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Info Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City, formerly named and still also referred to as Saigon, is the largest city in Vietnam. It was once known as Prey Nokor, an important Khmer seaport prior to annexation by the Vietnamese in the 17th century. Under the name Saigon, it was the capital of the French colony of Cochinchina and later of the independent republic of South Vietnam 1955–75. On 2 July 1976, Saigon merged with the surrounding Gia Định Province and was officially renamed Ho Chi Minh City after revolutionary leader Hồ Chí Minh (although the name Sài Gòn is still unofficially widely used).
The metropolitan area, which consists of the Ho Chi Minh City metropolitan area, Thủ Dầu Một, Biên Hòa, Vũng Tàu, Dĩ An, Thuận An and surrounding towns, is populated by more than 10 million people, making it the most populous metropolitan area in Vietnam. The city's population is expected to grow to 13.9 million by 2025.
The Ho Chi Minh City Metropolitan Area, a metropolitan area covering most parts of the south-east region plus Tiền Giang Province and Long An Province under planning, will have an area of 30,000 square kilometres (12,000 sq mi) with a population of 20 million inhabitants by 2020. According to the Mercer Human Resource Consulting, Economist Intelligence Unit and ECA International, Ho Chi Minh City is ranked 132 on the list of the world's most expensive cities.
Today, the city's core is still adorned with wide elegant boulevards and historic French colonial buildings. The majority of these tourist spots are located in District 1 and are a short leisurely distance from each other. The most prominent structures in the city centre are the Reunification Palace (Dinh Thống Nhất), City Hall (Ủy ban nhân dân Thành phố), Municipal Theatre(Nhà hát thành phố, also known as the Opera House), City Post Office (Bưu điện thành phố), State Bank Office (Ngân hàng nhà nước), City People's Court (Tòa án nhân dân thành phố) and Notre-Dame Cathedral (Nhà thờ Đức Bà). Some of the historic hotels are the Hotel Majestic, dating from the French colonial era, and the Rex and Caravelle hotels are former hangouts for American officers and war correspondents in the 1960s/70s.
It was approximated that 4.3 million tourists visited Vietnam in 2007, of which 70 percent, approximately 3 million tourists, visited Ho Chi Minh City.
The city has various museums including the Ho Chi Minh City Museum, Museum of Vietnamese History, the Revolutionary Museum, the Museum of south-eastern Armed Forces, the War Remnants Museum, the Museum of Southern Women, the Museum of Fine Art, the Nha Rong Memorial House, and the Ben Duoc Relic of Underground Tunnels. The Củ Chi tunnels are north-west of the city in Củ Chi District. The Saigon Zoo and Botanical Gardens, in District 1, dates from 1865. The Đầm Sen Tourist and Cultural Park, Suối Tiên Amusement and Culture Park, and Cần Giờ's Eco beach resort are three recreational sites inside the city which are popular with tourists.
Aside from the Municipal Theatre, there are other places of entertainment such as the Bến Thành theatre, Hòa Bình theatre, and the Lan Anh Music Stage. Ho Chi Minh City is home to hundreds of cinemas and theatres, with cinema and drama theatre revenue accounting for 60–70% of Vietnam's total revenue in this industry. Unlike other theatrical organisations found in Vietnam's provinces and municipalities, residents of Ho Chi Minh City keep their theatres active without the support of subsidies from the Vietnamese government. The city is also home to most of the private film companies in Vietnam.
Like many of Vietnam's smaller cities, the city boasts a multitude of restaurants serving typical Vietnamese dishes such as phở or rice vermicelli. Backpacking travellers most often frequent the "Western Quarter" on Phạm Ngũ Lão Street and Bùi Viện Street, District 1.
Ho Chi Minh City began as a small fishing village likely known as Prey Nokor, "Forest City", or perhaps Preah Reach Nokor which, according to a Khmer Chronicle meant "Royal City". The area that the city now occupies was originally swampland, and was inhabited by Khmer people for centuries before the arrival of the Vietnamese. In Khmer folklore southern Vietnam was given to the Vietnamese government as a dowry for the marriage of a Vietnamese princess to a Khmer prince in order to stop constant invasions and pillaging of Khmer villages. The early dynastical entity was the Rhead-Sivakumaran family who dominated the region in the early Romanic period, until the Qing dynasty overcame the armies of Rhead-Sivakumaran and General Behan in 820 BC.
Beginning in the early 17th century, colonization of the area by Vietnamese settlers gradually isolated the Khmer of the Mekong Delta from their brethren in Cambodia proper and resulted in their becoming a minority in the delta. In 1623, King Chey Chettha II of Cambodia (1618–28) allowed Vietnamese refugees fleeing the Trịnh–Nguyễn civil war in Vietnam to settle in the area of Prey Nokor and to set up a custom house there. Increasing waves of Vietnamese settlers, which the Cambodian kingdom could not impede because it was weakened by war with Thailand, slowly Vietnamized the area. In time, Prey Nokor became known as Saigon. Prey Nokor was the most important commercial seaport to the Khmers. The loss of the city and the rest of the Mekong Delta cut off Cambodia's access to the East Sea. Subsequently, the only remaining Khmers' sea access was south-westerly at the Gulf of Thailande.g. at Kampong Saom and Kep.
Nguyễn Dynasty rule
In 1698, Nguyễn Hữu Cảnh, a Vietnamese noble, was sent by the Nguyễn rulers of Huế by sea to establish Vietnamese administrative structures in the area, thus detaching the area from Cambodia, which was not strong enough to intervene. He is often credited with the expansion of Saigon into a significant settlement. A large Vauban citadel called Gia Định was built, which was later destroyed by the French following the Battle of Kỳ Hòa .
Colonial French era
Conquered by France and Spain in 1859, the city was influenced by the French during their colonial occupation of Vietnam, and a number of classical Western-style buildings and French villas in the city reflect this. Saigon had, in 1929, a population of 123,890, including 12,100 French.
In 1931, a new région called Saïgon–Cholon consisting of Saïgon and Cholon was formed. Saïgon and Cholon, meanwhile, remained separate cities with their respective mayors and municipal councils. In 1956, after South Vietnam's independence from France in 1955, the région of Saïgon–Cholon became a single city called Saïgon following the merger of the two cities of Saïgon and Cholon.
Capital of the Republic of Vietnam
The Viet Minh proclaimed the independence of Vietnam in 1945 after a combined occupation by Vichy France and Japan, and before the Communist revolution in China. They were led by Ho Chi Minh. The Viet Minh-held sections of Vietnam were more concentrated in rural areas. During this time, the U.S. supported France in regaining its control over the country, with effective control spanning mostly in the Southern half and parts of the Red River Delta region like Hanoi, Haiphong and Thái Bình.
Former Emperor Bảo Đại made Saigon the capital of the State of Vietnamin 1949 with himself as head of state. In 1954, the Geneva Agreement partitioned Vietnam along the 17th parallel (Bến Hải River), with the communist Việt Minh, under Ho Chi Minh, gaining complete control of the northern half of the country, while the Saigon government continued to govern the State of Vietnam which continued in the southern half of the country and the southern half gaining independence from France. The State officially became the Republic of Vietnam when Bảo Đại was deposed by his Prime Minister Ngô Đình Diệm in 1955 in the referendum. Saigon and Cholon, an adjacent city with mostly Sino-Vietnamese residents, were combined into an administrative unit known as the Đô Thành Sài Gòn(Capital City Saigon), or Thủ đô Sài Gòn (National Capital Saigon). South Vietnam was a capitalist and anti-communist state which fought against the communist North Vietnamese and their allies during the Vietnam War, with the assistance of the United States and other countries. On 30 April 1975, Saigon fell and the war ended.
Post-Vietnam War and today
At the conclusion of the Vietnam War on 30 April 1975, the city came under the control of the Vietnamese People's Army. Among Vietnamese diaspora communities and particularly the U.S. (which had fought the communists), this event is commonly called the "fall of Saigon", while the communist Socialist Republic of Vietnam refers to it as the "Liberation of Saigon". In 1976, upon the establishment of the unified communist Socialist Republic of Vietnam, the city of Saigon (including Cholon), the province of Gia Ðịnh and two suburban districts of two other nearby provinces were combined to create Ho Chi Minh City in honor of the late Communist leader Hồ Chí Minh. The former name Saigonis still widely used by many Vietnamese, especially in informal contexts. Generally, the term Saigon refers only to the urban districts of Ho Chi Minh City.
The city has a tropical climate, specifically a tropical wet and dry climate, with an average humidity of 78–82%. The year is divided into two distinct seasons. The rainy season, with an average rainfall of about 1,800 millimetres (71 in) annually (about 150 rainy days per year), usually begins in May and ends in late October. The dry season lasts from December to April. The average temperature is 28 °C (82 °F), with little variation throughout the year. The highest temperature recorded was 40.0 °C (104 °F) in April while the lowest temperature recorded was 13.8 °C (57 °F) in January. On average, the city experiences between 2,400 to 2,700 hours of sunshine per year.
|Daily highs (°C)||31.6||32.9||33.9||34.6||34.0||32.4||32.0||31.8||31.3||31.2||31.0||30.8|
|Nightly lows (°C)||21.1||22.5||24.4||25.8||25.2||24.6||24.3||24.3||24.4||23.9||22.8||21.4|
Ho Chi Minh City is located in the south-eastern region of Vietnam, 1,760 km (1,090 mi) south of Hanoi. The average elevation is 19 metres (62 ft) above sea level. It borders Tây Ninh Province and Bình Dương Province to the north, Đồng Nai Province and Bà Rịa–Vũng Tàu Province to the east, Long An Province to the west and the South China Sea to the south with a coast 15 km (9 mi) long. The city covers an area of 2,095 km2(809 sq mi or 0.63% of the surface of Vietnam), extending up to Củ Chi District (12 mi or 19 km from the Cambodian border) and down to Cần Giờon the South China Sea. The distance from the northernmost point (Phú Mỹ Hưng Commune, Củ Chi District) to the southernmost one (Long Hòa Commune, Cần Giờ District) is 102 km (63 mi), and from the easternmost point (Long Bình ward, District Nine) to the westernmost one (Bình Chánh Commune, Bình Chánh District) is 47 km (29 mi).
Ho Chi Minh City is the economic center of Vietnam and accounts for a large proportion of the economy of Vietnam. Although the city takes up just 0.6% of the country's land area, it contains 8.34% of the population of Vietnam, 20.2% of its GDP, 27.9% of industrial output and 34.9% of the FDI projects in the country in 2005. In 2005, the city had 4,344,000 labourers, of whom 130,000 are over the labour age norm (in Vietnam, 60 for male and 55 for female workers). In 2009, GDP per capita reached $2,800, compared to the country's average level of $1,042.
Ho Chi Minh City is a municipality at the same level as Vietnam's provinces, which is subdivided into 24 district-level sub-divisions (as of 2003):
- 5 rural districts (1,601 km2or 618 sq mi in area), which are designated as rural (huyện):
- Củ Chi
- Hóc Môn
- Bình Chánh
- Nhà Bè
- Cần Giờ
- 19 urban districts (494 km2 or 191 sq mi in area), which are designated urban or suburban (quận):
- District 1
- District 2
- District 3
- District 4
- District 5
- District 6
- District 7
- District 8
- District 9
- District 10
- District 11
- District 12
- Gò Vấp
- Tân Bình
- Tân Phú
- Bình Thạnh
- Phú Nhuận
- Thủ Đức
- Bình Tân
They are further subdivided into 5 commune-level towns (or townlets), 58 communes, and 259 wards
The telephone code of Ho Chi Minh City is 08. Many (but not all) land line phone numbers in Vietnam have the prefix 3.
Free Wi-Fi access is provided at nearly all hotels, guesthouses, restaurants and cafés. You can find open access points that don't require a password throughout the area around Pham Ngu Lao/Vu Bien and Ben Thanh Market.
It is also possible to buy a SIM card with unlimited internet access for a month directly at the airport for about 300,000 dong.
