Ho Chi Minh City (also known as Saigon) is the perfect start to your Vietnam travels and an absolute must in any tour of this magnificent region. Cosmopolitan yet traditional, exciting yet tranquil, a long history and a bright future–Ho Chi Minh City is a metropolitan melting pot of modern Asian culture and ancient Vietnamese history.
There is no shortage of activities to enjoy and sites to explore and there is something to suit every taste and budget. Vietnam’s largest city is surprisingly easy to navigate so all ages will find exploring this city enjoyable and easy. Here are our top 10 tips, tricks and recommendations for Ho Chi Minh City.
1. Get acquainted with the city
To get the most out of Vietnam’s largest city an organized tour is the most economical and efficient way to see all the most famous sights in the South. There are plenty of day tours on offer, from large groups, to small groups to private tours. Mostly all offer hotel pick-up and drop-off, giving you an organization-free day of discovery!
A highly-recommended option is to book a private one-day sightseeing tour, where you will get to see the glorious Reunification Palace, the chilling War Remnants Museum, some of Vietnam’s finest markets and parks and enjoy a five star traditional cuisine lunch– all while being driven around in a chauffeured luxury van with a knowledgeable English-speaking guide who can tweak the schedule to your interests.
2. Explore the Mekong Delta
Ho Chi Minh City is also the perfect jumping off point to experience the natural wonder of the Mekong Delta in a one, two or three day adventure trip. Here, where the Mekong River–one of Asia’s most important waterways–splits into nine “dragon” deltas, you will have the opportunity to glimpse what water life is like for the 70 million people that live along the Mekong. The multi-day trips to the Delta offer illuminating home stays and other traditional farming activities deep in the Delta.
3. See the Cu Chi Tunnels
Of course, no trip to Ho Chi Minh City is complete without a trip to the Vietnamese guerilla fighters’ Cu Chi Tunnels. Experience history in a way more vivid than history books could ever describe as you descend into the very tunnels used by the Viet Cong.
4. Cruise down the Saigon River
In addition to many great tours, there is more to explore in Ho Chi Minh than any trip could cater for! Take a delightful dinner cruise down the Saigon River and be entertained by traditional dances while feasting on five-star dishes. Or catch one of the world-famous Water Puppet Shows where traditional artists and musicians perform a magical show of Vietnamese folklore–all while partly submerged!
5. Shop in Ben Thanh Market
Stroll the stunning tree-lined parks or take your time to become lost in the fascinating Bien Thanh central market–where a bargain awaits for everyone. This is also an excellent place to pick up the must-have souvenir of traditional Vietnamese art. Artists use a combination of eggshell and mother of pearl to create enchanting designs on plates, bowls, paintings and vases that are then richly coated in a shiny lacquer and the effect is a stunning, and distinctly Vietnamese piece of art.
And of course, let us not forget Vietnam’s most famous export: it’s cuisine! Indulge in Pho (a Vietnamese special noodle and meat soup with fragrant herbs), fresh seafood spring rolls or a steaming Vietnamese pancake. Or sit back and sip on Vietnam’s own Da Lat regional wine or a crisp Saigon beer (a must) as well as Vietnam’s delicious coffee with sweet milk. The gastronomical treats are easy to be found. From five-star restaurants to sidewalk grills, every budget and taste will be satisfied with Saigon dishes.
7. Relax in a spa
If all to see and do has your head spinning, why not take some time out and relax in one of the luscious spas or beauty salons where you can get anything from a hot stone massage, to a salt body scrub, a paraffin bath, nail detail and detoxing facials.
Ho Chi Minh City has a plethora of accommodation options on offer. The “backpacker” centre of District 1 has a variety of accommodations down a few narrow alleys, which make bargaining and comparing rooms and rates a smoother experience. There are also three-, four- and five-star hotels offering all the luxuries someone looking for a little extra extravagance could dream of.
There is no shortage of nightlife in Ho Chi Minh City. Rooftop bars, favored by ex-pats and the elite, offer designer cocktails and five-star service. Bars line the winding alleyways of the central district and almost every corner sidewalk grill will have their fair share of ice-cold Saigon beer available.
Transportation around this often-chaotic city is easy. Cabs, cyclos and motodops are on every corner and all at affordable prices. While most of the major sights are walking distance, the humidity in southern Vietnam might question any ideas of grand athletics! Be aware whether you are traveling in the dry season–November to April–or the wet season–May to October–so you can pack accordingly.
Ho Chi Minh has an international airport and is also very accessible through a range of budget airlines by internal domestic flights from northern and central Vietnam.
- Philip Heijmans
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