HO CHI MIHN CITY(HCMC) – or Thanh Pho Ho Chi Minh, to give it its full Vietnamese title, also known by its former name of Saigon, is the largest city in Vietnam by population. It is the business and financial hub of Vietnam, with a prominent history dating back hundreds of years.
A visit to HCMC will be a chaotic whirl, an encounter with exotic food, culture, French colonial architecture and memories of war. Unlike other major Asian cities, the skyscrapers are yet to take over, however it won’t take long. In-between the ornate temples and pagodas, construction sites are everywhere and in years to come will challenge the other traditional Southeast Asian cities. For a sunset view head to the Social Club Rooftop Bar in the Hotel Des Arts.
HCMC is pleasantly cheap. You can book a luxury five-star hotel, enjoy a fancy meal at a high-end restaurant and of course devour vibrant street food, such as a bowl of Phở (traditional Vietnamese soup) or a Bánh mì pork roll for half the cost of other cities.
HCMC, on the south coast of Vietnam, is split into 19 districts, with the Saigon River curling its way across the middle. Most of the action takes place in District 1, which claims most of the trendy hotels, restaurants and bars, plus the major market, Ben Thanh. Don’t be surprised if you spend most of your time in District 1 – it’s where the party’s at. It is about a 30 minute local taxi ($30 AUD) trip from the Airport. Speaking of money, the official currency is Vietnam Dong (VND). Although a handful of places will accept payment in US dollars most people would much prefer to be paid in Dong. Vietnamese Dong comes denominated in bills of between 1,000 and 500,000. For simplicity's sake people often leave off the 'thousand' when quoting prices so don’t be confused (or ripped off) and pay too many extra 000’s.
An increasing number of cars intermingle with the mass of nearly 5 million motorbikes. Be cautious when crossing the road – it’s like playing real life Tetris. Amongst this ‘organised’ chaos, the local people go about their daily life with considerable simplicity.
Much of the fun of being in HCMC comes from the simple pleasure of soaking up its burst of activity – something best done by using your feet and wondering or from the seat of a roadside café. If you blink you will miss some new and unusual sight, be it a motorbike stacked high with something unusual bound for the market, or someone on a pushy playing a random tune as they ride by selling lottery tickets.
Here are a few more tips to give you the best experience in this hot, noisy, dynamic city that rarely sleeps….
HOW LONG SHOULD I STAY?
Like Hanoi, HCMC is a stopover for many travelers. They’ll stay here maybe one or two days before moving to less urban destinations like the Mekong Delta or Da Lat. Assuming you only want to see the best of HCMC before moving on to other parts of the country, then one full day is enough, two if you don’t want to rush. If you plan on taking a day trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels, then I’d say two full days is ideal.
WHERE CAN I GET MY COFFEE HIT?
For Australian style coffee head to The workshop which is a roastery/cafe. Also a good place to chill with the laptop.
For Vietnamese iced coffee - anywhere!
WHERE CAN I GET THE BEST FOOD?
For Pho (pronounced fuh) head to Pho 2000
For Banh mi head to Huynh Hoa Bakery
For traditional Vietnamese food (dinner or lunch) head to Secret House
For a western meal head to Pizza 4P's which is a s Vietnam based Japanese Italian pizza restaurant.