American occupations.
- Museum of Vietnamese History is set in the Botanic Gardens and showcases the country’s history from antiquity to the Nguyễn Dynasty.
- Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica is a fine example of Neo-Romanesque architecture that received its status in 1962.
- Municipal Theatre, also known as Saigon Opera House, is built in French colonial style and serves as the entertainment venue for the city’s burgeoning middle class.
- Củ Chi Tunnels are a vast expanse of underground passages and the former location of military operations in the Vietnam War.
- Dam Sen Cultural Park in District 11 comprises lakes, a theatre, a butterfly garden, and a water palace (among many other attractions).
- Bến Thành Market is renowned for its labyrinthine alleys and variety of stalls.
- Công viên 23 Tháng 9 is a park popular with the locals, and is ideal for people watching. Street vendors sell breakfast and snack out of their carts.
- Vietnam is the second largest coffee producer in the world and the local tradition is to imbibe it in the form of cà phê which uses ice and condensed milk.
- The unofficial national dish is Pho, a noodle soup made from broth, rice noodles and meat.
- Where to find good cheap eats: Bến Thành has the widest selection of street food available and the best tasting. The more adventurous might want to check out Ton That Thuyet Street in District 4 and its sumptuous options.
- Dangerous areas: Ho Chi Minh is generally safe for visitors, with no special areas marked as more dangerous than others. Pickpockets are rife in public squares, but there is little to no violent crime.
RECOMMENDED SAIGON GUIDE BOOKS
- Saigon Survival (Vietnam Travel Guide): A Counter Intuitive Guide to Surviving the Streets of Saigon
- My Saigon: The Local Guide to Ho Chi Minh City
Recommended trip duration: 2-3 days