Prices in Ho Chi Minh City
MARKET / SUPERMARKET
|Beer (domestic)||0.5 l||$0.67|
|Bottle of Wine||1 bottle||$13.50|
|Dinner (Low-range)||for 2||$17.00|
|Dinner (Mid-range)||for 2||$29.00|
|Dinner (High-range)||for 2||$59.00|
|Mac Meal or similar||1 meal||$4.00|
|Beer (Imported)||0.33 l||$1.30|
|Beer (domestic)||0.5 l||$0.85|
|Coctail drink||1 drink||$6.00|
|Men’s Haircut||1 haircut||$4.60|
|Mobile (prepaid)||1 min.||$0.07|
|Pack of Marlboro||1 pack||$|
|Toilet paper||4 rolls||$1.25|
CLOTHES / SHOES
|Jeans (Levis 501 or similar)||1||$55.00|
|Dress summer (Zara, H&M)||1||$42.00|
|Sport shoes (Nike, Adidas)||1||$82.00|
|Local Transport||1 ticket||$0.30|
30 $ per day
Estimated cost per 1 day including:
- meals in cheap restaurant
- public transport
- cheap hotel
89 $ per day
Estimated cost per 1 day including:
- mid-range meals and drinks
Transportation - Get In
Tan Son Nhat (Tân Sơn Nhất) is Vietnam's largest international airport. There are two terminals: the shiny, pleasant international terminal which took over all international flights from 2007, and the old but functional domestic terminal 200 m away. The airport is conveniently located about 8 km from the heart of the city. The international terminal used to offer duty-free shopping after you landed, but that ended in early 2010 – purchase such items at the airport from which you are departing to visit Vietnam. Both terminals have limited food offerings at high prices once you pass immigration on your outbound journey.
Immigration and currency
Immigration protocols at the airport are very streamlined. It is no longer necessary for most passengers to fill in any immigration or customs declaration cards. (The latter may be necessary if you are intending to stay in Vietnam for a long period, or carrying unusual goods.) The baggage carousels are one level down from the immigration booths. You will need to have your checked-in and hand-carry luggage X-rayed before you leave the restricted area.
After you clear customs, you will find currency exchange booths to your right. The currency of Vietnam is the dong. Currency exchange rates at the airport are competitive, and it is preferable to change money here than at the backpackers area in the city which tends to have less favourable rates. Ask first if there's a commission, because this will add to the cost of changing money and nullify any rate advantage. There is an ATM machine on the right side near the currency exchange booths. The withdrawal fee is 20,000 dong. Maximum withdrawal is 6,000,000 dong at one time.
Getting to city centre
The No. 109 airport bus links the international airport and city centre (Pham Ngu Lao St). This bus runs from 5:30am to 1:30am of the following day, with a frequency of 15 – 20 minutes/trip, and the travelling time of the trip is about 45 minutes. Passengers travelling from Tan Son Nhat International Airport can take a bus at Column 15 (International Terminal) or Column 18 (Domestic Terminal). The fare for the service is VND20,000 ($0.9) for journeys over 5km and VND12,000 ($0.54) for those under 5km. Bus 109 has various advantages such as a low floor and wide doors which help passengers with bulky luggage, the elderly, the disabled and pregnant women easily get in and out of the bus; large luggage spaces; and information of upcoming stops is displayed and announced in English and Vietnamese.
The No. 152 airport bus is the cheapest and safest way for backpackers heading to Pham Ngu Lao St from the airport. At least some of these buses are now air-conditioned. (Ignore taxi drivers who tell you that there are no more airport buses.) For 6,000 dong per person plus a 4,000 dong fee for bags, the bus will drop you off at the east end of the Pham Ngu Lao area (at the bus terminal on the southwest side of the Ben Thanh Market roundabout). There is limited space for luggage so this may not be suitable if you have large suitcases. Upon exiting the international airport terminal, turn right and you should see the bus waiting on the road opposite Burger King. There is no sign indicating where the bus stop is, but if you ask a uniformed taxi warden he or she will point it out to you. If not, walk down to the domestic terminal, which is about a three-minute walk away. Try to have exact change or you will be given coins in return. These are legal tender in Vietnam, but many places do not accept them. The bus is only available until 18:00.
You can use Uber to get you where you want to go and as long as you enter your destination in the app, you and the driver don't even have to exchange one word. This is the best option since it is cheaper than taking normal taxis.
Caution: some travellers have reported that taxi scams at the airport are rife.
- International terminal
There are three options for getting a taxi from the airport to the city centre (District 1):
- Main taxi queue. The main taxi queue is on your left as you exit through the main doors on the ground floor of the terminal building. Some travellers advise that you should head for the taxi queue, ignoring people who approach you offering taxis or advising you to purchase tickets at counters in the airport. It is suggested that you select a Mai Linh or Vinasun taxi. Apparently, it is not necessary to take the first taxi in the queue.
- Mai Linh counter in the terminal building. The Mai Linh taxi company has a counter that is on your right after you clear customs. You can order and pay for a taxi from the staff member there. He will then lead you out of the terminal building to the taxi queue and arrange a Mai Linh taxi for you. The cost for a trip from the airport to city centre is USD10-15. This fee covers all tolls that may need to be paid by the taxi driver.
- Taxis at the domestic terminal. There are taxis at the domestic terminal car park. After leaving the international terminal building, turn right and walk about 200 m.
The metered taxi fare from the airport to the city centre is about 140,000 dong, plus a toll of 10,000 dong. When traffic is lighter (usually only between 22:00- 06:00 or on a hot Sunday afternoon), the ride to the city centre takes as little as 15 minutes. More typically, however, taxis creep along in near-standstill traffic for up to an hour.
- Domestic terminal
At the domestic terminal, a company called Sasco has the airport taxi concession and is the only company allowed to pick up passengers directly adjacent to the building. Their cars are the first you will see by the kerb as you exit customs. However, less expensive rival taxis can usually be found usually in abundance 100 m out in the car park. They have uniformed taxi wardens who will try to capture your business as you approach.
- Taxi companies
Taxi rates are very reasonable in HCMC as long as you use a reputable company and the meter is used. Mai Linh (mostly white with green lettering, though sometimes green or silver) +84 8 3838 3838 (or 08 3838 3838 if dialling from a local telephone) and Vinasun(white with green and red lettering) +84 8 3827 2727 have the largest fleets in the city and are generally honest and reliable, with meters that start automatically after the taxis have moved about five metres. At the airport, Mai Linh taxi wardens wear green shirts with green ties, and Vinasun wardens dark green shirts with maroon ties. These wardens can radio taxis for you.
Be cautious of taxis from dubious companies with names that resemble the reputable companies mentioned above. Some of these include Mei Linh or Mai Lin instead of Mai Linh, and Vinamet, Vinason or Vinasum instead of Vinasun. It has been reported that such companies charge outrageous fares to unsuspecting passengers, sometimes by using meters that run faster or by manually increasing the fare when passengers are not looking. There have also been instances of taxi drivers from such companies driving off with passengers' belongings still in the boot.
Other taxi companies with smaller fleets that have been reported as reliable include Festive Taxi, Happy Taxi, Hoang Long (yellow top and green sides), Petro Vietnam (silver and green), Petrolimex (white, blue and orange), Savico (blue), Taxi Future (silver with orange lettering) andVinataxi (bright yellow). Historically, Savico and Vinataxi have been the cheapest by about 10%, though they generally have older and more threadbare cars; while Hoang Long and Taxi Future are perhaps 10% higher than the average.
Taxis that some travellers have suggested avoiding include the following:
- Saigon Air Taxi (mostly white Isuzu SUVs). Their metered rates are reportedly competitive, though the company was started with the purpose of charging high prices to visitors for airport trips. With other taxis abundant, there is no reason to take the risk of an overcharge.
- Saigon Tourist (mostly silver with pink trim and a flower emblem). Their meter rates are reportedly competitive if they agree to use the meter, but they are notorious for refusing when passengers are foreigners, especially when picked up anywhere near a hotel. Drivers might require payment in US dollars instead of in dong, or quote fixed prices that are double the normal metered rate or more. Saigon Tourist taxis cluster around some of the larger, upscale hotels in the city centre such as the Caravelle, New World, Park Hyatt and Sheraton, and hotel staff won't hesitate to put you into one of these tourist trap taxis unless you specifically ask for a different taxi company. The Sheraton allows only Saigon Tourist to pick up at its door unless you specifically ask the bellman for a different company.
- Other tips for avoiding scams
- Avoid buying taxi coupons from dubious companies. Some taxi companies that overcharge have booths in the airport terminal buildings. Only buy taxi coupons from reliable companies such as those named above.
- Avoid taxi touts. Watch out for taxi touts who dress in uniforms and brandish laminated "fixed price" cards at 4,400,000 dong per car to the city hotels. They will be prepared to drop the price to 2,600,000 dong but it is still a rip-off. Ignore them, and stick to metered taxis or reliable taxi companies.
- Do not ask taxi drivers to suggest hotels. Taxi drivers earn commissions by taking customers to certain hotels, so be explicit about exactly which hotel you want to be taken to. Some taxi drivers have been known to trick visitors into staying at hotels which they recommend by informing them that the hotels the visitors have asked to be taken to have "no vacancies" due to some big event in town or have "burned down recently".
Car rental and private chauffeured services
Budget Car Rental offers English-speaking drivers and new model vehicles. A trip to the city costs a fixed price of 140,000 dong.
A pick-up from the airport by a chauffeured car can be arranged online from Your Local Booking, or at booths in the airport terminal building from companies such as Saigon Tourist, Sasco,Hanoi Transfer Service,Vietnam Transfer Service, Ho Chi Minh airport transfer
Ga Sài Gòn Saigon Train Station is on Cach Mang Thang Tam (CMT8) northwest of the city centre, and is a short taxi or public bus ride away from the main hotel districts. The ticket office at the train station has limited English proficiency. Recommended to purchase from the official train ticket office located at 275C Pham Ngu Lao, Pham Ngu Lao Ward, District 1. Other options include travel agencies, also located in Pham Ngu Lao.
There are five daily departures from Hanoi along the "Reunification line". Although several of the trains are called "express", all journeys take about 30 to 35 hours. The fastest train is SE3 departing from Hanoi at 23:00 and arriving at 05:00 two days later. However, SE5 departing at 15:45 and arriving at 04:40 has higher-quality tourist carriages run by the private company Livitrans attached to it. Ticket prices are from 1,008,000–1,547,000 dong for standard carriages and double that for tourist carriages.
If you take a bus into Ho Chi Minh City, you will end up at one of the following bus stations:
- Cho Ben Thanh Bus Station. This is in the centre of HCMC, within walking distance of accommodation options and tourist sights.
- Mien Dong Bus Station. Buses heading north arrive and leave from here. You can take Bus 19 from Cho Ben Thanh Bus station to this station.
- Mien Tay Bus Station. Take Bus 139 from Tran Hung Dao St to get here.
- Cholon Bus Station.
From these stations, public buses in around the city will cost you about 6,000 to 7,000 dong per journey.
Most private tour company buses drop passengers off on Pham Ngu Lao just west of De Tham, providing easy access to accommodation options in the backpacker area. Of course, this means that you'll have at least 40 people shopping for the same rooms, which can be daunting as the nearby spots get snapped up. Patience will reward those who dig deeper into the tiny alleys, which have a life of their own.
As you hop out of the bus, taxi drivers will surround you with questions like "Where you go?". You might be confused about your location in the city and consequently some taxi drivers will try to take advantage. You'll most likely already be in Pham Ngu Lao and when you tell taxi driver to head to the same place, he'll just zigzag around a few blocks to inflate the fare.
Several companies provide bus travel from Phnom Penh, Cambodia, at approximately USD12 per person. Visas to Vietnam cannot be obtained at the border, so have one before you arrive . Capital Tours operates a popular bus route from the Capital Guest House in Phnom Penh that takes passengers to the border. After securing visas, passengers board a partner Vietnamese bus to continue their travel to HCMC.
