Discover Ho Chi Minh
Adorned with spacious, elegant boulevards and marked with lasting symbols of French imperialism, Ho Chi Minh City serves as a poignant reminder of Vietnam’s colonial past. The modern world is also clearly visible, the city has become an energetic centre of commerce, and any visitor here is sure to enjoy discovering the deep contrasts and historical influences that belie the city formerly known as ‘Saigon’.
After the fall of Saigon in 1975, the city adopted its current name, however its former name is still openly used by both Vietnamese and foreigners. Before being annexed by the Vietnamese in the 17th century, it was Prey Nokor, a vital Khmer sea port. It later served as the capital of the French colony of Cochinchina, as well as that of the independent republic of South Vietnam. Upon the conclusion of the Vietnam War on 30 April 1975, Saigon was ‘liberated’ by the communist Vietnamese People’s Army, and was merged with some surrounding areas to create the city as it is today, named in honour of the late Communist leader Ho Chi Minh.
Like the rest of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City is not overtly religious. Less than half of the Saigonese describe themselves as religious, and those that do mostly follow the Vietnamese folk religion, which has strong Buddhist influences.
Ho Chi Minh City draws on both Asian and Western traditions alike, and is thus a glittering fusion of both East and West. In particular, every tourist should visit the monuments to French colonialism that dot the city like relics from a distant past, such as the astounding cathedral known as Saigon Notre-Dame basilica.
- The Vietnamese believe in the concept of face
- Don’t touch people’s heads, or their feet, as these two areas have great significance in this culture
- Both sexes should dress modestly, although this is a more serious issue for women
- Avoid public displays of affection
Ho Chi Minh City is located on Vietnam’s coast, 1,760km south of Hanoi. It has a tropical savannah climate, with hot temperatures and high humidity throughout the year. The rainy season begins in May and lasts until October.
Ho Chi Minh City is more of a metropolis than anything else, though the city’s silhouette is made beautiful by the Saigon River, a vantage point for photographers looking to get that perfect sunrise/sunset shot. For the city-averse,, venture out to the nearby Binh Quoi village for a greener setting of lilipads and traditional boats.
Just south of Ho Chi Minh City, one can visit the unesco-listed Can Gio Biosphere Reserve – having survived chemical warfare attacks due to the guerrillas nesting within the area during the Vietnam War, this mangrove forest is now bursting with wildlife – some of the unique sights available here are a bat lagoon and a crocodile swamp (located at the Vam Sat Ecological Tourist Zone).
Before you go
- Language: Vietnamese, a Vietic language formerly written in Chinese characters
- Currency: Vietnamese dong (VND)
- Time Zone: Indochina Time, utc+7
- Voltage: 220/380
- Electric Socket: Type B, nicer hotels will in addition have Types C and G
- Make sure you have an unlocked phone that is gsm-compatible, you can fit this phone with a pre-activated gsm sim card available at almost every shop in Vietnam.
- The most popular are the standard Mobifone cards. A normal voice and sms card from Mobifone costs around 80,000 dong and is valid for 2 months.
- Note that in Vietnam, you must always dial the city code (04 for Hanoi) when calling from your mobile before the telephone number.
- Banks are generally open Monday to Friday from 8.00am to 4.00pm.
- On Saturdays, banks will open only in the morning, from 8.00am to 11.30am.
- There are a few large international banks that will open on Saturday afternoons and Sundays, but all banks are closed on public holidays.
- ATMs can only dispense cash in Vietnamese dong.
- The amount of cash that can be withdrawn is usually: 2,000,000 dong with an additional usage charge variable from 30,000 dong upwards.
- Banh Xeo – Vietnamese versions of crepes. Try to get some bo la lot (beef wrapped in betel leaves) on the side.
- Thit Nuong – Charcoal grilled pork that has been marinated in fish sauce, sugar and lemongrass. Usually paired with cold vermicelli noodles in bun thit nuong, or in a baguette in banh mi thit nuoung
- Mon An Chay– Vietnamese vegetarian fare. Com chay restaurants serve this type of dish, and fresh vegetables and soy products are a highlight.
Tipping is not a common habit in Vietnam, but feel free to show you appreciation for good service through a small tip of $0.50-1.
