This is my third visit to Ho Chi Minh (AKA Saigon) and it never fails to surprise me.
The excitement starts immediately when the plane descends. Look out through the window and the city view is simply breathtaking. Buildings are built close to one another and the built up areas span as far as the eye can see.
Most of the tourist attractions are in District 1 of the city. Take the more reliable metered taxis – Vinasun and Mai Linh at the airport to get to District 1. Uber and Grab are also available.
Spend a day to explore the tourist attractions. The most popular ones are the war remnants museum and the adjacent independence palace. These places tell gruesome stories of the Vietnam war from one perspective.
The Central Post Office boasts a stunning architecture that is influenced by Gothic, Renaissance and French. Look out for two old maps on the sides of the wall which depict the old Saigon city.
Nearby, the red coloured Notre-Dam Basilica has two impressive bell towers. The building was built by the French during the colonial era and most of the building materials were imported from France. Even the bricks were imported from Toulouse in France.
The City Opera and HCM city hall are next to each other. From time to time, there are interesting local performance in the city opera and it is a great way to experience local performance arts.
The HCM city hall building is a beautiful colonial building that is well maintained. However as it is a government building, it is out of bound to public.
Ben Thanh Market is a popular local market that sells all kinds of fresh produces, handicrafts and souvenirs. The market has a reputation for nasty touting but it is still worth have a look if there is enough time.
The heat during the day can be quite unbearable. Tuck yourself in a cafe for a quick respite. HCMC has a large coffee scene dominated by coffee chains and many local independent cafes.
My favourite cafe is Fly Cupcake Garden Cafe which has a great ambience. Try the flan cake – it is as good as the one I had tried in France!
The Starbucks outlets in Saigon are very spacious and decorated with teak wood found abundant in Vietnam. The first and only Starbucks Reserve in Saigon is a short walk from the independence palace. I was served by Chloe, one of the coffee masters, who explained the different types of coffee beans and also preparation methods. With full table service and also explanation of the coffee, the cost of a cup of coffee is well worth the experience. It is just US$ 4.
Night life in Saigon
When dusk falls, Saigon undergoes a quick and dramatic change. The afternoon heat disappears and the evening breeze brings with it a calming and soothing spell.
The streets and buildings are lighted up and everything looks more orderly in the evening compared to the busy day time.
Saigon boasts a number of popular roof top bars drawing a lot of expatriates, tourists and affluent locals. The cocktail prices are affordable by international standards.
My favourite is Shri Restaurant and Lounge which serves amazing cocktail with strong alcohol. Come in before the busy dinner time and enjoy the city view during sunset. It is simply amazing!
Nguyen Hue Walking Street is a promenade in front of the city hall, popular amongst local youngsters.
Look out for Zone 87. It can go unnoticed as the shop front is indifferent from the rest. Once you step in, you will pass through a narrow walkway and toward the end, the space opens up into an enclave of fashion shops and eateries. Popular among young people.
Bui Vien Walking Street
The street is popular at night where locals and tourists flocked in for a unique night life experience. It is busy throughout the week but on both Saturday and Sunday, it gets even busier as the street is closed off from traffic.
Music blasts off from the clubs and bars on both sides of the street. Locals prefer to hang around makeshift pubs, where small tables and chairs are placed in front of some shops. I was lucky enough to join a group of local friends at 85 Bui Vien and had a wonderful night out with beers and street food.
Food in Saigon
Hawker stalls and restaurants are everywhere in Saigon. It is not hard to get a meal done here but to get a decent restaurant with good ambience, it does need some research and suggestions from locals.
Di Ly – Banh Da Cua – Try their signature noodle soup who is served with crab meat cake. Very light and delicious soup!
Di Mai Restaurant – Set in a relaxing ambience, this restaurant serves Vietnamese local and fusion food. Deliciously made at a reasonable price.
My small note
Saigon is undergoing rapid changes. The first metro is being built and hopefully the traffic will be improved in the near future. What draws me back to Saigon again and again is definitely the warmth and hospitality of local friends.
Google map resources
Lazy to plan your trip? Follow the links below for my favourite places. I have not visited all these places but they are recommended by bloggers alike and local friends.
Are you from Saigon and would like to suggest new places to go? Email me at email@example.com