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Ho Chi Minh City

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Asia : Southeast Asia : Vietnam : Ho Chi Minh City
Afternoon siesta, near Ben Thanh MarketAfternoon siesta, near Ben Thanh Market
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Afternoon siesta, near Ben Thanh Market

Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnamese: Thành Ph? H? Chí Minh), commonly known as Saigon, is the largest city in Vietnam and the former capital of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam).

ho chi minh city Travel Guide :

Ho Chi Minh City

Understand

Saigon is a poor city, though not as poor as it used to be before the Communist Party decided to stop trying to run the economy itself. Everyone is trying to make a living, and you are a multi-millionaire in the eyes of the Vietnamese. Remember this every ten seconds as someone tries to sell you flowers, bike rides, shoe-shines, guide books or trinkets. You can ease your conscience by tipping generously in restaurants and hotels. The beggars mostly seem to be professionals and since the Vietnamese ignore them so can the visitor. Ho Chi Minh City is packed with tourists -- more so than any other city in Vietnam.

Ho Chi Minh City

Get in

Ho Chi Minh City

By plane

Tan Son Nhat (IATA code SGN) is Vietnam's largest international gateway and somewhat grotty, but it's small and easily navigable. Immigration here is notoriously strict and can be time-consuming, but if your papers are in order you should be fine. You can exchange money here, but you're probably better off paying for your first trip in dollars and exchanging in the city. Taxis for the trip to the center take 30 minutes and cost US$3-5; make sure the driver uses the meter. An airport bus has also recently started running.

Note that a departure tax of US$12 must be paid in cash (dollars or dong) when leaving.

Ho Chi Minh City

Get around

Ho Chi Minh City

By taxi

Taxis are the most comfortable way of getting around, and quite cheap at 12000 dong for the first 2 kilometers, plus 6000 dong per additional kilometer. It's easy and safe to flag a taxi anywhere, anytime in Saigon.

However, not all taxis are created equal. The newer cars are more likely to have a working air conditioner, and be aware that the larger mini-SUV-type taxis charge a higher rate.

Keep small bills on hand since no one seems to have change when dealing with a Westerner.

It is important to be aware that taxi drivers get commission for taking people to certain hotels so when arriving at the airport be sure you are very clear about which hotel you want to get taken to. If this hotel doesn't pay commission this may be harder than expected.

Ho Chi Minh City

By bike

Motorbikes (xe ôm) are plentiful, cheap and dangerous. Agree on a price before you set off; short hops around town shouldn't be more than 10000 dong, and all the way to the airport around 30000.

Ho Chi Minh City

By cyclo

Cyclos are slow, dangerous and their drivers have an unfortunate tendency to attempt to rip you off, which goes a long way to explain why there are slowly disappearing from Saigon. But figure on US$2 per hour if you must.

Ho Chi Minh City

By bus

Saigon recently made a big investment in public transit, and bright green, brand new busses are everywhere. Route information can be found at the tourist information office and it's cheaper and safer than many of the alternatives. The biggest problem is that when you get off the bus, you become a pedestrian (see below).

Ho Chi Minh City

Walking

Saigon streets, sidewalks, and outdoor markets are owned by the motorbikes, and the whole environment is extremely hostile to pedestrians. Even though traffic is not as dense and chaotic as, say, Bangkok traffic, it's pretty scary for the western visitor. It consists mainly of motorcycles, many with up to five people including small children perched on them with apparent complete disregard for safety. Riders pay no attention to traffic signals and the traffic flows in a continuous, noisy stream. Crossing roads is therefore a challenge for westerners used to traffic lights. The trick is to follow the Vietnamese - step confidently out into the road and cross at a slow but steady pace. Trust to Lord Buddha that the traffic will flow miraculously around you, and it will. Better yet, take a taxi.

The traffic police occupy themselves with random roadside checks and do not bother the motorcyclists that are running red lights or driving on the sidewalks. 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.

