Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) was quite different to what I had imagined. I don’t know what exactly I pictured, but after spending a few weeks travelling down Vietnam I didn’t expect to see a skyline dominated by skyscrapers in a city so modern.
Ho Chi Minh is a big city that’s made to feel enormous by how long it takes to get anywhere. The traffic in this place is extraordinary and it can be a nightmare to get around if you’re not on foot (though if you are then not getting run over is a task in itself). It took us over an hour to make the four and a half mile drive from the airport to our hostel as the city was in total gridlock.
I mentioned in my Hanoi blog post the madness of the mopeds on the roads there… I now know this is child’s play compared to Ho Chi Minh. There are even more mopeds here and they literally do what they want, not chill. People will speed past you driving one handed with an ACTUAL BABY in their other hand. I saw one woman whizzing around with four tiny kids on the back of her moped, no helmets… zero f*cks given.
The most important thing to do in Ho Chi Minh is to visit the War Remnants Museum. This isn’t nice at all but I felt it was necessary to educate myself more about the Vietnamese/American war. The museum in Ho Chi Minh is about how the Vietnamese people have suffered both during and since the war and it’s really hard to see – pictures of the aftermath of Agent Orange shocked me so much I had to walk out of the exhibit, but it’s vital that the stories are heard. A really harrowing experience but it should definitely be visited by anyone new to Ho Chi Minh.
A fun touristy thing to do is to go up to the Saigon Skydeck on the 49th floor of the Bitexco Financial Tower. We’ve avoided doing the equivalent to this in other cities as it’s usually overpriced, but as this was only £7 we gave it a go. You get a 360 degree view of Ho Chi Minh City, and we went up at night so it was really cool to see the city illuminated in colour, plus the whole deck was pretty much empty. The tower is located in the financial district, and is surrounded by expensive restaurants and designer shops. Walking through here felt like we could have been in London or New York.
Another place I really enjoyed was the Ben Thanh indoor market. Now, I’ve seen more than my fair share of markets since I’ve been in Asia, they’re EVERYWHERE and they’ve kind of just begun to blend into one. This one’s a bit different though, they sell absolutely everything and the noise and atmosphere is buzzing. There’s so much crammed under one roof that you have to side step down the narrow aisles to get through the maze of shops. The women on the clothes stalls are super pushy but so funny – one of them literally dragged me into her shop by my arm which would usually make me angry, but I ended up buying a knock off Nike sports bra from her because she was so nice (plus I was feeling guilty about not working out for two months).
Other interesting things to see are the Notre-Dame Basilica, a really beautiful cathedral from the French colonial era, and the nearby Reunification Palace that’s known as the site of the end of the Vietnam war. The Palace has somewhat random opening times though; we arrived at 11am just as it was closing for a few hours, so we never got the chance to go inside as this was our last day!
Nightlife in Ho Chi Minh City
In terms of nightlife I’d say Ho Chi Minh isn’t quite as good as Hanoi, but the backpacker’s streets of Pham Ngu Lao and Bui Vien are still a good night out. The bars and pubs are buzzing all day and at night there’s always some sort of bar crawl going on. We ended up getting roped into a really naff one of these and having to run away, it felt like we’d joined a cult. I think Hanoi is definitely better for meeting other people on the travelling circuit as the hostels and hostel bars there are amaaazing.
Us in the cluuurb before we made our escape
I loved Ho Chi Minh and would go as far as to say it was my favourite place in Vietnam. Definitely not the place to chill out, but if you love cities it’s got all the makings of a great one!