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Ho Chi Minh City


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Welcome to Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City, better known by its former name of Saigon, is a brazen, industrious and dense metropolis, the largest city in Vietnam and the business capital of the country. With a population of five million, it is crowded, noisy and dirty, yet it is also exciting and historic, the essence of the nation.

Located on the Saigon River on the edge of the Mekong Delta, Saigon became the capital of the Republic of South Vietnam and was the American headquarters during the Vietnam War. Two years later the Communist north took control of the country, the city's name was changed to Ho Chi Minh City, and recession and poverty ensued.

Today Ho Chi Minh City has a cosmopolitan and energetic atmosphere, and having actively welcomed the new capitalist principle, the business-minded spirit of the people is much in evidence. Although relatively modern, it has still managed to hold onto its Asian character, and fine restaurants, smart hotels and chic bars line the sidewalks crammed with noodle stands, markets and shoeshine boys. The buzzing of motorbikes and scooters merges with the cries of street vendors and the urgent business of stall owners, selling barbecued dog, writhing snakes and tropical fruits. The sight of a family of four balanced precariously on a scooter, a squealing pig strapped onto the back of a bicycle, bowed heads topped by pointed lampshade-style hats and orange-clothed monks are just some of the vibrant images the city has to offer.

Although overshadowed by modern and Asiatic influences, a little of Ho Chi Minh City's French colonial charm still remains, evident in the graceful architecture, wide boulevards, and a sidewalk cafe society. It is not for the attractions that one visits Ho Chi Minh City however, but for the vibrancy of its street life, and its proximity to the Mekong Delta.

Information & Facts


Ho Chi Minh City is in the tropics, and very close to the sea, so its climate is steadily warm to hot all year round. Temperatures are slightly cooler between December and April, which is also the dry season. Rains begin in May and become heavy from June to August, but the showers are sudden and short, with the sun usually reappearing fairly quickly. There is a danger of typhoons from July to November.

Eating Out

The flavours one experiences when dining out in Ho Chi Minh City will linger on the palate long after you've finished eating. Vietnamese cuisine makes use of the freshest ingredients, ensuring a taste sensation every time. Dishes are anchored around herbs such as lemongrass, mint, Vietnamese mint, long coriander and Thai basil leaves with lean, healthy meat like pork, chicken, fish, and various kinds of seafood. Fish sauce and soy sauce are used to season dishes instead of salt.

Visitors will be able to enjoy a wide array of restaurants specialising in cuisines from all over the globe peppered along the streets of Ho Chi Minh City. With everything from French and Italian to good old American burgers and fries, travellers will find something to suit their taste.

Some of the best areas for dining out in the city are round the Ben Thanh Market where some of the best local fare can be samples, including dishes like mien ga (vermicelli, chicken, and mushrooms in a broth-like soup) and the Vietnamese staple, pho (noodle soup). Dine on a riverboat while you float along the Saigon or grab your meal on the go from one of the city's popular street vendors - the choices are endless!

Getting Around

This hectic city boasts the world's most chaotic traffic, much of which consists of bicycles and motorcycles. It is tempting to want to hire a bike and join in the fray, and they are available, but it can be a nerve-wracking experience piloting your own vehicle. A better option is to flag down a motorcycle taxi and negotiate an hourly rate. Another alternative is a 'cyclo', but tourists will need to negotiate a fee before getting in. Most of the major hotels and restaurants attract concentrations of taxicabs that can be hailed from the roadside, or ordered by telephone. Most tour operators offer the services of a car and driver for the day.

The official language in Vietnam is Vietnamese. Some Chinese, English and French are spoken. Tour guides can also speak Russian and Japanese. Numerous ethnic languages are also spoken in parts.

The official currency is the Dông (VND). There are no smaller denominations. Currency can be exchanged at banks, bureaux de change, hotels and on the black market. Visa, MasterCard and American Express are becoming more widely acceptable, particularly in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, but it is best not to rely on them elsewhere. It is recommended that visitors bring travellers cheques in US Dollars, which can be cashed at major banks in the main cities and tourist areas. US currency acts as unofficial tender and is useful as a back-up when banks won't cash travellers cheques outside the main cities, but notes must be relatively new and unmarked. Dông can be withdrawn from ATMs, which are becoming more widespread.