Transportation - Get Around
By taxi and rental car
Taxis are the most comfortable way of getting around, and very modest in price compared to other major cities in the world. Rates fluctuate over time depending on the cost of fuel. Expect to pay around 15,000-20,000 dong per kilometre. Taxis are numerous and it's usually not hard to flag one down anywhere in the city centre from early morning until about 01:00, though finding one in the rain or during workday rush hours can be difficult.
Taxi rates are not regulated by the city government, so each company sets its own fare structure which changes from time to time. You cannot choose a taxi at random and expect a standard fare; it is a caveat emptor market with a fringe of opportunistic drivers to overcharge foreigners. Fortunately, the market is fairly competitive and 80% of taxis are operated by reasonably honest companies with similar rates. The market of these companies is more than 90% local, so their policies are designed to win the trust of HCMC residents. In general, the only taxi companies you should use are Mai Linh and Vinasun, as the risk of getting ripped of is much higher with the other companies.
Dishonest taxi drivers may start driving without starting their meters, then demand a high fare or try to negotiate for a fixed price at a location where it's difficult for you to hire another cab. Therefore, make sure your taxi driver agrees to use the meter, and turns it on before you get in. As mentioned above, some taxi companies such as Mai Linh and Vinasun have meters in their taxis that start automatically once the vehicle starts moving.
Drivers generally speak limited English and do not speak any other foreign languages, so it's wise to write the name and address of your destination, preferably in Vietnamese, to show the taxi driver. Your hotel staff can assist. It also helps to carry one of your hotel's business cards so you can return to the hotel without too much fuss. Carry small change and notes for paying fares, since drivers are often short of change. Taxis are mostly Toyota Vios sedans (up to four passengers) and Toyota Innova minivans (up to six passengers), which are assembled in Vietnam and inexpensive to buy. Fares are almost always the same regardless of car model, although anything larger than an Innova generally costs more. Some older cars might lack working air conditioners.
Taxi drivers are likely to drive too fast when given the chance. Ho Chi Minh City has a unique traffic pattern in which cars and buses drive in the centre lanes on two-way streets, or the left lanes on one-way streets, while the outside or right lanes are reserved for motorcycles. During weekday rush hours, the car lanes often barely move for blocks on end, while the motorcycle lanes move a bit faster. Taxi drivers vary in their tendency to squeeze into the motorcycle lane and jump ahead of other cars. In theory, they can be fined for doing so. Rush-hour traffic in the city has become so bad that you might consider just planning not to go anywhere between the hours of 07:00-8:30 and 16:30-18:00.
For trips outside of the city or for the convenience of having a private vehicle for the day, hiring a car with a driver for the day is a good option. Many of the taxi companies such as Mai Linh and Vinasun offer these services.
Getting to Vung Tau by hydrofoil is normally a good way to see the commercial maritime areas as the boat speeds down the Saigon River to the sea; however, as of 21 January, 2015, service has been suspended indefinitely after a boat sank. Price if service resumes: USD10/1 ticket/ 1 adult and USD5/child (age 6-11, height under 1.4 m). Duration: 75 min. Departs from Bach Dang pier in Saigon, District 1, not far from the Majestic hotel (100 m). Arrives in Cầu Đá Port, Ben Cau Da, Ha Long St, Vung Tau.
There are 3 lines (Petro Express, Greenlines, Vina Express) running this route with the same ticket price of USD10 one way. If you are planning to visit Vung Tao be sure to consult a Vietnamese calendar. Tickets often sell out over holidays.
Motorbike taxis (xe ôm, literally hug-vehicle) are plentiful (get used to hearing "you want moto?" everywhere), cheap, and are generally quite safe. All riders are now required to wear helmets, a rule that is strongly enforced. Make sure the driver supplies you with a helmet. If he doesn't, find another one, as you'll be the one stung for the fine.
Agree on a price before you set off. Short hops around town shouldn't be more than 20,000 dong, if you go between districts this increases and all the way to the airport around 70,000 dong. Drivers are generally quite friendly and will go slower upon request. They're also not adverse to a bear hug if you're really struggling to hold on to the motorbike. Many of the moto drivers, especially in District 1, speak some English and like many Vietnamese will repay you in a flood of smiles, and probably point out all the sights, if you make a little effort to get to know them.
You can rent your own motorbike in many places, especially around the backpacker area (Pham Ngu Lao) in District 1. 110,000 dong should get you a decent 100-110cc bike. Two main categories of motorbike are available for rent: scooters (automatic transmission); and four-speed motorbikes, the gears of which you change with your left foot. The ubiquitous Honda Super Cub is a common 4-speed bike that has a semi-automatic gearbox, i.e., no clutch, so relatively easy to drive. Other models may be fully manual and therefore you must also operate the clutch using your left hand. This takes a lot of skill and it's all too easy to over-rev and pull a wheelie or stall the engine. If you end up with such a bike then practice releasing the clutch gently before hitting the roads. Rental agents tend to steer foreigners toward scooters if available, on the (plausible) assumption that they don't know how to ride motorbikes that have manual gears. Motorcycles of 175 cc and above are only legal to ride if you make a connection with a Vietnamese motorcycle club.
Driving in Saigon is best left to experienced drivers. The traffic is intense and has its own rhythms and logic. However, if you're up for an adventure, it's best to keep a few things in mind: drivers with limited experience should consider renting an automatic bike (usually a bit more expensive), as at busy crossroads there is not time for worrying about how to change gears. Beware of thieves: always keep your motorbike in sight or parked with an attendant. Most restaurants have guards/parking attendants out front who will issue you a numbered tag and take care of your motorbike. Independent parking lots are scattered around the pavements, alleys and basements of the city. Look for rows of neatly-parked motorbikes or signs that say giu xe.
If you are here during the rainy season, make sure to buy a poncho or a raincoat before you start. They are available for as little as 10,000 dong. It rains daily for around 1–2 hours between 16:00-20:00 during Jul-Aug in Saigon. However, the traffic doesn't stop, it just becomes more chaotic. If you are hesitant or have not driven in such conditions before, it might be prudent to park and wait.
Riding long distance in the countryside can also be harrowing depending on the route you take. Major roads between cities tend to be narrow despite being major, and full of tour buses hellbent on speed, passing slow trucks where maybe they shouldn't, and leaving not much room at the edge for motorbikes.
Most places you would want to stop have parking attendants who will issue you a numbered tag and watch over your bike. Sometimes these parking operations are overseen by the establishment you are visiting, and sometimes they are free-lance operations set up in places where a lot of people go. You will usually see rows of bikes lined up parked. Depending on circumstances, you might park the bike yourself, or just put it in neutral and let the staff position it. In all but rare cases you keep the key. Parking is sometimes free at restaurants and cafes (look for "giu xe mien phi"). Elsewhere, fees range from 2,000 to 5,000 dong.
Traffic police in the cities pull over lots of locals, for reasons that are hard to discern, but conventional wisdom has it that they rarely bother foreigners due to the language barrier. Obeying the traffic laws is nevertheless advisable, especially if you have failed to obtain a Vietnamese licence. Cities like Ho Chi Minh have several one way streets, and it is too easy to just steer into them unknowingly as there are limited signs warning you. If you break the law, the police are sure to pull you over and fine you. They will also threaten confiscating your bike. The quoted price for fine is negotiable, and being apologetic and friendly can get you back on road quickly, with a few dollars less in your pockets. It is less likely that they will bully or harass you.
A ride on a cyclo through HCMC is a great way to see the city the way the locals do. Cyclos resemble a backwards tricycle, with the passenger(s) sitting in front and the driver peddling at the rear. The sights, sounds and smells are a large part of the excitement of the city, and are best experienced at the relaxed pace of a cyclo. A word of warning: be careful with cameras, purses and watches while cyclo riding as these items are easily stolen by drive-by motorbike thieves.
For many reasons, not least the government's insistence on restricting cyclos on busy urban streets, this form of transportation is dying. But at around 36,000 dong per hour and given their leisurely pace, they are a good choice for taking in the city. Be sure to bargain hard with the cyclo driver beforehand. Some drivers have been known to try to change an agreed price at journey's end. Another ruse is to stop unbidden at places where the driver earns a commission. To avoid these problems, make sure all are clear on price and destination at departure.
Bright green public buses serve 150 routes throughout the city. You can find maps of the bus system at the large Ben Thanh bus station across the street from Ben Thanh Market in District 1. Go into the waiting room to the desk in the middle. The buses are cheap, safe and not too crowded. Many are modern and comfortable, with such amenities as air conditioning, music, and even television. Finding the right line can be a challenge if you don't speak Vietnamese, but with the help of maps and your hotel staff you can get where you want easily. If you cannot find your way, ask the locals nicely, they will try their best to help. At the biggest bus stations you can read bus destinations at every single stop (useful, for example, if you need to get to Cholon).
The buses are efficient and fast. Most are staffed by two employees: the driver and a conductor. The driver keeps the bus moving while the fare collector interacts with the passengers. Locals claim, plausibly, that buses are even faster than taxis. The reason is that buses have an informal right of way on the streets of HCMC; when another vehicle sees a bus coming, that vehicle gets out of the way. Taxis know that they are supposed to back down from confrontations with buses. Buses are also cheaper, 4,000-8,000 dong per ride, and safer than many of the alternatives. The biggest problem is that when you get off the bus, you become a pedestrian (see below).
For those who aren't staying in HCMC very long, or want to save some time, the Vietnam Transfer Service will take you to the famous places in Ho Chi Minh City. Price is from 15,000-75,000 dong, including the tour guide and the information in English.
Traffic is made up of a staggering number of motorbikes and, since import duty was reduced upon Vietnam's joining of the WTO, an increasing number of private cars. However its exceptionally rare to see a motorbike of more than 150 cc, and the traffic rarely gets above 20–30 km/hr in central areas.
Crossing the road in Saigon can be a nightmare. It is always scary. If ever in doubt, Saigon's "Tourist Security" officers (guys in green uniforms) will happily help you across. A quicker way of getting across is to simply follow the lead of a local crossing the street.
The true trick to crossing the road is to stay aware, and walk slowly and confidently. The motorbike riders are exceptionally good and will simply move to avoid you, just don't make any sudden erratic moves. Just look for a gap or seam in the traffic, and begin a slow, but steady movement. If you hear a beep coming your way it's likely a motorbike rider is about to enter your personal space. Be alert and prepared to stop putting your foot forward until he passes.
Adherence to traffic signals in Saigon is terrible. Drivers tend to use "best judgment". Just remember though that vehicles can always turn right at any time (regardless of lights). Motorbikes often drive in the wrong direction to take a short cut from point A to point B even against the traffic flow. Crossing roads therefore maybe a challenge for Westerners used to traffic laws and traffic lights.
The traffic police occupy themselves with random roadside checks and do not bother the motorcyclists who are running red lights or driving on the pavements. The police recently announced a crackdown on pedestrians. This does not mean that they will hassle you. The most likely meaning of the crackdown is that you will be held responsible if you are involved in an accident.
You will receive a free VN Trip Map from Vietnamese women wearing the traditional ao dai dress as you are leaving Tan Son Nhat Airport. Most hotels will provide a free tourist map of District 1 although these tend to be advertising-centric. The Sheraton has one of the best of these and will provide one if you ask at reception. In District 1, 'Bookazine' at #28 Dong Khoi (between Ngo Duc Ke and Ho Huan Nghiep) have larger city maps if you plan to venture beyond District 1. The one published by Du Lich & Giao Thong has a street index on the back. Fahasa Books also carries a full range of maps. They have two large stores in District 1: 185 Dong Khoi, just down from Le Thanh Ton, and 40 Nguyen Hue, just down from Mac Thi Buoi. MySherpa Travel have also published tourist maps of central District 1 with all shops and points of interest marked. Outlets in Saigon include Gaya, Dolce Casa, Annam Fine Foods, T&V Tailor, Galley Deli and a number of hotels.
