Ho Chi Minh City the new Saigon
Most people call Ho Chi Minh City the old Saigon, but actually it is a very new one. The city is completely focused on development to become one of those new, busy and technological metropolis and we must say that it is actually almost there. It just need to adjust here and there, but from the French Indochina countries Ho Chi Minh is definitely much ahead from its neighbours capitals. So, what to do and see in the city in three days? We tell you right now!
From Cambodia to Vietnam
We arrived in Vietnam after making a small tour in Cambodia. We took a bus in Phnom Penh and arrived in Ho Chi Minh City (click to read more about it) and the difference between the capitals was super contrasting. While Phnom Penh is a very poor capital, Ho Chi Minh is being fully redesigned with high and new buildings. As big metropolis, the old Saigon can’t scape also a high traffic jam. On the other hand, their streets is full of colourful lights and a lot of international brands store. In Ho Chi Minh the atmosphere is really vibrant and busy and you are going to find the perfect thing to do during the days and nights.
We all know that Vietnam defeated the proud Americans during the long years of the Vietnam War. Unfortunately winning the war was not enough to give back all the happiness and freedom to those people. They need to live with the war scars until nowadays, so it is not unusual to walk around and see locals that still have the effects of the Agent Orange, a heavy and destructive poison used intensively by the Americans during the war, to eliminate the leaves and make it impossible to the Congs to hide. This poison causes mutations to people until nowadays and you can learn about their story in few of the museums in Ho Chi Minh.
One good thing about the museums in HCM is that they are indeed cheap. This one for example costs only 15.000 VND which is around 0,60 euros. The opening hours for this museum is from 8:00 to 17:00, but we really recommend you to not leave the visit for the last minute. It will take you around one hour to go around all the places and we were basically kicked out of the museum at 16:30. They simply started to turn off all the lights and close the doors one hour before the time for visitation was over, which was a bit disappointing. If you have been to Vietnam you know that they are not the most friendly people and if you try to argue or ask anything, they just make some movements with their hands and turn their back to you. So, to avoid it, simply go earlier.
This museum doesn’t have all the things translated to English, but there’s also not much to read about. It is more a look and walk place, filled with pictures and items. Some you won’t get it too well, but for the price, worthy to give it a walk around. Also, right outside of it you can see some old cars and airplanes used during war times.
Quick advice: don’t go to the restaurant connected with this Museum, the Cosmo Restaurant Cafe. The prices are really high and the food is really horrible. You can find better solutions in the area. Also the staff are very unfriendly and unprepared. Avoid this place to keep the good experience in Ho Chi Minh.
This museum needs a little bit more of stomach, but costs the same 15.000 VND (around 0,60 euros). This museum shows the entire story about the Vietnam War, since the very beginning and illustrate it with a lot of pictures. The pictures can be pretty tuff, but if you want to learn a bit more about this impressive history, it is a must go museum. It is also here that you will understand better how the Americans used the Agent Orange and how this affected the population until today. This museum is opened daily from 7:30 to 12:00, with a lunch pause and then back at 13:00 to 17:00. You will take between 1:30 to 2 hours to complete the visitation. It is not a big museum, but has a lot of texts and all translated to English.
The French Influence
Vietnam was conquered by the French and you can see their influences all over the capital. One good example is the Notre-Dame Cathedral, very near to the Old Post Office Building. Both of constructions have a very unique French Architecture. Another place with the French influence is the Opera House that is not so far from the Cathedral and Post Office. All this area is within a short walking distance from the War Remnants Museum.
The Museum of Ho Chi Minh City is also around this area and very near to it, almost in the corner, is the Ho Chi Minh City Hall. Both of the buildings have also a lot of the French Influence. If you are an early bird traveler, you can see all of this area, including both museums, in only one day. Just be sure to keep yourself well hydrated, because the capital can get pretty warm.
Walking along the river can be pretty impressive in Ho Chi Minh. You will be very near to the Bitexco Financial Tower, the highest building in the city and gives you a great overview of the city from the Saigon Skydeck for 200.000 VND (around 8 euros) per person.
If you don’t want or don’t have much time to see the city from the top, you can appreciate the walk along the river. From far you can see one of the greatest floating restaurants in the area, the Elisa. If you want to get closer, a half an hour walk will be needed. The ship is indeed big, but the reviews about the meals are really not the best. So, nice to the eyes, but save your stomach to the Street Food Market, that we are going to talk about in few lines!
Looking to Elisa from the other side of the river, you are going to see a nice asian style construction, the Ho Chi Minh Museum. Don’t mistake it by the city museum, this one is entirely in honor of the man who was the inspiration to re-name the Old Saigon after the Vietnamese War.
If you walk around the central area of Ho Chi Minh, you will find several international brands stores, but if you want to shop more local, you must visit the Central Market during the day and during the night. The Ben Thanh Market works from 6:00 to 18:00 and it sells all kind of stuff. You can find clothes, bags, electronics and even food. At night, the streets by the side of it are closed to the cars and several market-tents are built outside with a lot of the things you can find inside during the day and most of it has promotional prices. So, it is really nice to see the place during the day and during the night. Contrary to the Cambodians or Thai, the Vietnamese are not such a big fan of the bargain, but you can try some technics to get better prices.
Ben Thanh Street Food Market
Save this name, because it is the perfect place to eat in Ho Chi Minh City. It works from 6:00 to 0:00 and you are going to find all the kinds of Vietnamese, Asian and some Western food around there. The best part is that the prices are very fair and we had the most delicious food during our entire Vietnam travel in this place. If you want to save some money with drinks, just go to some Circle K (a mini market shop with very good prices) and grab some fresh drink, because you are allowed to take it with you inside the Street Food Market.
Walk, but be aware about the traffic!
Ho Chi Minh is a very pleasant city to walk around and see how Vietnam is growing fast, but you really need to take care with the traffic in the city. Unfortunately there is no respect from the drivers and riders with the pedestrians. Even if you have a green light to cross a street, you really need to be very careful, because looks like traffic lights means nothing to the habitants there. Also, if you are crossing a busy via without a traffic light (common situation around there), take a deep breath and go one lane per time. If you wait for it to be empty, you will never cross. Also, in the pedestrian side, be very aware of Motorcycles! They ride everywhere and they don’t care too much about the pedestrians, even in our supposed-to-be-safe area. So please, be careful.
If you get annoyed by horn noise, get ready to lose your head. They really use the horn all the time. Sometimes they are stopped by at the red light, waiting for the green to come and they press the horn. This happens actually in the entire Vietnam, but because Ho Chi Minh has a huge amount of motorcycles, you are going to hear it much more. It is actually a nice training for your patience if you are missing some! 😉
Happy Touristing in HCMC!
Well, try at most to ignore the horns, be careful with the cars and motorcycles and just enjoy this beautiful city. If you are traveling through Vietnam or if you are arriving from Cambodia, you are going to be happy to feel a bit the big and busy city life. Enjoy the several cafes and don’t miss the chance to visit a bakery. Try out the very local food and keep a water bottle always near by.
Date of our visit to Ho Chi Minh: 12 – 15.04.17 and 30.04 – 01.05.17