Taxis: Feel free to just leave behind loose change as a courtesy to your driver, should the service be of a good quality.
Restaurants: Tip as you see fit. One example of a very generous tip is a 50,000 dong note which is equivalent to around $2.5.
Hotels: In general, tipping in hotels is not expected but is appreciated.
- Suggested Vaccinations: hepatitis A and typhoid
- Drink bottled mineral water rather than tap water.
- Crossing the streets in Ho Chi Minh City is not for the faint-hearted.
- Markets and other packed areas are full of pick-pockets, often professional gangs. Carry your bags in front of you and do not let yourself be surrounded, even by females.
- Violent crime is extremely rare in Vietnam
- Police: 113
- Ambulance: 115
- French Vietnamese Hospital (private): 6 Nguyễn Lương Bằng, Tân Phú, District 7, Hồ Chí Minh City, Tel: (+84) 8 5411 3333
- Cho Ray Hospital (private): 201B Nguyen Chi Thanh Street, District 5, Ho Chi Minh City, Tel: (+84) 8 3855 4137
- Hello (in general): Zhao-ay (when greeting a male)
- Hello (in general): Zhao-zhi (when greeting a female)
- Excuse me. / Sorry: Zeen-loy
- Thank you (to male): Cahm-un-ong
- Cảm ơn bà to (to female): Cảm ơn bà
- You’re welcome: Kung-coh-gee
- Good morning/evening: Chao-booy-shang / Chao-booy-doi
- Goodbye (to male): Zhao-ay
- Goodbye (to female): Zhao-zhi
- How much is this?: Cao-uy-ha-bao-nyo
- Cheers! (Toasts when drinking): Ju-shu-chwe
- Bon appetit!: An-nyon-nye
- Where’s the toilet?: Co-dyow-euh-doe
- Help!: Kiu-veui
- Tôi hiểu: Toy-hee-yow
- I don’t understand: Toy-hong-hee-yow
How to get into this area, and how to get around it!
Tan Son Nhat is the largest international airport in Vietnam with two terminals: the one for international flights, which is pleasant and comfortable, and the older but still convenient terminal for domestic flights. Take bus 152 (only operated until around 6pm) to the city centre for maximum savings – costing 5,000 dong per person and 5,000 dong for bags, the bus leaves every 15 minutes and will drop off passengers at the east end of the Pham Ngu Lao area . Ignore touts trying to tell you that there are no more buses available, and if you are willing to brave the scams and take a taxi, make sure the meter is turned on – a taxi into the city should never cost more than $10-14
Many “open-tour” bus itineraries either begin or end in Ho Chi Minh City. There are also buses running from Phnom Penh in Cambodia to the city.
The Reunification Express, which runs all the way back and forth from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi (with stops in Hue, Da Nang, Nha Trang and Mui Ne) is a fun way to get around Vietnam. The sleeper trains generally contain four berths, and luggage is kept under the bottom bunks – toilets are provided at the end of each carriage too.
Taxis are very affordable in Ho Chi Minh City, but make sure your cab is from a better-known company and that the meter is always used. Some reputable cab companies in the city include Mai Linh (+84 8 3838 3838) and Vinasun (+84 8 3827 2727). Make sure to have smaller bills when entering a taxi, never accept offers from touts and try to always estimate what your journey should cost.
A fun way to see the city is to cycle around, which is not as challenging as it looks as long as you stay assertive, make sure you leave the left lane to cars, and of course stay as much as you can with the swarm of bicycles that are forever on the streets of the city. The easiest way to get a bike is to ask around at travel agencies. One store that does rent out old-fashioned basket bikes (at 40.000 dong/day) is Lac Hong on Pham Ngu Lao.
A more adventurous option is to rent one of your own motorbikes at shops in the backpacker area of Pham Ngu Lao. 20,000-150,000 dong per day should get you a decent 100-110cc bike. Be advised that the traffic in Ho Chi Minh City is best left to those familiar with the city, but if you’re up for a challenge try to get your hands on an automatic bike so as not to be stuck changing gears in the middle of busy traffic!
Things to see
The top locations to visit in this destination.