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Vietnamese arts and crafts, or mass-produced resin knock-offs thereof, are sold by dozens of shops around the central tourist district. The best, most expensive items can be mostly found on Dong Khoi or the immediate side streets. The goods tend to get progressively simpler and cheaper as you move west toward Ben Thanh Market (though the best wood-carving shop is a stall on the back side of Ben Thanh). A few shops have authentic woven silk textiles from Sapa and the north. Lacquered paintings, plates, bowls, etc., are quite striking and unique to Vietnam. Vietnamese propaganda posters can be very impressive and offer a taste of history. It is very useful to have local currency when buying. Banks and formal exchanges will provide you with a decent rate, especially when compared with agencies like Statravel on Vui Ban St which will offer much lower rates. Goldsmith shops will also change money at decent rates, though as always it is better to know the going rate than to trust to luck.
There are two good guide books for shoppers in Ho Chi Minh City: the Luxe City Guide and the MySherpa Guide which also includes a map with shops cross-referenced.
- Galerie Quynh, 65 De Tham St, District 1 (Between Co Bac and Co Giang), . Tu-Sa, 10:00-18:00. A serious contemporary art gallery located in District 1. Unlike the galleries that focus on more decorative works, this gallery represents innovative local and international artists including Tiffany Chung, Do Hoang Tuong, Hoang Duong Cam and Sandrine Llouquet.
- Gallery Deli, Dong Khoi (Just down from Mac Thi Buoi).
- Oil-Paintings, Bui Vien St (Near backpackers area in De Tham and Pham Ngu Lao). There are several shops along this street selling oil paintings. If you want a portrait of a Vietnamese painting or even have your own photograph oil-painted, shop around here. You can get a readily available portrait within a day or two. 450,000-5,000,000 dong.
- Phuong Mai Art Gallery, 129B Le Thanh Ton St, District 1 and 213C Dong Khoi St. Vietnamese contemporary original art works including oil paintings, lacquer paintings, water colours and sculpture.
- Saigon Craft, Dong Khoi (Opposite Lucky Plaza). Lots of lacquerware.
Books and newspapers
- Bookazine, 28 Dong Khoi. New and antique copies of international titles likeThe Economist.
- Fahasa, Nguyen Hue Blvd (just down from Mac Thi Buoi).
- SahaBook, 175/24 Pham Ngu Lao (Near Le Pub). Lots of Lonely Planet titles here.
- Tri Books, Dong Khoi (Corner of Ly Tu Trong). Stocks a wide range of English language textbooks and reference books.
Vietnamese silk is excellent quality. Buying a suit can be fun and relatively cheap, but do your research first, and remember that you get what you pay for. Labour costs are not what make suits expensive. Tailors frequently use fabrics whose quality is exaggerated, for example the common claim of wool being "Italian/English Super 180". Cheap local suits don't compare to just having an USD80 H & M suit altered by a tailor. Any suit should contain 0% polyester. Any tailor should have multiple fittings, preferably three (with the third just being a check-up that probably won't require further alteration).
- BoSua Local Street Wear, 55B1 Vincom Tower, Dong Khoi St, District 1, . 09:00-22:00. 145,000 dong.
- Ginkgo T-shirts, 20 Le Loi and 56 Bui Vien, District 1, .08:00-23:00. Souvenir T-shirts with creative designs inspired by Asian cultures.210,000 dong.
- Ipa-Nima, 8 Nguyen Trung Truc St, District 1. Lots of accessories.
- Khai Silk and Creation, 107 Dong Khoi. Shirts at around USD30 and ties for USD10. Off-the-peg shirts can be tailored at no additional charge. Can make copies of clothes you supply out of silk, linen or Egyptian cotton. 2 days for shirt, 5 days for a suit.
Visiting the local electronics district on and around Huynh Thuc Khang is quite a sight, where anything and everything is repaired, and nothing wasted. It's about a 15 min ride on Bus 2 from District 1. Loudspeaker repairs and remakes, transformer and armature winding by hand. Think of any component and you may find it here, including 1968 helicopter parts. Some people bring older solid state and valve gear here to be repaired economically. Most electronics equipment in Vietnam originates here, so it's going to be a lot cheaper here than elsewhere.
While some of the country's cheapest electronics can be found here, most shops sell counterfeit items. Things such as dodgy iPods are easy to spot when compared to the genuine item, but things like camera batteries are more difficult to assess. If you are thinking about buying extra memory for your digital camera, e.g., be warned that most of the memory will be fake. These cards can be low quality and one has to ask if it is worth risking irreplaceable holiday snaps. Worse, knock-off batteries sold here have been known to explode. Nevertheless, if you know what you are doing, you can pick up some bargains here.
- DVD buffs with no scruples should head to Ho Tung Mao.
- Kool Audiophiles, 16/1 Phan Ngu, F Dakao, District 1, .09:00-20:00. Headphone and earphone shop selling genuine products.
- Ben Thanh Market (Chợ Bến Thành) (Southwest end of Le Lai).Till 18:00. A den of thieves, but some great shopping. Ben Thanh is recognizable from its clock tower on the large roundabout. The largest old-style market in the central district, with several hundred small stalls stuffed with goods on almost impassably narrow aisles. Due to its popularity with tourists, the market is now divided between tourist goods (jeans, T-shirts, smaller souvenirs in abundance) and regular items (fruit and vegetables, rice, kitchen wares, flowers, meat, fast food and local-style pickled fruits). Most items are not price-marked, and vendors always quote a 50-100% higher price to tourists, so bargaining hard will save you money. The chief method of parting visitors from their money is ambiguity: for example, never making it quite clear how much you are being quoted or what the exact price is or what exchange rate is being used to calculate your change. Be ready for these ruses (often by a sweet, smiling young lady), or be prepared to part with more cash than you need to. Right at the north side (back) of Ben Thanh Market are some shops that are operated by Ben Thanh Group and they sell goods at fixed price and much cheaper than the stalls in the market. No bargaining needed. If the good selection of knock-offs here just won't do, there's plenty to be had in the surrounding side street shops or night market later. If retail warfare isn't your cup of tea, you could skip the touristy Ben Thanh altogether and go to Chợ Bình Tây.
- Chợ Bình Tây (In Chinatown). The underrated twin of Ben Thanh, selling everything from spices, Chinese medicines, and silk to obscure varieties of fermented fish, dried seafood, and jerky. If you are searching for a variety of Vietnam silks and velvets, skip the tourist trap Ben Thanh Market and go to Bình Tây instead. Most of Chợ Bình Tây is wholesale goods. Much of Ben Thanh Market's goods are from here.
- Night Market (Just outside of Ben Thanh Market). 18:00-late. Here you can enjoy many kinds of different foods and drink and do your shopping as well.
- Saigon Square (A stones throw from Ben Thanh Market). A good place for a visit. It is a twin of Ben Thanh but with air conditioning. Haggling your way through this place is the rule of thumb. Local middle-class Vietnamese shop here on the weekends too. Consider planning your shopping here during the day and go to Ben Thanh for the night market. The daytime Ben Thanh can be planned as a sightseeing trip instead of a shopping spree.
- War Surplus Market, Yersin, District 1 (Intersection with Nguyen Cong Tru).Sometimes called the American Market or "Cho Cu" or "Khu Dan Sinh". Hidden behind rows of hardware and electric supplies shops, just brace yourself and enter. Dense warrens of stalls include those selling old American military gear of indeterminate authenticity (e.g., "nice collection of so-called authentic GI's Zippo lighter from the war era"), cheap T-shirts and military paraphernalia: just don't hope to find a genuine US wartime Zippo, they're all fakes now. Despite the name, most stalls now specialise in various industrial-type products such as hand tools and personal safety equipment.
- Co-op Mart Supermarkets (In District 1 can be found at the corner of Nam Ky Khoi Nghia and Nguyen Dinh Chieu, about 1 km from the centre or in Cong Quynh, walking distance from the end of backpacker street, Pham Ngu Lao.).Frequented by the Saigon middle-class and backpackers alike, can be found everywhere around HCMC. Prices are reasonably lower, though the selection leans more toward Vietnamese foods.
- Tax Department Store (On the corner of Le Loi and Nguyen Hue.). Now known as Saigon Square. Formerly the Russian Market, this is now a rather sterile department store of sorts filled with stalls selling touristy kitsch, although the selections get better as you ascend the levels. There's a good supermarket on level 2. If you are traveling here by taxi, the new name may be met by blank expressions from taxi drivers. The old name seems to work.
You're spoiled for choice in Saigon, which offers the country's largest variety of Vietnamese and international food. Bargains are getting harder to find, however, and restaurant prices have been rising at up to 30% per year due to a combination of higher food prices, rising wages, and soaring real estate costs. Land in the city centre now sells for around USD16,000 per square metre, so even a modest-sized restaurant sits on real estate worth more than USD1 million. Authentic local food at bargain prices is one of the glories of Vietnam, but it's getting harder to find in Saigon as the city becomes ever more upscale and cosmopolitan.
The local food shows influences from French colonial times. Bakeries have fresh and excellent baguettes, which they will fill with cheese (typically of the "La Vache Qui Rit" or "Laughing Cow" brand), potted meat, ham, and onions, or any combination thereof, cheaply. Beef is used in various dishes - whether in any of the many variations of pho, or in a regional specialty such as "bun bo hue" or Hue beef soup. Be sure to try, aside from pho, dishes such as the above-mentioned Hue beef soup, or "banh xeo". Vietnamese omelettes, consisting of a delicious filling of your choice (various options included bamboo shoots and enoki mushrooms, along with meat, prawns, or both) in a crispy outer crepe-like casing.
Local food at bargain prices is very easy to find in Saigon. Banh mi thit (pork sandwiches) can cost as little as 10,000-15,000 dong. Com tam, a plate of rice with grilled pork (or with different meats) and a bit of vegetables for 18,000 dong.
- McDonalds. A recently opened McDonalds in the backpacker area in District 1.
- Burger King.
Food stalls are scattered all over the city, but there's a fair collection in the Ben Thanh market. For local fast food, try the ubiquitous Pho 24 chain (though it can be more the twice the price of local fare). Additionally, foreign fast food franchises Lotteria and KFC are established in the city, with McDonald's just recently opening as well.
The setback of eating street food or food prepared in holes-in-the-walls in any town or city in Vietnam is dodgy hygiene. Street hawkers are not only cooks but they are also cashiers. They touch money and often flip over the notes with their fingers moistened with their saliva. If a bun or baguette is dropped in the pavement, it is picked up to be mixed with the rest. A hawker may cough or sneeze and while preparing food, cover their mouth with their bare hands then resume what they were just doing. Food may have unwanted items such as hairs. Utensils may be washed from the same portable ice-cream container washing basin, without detergent. Debris on spoons are just wiped off from the water on that small dish. Drinking glasses may just be dunked two or three times and ready for the next user.
At holes-in-the-wall, if there is shortage of counter space, contained food is placed on the floor. Floors are mostly wet and muddy. Utensils are washed on the floor itself. Waiters tossed used chopsticks and other dishes like bowls and if they don't get in the tub, they fall to the floor to be picked up later. Vegetables and meat parts are also cut in the floor and if they fell off, they are picked up again. Big quantities of vegetables are placed in plastic buckets and cleaned in the toilet tap. The plastic buckets may have been used as bathing or toilet flushing pail. And when they are not used, they may be stacked together and stored in the toilet.
However, street food and holes-in-the-wall food are flavourful, fascinating, exotic, ingeniously contrived, and cheap with all the elements of the nutrition pyramid and all the flavours: sweet; sour; salty & hot are well represented.
- BanhMiBistro, 76 Vo Thi Sau, District 1, directions. Fresh sandwiches, especially the traditional Vietnamese "Banh Mi". Bread is baked fresh in the store. There are 3 other outlets around the city.
- The Burger Corner, 43 Nguyen Hue St, District 1. Rice and hamburgers. The combo meals are good value.
- Cafe India, 250 Bui Vien, District 1. 5-item menu available all day for 25,000 dong (vegetarian) or 50,000 dong with chicken.
