An introduction to Ho Chi Minh City
Once known as Saigon, the modern Ho Chi Minh City is a real explorer’s paradise. Once you’ve navigated past the seas of motorcycles, you’ll find the past and future blend seamlessly together, with the difference of a single street separating age-old silk and spice markets from the grandeur of glass skyscrapers and ultra-modern shopping malls. This bustling metropolis has been often regarded as the beating heart of Vietnam and as testament to the great food, amazing sights and outstanding selection of both budget and luxury hotels, Ho Chi Minh City has become a must-see destination.
You won’t have to search far for opportunities to part with your cash in Ho Chi Minh City, but the real retail treats lie beyond the obvious tourist souvenirs. It’s a city with a good supply of everything from silk boutiques to antique stores – try the fair trade crafts on sale at Mai Vietnamese Handicrafts (298 Nguyen Trong Tuyen Street) or the classy design items found at Gaya (1 Nguyen Van Trang Street). Elsewhere, Dan Sinh Market (104 Yersin Street) sells war surplus items, and the central Ben Thanh Market, which covers numerous streets, is where to head for the full gamut of daily goods.
Food & Drink
Vietnamese food tends to turn visitors into mealtime junkies, and Ho Chi Minh City is as fine a place as any to understand what all the fuss is about. The national cuisine is characterised by the use of fresh, simple ingredients – something well evidenced at eateries such as Dong Hoa Xuan (49 No Trang Long Street) and the seafood-centric Five Oysters (234 Bui Vien Street). The country’s best known dish is pho, a kind of noodle soup, which can be sampled to excellent effect at the Ru Pho Bar (Alley 27E Tran Nhat Duat).
This nationwide celebration is the most important festival in the Vietnamese calendar. It marks the Lunar New Year (so falls at the same time as Chinese New Year) and lasts for several days, witnessing lots of festive decorations, special foods and family reunions.
Also known as Reunification Day and Victory Day, the occasion commemorates the capture of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) by North Vietnamese troops in 1975. It’s a public holiday and sees parades, costumed dancers and military bands.
Southern Fruit Festival
A showcase for the kaleidoscope of different fruits grown by Vietnamese farmers, this hugely colourful festival also involves a number of arts performances – not to mention some impressively large-scale displays of produce.
Commemorating the country’s declaration of independence from France, it was on this day in 1945 that Ho Chi Minh himself read out Vietnam’s proclamation of nationhood. It’s still observed as a public holiday.
Anthro Film Festival
An international anthropological film festival, this five-day event exists purely to develop an audience for these often beautifully made films. It takes place every two years, with November 2014 marking the next staging.
The rise of Vietnam as a travel destination has resulted in a large number of quality hotels in Ho Chi Minh City. Examples include Hotel Nikko Saigon (235 Nguyen Van Cu Street), a 388-room property with a full-service spa, and the smart Rex Hotel (141 Nguyen Hue Boulevard), which has a casino and a rooftop restaurant. The two-star Bali Hotel (39-41 Hung Phuoc 3 Street) draws positive reviews for its cleanliness and value for money, as does the Tan Hoang Long Hotel (84 Mac Thi Buoi Street), a five-minute walk from the Opera House.