Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) is Vietnam at its most dizzying: a high-octane city of commerce and culture that has driven the country forward with its pulsating energy. A chaotic whirl, the city breathes life and vitality into all who settle here, and visitors cannot help but be hauled along for the ride.
Originally, the land was the home of the Khmers people. However, Vietnamese took the place over in the 17th century, naming the place “Saigon”. For such a financial hub of the nation, Ho Chi Minh ty has a long history. Saigon was the capital of French Indochina from 1887 to 1902, and again from 1945 to 1954. It was then the capital of South Vietnam from 1955, until Vietnam Communism military won the Vietnam war on 1975. Along with such major changes, Saigon was re-named after Vietnam’s revolutionary leader after merging with Gia Dinh province. Fortunately, the original name Saigon is still popularly used, especially among the nostalgic citizens who love its originality.
Ho Chi Minh City
1. Things to do in Ho Chi Minh City
- Get lost in Chinatown: Chinatown is a hive of activity and a maze of temples, restaurants, jade ornaments, and medicine shops. Aside from the sprawling Binh Tay Market, you’ll find some fascinating temples in the area including the Chinese Chua Quan Am Temple and Cha Tam, a Catholic cathedral.
- Admire the Notre Dame Cathedral: The Notre Dame Cathedral is an imposing red brick building built between 1877 and 1883. The two towers in the front of the cathedral rise above visitors at nearly 58 meters tall while the neon-lit statue of the Virgin Mary is also an intriguing sight.
- See the Emperor Jade Pagoda: This temple was built in 1909 to honor the supreme Taoist god, Emperor Jade. It’s one of the most impressive pagodas in Vietnam. The building is filled with intricate woodcarvings and statues of divinities and heroes, including Emperor Jade himself. The roof is also covered in detailed tile work showing characters from Buddhist and Taoist legends.
- Shop at the Ben Thanh Market: Though this market in District 1 is crowded and rife with pickpockets, it is the ideal place to pick up some handicrafts or bargain souvenirs, or to try some traditional (and inexpensive) Vietnamese food. It’s the largest market in Vietnam, so get lost in the chaos and enjoy it all.
- Escape to Can Gio Island: The Can Gio Island is popular with tourists and locals looking to escape the chaos of the city. The beaches here aren’t mind-blowing like they are in Thailand but it’s a cool place to relax and one of Vietnam’s better islands. The island’s monkey sanctuary and mangroves are great for wildlife fans. It’s about a two-hour drive to get there and you can take the #75 bus from 23/9 Park.
- Unwind in Twenty-Three September Park: In the early morning and just after the work day is done, this park is packed with people exercising and playing games. Watch a Tai Chi class, play a game of badminton, or chat with one of the many students who hang out in the area.
- Visit Ba Thien Hau Temple: Located in Chinatown, the Ba Thien Hau Temple is a Buddhist temple that was built in 1706 for the Chinese sea goddess, Mazu. It’s believed she flies around on a cloud or a mat, rescuing people at sea. The outside of the temple doesn’t look like much but the inside is filled with porcelain figures, and the roof is covered in colorful dioramas.
- Take a cooking class: There are many, many cooking classes in Ho Chi Minh City. You can easily shop around. I recommend Saigon Cooking Class by Hoa Tuc because it is led by chefs that love combining classic and contemporary Vietnamese dishes. You can even combine your cooking class with a market tour. Tours here start from 909,000 VND ($39.50 USD), but you can find them for cheaper elsewhere.
- Take a food tour: If you would rather not get hands on with your food, take a tour through Ho Chi Minh’s best foodie neighborhoods. With Street Food Adventure Tours you will safely try lots of street food, including everything from rice vermicelli with BBQ pork to coconut juice and Vietnamese coffee (and more!).
- Catch a show at the Opera House: The Opera House in Ho Chi Minh City is one of the best-preserved examples of French colonial architecture in the country. It was built in 1897 for the opera but now also hosts lots of different performances, including ballet and Vietnamese traditional dances and plays. Check the website to see what’s on during your visit.
