Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), charming and chaotic. A city packed with culture and commerce, it’s a dizzying, delicious whirl. If you are looking for something a bit different, here are DirectAsia.com’s top tips.
1. Celebrated Structures
Notre-Dame Cathedral and Central Post Office
Built between 1863 and 1880 by French colonists, the neo-Romanesque Notre-Dame cathedral is impressive. Opposite lies the Gothic-styled Saigon Central Post Office designed and built by French architect Gustave Eiffel (now, what was that tower he built in Paris…?)
Jade Emperor Pagoda
If you see one Vietnamese pagoda, it should be this one. Built in the 1900s by Taoists and Buddhists, the Jade Emperor Pagoda is inspiring in ambition and scale.
For a taste of the luxe-life, head to the glossy Hotel Continental in the heart of Lam Son Square. This affluent area is one of the city’s most prominent addresses. This was the spot for French high society, and you can still sip cocktails on the hotel terrace.
For a deeper cultural experience, there’s the Municipal Theatre – a gorgeous century-old building with a host of local and international dance, theatre and opera offerings.
Local note: Movies are inexpensive and a good place to cool off on a steaming hot day – older theatres cost less.
2. Cook up a storm
After trying Vietnam’s fragrant, delicate food, you can learn to make it. Many major hotels offer generic cooking lessons, or see saigoncookingclass.com for a range of options.
Local note: The best classes involve a chef who will help you source ingredients at a local market, then you’ll learn to cook a range of gourmet and street food. You’ll also likely receive a recipe pack to dazzle your family or friends back home.
The two famous markets in HCMC are Cho Ben Thanh (in District 1 across from the bus station) and Cho Lon. Cho Lon is a vast Chinese market and has less tourists. Bartering is the way to go, so offer a price that you think is fair, and enjoy.
Local note: If you can’t see a price or it’s not clearly marked, be careful – that goes for everything, everywhere.
4. Off the Beaten Track
Vung Tau, the Mekong Delta, Phu Quoc Island, Phan Thiet, Can Tho and Mui Ne are all accessible. Take a boat or express water taxi for a refreshing break from the city. HCMC is also a great launch pad for travelling through quieter, rural southern Vietnam.
If you’re after a longer adventure, take the Ho Chi Minh Trail. This famous 1950s military-built route spans the length of the country. Starting in Ho Chi Minh City, it weaves slowly northwards through challenging rural terrain.