On first glance Ho Chi Minh is a gleaming, busy, not-so-Vietnamese looking city. But the commercial capital is worth having a nose around… great street food, eclectic temples, local local markets and more than a few bars to saddle up to.
Ben Thanh Market- Alright, it’s touristy and it’s full of annoying vendors. BUT the food and flower market out the back is fabulous especially early in the morning. Check it out but by no means linger around too long- the crazy vendors will drive you nuts.
City Tour…the usual sites to see- Dabble in a bit of history in HCMC and you won’t be disappointed. Spend a half day visiting the following to get a glimpse into Vietnam’s past.
- The War Remnants Museum (28 To Van Tan) is a fabulous, if sobering, overview of the 1970s conflict. The museum used be titled the ‘The House for Displaying War Crimes of American Imperialism’ so it should come as no surprise that it’s a bit biased however there are loads of good displays and photos. Just take it with a grain of salt.
- Reunification Palace – Retro and a bit garish, this huge building was once the residence of the governor of French Indochina but is most famous as the site of the end of the Vietnam War on 30 April 1975. (urban legend has it that those photos of the tanks storming the gates were staged. The event had actually already occurred but no journalists were there to capture it, so they did it again!) Worth a look from the outside but the inside for history-buffs only.
- Notre Dame Cathedral and the Post Office– a church and a post office…what could be interesting about that? Well the architecture is cool and the story is fascinating. Everything (everything) used to build the church was imported from France. And the Post Office? Well it was designed by Gustav Eiffel (a la, the Eiffel Tower)
- Antiques Street–Le Cong Kieu Street– Even if you don’t like antiques, it is a fun adventure to stroll down this small street and pop into the stores. You’ll find everything from Buddhist statues to trinkets from the French colonial period to remnants from the American war. It’s just near the Fine Arts Museum which is not bad for a nose around- but again more interesting from the outside for most folks.
Motorbike Tour- The city is great but even better when you’re zipping through on the back of a xe om (literally ‘hug motorbike’… a motorbike taxi). Mr Sau is a favorite driver of many expats. His English isn’t stellar but he is a great guy and does a fabulous tour of the city- taking you well off the tourist trail to a range of temples (Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist!) and local markets not usual seen by foreigners. Cost is around 50,000 VND per hour and he’ll tailor it to your needs- or ask him if you want to try some local soup/coffee/etc.
Mr Sau: 091 838 7448
Go Bowling- Ok, so its not the ‘normal’ thing to do in HCMC but if it’s extremely hot or chucking down with rain, bowling is a fabulous option. It’s cheap, they serve beer and you get to wear those cool shoes. Check out the top floor of Diamond Plaza (just behind the church).
Water Park- Hoa Binh, District 11- You will not regret spending a 40 degree day at the water park. It is superb even by western standards… catch a taxi out there, pay a couple dollars and you’ll love it. (the name is : Dam Sen- your hotel should know it)