A city where the motorbikes seem to outnumber the people, the trick to crossing the street is to have no fear and just walk. Saigon – now known as Ho Chi Minh CIty – cannot be considered a relaxing place to visit. But its usually a stop on most trips through Vietnam, even if just for an overnight or two.
The bustling scene in Saigon is far from the fast-pace of Hong Kong or New York. But give it time. This is a city going through a resurgence.
And you will notice that in every facet of the city — from the cranes along the skyline to the burgeoning food scene.
Plenty of good dining options abound, especially for sushi, but I stuck mostly to street food, like this thit nuong (BBQ pork) at Chi Nuong, because it’s amazingly good and cheap (and won’t make you sick as long as you go to a place that’s crowded).
And the bahn mi alone is reason enough to spend a little time in Saigon.
Bars are a different matter. Hard to find until nightfall, and mostly aimed at tourists and ex-pats looking for some company for the evening, you’re better off sticking to beer on the street. When you find a decent cocktail, likely at a hotel, it will come with some amusing garnish.
But at night, the skyscrapers change color, lighting the sky to proclaim that this is a cosmopolitan city, despite what tourists may think.
But how you fill your days there when not eating can be a challenge. The Ben Thanh market is good for shopping, day or night – just be sure to bargain well. Most of the museums are full of propaganda. But you can at least walk by the War Remnants Museum, Reunification Palace and Notre Dame.
When you get too hot from walking around, cool off with an iced coffee at one of the many cafes that line every block. I liked Highlands the best, and you can check your email with the free wifi.
But you’re best way to spend time in this area is to get out of the city — even for a day — with a tour of the Mekong Delta.
You’ll take a bus ride to a ferry to a sampan.
This is the Vietnam you imagined. With vegetation surrounding you.
When you stop at one of the many islands, you’ll taste local honey and get a chance to touch the hive.
Watch some coconut candy being made (just don’t buy it here– tourist trap price gouging).
And maybe try some of that infamous snake wine you see around the country. It’s really as foul as you’d imagine.
Lunch includes a ton of food, as with all tours in Vietnam, but the highlight is the elephant ear fish and what they call the “Dragon Egg” – a puff of glutinous sticky rice.
While you’ll experience some forced shopping, it’s still better than spending a hot day in HCM fighting your way across the street. And you get to experience you another part of this amazingly beautiful country. (Note: The tourist office near City Hall in District 1 has lots of day trip options at reasonable prices.)