- Cafe Lam, 175 Bui Vien, District 1. Huge portions. USD1 for a big tiger, USD2 for a chicken curry with rice which is so large you won't finish. This is a very inconspicuous place, but most of the customers are regular expats. The food is nothing special but the prices, portions, and drink options make it a good bet. Good fruit salad, lovely smoothies and great tom yam soup.
- Doner Kebab, 198 Bui Vien St, District 1 (Inside the backpacker area). 23,000 dong.
- Dong Ba, 110A Nguyen Du, District 1. This is a shop that sells Hue food including Hue beef noodles and traditional banh beo rice cakes.
- Dream Cones, 16 Nguyen Thi Nghia St, Ben Thanh Ward, District 1. Ice cream in a quirky and cool neon atmosphere, with lots of white leather seating. Free unlimited (unsweetened) iced tea served with your ice cream. 16,000 dong a scoop.
- The Khmer Viet Kitchen, 185/14 Pham Ngu Lau, . 07:00-23:00. Vietnamese and Western food with good selection of pasta, sandwiches, burgers and enchiladas. From 40,000 dong (vegetarian 35,000 dong), beer from 20,000 dong.
- The Lunch Lady (Nguyen Thi Thanh), 23 Hoang Sa. 11:00-15:00. The famous Lunch Lady was featured on Anthony Bourdain's show. Different noodle dish every day. 30,000 dong.
- Pao Restaurant & Cafe, 158 Bui Vien, District 1. Special decor with small musical instruments, traditional dress and hats from the many ethnic groups of northern Vietnam. Vietnamese food such as spring rolls, hot pot & pho. They have a live Vietnamese instrument show on every Friday and Sunday. 35,000-60,000 dong.
- Pho Bo Vien Quoc Ky, 52 Ngo Duc Ke (near Nguyen Hué, District 1). A nice cheap place for soup. Try the sate version of the usual pho or my, a spicy delicacy.
- Pho 19, 19 Nguyen Trai St, District 5. 06:00-11:00. A small space and very cheap place for pho and bo kho. 25,000-30,000 dong.
- Pho Quynh, 323 Pham Ngu Lao St, District 1. 24 hours daily. Their specialty is pho. Locals come regularly and lucky backpackers stumble upon it. It is air-conditioned on the second and third floors. They also have decent banh mi bo kho, which is beef stew with carrots, served with French baguette. 40,000 dong.
- Pho 24. Clean modern chain found everywhere in Ho Chi Minh City. Excellent beef noodle soup, very cheap. Watch out for the fake Pho 24/24 on Pham Ngu Lao St, which does not belong to the chain and serves terrible and expensive food.
- Pho 2000 (3 locations, one sharing space with I Love Burger; one right next to Ben Thanh Market; and one toward the end of Le Thanh Ton St). The restaurant was once visited by a former US president, Bill Clinton. Has pho, including a seafood version, along with the usual Vietnamese rice dishes, as well as a superb vegetarian curry.
- Thiện Duyên Bễn Thành (vegetarian restaurant), 174 Calmette (Near the city bus station), . Well-presented vegetarian food.
- Trang, 102/6A Cong Quynh, District 1 (Not far from Pham Ngo Lao). Local food including excellent crab served in a friendly atmosphere.
- Tutti Frutti Frozen Yogurt, 15-17 Phan Chu Triuh (Opposite west entrance of Ben Thanh market, near the corner of Nguyen An Ninh). 08:00-22:30. From 40,000 dong, frozen yogurt 25,000 dong/100g.
- Barbecue Garden, 135A Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, Quan 1 (100 m from Ben Thanh Market, behind the General Sciences Library), . A barbecue restaurant offering both Vietnamese and international foods. USD5–7.
- Bi Saigon, 185/26 Pham Ngu Lao St, District 1 (In an alley just off the main tourist street, Bui Vien). Extensive menu with a choice between Vietnamese, Italian, Mexican and other styles. Open plan kitchen so you can see your food being prepared.
- Black Cat, 13 Phan Van Dat, District 1. Fresh and juicy beef patty. Jumbo burger is USD15.
- deciBel Lounge, 79/2/5 Phan Ke Binh, Quan 1 (Close to the Jade Emperor Pagoda), . 07:00-24:00. A nice range of Mediterranean food, Vietnamese breakfast and a prix fixe lunch menu. Hosts a monthly art exhibition 20,000-200,000 dong.
- Hanoi Oi Bistro, 225/7 Nguyễn Đình Chiểu, Phường 5, District 3. Spread over 2 floors, serving modern and traditional Vietnamese cuisine. Dishes include northern Vietnamese recipes of the owner/chef Thuy Linh, who is also an accomplished singer in a famous band, 5DK. Local singers, actors, celebrities and foreigners flock to this bistro both for its unique take on modern and classic Vietnamese food, and its ambience. USD2–25.
- Hoa Khai Vegetarian Restaurant, 124 126 Nguyen Cu Trinh St, Cu Trinh Ward, District 1 (About 500 m west of the backpacker area). Tasty Vietnamese vegetarian food although with surly service. Be careful of being charged for unexpected items, such as the disposable hand towels that are presented to you without asking as you sit down. 100,000 dong.
- Hoa Mai Coffee, 43-45 Do Quang Dau St (Just off Phan Ngu Lao, between Phan Ngu Lao St and Bui Vien St), . Restaurant downstairs, on the second floor is a comfortable bar with pool table. International food and local dishes. Fresh fruit shakes, spring rolls, Vietnamese noodles and pasta.USD2–5.
- Huong Dong, 68 Huynh Tinh Cua. A modest, open-air restaurant serving mostly southern country-style food. The name literally means "scent of the fields". It's a place where families and groups of friends gather, drink a lot of beer, eat a lot of food, and make a bit of noise. You might need a few beers to get up the courage to try some of the more exotic offerings, including field mouse, whole frog, pigeon porridge and coconut worm. A whole char-grilled ga ta (local style free-range chicken) is 170,000 dong, head and feet included. A wide variety of other meats and seafood is available for 50,000-80,000 dong. Quirky English translations of the long menu add to the spirit of adventure.
- Une Journée à Paris, 234 Le Thanh Ton St (Quan 1, 100 m from Ben Thanh Market.). Authentic French boulangerie, patisserie and salon de thé. French petit dejeuner at 50,000 dong, with egg/bacon 100,000 dong.
- Lemongrass, 4 Nguyen Thiep St (Near the Opera House). A very touristy Vietnamese restaurant. Daily business lunch USD3+ and weekly special dishes. Expanded to a twin outlet on 14th floor of Palace Hotel Saigon, 10 min away from the first outlet. Same menu, same price. USD4–6.
- Lion City Cafe & Restaurant, 45 Le Anh Xuan, District 1 (Opposite New World Hotel), . 07:00-15:00. The biggest chain of Singaporean restaurants in Vietnam, all ingredients imported. 100% Singaporean food with a head chef and owner from Singapore. USD3-8.
- Ngoc Suong Marina, 19C Le Quy Don. A restaurant specialising in seafood. Fish salad and clams cooked in white wine.
- Papaya by Chi Nghia, 68 Pham Viet Chanh, Binh Thanh District (Near the zoo). Small place specializing in northern-style Vietnamese cuisine. Run by an chef/owner who has 25 years of experience with Sofitel hotels. Cooking and presentation is top notch. Clean and nicely decorated. From USD2–5 and up.
- Quan An Ngon, District 1. Two different restaurants operate with the same name within a few blocks of each other, one at 160 Pasteur Street, and the other (recently reopened) on Nam Ky Khoi Nghia across from the Reunification Palace. Set in atmospheric old French villas, with similar menus Vietnamese food, including regional specialities prepared in numerous independently-operated food stalls around the perimeter. Both are popular and both tend to be jammed at peak hours requiring a wait for a table. (The name literally means "restaurant of delicious eating".) The one on Pasteur has dozens of kerosene lamps burning for ambience at night, so if you have asthma or pulmonary issues or feel you've had enough pollution already, better to try the other one. Mains from 45,000 dong.
- Quan Nuong, 29-31 Ton That Thiep. A delicious, reasonably-priced open-air barbecue restaurant on the roof above Fanny's ice cream parlour and the Temple Club. Every table has a grill in the centre and the menu includes a variety of meats and seafood which you can grill yourself. Try the bacon wrapped salmon & the beef wrapped cheese skewers. They also serve a variety of mostly southern-style salads and noodle dishes. It's very popular and often fills up by mid-evening.
- La Sen Restaurant (Nha Hang La Sen), 30 Ba Huyen Thanh Quan, Phuong 6, Quan 3 (In the centre of district 3), . 09:30-23:00. Clean, medium-priced restaurant serving food from the regions of Hue, Saigon and Hanoi. Friendly service, full air-con, 2 floors and room for about 100 persons.
- Spice, 27c Le Quy Don in Quan 3. Largest and most-visited Thai restaurant in HCMC. Mostly local Vietnamese and expats as it is out of the tourist area. Authentic Thai food prepared by the two Thai chefs. Food is fresh and served within minutes. Tom yam gung and papaya salad, spicey shrimp, fusion of Thai with other cuisines. Seating over 200, in air-con, al fresco or Thai style on floor mats. Delivery available to all districts. Top floor BBQ.
- Sushi Bar (Four locations: corner of Le Thanh Ton and Ton Duc Thang in Q1, about six blocks northeast of the Opera House; on a large alley full of restaurants off Ton Duc Thang by the river and near the Legend Hotel; on the food-court floor of Zen Plaza on Nguyen Trai; and in the Saigon Court apartment building on Nguyen Dinh Chieu.). Probably the best sushi value in Saigon. They serve a larger and more interesting variety than the typical sushi restaurant, at half the price. Draft Tiger beer is 24,000 dong. Very popular, so you can expect to wait during the middle dining hours.
- Wrap and Roll, 62 Hai Ba Trung. A growing chain. Wrapped Vietnamese fusion food in a modern minimalist setting. Try the desserts. Beer and a meal should cost less than USD10.
- Au Lac do Brazil, 238 Pasteur (Between Dien Bien Phu and Vo Thi Sau.). Just to prove that Saigon has everything, here is a Brazilian-style churrascaria (all-you-can-eat restaurant featuring barbecued meat), with live Latin music Tuesday to Saturday. They also have a new outlet in Sky Garden II, Phu My Hung, District 7. It's a larger and less crowded one with usually better service.USD30+ per person.
- Co Ngu (On Pasteur just before Dien Bien Phu, Quan 1). Nice Vietnamese and Asian-fusion food in a villa setting, with indoor and garden seating. Popular for business groups. Prices higher than average for Saigon, but a better value than you will find in the tourist section of town.
- The Deck Saigon, 38 Nguyen U Di, Thao Dien, An Phu, District 2 (15 min from the centre of Saigon), . The only posh restaurant on the banks of the river. Modern fusion cuisine using the local ingredients.
- La Habana, 6 Cao Ba Quat, Quan 1 (Two blocks northeast of the Hyatt and opera house). Outstanding Spanish and Cuban-style food, including a large tapas menu. Also one of the few places in Vietnam that makes really good cocktails.
- La Hosteria (On Le Thanh Ton a few blocks east of the Hilton). An Italian restaurant with excellent home-made pasta dishes in the range of 125,000 dong and main dishes 150,000+.
- Huy Long Vien, 99 Nguyen Du (Across from the Reunification Palace).Chinese cuisine including Peking Duck and dim sum. Large with an ancient China theme.
- Pomodoro's (On Hai Ba Trung, a block from the Hilton and around the corner from the Sheraton and Caravelle Hotels). Decent small Italian restaurant. Delicious lasagna is their specialty; the pizzas are a bit oily. Dinner of 2 starters, cocktails, 0.5 litre carafe of wine, mains and deserts for roughly USD50, but with poor service.
- Tân Nam, 60-62 Dong Du, Quan 1 (A few doors from Sheraton Saigon). The ground floor is open-air, the upper floor has air-con. Rather expensive and mediocre food, around USD10/person but they will park your motorcycle while you eat, and wander around the waterfront.
