Discover the charm of Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh
Looking for a quick weekend getaway somewhere in Southeast Asia? Instead of heading over the causeway or traversing to Bangkok for the umpteenth time, try Ho Chi Minh City!
While the never-ending traffic is an experience itself, the Vietnamese city boasts many other sights and sounds that are worth checking out too. Here are a few things to jot down on your to-do list when planning a visit to Ho Chi Minh City.
1. Nose dive into the city’s rich history
Also known as Saigon, a nod to the fact that it was once surrounded by a dense and tall forest, Ho Chi Minh City is a place teeming with history.
In fact, Vietnam’s rich history is subtly present in the daily activities of the locals and the buildings located all around. There is even evidence of the French influences on the city’s architecture!
War Remnants Museum
Learn about Vietnam’s tumultuous past at the War Remnants Museum, one of Ho Chi Minh’s most popular museums.
While the exhibits on display may paint a subjective picture of the Vietnam War and the eventual independence of the country, it is both fascinating and sobering to try and understand the adversities that its citizens had to overcome for the nation to be where it is today.
And let’s not forget the historical 19th century Thien Hau Temple.
Thien Hau Temple
The Thien Hau Temple, which translates to Empress of Heaven, was first built way back in 1760 and today, stands as one of the city’s tourist attractions. This is no surprise, especially with the temple’s detailed design on both its interior and exterior.
For starters, (very photogenic) lanterns and incense burners hang over the entrance, greeting you as you walk in. And as you approach indoors, don’t miss out on the porcelain figures that decorates the temple’s roof as they depict the different Chinese religions and legends that date back to the 19th century!
2. Uncover hidden secrets in the many alleyways
For serendipitous travel moments, it is highly recommended to wander through the alleyways of Ho Chi Minh City.
Many of them are lined with smaller shops that hawk a range of wares and services: ladies getting their hands and feet decorated while their husbands grab a bite next door; young men and women meticulously working on beautiful illustrations of nature, their backs arched in concentration as they deftly stipple the remaining areas of their artwork.
One such hidden alley find we managed to discover with the help of a local was Mayhem, a vintage thrift store tuck away in what could be someone’s backyard.
The only possible way to locate it was to walk into a seemingly ordinary lane that led to a residential area lined with motorbikes with a graffitied sign on a plain white wall indicating the shop’s entrance.
Fashionistas sourcing for affordable secondhand clothing or unique accessories to add to their trinket collection, Mayhem is a must visit.
Address: 136/1 Le Thanh Ton District 1 HCMC, Vietnam
Opening hours: Weekdays – 11:00am – 9:00pm. Weekends – 10:00am – 9:00pm.
Contact: +84 8 3824 4997
3. Enjoy a feast of the senses with the local cuisine
“There is no better way to learn about a country than to eat your way through it.” Not too sure who came up with this quote, but if you’re a true blue foodie it’s definitely something you’ll identify with.
If you’re on-the-go, banh mi (a Vietnamese sandwich filled with a refreshing, chock full of ingredients accompanied with a Vietnamese staple, cilantro) is a great takeaway meal with a grand price tag of just USD2.
The best place in Saigon to get them is definitely Banh Mi Huynh Hoa, what with its generous portions and great taste!
Address: 26 Lê Thị Riêng, Bến Thành, 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
Opening hours: 2:30pm – Midnight daily.
Contact: +84 8 3925 0885
Pho comes in a close second and no one should be content with their gastronomic journey in Vietnam until they’ve had a solid bowl of simple rice noodles paired with a flavour-packed beef broth.
For that, Phở Hòa Pasteur is one stop you should make to fuel up before exploring the rest of Saigon.
Address: 260C Pasteur, phường 8, Quận 3, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
Opening hours: 7:00am – 11:00pm daily.
Contact: +84 8 3829 7943
But pho real though, a food tour is by far the best way eat your way through a city where all you need to bring is your appetite. These small-group guided tours will ensure you get the most authentic local food there is when you have a local bringing you around.
4. Get a massive caffeine fix from the local coffee
Caffeine addict or otherwise, coffee is undoubtedly one of Vietnam’s most popular products around the world, second only to Brazil in the coffee business.
Vietnamese coffee is no ordinary coffee (read: extremely strong!), with the most popular style of drinking being Vietnamese drip coffee. You can choose to have your coffee black or iced, but if you’re a first-timer we recommend having it with condensed milk poured over a glass of ice-cubes.
You can find Vietnamese coffee at practically every food joint you visit, but do be sure to visit L’usine Le Loi if you can, Ho Chi Minh’s biggest and most popular Vietnamese coffee chain.
Pro-Tip: Sip, don’t gulp.
Address: 70A-70B-68 Lê Lợi, Bến Thành, Quận 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Opening hours: 7:30am – 10:00pm daily.
Contact: +84 8 3521 0703
But if you’re someone who needs your Flat White 24/7, Ho Chi Minh’s swanky hipster cafes are equally worth a try. The Workshop located in a swanky neighbourhood serves up some pretty decent Eggs Benedict and provides a respite from the beautiful mess that is Ho Chi Minh’s city streets.
Address: 27 Ngô Đức Kế Street,Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Opening hours: 8:00am – 9:00pm daily.
