Ho Chi Minh City (or Saigon as it is still sometimes be called) is often said to be the biggest city in Vietnam. It was once the capital of France’s colony. And it is also one of the city in Vietnam tourists usually visit. This city offers a lot more than I’ve imagined before.
It has these elegant boulevards and beautiful colonial buildings. It offers so many kind of food ranging from the cheap sidewalk local stalls to the expensive fine restaurants. It is the place I’d like to spend my time wandering around just to find a nice local coffee shop.
I went there last January 2014. I can’t believe the fact that I’ve been postponing on writing this post for nearly two year!! So, before these precious memories of mine got lost forgotten, I want to share let’s say, a mini travel guide about where to go, what to do, and what to eat in Ho Chi Minh city.
I didn’t get to explore every inches of the city. I just happened to live there for a week (or maybe less? I totally forgot about it), enjoying the city the way I like while I had the chance. (And also, thanks to Yin Yin, my dear Vietnamese friend who’s been soooooo kind showing us around the city. I miss you, Yin!)
So here you go, a Mini Travel Guide about Ho Chi Minh city (which, to you, might look just like many other informal travel guide you can easily find on the internet). But hey, mine is a personal one since this one is written based on my own personal experience 😉
So, if you get to HCMC, you’ll know that HCMC has 19 districts in total, with District 1 serving as the city center. It’s where the majority of tourist spots are usually located. Sometimes people refer it as Saigon District. And then there’s District 5 serving as the China Town. And…. I can’t remember the rest. LOL.
ANYWAY, I didn’t have a proper lens (and skill) back then, so pardon for the pic!
Where to go, what to see?
If you’re new to the city, I bet the first thing people would normally do is to check out the landmark (or find some local dish to eat). That’s what I usually do. It’s just my way to get the feel of the city better. We went walking around District 1 to check out the landmark.
1. City Hall
Aside from the name and the fact that it’s a government office (which means public is not allowed inside), we can always admire the building from afar.
There’s this small park in from of the city hall gate, where a status of Ho Chi Minh is sitting. What I admire about District 1 is that there are small parks everywhere, and all of them are well maintained.
2. Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica
Notice the bride and groom to be in the pic below? Yup, this is where people would normally take a pre-wedding shot.
They said the stones used to build this cathedral were brought from Paris.
We were lucky to arrive just before the mass time as the church only opens up for public during mass time! It was a bit pitch dark inside. And I didn’t take as much photo as I would normally take outside as it might be disturbing for others.
But yeah, just go here, doesn’t matter if you’re a believer or not. It’s a beautiful cathedral after all.
3. Central Post Office
Here goes another famous building. It’s the central post office of Saigon. Not only does it serve as a post office, but it also has some amount of souvenir shops inside. You might want to buy some here, they offer a great price. I bought my Vietnamese Coffee Drip here for just about 20,000 Vietnamese Dong!
4. Saigon Opera House
Another beautiful building in District 1. If you’re lucky, meaning that the performance schedule matches your schedule in HCMC, you can just easily buy the tix for the opera performance here. But sadly we were not!
5. Ho Chi Minh City Museum of Fine Arts
We love museums, and this one happened to be in just a very short walking distance from our hotel. This museum is packed up with paintings, and some sculptures. No air-con. But overall we did enjoy our visit.
What to eat?
Oh don’t worry about food when you’re in Vietnam. Almost all of them are tasty. (But not as tasty as Thai food. I simply adore Thai food).
One of the food I miss the most from Vietnam is obviously Pho. It’s a rice noodle with clear chicken or beef soup, meat, and a few herbs. I like the way the serve it with a lot of cilantro. It gives that stronger smell and taste. You could easily find Pho at the street vendors or even at the restaurant. Do not skip this one when you’re in Vietnam!
Where to have Pho in HCMC :
- Pho Hoa (260 Pasteur street, District 1.)
- Pho Le
2. Gỏi Cuốn (Vietnamese Spring Rolls)
This particular Vietnamese food is soooo good that I could not contain my excitement when I got a chance to make it myself at Signature Cruise Ha Long Bay!
It’s Vietnamese spring roll or sometimes called as Summer Roll as it is served cold and best eaten in summer. It’s basically fresh veggies (lots of cilantro, again) and shrimp wrapped in a veeery thin rice paper. I like to eat it with dipping sauce and fresh chili, to add some kicks to the flavor.
Where to have Goi Cuon in HCMC :
3. Nem Rán / Vietnamese Fried Spring Rolls
This reminds me of what my mom usually made at home It’s ground meat with mushroom and veggies and then wrapped up with a sheet of thin rice paper. And unlike Gỏi Cuốn, this one is deep fried until the rice paper turns golden brown and crispy outside.
It’s served with a sweet spicy sauce as the dipping sauce.
Where to have Nem Ran in HCMC :
- Quan Nem (30 Ba Thanh Quan 6, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam)
4. Bánh Cuốn
Banh Cuon is actually a northern Vietnamese dish (you can easily find it in Hanoi), but it is also widely available throughout the south part of the country.
Banh Cuon is made of thin rice batter which is steamed for a couple of minutes and then filled with seasoned ground pork and other stuffs. I like how they put a generous amount of fried onion as it really blend well with the ground pork. Later I found out that people usually eat it for breakfast in Vietnam. This one is very addictive, I warn you.
Where to have Bánh Cuốn in HCMC :
- Banh Cuon Hai Nam (11A Cao Thang, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam)
5. Iced Vietnamese Coffee
Here comes the best part. Vietnamese Coffee! Well, Vietnamese does not simply call this “Vietnamese Coffee”. They just call it ice coffee or Ca Phe Da but you should know that they refers to the coffee with milk. A condensed milk to be exact. I like how the dark roast coffee blend with the sweet condensed milk. It create a strong sweet and bitter kind of flavor you can’t get if you use a normal cow milk.
They usually brew the coffee using this so called Vietnamese coffee drip.
6. Coconut Shrimp
Have no idea what this actually is, but the shrimp was indeed very fresh and tasty! It doesn’t have much seasoning to it, so you can really taste the shrimp.
Where to stay?
It’s up to you, really.
If you’re looking for backpackers hostel, try Pham Ngu Lau Street. If you’re looking for a mid-range hotel in the city center (like we did!), try the Ben Thanh market area. But if you’re looking for a luxurious kind of stay, you might want to stay in District 1 (which is just a short walking distance from Ben Thanh Market).
You can easily search which hotel suits you through Agoda. That’s what I always do, all the time.
How to get around?
We walked, and took taxi several times. But if I have another chance to stay longer, let’s say a month, I’d rent a motorbike so it’s easier to explore the city.
So…. Are you planning to visit Ho Chi Minh City? Or have you been there before? Tell me more about your experience since I’d like to hear it from you too!!!
P.S : It might be a chance for me to update this Ho Chi Minh Mini Travel Guide. There are still so much to write about.
Other Mini Travel Guide I wrote before :
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