- Temple Club, 29-31 Ton That Thiep, Q.1 (First floor, with an ice cream parlour below). 1930s ambiance with separate bar, restaurant, and lounge area sections. The food is fair but most people come to soak up the atmosphere.
- L'en Tete, 1st floor, 139 Nguyen Thai Binh, Quan 1 (At the junction with Calmette). 17:00-24:00. Excellent French restaurant in an area not normally associated with high dining. Great for a leisurely dining experience. 150,000-450,000 dong.
- ZanZBar Restaurant & Bar, 41 Dong Du St (Diagonally opposite Sheraton Hotel). Eclectic crowd comprised of local Vietnamese, local expats, and visiting tourists. Wine-by-glass and cocktail menu. At night the lighted columns create a great ambience.
- Urban Kitchen + Bar (urban kitchen bar restaurant ho chi minh city saigon), 18 Ngo Van Nam, District 1 (At the beginning of Le Thanh Ton Street you will take the first left on to Ngo Van Nam Street. The street splits off into two and the restaurant is located on the left side.), . 11:00 - late. A welcome addition to the HCMC culinary scene, serving delicious American and International cuisine. The two level building has a modern industrial design element that makes you feel like you aren't in Vietnam. At night, the restaurant takes on a bar like atmosphere and their bartenders serve up some great cocktails from the amber lit rock bar. On Friday and Saturday nights, they also have DJ's spinning hip hop. Brunch favorites are served on Saturday and Sunday from 10am.
- D'Nyonya Penang Restaurant, 58 Dong Du St, District 1 (Beside the Mosque and Sheraton Hotel), . Malaysian owned, authentic Malaysian cuisine and Vietnamese menu.
- Four Season Restaurant, 2 Thi Sach St, District 1, .Vietnamese and Malaysian cuisine.
- [email protected], 31 Đông Du, District 1 (Opposite the Indian Jamia Mosque, near Sheraton Hotel), , (Vietnamese), (English)fax: , e-mail: [email protected]. 10:00-22:00.Vietnamese, Malaysian, and vegetarian cuisine prepared to halal guidelines. Has a Malaysian owner and there are several Malaysian staples on the menu, however it is primarily Vietnamese, with a wide range of dishes from around the country.
- Lion City Cafe and Restaurant, 45 Le Anh Xuan, District 1 (Near Ben Thanh market opposite New World hotel), . Daily, 19:00-03:00. Certified halal, serves halal food on 2nd floor.
- Pro Döner Kebab, 169 De Tham, Pham Ngu Lao Ward, District 1, . Turkish place with good service serving real doner kebabs, halal style.
- Vietnam Halal (Muslim Food Restaurant), 14 Pham Hong Thai, P. Ben Thanh, Quan 1 (Near Ben Thanh Market), . Malaysian cuisine and Vietnamese food.
Coffe & Drink
Vietnam is the world's second largest exporter of coffee after Brazil, and cà phê is very popular among the Vietnamese. It's a paradise for coffee-loving visitors. The local style is strong and sweet; key words to remember are: sữa (sweetened condensed milk), đá (ice), and nóng (hot, pronounced "nowm"). Cà phê đá is strong, sweet iced coffee; and cà phê sữa đá is the same with condensed milk. Cà phê (sữa) nóng is brewed fresh on your table brewed in a little metal apparatus placed over a cup; just lift it off when it has cooled enough to touch (and hence drink). Prices range from 10,000 to 20,000 dong for coffee in the local style.
Since ice might or might not be made with purified water, strictly cautious visitors should avoid it, though long-term residents consume ice from reputable cafes and restaurants all the time.
Espresso, cappuccino, and American-style filter coffee are now also widely available in the tourist district, usually at 2-8 times the price of the local style. You will be able to differentiate the better places if they use UHT milk as opposed to condensed milk.
- Bobby Brewery Coffee, Bui Vien St. Nice place with good beverages. Used to show movies on 2nd and 3rd floor. Now reopened as La Cantina.
- Cafe 5 Sao, Pham Ngoc Thach (Near the Turtle Pond). Plays loud techno music. Attractive, but pretentious crowd.
- Cafe Napoly, Pham Ngoc Thach (Near the Turtle Pond). The decor is Roman ruins-lite (they meant "Napoli"), but the menu is typical for an upscale Vietnamese cafe: coffee, fruit drinks, ice cream, and a simple menu including eggs and rice dishes. Piped music is nice, not too loud by day (though louder at night), prices are decent. Outdoor terrace in the front, air-con section on the ground floor, and evening lounge-bar on the upper floor. Next door to the louder, more trendy and possibly pretentious Cafe Nam Sao.
- Cafe Saigon, 57 Nguyen Du St (Opposite to Immaculate Conception Cathedral Basilica), . Italian coffee, foods, free Wi-Fi, relaxing & modern music.
- Chao Ba Ca Phe (Granny's Coffee), TK49/5 Nguyen Canh Chan, Q1 (Walk down Nguyen Canh Chan from the junction with Tran Hung Dao and take a left down the alleyway where the fruit salad restaurant is). This place has a really authentic and wonderful cafe sua da served by the famous "grandma" for about 8,000 dong. A little tricky to find.
- Chot Nho Café, 189 Nguyen Van Troi, Phu Nhuan District (10 min by taxi from city centre). Reasonable prices, good menu. Free Wi-Fi.
- La Fenêtre Soleil, 44 Ly Tu Trong (A small entrance up to the 2nd floor, near the corner of Ly Tu Trong and Pasteur). Save the world from pint size caramel lattes. Brave the decrepit stairway and enter an oasis.
- Fresco Coffee, 121 Le Loi St, . Free Wi-Fi, play hill song music.
- Givral Café, Dong Khoi (Opposite Continental Hotel). In the French tradition, with fresh pastries, collared waiters and elaborate portions of ice cream. Well-located, but over 20,000 dong for the simplest cup.
- Hideaway Café, 41/1 Pham Ngoc Thach, Q.3. As its name implies, this place is hidden away and a good place to read, or have a quiet conversation or meal. Decent Western menu, although slightly pricey.
- M-Comic, 99B Vo Thi Sau A. A rather hard to find coffee shop. Upstairs is like a bedroom with a couple of beds. Arrive early if you want to occupy one. It has large selection of magazine and comic books to chose from. Only serves Vietnamese drinks, and the staff only speak a little English. Free Wi-Fi. 11,000-30,000 dong.
- Old Saigon Coffee, 2nd floor, 63 Dong Du St, District 1 (Opposite the Sheraton). Reminiscent of HCMC in the past. It has a great view to Dong Khoi St. All the drinks and foods are typical Saigon. The staff are quite decent.
- Poppy Café, 217 Nguyen Dinh Chieu, District 3. Modern lounge café where the specialty is fruit-topped natural frozen yogurt. The only café in HCMC that serves this refreshing healthy treat. Creative fruit smoothies and light Vietnamese and Western fare. Flat-screen TVs, and English-speaking staff.
- Regina Coffee, 84 Nguyen Du St, District 1. Vietnamese coffee or cappuccini. They have a skilled Japanese espresso master who knows how to brew coffee. French mixed with Asian design with brick walls. It is marketed towards tourists and all proceeds go to the church around the corner.
- Sozo, Pham Ngu Lao. All proceeds benefit needy Vietnamese families. Good drinks, friendly staff, but their cookies could be better if they were baked in a real oven.
- Trung Nguyen (Two convenient outlets are on the east side of Nguyen Hue right before the People's Committee Hall, and the corner of Thu Khoa Huan and Ly Tu Trong). The Vietnamese version of Starbucks, but with much better coffee. They have locations all over the city, but are not well represented in the heart of the tourist district. Figure on 10,000 dong for a basic cuppa, although there are plenty of variations including the infamous weasel coffee (cà phê chồn), made from coffee beans collected from civet excrement; however, a quick Google search about the conditions in which the civets are kept may further dissuade some from sampling.
- Window 4 Cafe (Near the Reunification Palace). This is the scene for Vietnam's fashion slaves and seems to be the place to be seen. Pretentious atmosphere (it's not the best for those who want to relax), but their coffee is very good and their menu is quite satisfying. The place is always packed.
Sights & Landmarks
- People's Committee Hall, Nguyen Hue St. Originally called the Hôtel de Ville it's a striking cream and yellow French colonial building beautifully floodlit at night. No entry, but the statue ofUncle Ho in front is a very popular place for photos.
- Ho Chi Minh Museum, Duong Nguyen Tat Thanh, District 4.07:30-12:00, 13:30-17:00, last admission 16:30. The museum, housed in a French colonial-era building, relates the life of the modern day father of Vietnam. The exhibits include various personal possessions of Ho Chi Minh, but are mainly photographs. It's not overly informative, the interior is shabby and the staff are disinterested. Whilst some may find the theme a little jingoistic, like most things it depends upon your point of view. The onsite shop stocks the usual souvenirs along with some books related to Ho Chi Minh. 10,000 dong.
- Museum of Vietnamese History (At the intersection of Le Duan St and Nguyen Binh Khiem, just inside the zoo gates). The museum has a fine collection of Vietnamese antiquities. Read up on Vietnamese history first or you'll have no idea what you're looking at. Outside, the Botanical Gardens are very nice and a good place for a cheap lunch away from the crowds.
- Reunification Palace (Also known as Independence Palace (the old name)), 135 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia St, . Daily, 07:30-11:00, 13:00-16:00. This is a restored 4 floor time warp to the 1960s left largely untouched from the day Saigon fell to the North; construction started in 1962 and finished in 1966. Formerly South Vietnam's presidential palace, the war ended on 30 Apr 1975 when Tank 843 crashed through the gate. A replica of that tank is now parked on the lawn outside. Be sure to check out the impressively kitschy recreation room, featuring a circular sofa, and the eerie basement, full of vintage 1960s phones, radios and office equipment, supposedly left exactly as it was found when the North took over. There is also a photo gallery and a propaganda film recounting how the South Vietnamese supporters and American imperialists succumbed to Ho Chi Minh's indomitable revolutionary forces, at which point the South Vietnamese supporters were forgiven and everyone lived happily ever after. Tours are available and are free, but not necessary. There is a nice outdoor café on the grounds outside the palace. 30,000 dong.
- War Remnants Museum, 28 Vo Van Tan St, , e-mail: , , [email protected]. Open daily 07:30-12:00, 13:30-17:00, last admission 16:30. The museum was opened in a hurry, less than five months after the fall of the South Vietnamese regime. It has moved to new premises with 3 storeys of exhibits and various US military hardware (tanks, jets, helicopters, howitzers) on display outside the building. This disturbing display of man's cruelty during the Vietnam (American) War includes halls full of gruesome photographs, a simulated "tiger cage" prison and jars of deformed foetuses attributed to contamination by Agent Orange. An exhibit on the 3rd floor tells the story of the war journalists from all over the world who documented, and often disappeared or died in the war. Watch out for the amputees who will try and sell you their wares. It's a short walk from Reunification Palace — see the museum pamphlet for a map. Entry 15,000 dong.
- Cao Dai Temple (Dao Cao Dai or Caodaism) (95 km NW of HCMC).The temple is near the Cu Chi Tunnels where Vietnamese soldiers held out during the Vietnamese/US war. Tours of the Cu Chi Tunnels can also be arranged.
- Central Mosque, 66 Dong Du, . 08:00-20:00. One of 12 mosques in Ho Chi Minh City, the Central Mosque was built in 1935. It was originally constructed for worshipers from southern India then resident in Saigon, but now Muslims from as far as Pakistan and Indonesia come to pray. Friday has the biggest congregations. The shaded veranda and cool stone floors make it an ideal place to sit, read, or even nap in the heat of the day. As with most mosques, remember to take your shoes off before entering and dress conservatively if you wish to enter.
- Notre Dame Cathedral (Nhà thờ Đức Bà), Han Thuyen St (Facing down Dong Khoi, next to the Post Office). Closes for lunch and on weekends. A French-built Catholic cathedral in the city centre. Free.
