Category Archives: HCMC/Saigon

HCMC/Saigon Sleeping

Budget:

All around Pham Ngu Lao, Bui Vien and De Tham there are great value hotels. Around 15 dollars will get you a private room with TV, Air Con and bathroom. If you can pay out 20 you’ll get a window and a better location. Just have a wander around and look- the longer you stay the cheaper you can bargain. Avoid the ones on the main streets and aim for the small alleys instead

Thien Hong Hotel- 241/31 Pham Ngu Lao- www.thienhonghotel.com- My favorite of the budget options…Nice place on a quiet laneway near the action. The family who runs it are very kind and even though they lock the gate at 10 pm, you can still get in after a night of drinking! Spotless rooms, a bit on the small side unless you book with a balcony. Cable tv, air con, hot water showers, breakfast in the morning. Can help with travel bookings too without ripping you off (too much)

Mid Range-

These tend to be clustered around the Ben Thanh Market area- there are dozens to choose from and all same same. I prefer a few that are a bit away from the market but offer a bit more charm.

Lavender Hotel- 208 Le Thanh Ton- Nice rooms, friendly staff and a good location close to the action. Expect to pay 40-80 USD.

Asian Ruby- 28 Thi Sach- I love this location- a few streets back from the Opera House but just around the corner is a strip of restaurants and bars frequented by expats rather than crammed with tourists. Rooms can feel a bit small but the fluffy duvets and friendly staff make up for it. Around 40-80 USD.

Bong Sen Annex- Ha Bai Trung- Good and consistent. Smallish rooms, but nice top floor restaurant for breakfast. Nothing really ‘wow’ about it but right on par with the price and location.

Splurge-

Several to choose from… it’s not really my thing but I have been inside several of these and can offer one good and one bad

Park Hyatt- Lam Son Square (next to Opera House)- If I had the money, this is the one I’d choose. Gorgeous rooms, amazing staff, breakfast to die for. Took them several years to finish it and you can see why.

The Rex- Le Loi- Famous for its war-time gatherings of journalists. Not sure how it ever warranted a 4 star status… certainly not these days despite a recent renovation. Staff have always been surly and I just don’t get what the fuss is about. Go to check out the bar, but don’t book a room.

HCMC/Saigon – Eating


VIETNAMESE

Street Food- Everywhere- Saigon’s street food is fabulous- don’t be afraid to try it. If you are a bit nervous, go into Ben Thanh market midday when all the locals are there and go to the busiest stall. It’s a bit less street food-y than eating on the actual street but its just as tasty and a bit cleaner (and with taller stools!) Check out this blog for ideas on good street eats: http://stickyrice.typepad.com/

Bi Saigon- a tiny laneway off Pham Ngu Lao- actual address is 185/16- It’s a hotel and a restaurant with friendly staff and excellent local food. The kitchen is across the lane so you watch your food being shuttled across the street to you. Try to claypot dishes and there is also some dish that comes in a lit tube of bamboo that is yummy (not sure the name). The southern specialties like Banh Xeo and the crispy fried noodles are also good here. They also have a cooking class. Cheap and cheerful.

Cuc Gach Quan- 10 Daht Tan, District 1- Its number one on Trip Advisor which kinda sucks as it was a local friend who took me there a couple years ago for the first time and packed with locals. It still is up to par though with fabulous traditional food- go with 3 or more people for the full effect as you need to order around 10veggies plus your mains to have a ‘real’ traditional meal. Probably best to take a local. Great setting as well. Ohhh and be sure to order the purple sticky rice wine.

Pho 2000- Next to Ben Thanh Market- Bill Clinton had a bowl of pho here and while it is a bit of a tourist trap, the soups are good and the setting is clean. Go for the beef stew, try the spring rolls and get a fruit smoothy. Easy place to go if you can’t make up your mind- and it has air conditioning upstairs.

Lemongrass, Mandarin, etc- Dong Khoi Street- These places are ‘ok’ but more a go for the atmosphere. It’s billed as fine dining and the food is just that- fine. Nothing outstanding, but nothing bad. Just a place I’d take my 65 year old parents. Usually have live music on which is a selling point or a negative point depending on your point of view

Xu- 71 Ha Ba Trung- If you want to splash out, this is the place to go. Fussy Vietnamese food in a sleek setting. A place to see and be seen.

31 Ly Tu Trong – Not sure if this place has a name but known by locals and expats simple as ‘31’. A huge, noisey, smokey open-air place for barbeque. They have the exotic (goats penis, scorpions, etc) and the normal (chicken, fried rice, noodles). Good fun to go and have a few beers and sample the local delights.

Temple Club- 29 Ton That Tiep- Go for a drink as the building is amazing but skip the over-priced, bland food.

HCMC/Saigon – shopping

HCMC is full of shops- from tourist tat to high end goods, the city has it all. To help guide you through, we’ve broken this section down into category of shops for where to spend your dong.

Tourist Tat:

  • Ben Thanh Market– Tshirts, shoes, fake backpacks, chop stick sets, tea sets, etc. Bargain, bargain, bargain.
  • Saigon SquareNam Ky Khoi NghiaAn air conditioned version of Ben Thanh- many of the same items without the chaos. Filled with knock off North Face items and other brands. (note: often referred to as the ‘Russian Market’)
  • Pham Ngu Lao/Bui Vien/De Tham- This is the backpacker area and thus has the best selection of tourist items. Bui Vien is particurally good for picking up cheap yet good quality books, DVDs and CDs.

 

Clothes & Houseware:

  • Gaya- 1 Nguyen Van Trang, District 1- An upmarket shop with a range of well-designed clothes and homeware. Lots of silk and embroidered dresses and nice furniture.
  • Ipa Nima- 85 Pasteur Street, District 1- Unusual, funky handbags- unique but with a hefty price tag.
  • Khai Silk – Dong Khoi, District 1- The Khai silk empire is found throughout the country. Expect to find high-quality silks, bags and other items at a price tag to match.
  • Saigon Center- Le Loi, District 1- Top floors have lots of high-end homeware shops and a few western brand stores.

HCMC/Saigon – what to do

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 StreetLe 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)