Similar to any other commercial city, Ho Chi Minh is a busy place with dynamic lifestyles of various types of people, coming from all cities of Vietnam. As a multi-culture society, the citizens’ beliefs and religions are plentifull and prosperous. The people are familiar with foreigners coming from around the world, the millennials are supposed to speak English. However, due to the different originality, Ho Chi Minh city people are kind of unpredictable. One day you might catch them saying hi to tourists just to be nice, and also catch them rip your wallet with counterfeits and high price another day. Therefore, tourists should not rely too much on local, even they seem nice and communicate fluently.
While Vietnam has so many destinations which offer amazing experience during Tet holiday – Vietnamese biggest holiday during Lunar New Year, Ho Chi Minh city is completely opposite. Since all the immigrants would come back to their hometown during such long holiday, and much of original Saigon people have left the country in 1975, the city is quite, less busy with traffic and turns into a peaceful place instead. Hence, if you do want to see the busy city suddenly turns tranquil in just about 3 days, coming to Ho Chi Minh city during the Lunar New Year period would make you surprised.
3. Ho Chi Minh City Transportation
- Bus – Ho Chi Minh City has over 100 different bus routes, and you can reach all major tourist destinations this way. They’re safe and affordable, costing between 3,500-10,000 VND ($0.15-0.43 USD) depending on the distance. You’ll pay the driver in cash as you get on the bus. However, if you’re going a short distance, this isn’t the most practical way to travel, as traffic congestion is very high in this city. For longer distances, yes, go on the bus!
- Bicycle – A common way to get around the city is by bicycle, which you can ride easily since the city is so flat. You can rent a bike for about 130,000 VND ($5.60 USD) per day.
- Taxis – Taxis start at average at 12,000 VND ($0.52 USD) for the first kilometer and 10,000 VND ($0.43 USD) per kilometer thereafter. Grabbing a taxi from the airport to the center of the city should take about 30-minutes and costs about 200,000-330,000 VND ($8.60-14.20 USD). Do not take unmetered taxis!
- Motorcycle Taxi – You can also catch rides from motorcycle taxis for about 10,000 VND ($0.43 USD) per kilometer or about 30,000 VND ($1.30 USD) per short ride. Remember to set the price beforehand and wear the helmet. These motorcycle taxis will get you places the quickest, as they’re able to weave in and out of heavy traffic.
- Cyclo – Cyclos are like tuk-tuks, except they run completely on man-power. Because cyclos are slow moving and often a nuisance in traffic, many roads in Ho Chi Minh City are entirely closed off to them. If you choose to go this route, your driver may have to navigate around prohibited roads and may not be able to drop you off right at your address. Because of this, I do not recommend cyclos. A short trip within the city center shouldn’t cost more than 50,000 VND ($2.15 USD).
- Ridesharing – Grab is Asia’s answer to Uber. It works the same way: you hire a local to take you somewhere via the Grab app, and you can pay via the app or in cash. It’s often more affordable than a regular taxi. A short 10-minute ride from District 1 to the Notre Dame Cathedral, for example, will cost you about 27,625 VND ($1.20 USD) for a shared Grab. Grab Bikes (motorcycle taxis) are even cheaper.
4. When visit Ho Chi Minh City
Ben Thanh Market
Ho Chi Minh city is kind of hot throughout the year in comparison with other regions. There are only 2 seasons: the dry and the wet one. The city sees frequent rainfall during May to September. If you are coming for the sunny weather to enjoy the trip conveniently, it is recommended to come during December to March.
5.Travelling tips in Ho Chi Minh City
- Watch your belongings: Vietnam is safe with friendly people and peaceful lifestyle. However, there is still petty theft waiting for your distraction. Always have your belongings on eyes, keep your backpack in front of your chest when in crowded areas such as bus, train station, …
- Be aware of counterfeits: Not only apply for Branded items, counterfeit tour agencies would be the worse thing can happen to a tourist. Book everything through a worldwide trusted supplier so you won’t have to regret.
- Don’t rely too much: As mentioned above, Ho Chi Minh city is now the home of variety of people, even the poorest and fierce ones. Therefore, it is hard to differentiate type by type if you are not Vietnamese. Tourists often get familiar with friendly modern citizens then get suffer from the immigrated people’s behavior.
- Tips for eating in Ho Chi Minh City: The bulk of travellers eat in two main areas: the city centre, with its profusion of quality establishments; and the budget area, concentrated around De Tham, Pham Ngu Lao and Bui Vien, where many establishments cater exclusively to tourists.