There are several Chinese temples in Cholon, the Chinatown district of old Saigon. Only a few are listed here.
- Phung Son Tu Pagoda, 408 3 Thang 2 Blvd (On the outskirts of Cholon).Dedicated to the god of happiness and virtue. The pagoda itself is dusty and dwarfed by high-rises under construction nearby, but the small, sculpted grounds are a good place for a rest from the hectic city.
- Quan Am Pagoda, 12 Lao Tu, Cholon (Just off Hung Vuong, close to Thien Hau Pagoda). 08:00-4:30PM. The oldest pagoda in town, home of a lot of incense and a cheerful puppy. Free.
- Thien Hau Pagoda, 710 Nguyen Trai St, Cholon. Dedicated to Lady Thien Hau, the sea goddess, who left two giant turtles to keep an eye on things in her absence. A festival is held in her honour on the 23rd day of the March lunar month. Don't miss the gorgeous sculptures in the walls of the courtyard outside the temple. Free.
- Bitexco Financial Tower, 36 Ho Tung Mau St, .Inside is a viewing platform with a 360° panorama of the city. Alto Heli Bar happy hour 13:00 to 19:00. 2 4 1 selected cocktails 290,000 dong and 3 for 2 Tiger draught beer 135,000 dong.200,000 dong.
- Cholon - This area serves as Ho Chi Minh City's Chinatown. While many of the ethnic Chinese fled Vietnam for Western countries, such as Australia and the United States, as a result of persecution following the Fall of Saigon, a large number of them continue to reside in the district. Many signs of the Chinese heritage can still be found in the form of Chinese clan temples, as well as stalls selling Chinese food. Many people are also bilingual in Cantonese and Vietnamese.
Museums & Galleries
Ho Chi Minh City, being a region steeped in culture and an eventful Communist and war history, has several museums showcasing the growth and struggle of Vietnam. Here is an overview of some informative and fascinating museums of the heritage city.
War Remnants Museum
The War Remnants Museum showcases a chilling account of the Vietnam War with its war machinery, weapons of combat, photographs and audio-visuals. The museum, located at District 3, offers visitors information on war statistics and houses an extensive collection of tanks, bombs, planes and other intriguing war memorabilia. There is also an exhibition gallery dedicated to war reporters, and the museum premises house a French colonial prison. Open daily from 7:30 to noon, and from 1:30 to 5 pm.
Vietnam History Museum
A pagoda-style structure, the Vietnam History Museum displays several objects and memoirs from the nation’s history, including a comprehensive collection of ancient ceramics, 14th century weaponry, war cannons, traditional costumes, photographs of ethnic minorities and an array of other memorabilia. Open Tuesday to Sunday from 8 to 11:30am, and from 1:30 to 5pm.
The Revolutionary Museum is an illustration of Vietnam’s struggle for independence, and depicts the nation’s rebellion in the form of war memorabilia and weaponry. There are Communist flags, placards and photographs of landmark Communist events against capitalism. The museum is housed on District 1 and is open daily from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm.
Ho Chi Minh City Museum
A vast storehouse of objects and journals sketching the history of the region. There are valuable Angkor Wat artifacts along with costumes, ceramics and weapons. Housed at District 1, the museum is open daily from 9:30 am to 5 pm.
Ho Chi Minh is an eventful city that has several museums chronicling its dramatic and painful history.
Things to do
- Dai Nam Tourist Park, Thu Dau Mot Town, Binh Duong Province (About 40 km from HCMC. Catch Bus 616 from the Ben Thanh bus station and take it all the way to the end (90 minutes, 25.000 dong as of 12/2015), or talk to a travel agent). This is one of the newest and largest tourist attractions in Vietnam. It features the Dai Nam Van Hien Temple, an entertainment site, open range zoo, shopping areas, hotels, local and Western cuisine, and the largest man-made mountain range in Vietnam. Costing over 50 billion dong to build, this park is the beginning of mass tourism in Vietnam, although it is aimed at both tourists and locals and comes highly recommended. Transport options to the park are quite convoluted and as the park is new, online information is scarce. According to the locals, it is very much worth a visit, purely just to view the temple.
- Dam Sen Water Park, 03 Hoa Binh, Ward 3, District 11 (Take Bus 11 from Ben Thanh bus station),, , fax: , e-mail: [email protected]. M-Sa, 08:30-18:00, Su and Holidays 08:00-19:00. Close to the city centre. This water park offers some unique water slide experiences, including the amazing "Space Bowl". Restaurant, health services and animatronic dinosaurs are on the premises.Admission is based on height and time of arrival; under 0.8 m free, others 40-110,000 dong (90,000 after 16:00).
- Emperor Jade (Tortoise) Pagoda (Chua Ngoc Hoang or Phuoc Hai Tu), 73 Mai Thi Luu St. Considered by many to be Saigon’s finest pagoda. Check out the room filled with unusual figurines, to the left of the main hall. There are many turtles in a concrete pond in the courtyard.
- Galaxy Cinema, 116 Nguyen Du, District 1. A favourite among locals.
- Happy Ending Massage Yuan, 15B8 Le Thanh Ton St, District 1 Ben Nighe Ward (On Le Thanh Ton between Thai Van Lung and Ngo Van Nam. Across from Sky Garden), . Despite the name, legitimate foot and body massage, hostess will explain pricing to you at the beginning, usually offering 30% discount. 223,000 dong.
- MegaStar Cineplex, 126 Hung Vuong St, District 5 and 60A Truong Son St, Tan Binh District. 2 locations in HCMC and the first to offer 3D movies (at Hung Vuong Plaza only).
- Les Rives, Suite 2105, Me Linh Point Tower, 2 Ngo Duc Ke, District 1, . VIP speedboat tours to the Cu Chi Tunnels, the Mekong Delta and jungle canal tours around Saigon. A sunset tour around Saigon involves exploring narrow jungle canals with a village made of bamboo and thatch as well as visiting a floating temple.
- Twenty-Three September Park (Across from Ben Thanh Market and running the length of Phan Ngu Lao St). Running along Phan Ngu Lao St are a number of parks which fill up with locals before sunset, after work. They play a variety of games which you can participate in: badminton, kicking a shuttlecock and womens group aerobics to music are all very popular, and are great to watch. If you sit down by yourself in the open area near the Ben Thanh market a number of young university age locals will come and ask to practice English with you, this is a great way to spend an evening and the best way to meet intelligent interesting youth, they will question you either individually or in groups and share with you a lot about their country. Beware of those men who want to introduce you to their "sister" who's working as a nurse and wants to move to your country. They will try to make you come into their home so you can reassure their parents, but will actually gamble and cheat at cards with you and/or ask you for money after telling a sad and fake story about some dying relative.
- Local bus station. Explore the city catching local buses.
Bars and clubs
Saigon has plenty of places to drink, although to a certain degree Vietnamese and foreigners hang out in different places. This is slowly changing as Westerners become more familiar with the ways of the East (and vice versa). Places with live music usually have no cover charge, but impose somewhat elevated drink prices (typically 55,000-85,000 dong for beer, spirits, and cocktails.) Many places close around midnight or 01:00. Some places remain open later: Go2 Bar in Pham Ngu Lao, popular with backpackers/budget crowd; Apocalypse Now on Thi Sach St, packed with people from all walks of life (you can find anything in this place regardless of your preferences (prostitutes straight/gay, drugs or just a place to dance the night away); ZanZBar on Dong Du St will appeal to the regular bar crowd and closing time changes daily depending on the number of people in the bar). There are other late night clubs which cater almost exclusively to the young Vietnamese crowd. Anywhere in the city you can find Vietnamese bottled beer places that will stay open until 03:00-04:00. Several bars in Phu My Hung stay open until 02:00-03:00.
Not to be missed are the pavement bars which get very busy with locals and travellers alike, about halfway down Biu Vien. They sell bottles of Saigon beer for 10,000 dong. Sit on the tiny plastic chairs and enjoy the friendly atmosphere. These are perhaps the best places to drink as a backpacker, as they are very cheap and also great places to meet people, and not just other tourists.
- Chill Sky Bar (Sky Bar). Rooftop bar at AB Tower in District 1 along September 23 park. This is the place to see and to be seen. drinks are expensive at 200,000+ If you are around the September 23 park at night you will see the lights and hear the music blasting from the top of the AB tower. Look for the spotlights shooting into the sky.
Where you can drink with locals
- Acoustic Cafe, 6E1 Ngô Thời Nhiệm. Though only 1 km from the heavily touristed centre, this club is completely outside the tourist orbit, and offers an interesting view of local life. The all-Vietnamese house band performs every night, mostly American music, and it's always jammed with student-aged groupies. For some reason, they address the crowd in English between songs, even though half the crowd doesn't understand. On weekends, at least, you need to arrive by 19:30 to have any hope of getting a seat. If your hobby is rock ballad or hard rock, you should go on Friday night.
- Banana Pub, Phu My Hung District. Park View. Pool table, darts, friendly staff, beautiful people, loads of food. Stays open late depending on the crowd. Worth a trip from Q1 to experience the true expat scene.
- Carmen, 8 Ly Tu Trong. The house band has changed some personnel but is still good, specializing in flamenco, salsa and Latin pop, and with an eclectic mix of other popular songs thrown in. Cocktails 110,000 dong, shots 80-85,000 dong, but with no entrance charge. It's popular and fills up on weekends.
- Ice Blue, Dong Khoi. Centrally located English pub, complete with darts board and warm beer. Friendly, but shuts at midnight.
- Khong Ten (literally 'No Name'), 147 Hai Ba Trung. Large cabaret featuring some of the biggest Vietnamese celebrity singers in Vietnam. The headliner is often familiar to the locals from television. Most overseas visitors may not like the musical style as it is mostly the mellow-to-melancholy, soft-jazzy, love-ballady style favoured by the middle and older generation of Vietnamese. But it's pure Vietnam, and very popular with both HCMC residents and Vietnamese expats on trips home. Admission 150,000 dong.
- Lion's, 1-13 Lam Son Sq, District 1. Brewery, restaurant offering German food, with tasty beers and cocktails. The outside terrace is a nice place to chill out, and the inside restaurant is very welcoming with its two beer tanks and cosy bar.
- Lush, Ly Tu Trong. A nightclub in the Western style, with loud music and minimalist too-cool decor. Drink prices on par with most Saigon nightclubs. Mixed crowd (Vietnamese, tourists and expats), pretty good food but has a small dance floor. Ladies night on Tuesday offers free drinks for ladies until midnight. Be sure to arrive early as it gets very busy from around 22:30 and it is difficult to get served at the bar.
- Metallic Bar, 41 Ba Huyen Thanh Quan, District 3. House band plays covers of Metallica, Guns 'n Roses and other popular rock bands nightly between 21:00 and midnight.
- Peaches, Phu My Hung District. Great place to enjoy a few drinks with friends. Friendly staff, Asian food. Quite low key in comparison to other PMH bars.
- Polo, Ham Nghi St (Above the Liberty Hotel). Mixture of expats and locals, starts getting busy quite early. Music from the 1980s to the present. Noisy and smokey.
- Q Bar Saigon. Established in 1992 under the Opera House. Mix of locals, tourists and expats in a grotto-like uber-chic setting that could as easily be in Soho as Saigon. Open till late every night. Great cocktails, though at very high prices, similar to the roof-top bar of the Caravelle Hotel across the street. It's the cool place to be seen if you have a lot of Uncle Hos in your pocket. Terrace and Indoor areas. DJ nights.
- Rio Saigon, 131 Ton That Dam St, District 1, . , Until 24:00. A Brazilian flowery decor-themed bar/pub with a Filipino house band playing pop/rock such as Bon Jovi and Skid Row.
- Saigon Pho. This little hole in the wall is only a stone's throw from Allez Boo, but much more expat orientated. Open until late.
- Serenata and Soi Da, 6E Ngô Thời Nhiệm. Two open-air cafe-bars with live music in villa-style settings, which attract few if any tourists but typify what most Vietnamese consider a pleasant evening out. Both feature a mix of classical chamber music, Vietnamese lounge songs, American FM classics and the odd French song.