Ho Chi Minh City

See

The tank that ended the war, Reunification HallThe tank that ended the war, Reunification Hall
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The tank that ended the war, Reunification Hall
  • Reunification Hall, 106 Nguyen Du St. Formerly South Vietnam's Presidential Palace, this is a restored five-floor time warp to the Sixties left largely untouched from the day before Saigon fell to the North. On April 30, 1975, the war ended when tank 843, now parked outside, crashed through the gate. You can also visit the war rooms in the basement and view a propaganda film recounting how the South Vietnamese lackeys and American imperialists succumbed to Ho Chi Minh's indomitable revolutionary forces. Entry 15,000 dong; open daily 0730-1130, 1300-1600.
  • War Remnants Museum, 28 Vo Van Tan St. Formerly known as the Exhibition House of American War Crimes, this is a disturbing exhibit of man's cruelty during the Vietnam War. In addition to halls full of gruesome photographs, exhibits include a real guillotine, a simulated "tiger cage" prison and jars of deformed fetuses blamed on Agent Orange. The museum, currently a rather confused assemblage of warehouses, will shortly be moved to new purpose-built premises under construction next door; however, the comic relief provided by a display on the evils of American rock music has sadly disappeared. Entry 10,000 dong; open daily 0730-1145, 1330-1730.
  • City Hall, end of Nguyen Hue St. Originally called the Hôtel de Ville and now formally rebranded the People's Committee Hall, is a beautiful cream and yellow French colonial building beautifully floodlit at night. No entry, but the statue of Uncle Ho in front is a very popular place for photos.
  • Museum of Vietnamese History, at the top of Le Duan St (just inside the gates of the zoo). The museum has a fine collection of Vietnamese antiquities, but unfortunately they are accompanied by signage which is both in poor English and full of risible Marxist distortions. Read up on Vietnamese history first or you will have no idea what you are looking at. Outside, the Botanical Gardens are very nice and a good place for a cheap lunch away from the crowds. If you care about animal welfare, avoid the zoo.
Ho Chi Minh City

Do

If you're in Saigon on a Sunday night, buy, borrow, or rent a two-wheeled vehicle so you can join the throngs for di choi. It's basically a party on wheels, where everyone just rides through the streets of downtown until the wee hours.

If the heat starts to get you down, head to one of the cities water parks for a bit of splashing around to cool off. There are a number of water parks in Saigon. Close to the city centre is Dam Sen Water Park (http://www.damsenwaterpark.com.vn) in District 11. Saigon Water Park (http://http://www.vietnamtourism.com/e_pages/Tourist/travel.asp) is just north of the city in the Thu Duc District. The others are Water World in District 9, Ocean Water Park in District 7 and Dai The Gioi Water Park in District 5.

Ho Chi Minh City

Buy

  • Ben Thanh Market, west end of Le Loi. Probably Saigon's largest market, offering a wide spread of, well, pretty much everything from Ho Chi Minh T-shirts to cosmetics, diapers, pickled plums and live ducks. Popular with tourists, so prepare to haggle.
  • Night market (which is just outside of Ben Thanh market). After 5pm everyday when Ben Thanh market is closed then you will see another market where you can enjoy many kinds of different food and drink. You also can go round to do your shopping as well .
  • Tax Department Store, corner of Le Loi and Nguyen Hue. 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.
Ho Chi Minh City

Eat

You're spoiled for choice in Saigon, which offers the country's largest variety of Vietnamese and international food.

Ho Chi Minh City

Budget

Food stalls are scattered all over the streets of Saigon, but there's a fair collection in the Ben Thanh market (see Buy).

Along Pham Ngu Lao there are many budget westernised options. venturing a bit further into the side alleys can uncover some better options than on the main streets.

Ho Chi Minh City

Mid-range

  • Tân Nam, 60-62 Dong Du. An attractive two-story Vietnamese restaurant with good food. The ground floor open-air, the upper floor air-con. Most dishes US$3-4.
  • Lemongrass, 4 Nguyen Thiep St. A reliable if mildly touristy Vietnamese restaurant. Most dishes are in US$3-4 range, although some seafood items are expensive; try the weekly specials.
  • Quan An Ngon, 138 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia St. A large but busy Vietnamese restaurant featuring the best regional specialities from around the country. Set in an old French villa that's handy for Reunification Palace too.
Ho Chi Minh City

Drink

Ho Chi Minh City

Coffee shops

A cup of immensely strong black Vietnamese coffee (sweetened with sugar or condensed milk) in a traditional Vietnamese cafe is an absolute must when in Saigon. The coffee is actually brewed in a little metal apparatus placed on your cup, just lift it off when it has cooled off enough to touch (and hence drink).