Its nightlife gained notoriety during the Vietnam War for its girly-bars but a lot has changed recently thanks to Vietnam's tourist boom. Ho Chi Minh City's nightlife has grown and diversified considerable, and while not rivalling the range of entertainment of other Southeast Asian destinations, it's still guaranteed to do the job.

With everything from rooftop bars and lounges to pubs and nightclubs playing all the latest dance hits, travellers looking to let loose on a night out on the town will have plenty of options in this bustling, neon third-world city.

Start off at the Rex Hotel's a trendy Rooftop Garden for drinks where you can watch the sunset over the busy streets where the flicker of streetlights and neon begin to come to life before heading out to District 1 where the funky bars and fashionable clubs can be found, particularly on the streets around Dong Khoi and Hai Ba Trung. Travellers should also head to the Apocolypse Now bar and club, a popular spot for expats and other westerners, where party goers can make use of the bar, dance floor pool tables and café.

The International Tourist Club disco and karaoke bar in the New World Hotel is a must for a night of fun and singing, or head over to the The Metallic Bar on Ba Huyen Thanh Quan in District 3 for live gigs from local rock bands or for something completely different, Bonsai Cruise on Nguyen Van Thu St. in District 1 operates Saigon River dinner cruises, the perfect way to relax and spend a lazy evening.

Travellers should also note that many of Ho Chi Minh City's bars and nightclubs close early by big city standards, around midnight or when the last customer leaves so anyone looking to keep going until the early hours of the morning will be sorely disappointed.


Travellers in Ho Chi Minh City will at first be overwhelmed with the amount of stalls and roadside vendors that cram the sidewalks and street corners, but there are plenty of bargains to be found amongst the usual tourists tat and counterfeit handbags.

Best buys include silk clothing and other hand-woven fabrics, bamboo ware, ceramics and boxes and vases made from lacquer ware, while traditional Vietnamese hats can be found just about anywhere and tailor-made clothing is popular too.

Most of Ho Chi Minh City's shopping can be done from the local markets and street vendors where polite haggling is expected, especially at the Anh Dong Markets in District 5 or the Ban Thanh indoor market in downtown Saigon.

Shoppers looking for something a little more upmarket should head to Dong Khoi Street in District 1 where designer stores, boutiques, antique stores and jewellery stores abound while bargain hunters will also be pleased to know there is a duty-free store on Nguyen Hue Blvd in District 1 which specialises in duty-free items such as perfumes and colognes.

Most shops in Ho Chi Minh City are open daily from 8am to 8pm.

Local time in Vietnam is GMT +7.

Today the market caters to the tourist dollars and is packed tight with stalls selling clothing, pottery, souvenirs, jewels and food. It is rumoured that depending on bargaining ability buyers will be given their purchase in various coloured bags as a sign to other vendors. The market was moved to its current building in 1912 but has existed in the area for hundreds of years. The permanent stalls are passed down in family for generations. Some of Vietnam's specialties can be bought cheaply here such as cobra and scorpion whiskey and silks. The market is open daily from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. but an outdoor night market and food stalls surround the area until much later.

Cholon is the thriving warren of streets comprising the Chinese district of Saigon, first settled by the Chinese Hoa merchants at the end of the 18th century, and now home to the biggest ethnic minority community in the country. The difference in environment is immediately noticeable. The cluster of Chinese-signed streets is a fascinating labyrinth of temples, restaurants, exotic stores, medicine shops and markets. The best place to experience the bustle of trade is at the crowded Binh Tay Market where the corridors are filled with stalls offering a variety of exotic produce, from live tethered ducks to nuts and seeds, as well as other household items. There are several temples of interest in Cholon, including the colourful Emperor of Jade Temple, the Quan Am Pagoda with its ornate exterior, Phuoc An Hoi Quan Temple, its roof exquisitely ornamented with dragons and sea monsters, and the Thien Hau Pagoda dedicated to the goddess of the sea.