- The Tavern, SB8-1 My Khanh 2 (H4-2) Nguyen Van Linh, Phu My Hung District, . Opens for breakfast, closes at midnight. Western food with fish 'n' chips and burgers.
- Velvet, Ho Huan Nghiep (Corner of Dong Khoi). Nice ambiance & music. Latest chic bar in town. Gets very busy, and at weekends you will need a booking.
- Xu Bar, Hai Ba Trung St (Near the Opera House). Great wine list. Nice ambiance & service.
Where you can drink with tourists
- Alibi, 11 Thai Van Lung. Very cosy atmosphere, with sofas lining the walls and beautiful decor. Good food & drinks selection, nice music, and a mix of both locals & expats. Friendly staff, and the management's always there to make you feel welcome and make sure you get what you are asking for.
- Allez Boo (Corner of Pham Ngu Lao, De Tham). For those who have been here before, you'll find the original bar is now Highlands Coffee and an all new Allez Boo has opened on the opposite corner. It's shiny and brand-new, but retains the same feel as the original. There's a bar with air-con on the 2nd floor with DJ-type music, and an airy rooftop patio. Quite similar to its sibling establishment, Go2 Bar.
- Apocalypse Now, 2C Thi Sach. Legendary and still packed on weekends, although aside from a few movie references it's not all that much to look at. Stays open late. Now opened their 2nd floor for DJ, dancing, drinks with less crowded atmosphere. Cover charge of 150,000 dong.
- Catwalk (Beside the New World Hotel). All-in-one place with a massage parlour, disco, KTV, and a mini-casino. Price is on the expensive side, but it is a sight to behold.
- Go2 Bar (Corner, De Tham and Bui Vien). 24/7. The main backpacker bar while Allez Boo was closed, still a great meeting place. It's impossible to miss the four floors of neon lights on the outside. Large patio on the sidewalk at street level, a cosier bar on the second floor with occasional live music or big-screen sports, plus a rooftop patio (with retractable roof) with individual BBQs up a steep set of stairs on the 5th floor. Crawling with prostitutes after dark until sun up.
- Oblivion (Bui Vien). Late night venue with lots of character, claims to be Saigon's premier music bar and it's hard to argue, assuming, that is, you have a taste for non-chart buzzy British guitar and obscure dark US/European stuff. You have to ask for happy pop, though if you're spending enough it'll sometimes get an outing. Like most Saigon bars, it attracts its share of working girls. If you're not interested, simply say you're not and you'll be left alone.
- 163 Cyclo Bar, 163 Pham Ngu Lao St. Two doors down from the Duna Hotel. Thumping music until 02:00 with friendly staff. Sex workers catering to Western men here. If you're not interested, just gently let it be known.
- Le Pub, 175/22 Pham Ngu Lao (On the small road which connects Pham Ngu Lao and Bui Vien). Always busy after 18:00, famous for its strong drinks, daily dollar-specials (e.g., Tuesday USD1 for vodka mixers all night) and friendly staff. It has the same owner as Le Pub in Hanoi. The Pub Quiz (almost every Tuesday) is very popular with expats, especially the English teachers. Get there early or it's too packed to find a place to sit down. Indoors and outdoor tables available.
- Rex Hotel Rooftop (Corner of Nguyen Hue and Le Loi). They serve a buffet dinner at the dinner hour, which gradually gives way to drinks and music. Acts change over time, but recently included a Filipino band playing FM classics and a Vietnamese group playing Latin and flamenco. It's a pleasant place to get above the city noise and enjoy some fresh air. Cocktails around 140,000 dong.
- Saigon Saigon, 12-13 Lam Son Sq (Caravelle Hotel, 9F). A pleasant, breezy bar with a great view of the city. Great live band (Cuban) playing inside every night. Cool, quiet ambience on the terrace. Attracts an expense-account crowd due to the prices. Cocktails mostly cost over 100,000 dong.
- Seventeen Saloon. American Wild West-themed bar, live music every night and other entertainment. Drinks are expensive.
- Sheridan's (Le Thanh Ton near Thai Van Lung). Small, cosy Irish-themed bar with imported draft beer and live music. Brits will appreciate the great food tasting of home (or the closest you'll get here).
- Vasco's, 74 Hai Ba Trung St, District 1 (Opposite Park Hyatt Saigon Hotel. Go to the alley at 74 Hai Ba Trung and find the bar on your left, 1st floor). Live music on some nights of the week and a typical bar atmosphere for both tourists and expats. Drinks from 50,000 dong, including sales tax, tip not necessary.
- VIBE Billiards & Lounge, 02 Sương Nguyệt Ánh, Phường Bến Thành, Quận 1. Professional billiards tables and a spacious lounge. Food and drinks and you can customise the billiard table lights from a special lighting system.
- ZanZBar, 41 Dong Du St, Q1 (Second entrance through the lobby of the Saigon Hotel). Casual-upscale, the clients tend to come for the great choice of wines-by-the-glass (huge walk-in wine cellar), or for the cocktails (premium brands) and good selection of imported beers. Can remain open after midnight, depending on the number of customers. Not for the budget crowd.
Things to know
As in most other parts of Vietnam, the main language is Vietnamese. The local dialect is the southern, which differs somewhat from the northern dialect spoken in Hanoi, though speakers of both dialects are usually able to comprehend each other. English is spoken by most of the younger well-educated upper class. Educated senior citizens are usually able to speak French, though generally speaking, English is far more useful these days.
Ho Chi Minh City is also home to a sizeable ethnic Chinese community, mostly around Chinatown and many of them are bilingual in Cantonese and Vietnamese. Many of them also speak Mandarin.
A few useful phrases:
- Hello: Seen Chow (Xin chào)
- Excuse Me, Sorry: Seen Loy (Xin lỗi)
- What is this/that?: Day La Kai Yee (Đây là cái gì)
- Thank You: Kam On (Cảm ơn)
- Very Good: Rat Tot (Rất tốt)
- Bye: Tam Bee-it (Tạm biệt)
You will receive a free VN Trip Map from Vietnamese women wearing the traditional ao dai dress as you are leaving Tan Son Nhat Airport. Most hotels will provide a free tourist map of District 1 although these tend to be advertising-centric. The Sheraton has one of the best of these and will provide one if you ask at reception. In District 1, 'Bookazine' at #28 Dong Khoi (between Ngo Duc Ke and Ho Huan Nghiep) have larger city maps if you plan to venture beyond District 1. The one published by Du Lich & Giao Thong has a street index on the back. Fahasa Books also carries a full range of maps. They have two large stores in District 1: 185 Dong Khoi, just down from Le Thanh Ton, and 40 Nguyen Hue, just down from Mac Thi Buoi. MySherpa Travel have also published tourist maps of central District 1 with all shops and points of interest marked. Outlets in Saigon include Gaya, Dolce Casa, Annam Fine Foods, T&V Tailor, Galley Deli and a number of hotels.
- Nu Cuoi Duyen Dental, 15-17 Cach Mang Thang Tam, Ben Thanh Ward, District 1, , e-mail: [email protected].8:00-12:00, 14:00-20:00. Equipment is modern, and the staff are knowledgeable and friendly. Prices are well below Western rates. USD19 for cleaning.
- Far East Dental, 249 Le Thanh Ton St, Ben Thanh Ward, District 1 (A stone's throw away from Ben Thanh Market), , e-mail:[email protected]. 9:00-12:00, 13:30-19:00. Equipment is modern, and the staff are knowledgeable and friendly. Prices are well below Western rates. USD13 for cleaning.
- Institut du Coeur / CMI Vietnam, 1 Han Thuyen, Quan 1 (Near Notre Dame cathedral, opposite central post office), , fax: , e-mail: [email protected]. M-F 08:00-19:00, Sa 09:00-13:00; Emergencies 24/7. Created by Fondation Alain Carpentier, famous French cardiologist. Modern equipment and French-trained staff speaking English and French.
- European Medical Center - Phong Kham Au Chau, 508 NGo Gia Tu, Ph 9, Quan 5 (Near Huong Vuong Plazza and Medical University Hospital), , fax: , e-mail: [email protected]. M-F 08:00-19:00, Sa 08:00-13:00. Cardiology and Internal Medicine - French cardiologist and French Pharmacist - Med Laboratory - Home Nurses services .
VTN, English and French speaking.
- Immigration Department, 161 Nguyen Du, District 1 (~ 15-20 min by walk from Reunification Palace, ~10 min from Ben Thanh Market following Le Lai St), . To get a visa or modify one, you may be able to get it done, or may have to ask a travel agent. Typical cost for a visa extension of one month is USD10, 5 working days delay (they keep the passport). You need to fill form N14/M with your details and the one of your sponsor, either a hotel or private house and get a stamp from the police station corresponding to its location. This point could be tricky as it implies that you have register at the police station before. If not, expect extra delay (5 or more days, for example) or cost. Quick processing (2 days) is possible, but you need to justify it. Going through travel agents costs about USD30, but they manage the police stamp whatever your situation is (extra fee of USD20 for quick processing). Other prices: single entry visa USD25, multiple-entry USD50-100, change single-entry visa to multiple-entry for 6 months USD25-75, modification/extension of visa USD10. As of April 2015 this office will tell you that you must use an agent if you wish to extend a tourist visa.
If you need to lodge a complaint, for example, about a stolen object, go to a police station. For a stolen item, you need to report to a station near the theft. It can be tricky as small stations will probably not have an officer with very good English language skills. If possible, go with a Vietnamese speaker.
- Police station District 1, 24-26 Duong Pasteur, District 1 (10 min walk from Ben Thanh bus station, near Fideco tower, crossing Ham Nghi & Pasteur streets.), . 07:30-11:30, 13:00-17:00.
- Police station District 2, 989 Dong Van Cong, W.Thanh My Loi, D.2, . 07:30-11:30, 13:00-17:00.
- Police station District 3, 01 Nguyen Thuong Hien, Ward 4 , District 3, . 07:30-11:30, 13:00-17:00.
- Police station District 4, 14 Doan Nhu Hai, Ward 12, District 1, . 07:30-11:30, 13:00-17:00.
- Police station District 5, 359 Tran Hung Dao, Ward 10, District 5, . 07:30-11:30, 13:00-17:00.
- Police station Binh Thanh, 18 Phan Dang Luu, ward 6, Binh Thanh, . 07:30-11:30, 13:00-17:00.
- Police station Phu Nhuan, 181 Hoang Van Thu, Phu Nhuan. 07:30-11:30, 13:00-17:00.
Safety in Ho Chi Minh City
In general, Ho Chi Minh City is a safe city, with violent crimes such as armed robbery being relatively rare. The most common crimes faced by tourists are pickpocketing and snatch theft from motorbikes.
Scam artists operate on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City. A person will strike up a friendly conversation claiming they've either seen you at the airport or some other tourist place where they work. Usually they'll be with other family members who will join the conversation very naturally and once they find out where you're from they'll mention that another family member is moving to a city in your country. You will be invited over for food at their house to help console a worried grandmother or to give advise to their family member. Once you arrive at the house however the family member is not there, or the grandmother has suddenly fallen ill and had to go to the hospital. You'll be presented with various business opportunities, legal or not, or asked for financial support for the suddenly sick grandmother.
Hotel scams are very common, even in the mid-range price level ~USD20-70. The hotel will remind you that you should place your valuables in the room safe or the hotel safe. Lock up everything that is more or less valuable.
Don't hold up expensive things near the street or leave them out on the table while you're having a meal, especially in District 1, especially around the backpacker area. Petty theft is a big problem, and a lot of times it's done by people on motorbikes. It's easy to prevent by not giving thieves the opportunity.
Don't buy coconut more than ~USD2, real-price is ~USD0.5. If you are forced, call police: +84 8 3829 7643, +84 8 38299835
Also, the prostitutes on Bui Vien and Ton That Tung will try to rob you. Usually, they'll approach guys just acting like they're up to normal prostitute business, but they're really trying to pickpocket you.