  • Trung Nguyen, 1 (http://www.trungnguyen.com.vn/). The Vietnamese version of Starbucks, but with much better coffee. Figure on 10000 dong for a basic cuppa, although there are plenty of variations including the infamous weasel coffee (cà phê ch?n), made from coffee beans collected from the excrement of a civet. Some convenient outlets:
    • East side of Nguyen Hue right before City Hall
    • Corner of Thu Khoa Huan and Ly Tu Trong
  • Givral Cafe, Dong Khoi (opp. Continental Hotel). More in the French tradition, with fresh pastries, collared waiters and elaborate portions of ice cream. Well located, but much pricier at D20000++ for the simplest cup.
Ho Chi Minh City

Bars and clubs

Saigon has plenty of places to drink, although it must be noted that to a certain degree Vietnamese and foreigners hang out in their own places; this is slowly changing as Vietnam becomes wealthier and more familiar with the strange ways of the West.

  • 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 very late and doesn't really even get started before midnight; cover 70,000D with one drink, selectively enforced.
  • Saigon Saigon, Caravelle Hotel 9F, 12-13 Lam Son Sq. A pleasantly breezy open-air bar for a nightcap and good views; get here early if you want to avoid the execrable house band though.
  • Level 23, Sheraton Saigon 23F. The newest entry on Saigon's bar scene, with separate bar and nightclub and great views over the city. A little soulless though, and very pricy with most drinks 80,000D+.
  • Heart Of Darkness 2 (http://www.hodvn.com), 17b Le Than Ton St. A friendly atmosphere for chilling out or rocking to international music from international resident DJs each night during the week. On Fridays and Saturdays resident DJs spin the best until very late. It is also noted as the bar that has the longest happy hour, from 5:00pm until 9:00pm with beer and mixed drinks as low as 15,000VND.
Ho Chi Minh City

Sleep

Ho Chi Minh City

Budget

Pham Ngu Lao, to the west of town, is Saigon's backpacker hangout.

Ho Chi Minh City

Mid-range

Many of Saigon's historical hotels are in the hands of Saigontourist, the former state monopoly. Thanks to recent competition, service and facilities are adequate, but not quite up to modern standards; but if you want to experience a little colonial atmosphere, these remain far and away the best choices at the moment.

  • Continental Hotel, 132-134 Dong Khoi St, 3 (http://www.continental-saigon.com/). A perfectly located old-school colonial hotel dating back to 1880 and the setting of Graham Greene's The Quiet American (but not, alas, its filmatization). Lovely breakfast garden, huge rooms, nice balcony views and only slightly expensive at US$60 and up (taxes, service, breakfast included). On the minus side, there is no pool, and noise from traffic and the Hyatt construction site next door can be irritating.
  • Rex Hotel, 141 Nguyen Hue Blvd, 4 (http://www.rexhotelvietnam.com/). Another old standby, former haunt of the press corps and site of the daily news briefing during the Vietnam War. The 5th-floor beer garden is famous and its symbol, the golden crown, is rotating again. Slightly more expensive at US$70 and up, but does have a swimming pool.
Ho Chi Minh City

Luxury

Luxury hotel chains are popping up in Saigon faster than mushrooms in the monsoon rains. Current competitors include Caravelle, Sheraton Saigon (complete with Prada shop in the arcade), Renaissance Riverside and Sofitel Plaza; upcoming entrants include the Hyatt. Expect to pay closer to US$200 a night for any of these.

Ho Chi Minh City

Get out

  • The most popular excursions from Saigon are a visit to the Vietcong tunnels of Cu Chi or a boat trip on the Mekong Delta .

For trips to these and other destinations the easiest and cheapest option is to go to one of the many travel agencies around Pham Ngu Lao area and book there. Tours go everyday to virtually everywhere it seems.



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