Ho Chi Minh City - A Useful Guidance for Independent Travelers

Ho Chi Minh City - A Useful Guidance for Independent Travelers

We would like to suggest what you should do in Ho Chi Minh City.

The guidance is a result of different activities including interviews, inspections, and experiences.

Also known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) is changing at a pace that would shame the most reckless of motorcycle taxi drivers. Business towers, office blocks, glitzy shopping malls, high-end real estate developments, urban regeneration projects, visually stunning new bridges -- you name it, this city has got it and is about to get much more of it.

While all the progress is sometimes mourned by old timers, life is never dull when you're in the thick of it. In fact, it's the city's limitless vitality that furnishes much of its allure.


1.    Hotels


Park Hyatt Saigon
Probably the most prestigious address in Saigon, the city’s Hyatt is a five-star hotel among the cluster of properties flanking the Opera House and Lam Son Square, ideal for business travelers and tourists who like to vacation in splendor.

Rooms run from functional luxury to unforgettable opulence. There’s a giant pool to lounge by and a high quality spa for pampering. The hotel’s 2 Lam Son Bar could well be one of the most stylish lobby bars in the world, while its restaurants are among the best high-end options in the city.


Hotel Nikko Saigon
This recent addition to the business hotel scene offers spanking new rooms with a contemporary trim and an average room size of 40 square meters. They're among the most spacious in their class in the city. The hotel is located near the Saigon River and close to all the action downtown. Restaurant options include Ming Court (Chinese) and Fuji (Japanese).


2.    Dining

Cuc Gach Quan
Despite serving some of the best Vietnamese food in the city in a serene converted house, Cuc Gach Quan’s location on the outer limits of District 1 is often a deterrent to short-term visitors. It shouldn't be. As it is at many Vietnamese restaurants, the menu is tome-like.

Homemade tofu is creamy and pliant and sure to convince the doubters. Other highlights include soft shell crab and beautifully textured red rice. An extensive wine list and reasonable prices make it even more imperative to steer a course here.

With its airy setting and immaculate interior design, Monsoon feels like a top-end venue, but stays true to the Asian street dining idea of great food at low prices. With Cambodian, Vietnamese, Burmese, Thai and Laotian offerings, it’s the only place in town where diners can mix and match a banquet from across mainland Southeast Asia.Top picks include a sweet pork curry from Myanmar and a flawless take on Khmer fish Amok.

Banh Xeo 46A
It’s not hard to see why the banh xeo ("sizzling pancake") has become such a hit with foreigners. Unlike some Vietnamese creations, there are no challenges or nasty surprises. Rice flour, water, turmeric powder (the source of the pancakes' vibrant yellow coloring) and coconut milk are combined to make the batter, which is stuffed with fatty pork, shrimp and bean sprouts, then pan-fried.

The crisp result is served alongside a veritable hedgerow of aromatic herbs and dipped in nuoc cham (fish sauce thinned with water and lemon). The result is one of the most addictive treats in the Vietnamese culinary armory -- this is one of the best venues at which to get hooked.


3.    Nightlife

Chill Bar
This is Saigon’s most opulent sky bar. Since opening in October 2011 it has earned a lofty reputation with great cocktails and good food. The A-list Vietnamese celebs and models who have made this their watering hole of choice may beg to differ, but the real star of the show is the stunning view over Saigon.

Saigon may be a party city, but cerebral types can have a tough task tracking down bohemia. Hipster hangout Yoko, however, offers respite from all the dumb fun.

While some of the cover bands are merely so-so, this is the place where Saigon musicians convene for some decent sets and jam sessions.

Throw reasonably priced drinks and comfortable sofas into the mix and you’ve got a recipe for a cool, unpretentious, bar -- a simple, but rare concept in HCMC.

Every upwardly mobile metropolis needs a place for its beautiful people to preen and this is Saigon’s. Most nights of the week the city’s stylish set check each other out over expensive cocktails on the crowded terrace, one of the classiest pick-up spots in town.

Top international DJs don’t tend to make the detour from Bangkok, KL and Singapore, but when they do they usually end up here, meaning there’s a better than average hits-to-misses ratio with the music.  Tuesday’s Ladies Night is a particularly popular weekly event.


4.    Shopping/Attractions

Ben Thanh Market
The daddy of Saigon’s many markets, Ben Thanh is by far the most popular tourist shopping spot in the city. From buckets of jumping frogs in the wet market to clothes, fabrics and souvenirs in the teeming narrow alleys, this place puts the "Ay!" into buying. Prices are somewhat higher than at markets elsewhere and only the hardest of bargainers are rewarded with anything approaching a good deal.  Nevertheless, it’s a lively experience and several great food stalls at the back of the market make it a fine place to take a crash course in Vietnamese street cuisine.

Reunification Palace
The striking modern building was built on the site of the palace of the French governor-general of Cochin China in the early 1960s and its design (by Paris-trained Vietnamese architect Ngo Viet Thu) remains one of the finest examples of modern architecture in the city.  When a North Vietnamese tank crashed through the wrought iron gates on April 30, 1975, it sounded the death knell for the South Vietnamese government.

A sample of the tank still sits on the lawn while attractions inside include the grand Presidential Receiving Room and an eerie basement with telecommunications center, war room and network of tunnels.


Travel tip shared by Lan Nguyen