The Cu Chi Tunnels system is an underground network of tunnels dug in the 1940s by the Vietnamese as a place to hide during the fight against the French. The network was later expanded and used in the American War. The system consists of more than 150 miles (250km) of tunnels and unlit offshoots, secret trap doors connecting narrow routes to hidden shelters, local rivers and tunnels to the Cambodian border. It was a sprawling city of improvised hospitals, living quarters, kitchens and fresh water wells, with some tunnels barely large enough to wriggle through. The plan was to launch surprise assaults on the enemy, and then disappear; so successful a hiding place were the tunnels that first the French and then the Americans struggled against these sudden attacks in which the assailants seemed to vanish into fresh air. Today many of the tunnels have been enlarged to allow visitors the dirty and claustrophobic experience of crawling through a portion of the underground network, past secret trapdoors and booby traps laid against invasion. Unfortunately their popularity with visitors has turned the area into a vicious tourist trap, with hard-sell vendors a constant hassle among the touring throngs.

The best way to cool off in the hot dusty city is the Dam Sen Water Park. It is part of a much larger theme park but the highlights all circle the water fun. Part of the adventure is wondering if anything is up to Vietnamese safety standards, or if there are safety standards to be up to. Either way the great selection of water slides hurtle passengers, full speed, up railings and down steep drops. For relaxation a large wave pool and a circling stream are great to float away the heat. A tourist designated section of the compound is a nice place to relax if the crowds are too much. Never visit on a public holiday unless standing shoulder to shoulder in waste deep water sounds fun.

The delta is a vast network of waterways formed by the Mekong River, and the surrounding fertile patchwork of endless green rice paddies, orchards and swamplands is where most of the country's rice is grown. Not only does the Mekong River irrigate what is known as 'the rice bowl of Vietnam', but it also serves as a vital form of transport. A unique way of life has evolved among the villagers that have lived on or beside the river for centuries. The best way to experience the delta is by boat, joining the rowing boats and fishermen, rickety houseboats, ferries and traditional sampans on the brown water. On the banks are small villages, vegetable gardens, fish farms and stilted houses. Trading is carried out between boats at floating markets, where whole sections of the river are covered by bobbing merchants who publicize their wares hung from the top of a long bamboo pole. There are several towns in the region from where visitors can arrange boat trips if not already on an organised tour. Try to avoid the rainy season as the tides may be too high for canal travel. Local food dishes are a speciality and besides seafood there are opportunities for the adventurous to sample such delights as snake, eels and bats.

Mui Ne is Vietnam's most western style resort beach. The city itself is typical Vietnamese fishing community sporting a fleet of beautiful fishing boats but little to see or do in town. The beach beside it, however, spreads in glitzy contrast. Expensive western resorts and hotels line the beachside while cheaper guesthouses can be found across the road or closer to town. A variety of water activities are available including surfing, kite surfing, jet-skis, and sailing. Beach and roadside bars hop with cheap drinks and electro music late into the night. Jibe's is a popular hangout among the young and tireless. Close to town are red coloured sand dunes but the farther away and much larger white sand dunes are worth the extra half-hour trip. For a small tip children will rent tourists sand sleds and demonstrate how to surf the dunes. One of Vietnam's top golf courses also is just outside the city. Mui Ne is a scenic 5 hour motorbike trip from Vung Tau or five hour highway bus ride from Saigon.

This area of Saigon, located in District One, stretching along the streets of De Tham, Pham Ngu Lau and Bui Vien is host to most of the budget travellers in South Vietnam. Often compared to the more famous Khao San road of Bangkok, this district, similarly, is an amalgamation of bars, guesthouses, restaurants, souvenir shops and small travel agencies. Known also to be an expat playground, these bars stay open later than most in the city. The prominent Go2 Bar is the most popular among tourists but dozens dot the area. Day trips to the Mekong Delta or the Cu Chi tunnels are easily organised in any of the travel agencies as well as transport to most of Vietnam. Although prices vary the trips usually are the same despite the agency.

The disturbing War Remnants Museum highlights the horrors of modern combat, and especially portrays the suffering inflicted on the Vietnamese people during the Vietnam War. Previously called the Museum of American War Crimes, the name was altered so as not to cause offence to American visitors, but its displays do tell the story from an anti-American perspective. The museum houses a collection of weapons, machinery, artefacts and horrific photographs illustrating the devastating affects of napalm, Agent Orange and other weapons of mass destruction. One room is dedicated to biological warfare, including the effects of the defoliant sprays that were dumped over the country. Another room looks at worldwide demonstrations for peace and international opposition to the war. In the courtyard there are tanks, helicopters, planes and bombs on display.

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