Ho Chi Minh was just as chaotic, hot and crazy as I had imagined it to be. This bustling city was previously known as Saigon, though for the most, the name has stuck. With little research, I arrived here feeling a little lost and instantly overcome by the humidity.
Saigon is a crowded city filled with endless markets, street food stalls and a symphony of noises and smells. In my opinion can be quite overwhelming if you don’t know where you're going or how to navigate it!
When you arrive, you’re greeted with an abundance of motorbikes, changing lanes ever so quickly, manic road rules and hot and humid temperatures. Anyone would think this is a recipe for disaster and I’ll be the first to admit that even attempting to cross a road is downright terrifying.
I very quickly grew to love Saigon. Uber made it an easy and cheap way to navigate the city, with cross-town journeys costing us no more than $2- $4 each way. With wifi at an abundance, this is the easiest way to make your way around to the places you want to see, without having to spell out addresses and rely on carrying small cash for taxi fares. To make it even easier, you can pick up a cheap sim card with data so that the app is always accessible.
VILLA SONG SAIGON
A colonial inspired, boutique stay situated along the riverbank of District 2, this riverside retreat is light filled with attentive staff, open garden areas and freshly prepared cuisine.
197/2 Nguyen Van Huong Street, Thao Dien Ward, District 2
TO DO & SEE
WALK THE STREETS OF BEN THAHN
The Ben Thahn market & surrounding distrcit is a busy, bustling area where crossing the streets requires boldness and courage. Though it’s quite touristy in some areas, walking the streets of this district and it’s alleyways will give you a look into local life. The roads are lined with street food stalls and people sitting at all hours of the day on tiny stools to have their meals.
THE FLOWER MARKET
A little gem that I’m so glad I found. The markets come alive early and I suggest getting a taxi here as soon as you wake up. The alleyways of florals are endless and is a nice change from the tourist markets & haggling. This market awakes in the very early hours- around 5 am or so, with flowers arriving from Dalat and Hanoi.
THE WAR REMNANT MUSEUM
This museum had me leaving with a very heavy heart. To really understand the history of Vietnam and it’s people, a visit to the War Museum showcases the incredible impact this war made to the country during this time and the effects that it still has. The Agent Orange and Photography exhibit is hard to believe but is such an important part of Vietnams history that can’t be missed if you’re visiting Ho Chi Minh. Admission is 15,000 Dong (about $1).
TAKE A DAY TRIP INTO THE MEKONG DELTA
The Mekong Delta is often referred to as the Rice Bowl of Vietnam, as it provides much of Vietnams food & crops. A day tour from Saigon will keep you busy from dawn til dusk but can’t be missed. It takes two hours each way (give or take with traffic) and is a nice countryside drive. You’ll then get to sail down the Mekong’s intricate waterways and see coconut factories, working boats and friendly locals.
ROOFTOP VIEWS AT THE SHERATON
If you wan’t to get above the madness, the views from the Sheraton’s rooftop bar is one of the most colourful sights you’ll see. Sit on the balcony and soak up the lights from a calmer point of view.
Saigon has an abundance of street food on each and every corner. Be sure to try the local favourites of Bánh mì (baguette sandwich), Phở (noodle soup) and Bánh xèo (cripsy filled crepe). Street food dishes will set you back around $1- $2 per dish and is a great way to sit on the footpath and people watch while enjoying it how the locals do.
Saigon runs on coffee and can be enjoyed on nearly every street corner. Cong Cafe serves up Vietnamese iced coffee with coconut cream ice-cream. With propaganda decor, walls of books and vegan options available, this hipster hang out was one of my favourites.
A french inspired cafe, bistro and store that sits above the bustling tourist area. To get to Luisine, look for the sign above an alleyway entrance which is filled with traditional paintings. Turn right at the end and climb two flights of stairs. The coffee here is strong and it’s organic interiors make it a place to spend an afternoon cooling off with an iced coffee or three.
Authentic Vietnamese food. The Ngô Van Nam location has a lush rooftop alfresco dining area with city views and some of my favourite food in Ho Chi Minh. Fresh lemon juice, young coconuts, stir fried greens, brown rice, prawn spring rolls and stir fried seafood were some of the dishes we feasted on.
Located in District 2, and a 4 minute walk from Villa Song Saigon, this restaurant was up there with one of my favourites. It’s cheap and healthy and with high ceilings and attentive staff it’s such a nice place to unwind for lunch or dinner. The menu highlights the health benefit of each dish and is a bit of a laugh.
215 Nguyen Van Huong Str, Thao Dien ward, District 2
Always listed as one of Saigons top Vegetarian eateries, Hum is located right within District 1 and has really delicious healthy options. I tried the vegetable tempura, spring rolls and pineapple & cashew fried rice. A little more expensive than the others listed above, but the interiors are well decorated and is a nice little option for a long lunch in the heart of it all.
Also located within District two and a five minute uber ride from Villa Song is Kokois Cafe. A beautifully designed outdoor oasis where East meets West.
If you’re feeling fancy, the Deck is where you want to be. If you’ve got cash to spend, you can arrive by boat or its a less than 5 minute taxi ride from Villa Song in District 2. The food here is exceptional and the same goes for the staff.
38 Nguyen U Di St, Thao Dien, District 2
Special thanks to Air Asia for getting me safely to Vietnam