Ho Chi Minh City
Population: approximately 9 million
Formerly known as Saigon
Largest city in the country
Located in the South Vietnam
International airport code: SGN
Museum-hopping, markets, gateway to the Mekong, Phu Quoc Island, and the coastal destinations, nightlife, local food.
Ho Chi Minh City Travel Vignette:
What an incredible contrast from Ha Noi. From street side meals and ancient kings, to neon lights and all hustle-and-bustle. Siagon - otherwise known as Ho Chi Minh City - is youthful, yet sophisticated, holding a charming air of modern philosophy in a post-colonial Vietnamese setting.
Our two days were well spent. Surely we could have added another day of sightseeing so that we could have included the Cu Chi tunnels to our list of attractions. What a joy our cyclo tour to the museums and the Notre Dame Cathedral was. Loved all the daytime shopping; especially, my new white silk Ao Dai. And in the evening? Well,we even lost a few of our inhabitations and did a little dancing. Good to feel young again!
Formerly known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City is a sprawling metropolis that is home to more than 9 million people. Vibrant and alluring, this city offers something for everyone. It is a study in contrasts: traditional and modern, young and old, rich and poor.
If you ever wondered what Bangkok must have been like before the gridlock or Hong Kong before the high rises, this is your chance. But don't wait too long, a skyscaper or two have marked their place on the skyline, things are changing fast. Plan on spending a minimum of 2 or 3 days, longer if you can.
The central downtown area is in District 1. Here's where you'll find the greatest variety of lodgings, including classic hotelsbotique hotels and hostels. In recent years a lot of new hotel projects have been going up, creating a temporary glut, particularly in the high end of the market. The result is some pretty good deals on some really nice hotel rooms. We recommend first-timers stay in District 1, as it's close to many museums, historical sites, and good restaurants.
Numerous worthwhile sites within Ho Chi Minh City itself include the Historical Museum, Reunification Hall and the War Remnants Museum (formerly the War Crimes Museum). Within a day's drive there are also several attractions well-worth the trip.
Bargain hunters will find good deals on native handicrafts and custom-tailored clothing. Of course Ho Chi Minh City is also a great place to just sit and watch the action or take a leisurely tour in a cyclo to visit the historical sites, including Notre Dame Cathedral and the former U.S. embassies.
Downtown streets are dominated by two-wheeled traffic. Fashionably-dressed women with designer sunglasses, high heels and elbow-length gloves cruise past on their Hondas and Vespas, followed by teenage girls wearing traditional Vietnamese ao dai, peddling bicycles and holding hands. With few traffic lights, intersections are negotiated by slowing down and then weaving through the cross traffic, making eye contact with the closest riders. Pedestrians cross the street by simply walking into the melee, hardly breaking stride as the traffic swirls around them. It all sounds crazy, but it works!
Most offices, stores and museums open early, usually around 7:30 a.m. Most close their doors for lunch for up to 2 hours. The city literally shuts down between noon and 1. Doors reopen by 1:30 and stay open until around 4:30 or 5. Most restaurants stop serving at 10 p.m.
Ho Chi Minh City has essentially two seasons: dry and wet. The dry season runs from November through April; the wet season from May through October. Dry or wet, it's always hot! If you arrive during the wet season, bring a raincoat and an umbrella.