Ho Chi Minh, known also as Saigon, is in the south of Vietnam and is the biggest city in the country. It used to be the capital of Vietnam during the wars, and eventually succumbed to the communist North. Today, the Ho Chi Minh you’ll see still has faint signs of its colonial French past, and also of the war that swept through the country in the 20th century.
Hostel – Hostels are cheap, ranging from $8 above for a dorm room. Most hostels take USD as payment, so know in advance if you need to change money or not. Some private rooms in hostels can cost around $20 a night.
Hotels- Budget hotels can go for around $30 above a night for your own room.
Food – A beer for less than $1, and a meal for that amount too (a sandwich or pho, which is a noodle soup dish, which others described as bland).
Transportation – While city buses are there, it is quite hard to figure out their routes. If you need to go somewhere fast & cheap, try a motorbike taxi, where you can just hop in the back of a motorbike. There are multiple sleeper buses and trains as well that take you to other destinations in Vietnam and the neighboring countries (Laos, Thailand, or Cambodia). The going rate for these rides is around $15 up, depending where you’re going.
- Always take a reputable taxi company in Vietnam, the company names are Vinasun and Mai Linh.
- Do not ever get in a taxi (motorbike or otherwise) without negotiating a price in advance. Some of the normal taxis don’t even run their meters for you, so to avoid getting completely ripped off, negotiate and know the going rate!
- If you’re from a country that requires a visa to enter Vietnam, try to get it in Cambodia or Thailand. It’s less of a hassle rather than waiting to get a visa at the airport, where there may be a long queue of people waiting to get processed.
- Crossing the road has always been a novelty in Vietnam, so whatever you do, just cross the street at a normal pace and you’ll see that the traffic will wind around you. Don’t do anything stupid like suddenly stop in the middle of the road or start running – the motorists won’t be able to “read” where you’re going and that’s when most accidents happen (easier said than done, but it’s always been the unspoken rule)
Top things to see and do in Ho Chi Minh:
- Water Puppet Shows – While you may not be able to understand the narrative going on, it’s still fun to watch these water puppet shows. There are several places that you can see the show, and they’re mostly playing every night during early evening.
- War Remnants Museum – A moving museum that informs people of the effects of Agent Orange, a substance that the Americans had dropped and used during the war and affected a lot of soldiers. You can actually see some helicopters, tanks, and other equipment used in the war displayed on the front lawn.
- Reunification Palace – What used to be a presidential palace, it is now a building that’s stuck in a time warp. There is a big tank outside, in the garden area, a remnant of the tank that was crashed in front of the palace during the war. Note that the palace closes for a few hours during lunch so plan your visit accordingly.
- Saigon Post Office – A beautiful building close to the cathedral. The inside’s architecture is just to die for, light all over the building and historic phone booths too. It is a working post office so you can actually send your postcards and other parcels home. There are stores inside that you can buy souvenirs from or historic stamps.
- Notre Dame Cathedral – an iconic and serene building in the middle of the chaos of Saigon.
- Ben Tanh Market – this market has all sorts of knick knacks that you can think of. It’s a great place to go shopping (just mind your belongings and be aware of your surroundings at all times) and a place to get overruns of The North Face and other bags (research first what makes these bags overruns versus fakes, you’ll find both in this market so due diligence is required).
- Cu Chi Tunnels – Not exactly in Ho Chi Minh, but is a good stop an hour or so away from the city. To get here, take a guided bus tour (as it is quite difficult to get here on your own if you are relying on city buses and other public transportation), and explore the tiny tunnels that were carved out by the Vietnamese during the war. It’s basically a mini city underground. You can try and see if you can fit in these tunnels but it is a tight fit! They also have tourist tunnels (read: they made the original tunnels bigger so anyone can fit), but is not for the claustrophobe.