A Short Guide to Ho Chi Minh City
Although HCMC is not the capital of Vietnam, it is clear to see that this city is the economic hub of the country, driving the country forward into the 21st century. There’s a huge contrast across the city, there’s the one section of the city which is home to high rise buildings, expensive restaurants and upmarket hotels where the cities high flyers will more than likely be found residing. Then is another section of the city, you will find your stereotypical Asian inner city scene, street stalls selling delicious food, the roads packed with loud, smoky motorbikes and chaotic markets.
Formerly known as Saigon, Vietnam’s largest city and previous capital of South Vietnam had a huge role to play in the war. Following the war which was won by the north and the reunification of Vietnam, Saigon was renamed to Ho Chi Minh City after the first leader of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh.
Where to Stay in HCMC
HCMC is split up into a number of districts. While we were in the city we stayed in District 1, which is basically right in the centre. District 1 is often regarded as the ‘sleepless district’ and it’s easy to see why, the main road Bui Vien is packed from first thing in the morning to last thing at night. This district is the place where the majority of backpackers rest their heads during their time in HCMC.
We stayed in a couple of places in District 1 while we were there, mainly due to the first place being, putting it nicely, slightly more run down than the other place. The first hotel we stayed at was called Phoenix 74. The location of the hotel was perfect, located smack bang in the middle of Bui Vien. However, other than the location the hotel didn’t have much more going for it, apart from the price – 480,000 Dong ($21.50) per night for a 4 bed, en-suite room.
The second place we stayed for the next few nights was called PP Backpackers Hostel. The location was just as good, situated on a side street off Bui Vien. The rooms were a slightly more modern and nicer though. The price was a tiny bit more expensive at 540,000 Dong ($24.20) for a 4 bed, en-suite room, but well worth it for a bit of an upgrade.
Where to Eat/Drink in HCMC
Com Tam Moc (Broken Rice)
Pham Ngu Lao Street, HCMC.
Com Tam Moc, or also known as broken rice gets its name from the rice used in the dish which is made up of imperfect rice grains that were discarded after the milling process. Rice is rice at the end of the day though I suppose, it doesn’t taste any different if it is imperfect, does it?
The broken rice can be topped with multiple extras, my choice was the grilled pork ribs. There wasn’t a huge amount of meat on the pork ribs, but they were so nice! The pork ribs were topped with a fried egg and crispy onions, all to finish off a delicious tasting dish that will have you coming back for more at 25,000 Dong ($1.10) for a plate. The small restaurant also sells spring rolls for 5000 Dong ($0.22) each, which are the perfect accompaniment to the broken rice dish.
164 Bui Vien Street, HCMC.
You might be thinking, why have I included an Indian restaurant in a list of places to eat in a Vietnamese city?? Well, we reallyyy fancied a curry while we were there and we saw this place on Bui Vien. Others had told us about this place and they couldn’t recommend it enough. There was only one thing we could do, go for a curry at Baba’s Kitchen!
I am more than happy that we went for a curry at this restaurant, the food was brilliant! I went for the Mutton Rogan Josh, it’s a bold statement, but it was one of the nicest curries I’ve ever tasted. For everything including nan breads, rice, drinks and the curries, the meal cost us 300,000 Dong ($13.50) for two of us. By Vietnam standards this may seem a little bit pricey, but you have to take into consideration that it was at a restaurant and we got a ridiculous amount of food.
Break Time Coffee
Bui Vien Street, HCMC.
There’s a small coffee stand located towards to top of Bui Vien street, close to the Starbucks. Some people might head more to the recognisable name – Starbucks. However, why head to an overpriced Starbucks, when you can get a taste of genuine Vietnamese coffee, which is 10x nicer, for 25,000 Dong ($1.12).
Bui Vien Beers
Bui Vien Street, HCMC
As I mentioned earlier, Bui Vien is the main street is District 1 and the street is litterally packed from morning to night. In the day the street is lined with shops, restaurants and cafes. At night when the shops and cafes close for the day, the small bars, which look like an extension from someone’s house, open for the night, the pavement is filled with tiny plastic chairs and tables, which in turn are filled with hundreds of people swigging cheap bottles of beer all night. A large green bottle of Bia Saigon will set you back around 12,000 Dong ($1.12), you can’t really argue with that can you? I wish the beers back home in England were that cheap!
Things to Do/See in HCMC
Independence Palance (Reunification Palace)
There’s an eerie feel as you walk through the deserted large hallways and rooms of this palace. The architecture reminds me of a Soviet style ‘efficient’ building. Although the architect Ngô Viết Thụ was Vietnamese and educated in Paris.
During the war the first communist tanks to arrive in Saigon crashed through the gates of the Independence Palace. One thing I was impressed with on my walk around the palace is when you get to the main balcony and you can look out over the palace groundS, you really get a feel of how it could of seemed as the communist tanks from the north smashed through the gates all them years ago in 1975.
The War Museum
Being totally honest, before visiting Vietnam I didn’t have a huge understanding of the Vietnam War, or as it’s known as in Vietnam – The American War. The War Museum in HCMC gave me a much broader understanding. Although the museum may be seen as being biased towards Vietnam, it does show how the war devastated Vietnam, particularly highlighting the havoc and terror caused from Agent Orange. The entrance free to the museum is 15,000 Dong ($0.65).
Chu Chi Tunnels
Another popular site near HCMC is the Cu Chi Tunnels. The Cu Chi Tunners are an immense network of tiny underground tunnels which were built in the Cu Chi District of HCMC during the war. We got the chance to go inside one of the tunnels. The tunnels gets narrower as you shuffle a long, first of all you find yourself shuffling through knelt down, until you end up crawling through on your hands and knees. I couldn’t even get into the narrowest bit, showing just how narrow the tunnels were in the network and it would of been impossible for the Americans to get inside and navigate around them quickly.
The main downside I thought of visiting the tunnels was it had to be done in a group tour. I’m not a huge fan of group tours with a guide, I’d rather do my own thing looking around at my own accord, but each to their own. We booked transport through our hostel at a cost of 100,000 ($4.50) Dong each and the ticket to enter cost 90,000 Dong ($4) each.