Heading To Vietnam?
Here are some tips to help you enjoy Ho Chi Minh City
Hmm, where to start. Ho Chi Minh City is a big place with 2 million fume chugging scooters and a humidity that can mess with your head, but the people here are friendly and welcoming and 48 hours spent here will be 48 hours well spent.
The bustling city of the former Saigon has had a breath of life blown into it after years of post war decline. As the neuveau riche clog the streets in their BMWs and Audis the majority slip alongside on their scooters at ten times the pace.
WHERE TO REST YOUR HEAD
Staying central in District 1 in either the high end area of The Rex, The Caravelle or The Hyatt will see you shopping at the likes of Chloe, Hermes and Ralph Lauren (with the neuveau riche). Otherwise there are a plethora of very cheap and still fabulous hotels closer to the famous backpacker area of Pham Ngu Lao. This area is also the place for budget backpackers and party people if you’re looking for all nighter drinking buddies.
There are also many quality mid range hotels along Le Tu Trong Street such as The Kingston and The Golden Central Hotel Saigon.
Pham Ngu Lao is a good starting point for shopping and exploring. One can browse and buy everything from designer sunglasses to photocopied and bound books, knock off handbags to faux art.
In this area, almost every conceivable nationality of food is catered for. A stroll along Bui Vien Street will keep you busy for a couple of hours and that’s before you’ve even eaten. Be aware that this area is frenetic and friendly during the day but turns seedy and sleazy after dark so keep your wits about you.
The Ben Thanh Markets is a landmark that attracts hundreds of thousands of international visitors every year and is definitely worth a look although it is not air conditioned so be prepared to sweat a little! Again, everything imaginable here can be bought for a good price and fierce haggling is recommended. Smaller markets can be found at Saigon Square 1 on Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street.
For a more comfortable, air conditioned shopping experience, try Vincom Centre or The Tax Department Building. Here you can have the luxury of air conditioning and Highlands coffee.
A MOSEY AROUND THE MUSEUMS
A trip to the War Remnants Museum on Vo Van Tan Street will pass at least a few hours. Note that it closes at 5pm, no questions asked. All of a sudden the lights go out and you’re herded to the exit in semi darkness - even if they let you pay to get in at 4.45pm! The Museum itself is very confronting, with graphic images of the atrocities of 'The American War' as the Vietnamese call it and the still ongoing effects of Agent Orange. Bare in mind that it’s a one sided view of the war and is quite anti American. Nevertheless be prepared to be moved. Outside you will also find a tank, helicopter and fighter jet used in the war.
The Ho Chi Minh City Fine Arts Museum on Pho Duc Chinh Street is a stunning yellow and white building with a Chinese influence. The Fine Arts Museum is home to many interesting collections, ranging from lacquer and enamel ware to contemporary oil paintings by Vietnamese and foreign artists. Visitors can also see the huge hall with its beautifully tiled floors. The first floor includes a display of officially accepted contemporary art, most of which is kitsch or simply attempts to master abstract art, but occasionally something brilliant is displayed. Much of the recent art is for sale and prices are very reasonable.
District 11 is home to The Dam Sen Water Park which is fabulous fun and a great way to pass a stinking hot day. Entry is only 100,000 Vietnamese dong which at the time of writing equates to five dollars or three pounds. Entry for children is even cheaper.
It’s slightly aged but still clean and safe and there are many slippery slidey rides to keep all ages entertained for an entire day if you wish. Food here is passable with a choice of three restaurants but it’s advisable to take your own snacks and drinks.
Just two recommendations - firstly, the 'Nga Hang Ngoc' on Pastuer Street is unbeatable. It's probably a tourist attraction as much as it is a local hangout.
Housed in a huge, old colonial style building, painted yellow and consisting of a maze multi levels, staircases and water features, it's advisable to arrive early or book ahead.
Showing true Vietnamese style, this restaurant lacks a central kitchen. Instead the chefs are set up around the edges in traditional hawker style stalls where patrons can watch the entire cooking process, choose from the food on display and take as many photos as they like.
The service is fast, efficient and friendly, for which the Vietnamese are well known. There are some curiosities on the menu such as 'blood cockles' and 'pigs ears' but don't let that scare you! There are also the many delightful Vietnamese dishes that the country is famous for. As a nice bonus, your wallet won't be much lighter when you've finished and paid the bill.
Secondly, The Zen Vegetarian Restaurant in an alley off Pham Ngu Lao Street turns out decent vegetarian fare for very cheap and includes various nationalities. It’s a small, family run place with friendly owners. There's no air-con, instead you'll be sitting in front of a rickety fan and they aren’t averse to letting in the street hawkers so you may be visited throughout your meal by numerous book sellers and beggars.
The GO-GO Bar on Bui Vien Street is one of many places to party into the small hours. It employs many young men in matching t’shirts to wonder the street and try to entice you in for it’s cheap cocktails. The food, however, is not cheap but the top floor is a brilliant place for watching the crowd down below or the thunder and lighning storms passing over.
Allez Boo Bar on Pham Ngu Lao Street is another hot spot for partying backpackers who will be found here chugging back the cheap beer until sun up. Facing out onto the park, diners get a good view of every day/night life here in the city.
Whatever your holiday style, there is plenty to do and see in this city that never sleeps and with the current exchange rate there is much fun to be had for not a lot of cash.
Imformative travel information and Guide Books for Vietnam can be found at amazon travel guides