48Hvietnam2

Why go?

Bold, bright and brash, Ho Chi Minh City is often described as ‘Hanoi on steroids’. Known as Saigon when it was capital of the French colony Cochinchina, it is now Vietnam’s largest city (a whopping nine million people live here) and is characterised by its relentless traffic, chaotic street markets and 24/7 buzz. It has a more laidback side, though, which you’ll discover by exploring its warren of narrow streets, sipping a beer at a street café, or wandering through its interesting, but often haunting, museums.

What to do

First destination on your list has to be the War Remnants Museum (00 84 83930 6325). Don’t be put off by the anti-American bias, it is one of the world’s most comprehensive collections of Vietnam War artefacts – so allow several hours for a visit. Next, check out Reunification Palace (00 84 83822 3652), home of the South Vietnamese president during the war, and site of the conflict’s end in 1975 when a North Vietnamese tank bulldozed through the gates. For a real taste of city life in Vietnam, don’t miss Ben Thanh market in District 1 for knick-knacks, more rip-off sunglasses than you could ever possibly need and freshly cooked Vietnamese cuisine in the food hall (the quality of the food stalls can vary – as a general rule, go for the busiest. If local people are avoiding a stall, it’s for a reason). Binh Tay market, which specialises in Chinese goods, is also great to explore, but avoid Dan Sinh market unless you want knock-offs of US military memorabilia. Of the city’s selection of pagodas, the most worthwhile for the visitor has to be the Jade Emperor Pagoda, with its red facade and fantastical carved statues.

Where to stay

Ho Chi Minh City caters for every budget. You can stay comfortably and cheaply in the backpacker district (around Bui Vien and De Than). Saigon Mini Hotel Six (00 84 8383 61008, saigonminihotel.com) is excellent value for money, so long as you request an inward-facing room to avoid the noise – it’s on a busy road. If you fancy something a little more opulent, check out Hotel Continental (00 84 83829 9201, continentalhotel.com.vn), where Graham Greene set parts of his novel The Quiet American (he also stayed at the hotel while he wrote it – ask the receptionist if you can have a look at room 214 if it’s free…).

Where to eat and drink

When in Vietnam you have to have pho (a rice noodle soup, usually served with beef, chicken or tofu) for breakfast at least once – and Pho Binh (7 Ly Chinh Thang) is a great bet. During the Vietnam War, this unassuming pho joint was a hideout for Viet Cong operatives, who used it as a base for smuggling weapons around the city. For more Western fare, try The Refinery at 74 Hai Bà Trang (00 84 83823 0509), set in the grounds of a former opium factory. You won’t find any traditional Vietnamese food in this French bistro, but it’s a great place to get away from the hustle and bustle of the streets for a while. For the view alone, a visit to the Sheraton’s rooftop bar (00 84 83827 2828, starwoodhotels.com) is a must, but if you’ve blown your budget after one drink, make like a local and pull up a plastic chair on the street outside one of the many beer shops. New Zealandborn chef Bobby Chinn relocated to Vietnam several years ago. His hip modern restaurant, Bobby Chinn Saigon (00 84 86291 7788, bobbychinn.com), features Asian food accented with international flavours, and some of the city’s finest cocktails.

Time running out?

Book yourself on a trip out to the nearby Cu Chi tunnels. Now a war memorial, what you see are but a small fraction of the many miles of underground tunnels dug by the Viet Cong as part of their campaign against American troops. Even if you’re not up for crawling through the maze of (very) narrow, chiselled passages, the exhibits about booby traps and the life led by the Viet Cong are fascinating and unsettling in equal parts.

Map

Travel Information

Travel Information

Currency is the Dong (VND). Ho Chi Minh City is seven hours ahead of GMT; the flight time from London is around 12 hours.

Getting There

Vietnam Airlines (vietnamairlines.com) flies direct from London twice weekly.
Qatar Airways (quatarairways.com) flies daily from London Heathrow via a stopover in Doha.

Resources

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Average daily temperatures and rainfall

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