Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon is the largest city in Vietnam. If you are visiting Vietnam you just cannot skip Saigon, for you get to see the harmony in the confusion. I encountered the high spirited living in District 1, the laid back lives and open spaces in District 7 and came face to face with Vietnamese culture in the District 5.
Where to stay:
I stayed in the Backpackers area in District 1, the place is chaotic and filled with tourists. Bus # 152 takes you from the airport to the city center, walk or take a taxi from there to the place you are staying. The good part is that District 1 is in the heart of the city so you can simply walk to the major places of interest. A dorm room would cost you around $ 7- $ 10 and a private room can cost anywhere between $ 10- $ 20.
Pham Ngu Lao Street is a hub for hostels, with a new hostel coming up every month! It is the main street in the district, however the hostels are located in some extremely narrow alleys. Since all of these hostels promise same amenities and services you might have a hard time picking one out of the lot.
Phan Anh Backpackers Hostel
373/6 Pham Ngu Lao, Ho Chi Minh City
T: (08) 3920 9235
Things not to miss:
- Visit the War remnant museum to get the insights of the war with both French and Americans. The museum displays exhibition rooms on history, statistics and the weaponry used during the war. You will be forced to think how in a short span of time this country has recovered from the horrors of the war. One can easily spend about 2 hours at the museum, is worth the entrance fee of 30000 d.
- Gaze at the marvellous architectures of the Notre Dame Cathedral and Central Post Office. Built by Gustave Eiffel of the Eiffel tower fame, Saigon’s Central Post Office is one of the most acclaimed buildings of the country. Once you enter you are greeted by groups of other tourist praising the Gothic style architecture, French colonial maps and a portrait of Ho Chi Minh. Right across the post office stands the Notre Dame Cathedral basking the beauty of Romanesque architecture, apart from the usual tourist buses I was lucky enough to spot a number of newlyweds having a photo shoot outside the Cathedral.
- A visit to the Mekong delta and the surrounding Islands is a must when in Saigon. There are a number of tour companies that take you to see places around Mekong Delta, you can take a day tour or a 1 night 2 days tour. The day tours range $ 10 – $ 15 and includes transport, English speaking guide and authentic Vietnamese meal. I recommend watching the floating market of Cai Be then taste some snake wine and visit the fruit market of Vin Long to indulge in the tropical treasure of the country.
- Crawl through the Cu Chi tunnels, you can either book a tour or just take a city bus by yourself. It is located a bit on the outskirts of Saigon, these tunnels showcases the Viet Cong method of warfare and is very interesting to know how they survived during the American War. You can avoid the tour under the tunnels if you are claustrophobic.
- Shopping can be a task in Saigon if you have not mastered the art of bargaining, chances are you will be a pro at it by the end of the shopping trip! There are a number of markets to choose- Ben Than being the most visited by the tourists, probably because of the close proximity from the backpackers area is a nice place to shop for souvenirs, eat Vietnamese street food and hone your haggling skills. If you want to escape the heat, you can visit the nigh market. Word of caution: Be careful with your belongings, the streets are filled with pickpockets.
- Get carried away in the crazy Nightlife of Ho Chi Minh City, I would simply compare it to the Baga Beach area in Goa or the Khao San road of Bangkok. A number of Karaoke bars, uptown clubs or just bar the streets are filled with options.
- Sip an Iced Coffee and watch the chaotic life of the city go by. This sure was one my favourite things to do during early evenings, the Vietnamese coffee took my heart away and was a sure way to battle the heat and humidity. More on the coffee culture of Vietnam will come in the next post.
Those are just some of the things that I did during my 5 day stay in Saigon. There is so much one can see and explore in this high octane city and if not then just take book and sip some addictive Vietnamese Coffee.
Have you traveled to Saigon? What did you like the most? I would love to know about it! And if you plan to travel, feel free to ask for suggestions and help.