By Michelle Power
Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon, as it used to be called, is famous for its charm, chaos, coffee, pho, traffic and, of course, motorbikes. Many travelers might be shocked the first time they visit Vietnam’s frenetic biggest city, with most wondering if they are taking their lives in their hands by the simple task of crossing the road! Yet Ho Chi Minh City is beloved by residents as a place of surprising calm and by travelers for its amazing offerings, diverse style and its incredible food. The crazy roads are actually all part of its charm.
Although the traffic is undoubtedly crazy, it generally moves pretty smoothly and consistently, flowing like a river, unlike other Asian cities which are constantly congested. In fact, movement is pretty constant, which is impressive for a city of over six million inhabitants. Motorbikes define HCMC life; they are the very heart of the city. Tourists tend to walk about the city to get their bearings but you won’t find locals walking too much as paths are usually cumbersome to walk on and seem to be perpetually clogged with parked bikes, forcing walkers into the street. Walking is perfectly acceptable, of course, if you are trying to absorb the city– you just have to stay alert!
Ho Chi Minh City is a wonderful blend of Chinese, colonial and modern influences. Being the centre of Vietnam’s economic and cultural activity, it is the best city in the country to start any Vietnamese adventure. You’ll be pleased to hear that filling your time in HCMC is easy, given the vast amount of things to do! Let us help you narrow them down to get the most of out a stay there.
TFA’s Top Tips for Ho Chi Minh City:
Take a Scooter tour
To get a real understanding of the city, jump on an organised tour bike. Exploring the streets from the back seat of one of the city’s 5 million bikes is an exhilarating way to get a feel for a city and to be part of the Saigon madness, if only for an afternoon. Indeed it’s an experience you won’t forget in a hurry. There are many to choose from but we recommend one with an emphasis on food and the city’s iconic sights.
Visit the War Museum
Not for the faint-hearted, (beware: you will be a blubbering mess by the end of your excursion), the War Remnants Museum documents the brutality of the Vietnam War in all its required detail. The museum has received criticism over the years for its propagandist tone, however it remains one of the most visited museums in the country, attracting more than half a million visitors a year. It is an essential part of any Vietnam travel itinerary.
Try the Pho
This Vietnamese staple noodle dish can be found on almost every street corner in every district of the city. You can eat it inside in the cool of the air-con or right out on the street as the locals do. It’s up to you and depends entirely on how adventurous you’re feeling.
Go shopping at Ben Thanh Market
Ho Chi Minh City features some amazing value shopping opportunities for bespoke clothing, woodwork, random bric-a-brac, scarves, t-shirts, jewelry and even some pretty decent art if you are in the market for some. In fact, you could go to HCMC and spend all your time shopping. Of all the markets, Ben Thanh is the most popular and perhaps the best place to put your bargaining skills to good use .It is especially popular in the evening and at night, when food vendors set up stalls and locals and tourists alike flock to eat. Trust us, it will be an invigorating evening spent in the Asian capital.
Try the Local Coffee
Finally, you have to try the coffee. You might be surprised to hear that Vietnam is the biggest coffee exporter in the world, and it’s not difficult to see why! Vietnamese coffee is fantastic; it’s not expensive and it’s available nearly everywhere. You can pick up a Vietnamese coffee in pretty much every restaurant or café in HCMC. It keeps the locals going on their busy commutes around the city. When served white, it’s made with condensed milk, creating a drink of the gods that mixes the strength of the drip filter coffee with a sweet, delicious finish. You could also try the black coffee. Black coffee with ice is strong and sweet and has an almost chocolate-like richness. Be warned though – they are addictive; you won’t be able to stop or sleep afterwards!
Enjoy your trip!
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