Contact: +84 8 3824 6801
5. Explore the magnificent Mekong Delta
Dubbed a “biological treasure trove”, the Mekong Delta is one of Vietnam’s largest tourist attractions. The delta actually splits into several canals and rivers that are today filled with floating markets and villages. This Vietnamese treasure is also home to over 1,000 animal species that include the supposedly extinct Laotian rock rat.
Explore the best of Vietnam’s local life as you sail through the busy waterways on board a traditional boat. We must add that you’d experience some of the best service on board – from food and beverages to even cold towels, your needs are well taken care of.
Don’t miss your chance in witnessing some of Vietnam’s best sceneries at the lush and rich rice fields that fill most parts of Mekong Delta. In fact, Mekong Delta’s rice fields produce about half the quantity of Vietnam’s agricultural output!
6. Explore one of the world’s oldest Chinatowns, Vietnamese style
Vietnam’s oldest and largest Chinatown dates back to 1778 and was initially a place for Chinese minorities to seek refuge during the Tay Son Rebellion that saw peasant farmers rebelling against an oppressive Mandarin bureaucracy from 1771-1802. Those who survived the violent era set up shops in the area and made Chinatown what it is today.
Make a stop at probably Chinatown’s most crowded market, the Binh Tay Market. Aside from the usual produce, you’ll come across a wide variety of quintessential Chinese artefacts such as paper lanterns, calligraphy and even traditional Chinese medicine.
Binh Tay Market also has a handful of temples situated just steps away, and most of which feature amazing architectural designs, altars and paintings that are heavily influenced by the Chinese and Buddhists.
And what better way to explore the best of the city than on the environmentally -friendly Cyclo! This traditional three-wheeled bicycle allows you to zip past the notorious jams while enjoying the smells, sights and sounds of the bustling city streets.
7. Escape the heat and head to Dam Sen Waterpark
Vietnam is no stranger to the humidity and it’s no surprise one of the most popular attractions in the city is a waterpark. Opened in 1999, the Dam Sen Water Park covers over 50 hectares and welcomes several new water slides and rides annually.
Kids can enjoy the various themed fountains, slides and tipping buckets while for the young at heart can get their adrenaline rush with rides like the Multi-Slides, Black Thunder, Boomerang and more.
For those who prefer to remain dry, there’s something for you too! Camping sites, rollercoasters and even a Ferris Wheel is sure to keep you entertained while the rest enjoy the water on your behalf.
Address: 3 Hòa Bình, Phường 3, Quận 11, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
Opening hours: Weekdays: 8:30am – 6:00pm. Weekends: 8:00am – 6:00pm. Closed on Tuesdays.
Contact: +84 8 3858 8418
8. Delve deeper into Vietnam’s war history by exploring the underground
The Cu Chi Tunnels played a crucial role during the Vietnam War between the years of 1955 and 1971. This fragment of Vietnam’s history is today the country’s biggest attraction.
Spanning over 200 km, the Cu Chi tunnels consist of hospitals, schools, kitchens, and even meeting rooms. Explore the narrow (and possibly a little too small for most) tunnels in this one of a kind experience that seeks to be both exciting and thought-provoking as you learn more about how the soldiers eat, sleep and fight in sunless situations during the war.
Get up close and personal with the weapons, tanks and even booby traps that were used during the war and how they played a part in one of the biggest battles in history.
9. Watch a show at the beautiful Saigon Opera House
The A O Show is your next best choice of Vietnamese history knowledge if you don’t fancy crawling on all fours underground in the ever so narrow tunnels! Offering a perfect combination of humour and drama, this thrilling show performed at the Saigon Opera House will give you a sneak peek into the country’s history and culture through a lighthearted performance.
From dance to circus performances, sit back as some of the country’s best dancers and performers tell you more about Vietnam and its past, including how it developed from a rural settlement to an urbanised country that’s booming with tourists and attractions.
If you’re feeling peckish after the show, end your night at the Hoa Tuc Restaurant that is situated in a historical French colonial building. Enjoy local delights such as pho, spring rolls and banh mi all under one roof!
10. Visit Ho Chi Minh’s own Fifth Avenue
But let’s not forget the crucial part of every travel adventure: the shopping. And of course, the biggest city of Vietnam offers the best shopping experience that you can find in the country. In fact, Ho Chi Minh is known for being one of the best places in Asia to go for boutique shopping!
With numerous shopping malls and shopping streets, District 1 is by far the best place to shop in Ho Chi Minh. From keychains to paintings, budget to high-end, street food to international dining, you’re guaranteed to fulfil all your shopping needs here.
Klook Tip: With local shopping comes local phrases to make your shopping experience easier and maybe cheaper. Here are a few phrases that you can use. Thank us later!
Bao nhieu?: “How much?”
Ban co gia nao re hon khong?: “Do you have a cheaper price?”
Mac qua: “It is too expensive.”
Ho Chi Minh City: The vibrancy of Vietnam
In a city so rich with history and culture, Ho Chi Minh City is no unfamiliar name on any traveller’s tongue. Whether you’re looking for a taste of foreign nostalgia or a simple weekend getaway, this largest city of Vietnam deserves to be marked as your next travel destination!
This article was written in collaboration with ZCOOP – ZALORA’s latest fashion, beauty, and lifestyle content site where trend-conscious, tech-savvy writers come together to share their insights and discuss trends.