This is my second time in Vietnam. Every city in the country seems to have an attitude of their own, and Ho Chi Minh is no exception. It feels like a place trapped in between Western modernisation and old school laid-back Vietnamese charm. Here's a list of ten things I love about Ho Chi Minh city!
1. The café culture. There are hundreds of small quirky cafes around the city, and when you sit in them, you'll feel like you're kind of in low-budget Woody Allen movie.
2. I don't like coffee. Unless I'm in Vietnam. The coffee here costs around $1 per cup, and even better than Starbucks. I tend to drink coffee here during all mealtimes and in between, then come back to the hotel dehydrated.
3. The fact that motorcycles are like ants, and they drive up to the pedestrian walkway then honk you for blocking their paths (???).
4. Its war-torn history. If you pay a visit to the Cu Chi Tunnels (the 200+ km underground tunnels where Vietnamese hid to escape from the genocide) you'll wonder how they ever survived. It'll remind you how willpower can beat everything.
5. Pho. Pho (pronounced ‘fe’) is a type of noodle soup that everybody eats in Vietnam, everywhere. It’s a clear broth with mainly meat, rice noodles and a LOT of side herbs. Pho is good, but it only becomes great if you eat it by the street while almost getting hit by a motorcycle.
6. The streets behind the streets. If you are walking down a main street, chances are there is another street sandwiched behind it and another main street. You’ll find small, cheap hotels, or hidden cafes up an empty staircase. Or a dude trying to sell you ‘best one original’ jade stones.
7. Ho Chi Minh, the guy. He’s pretty famous around here. It’s worth getting to know the man behind the name.
8. The skinny locals. If you need to feel like a fat, greasy ogre, come to Vietnam where everybody is slim and has great skin complexion. Even the guy who sold me a t-shirt looked like he's just stepped out of a skin care ad.
9. The fact that the city is obsessed with French Tintin.
10. Walking around the city. Strap on a bag, put on some glasses and go for a long walk around the city. It’s beautiful out there.
The first thing I noticed about Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon, as the locals like to call it, is that it is not at all like Hanoi. If Hanoi is a reminiscent of old Shanghai, Saigon looks like a capital, with a lot more infrastructures and modern building. I loved walking around the city at night – we did this after having some late night drinks on the Rex Hotel café, which is a café on the rooftop of the Rex Hotel. The weather was cool, and by 12 am the city had toned town most of its traffic, so it was like walking in a lonely city. The Opera House and Parliament and Notre Dame Cathedral were sparkling beauties, with luminescent lights and a still air about them.
We didn’t do much sightseeing here. I wanted to go for the Mekong cruise, where we could supposedly see the life along the Mekong River, and how people process rice to make rice crispies out of them (I didn’t know they were actually made by real rice!), but there wasn’t enough time. We went café crawling, by which we went to visit a few different cafes because that’s one of the things Saigon are most famous for.
And then of course, we (I) went on a shopping craze around town. There’s a shop that can make you any dress right out of a magazine for USD60, and so I tried my luck in making a dress that was worn by Gwyneth Paltrow – reasonably plain with a peach undertone and a very well cut silhouette, and hey, the seamstress did a really good job! There was the Ben Tanh market which sold fabrics and home décor and shirts and imitations of all kinds, and art shops are everywhere around the city. I wanted to buy a piece of drawing, which had a ballerina dancing by the window, but I had only 50 dollars left, and that was supposed to pay for my dinner, my taxi ride to the airport and my excess baggage upon checking in, so that was that.
Saigon is great city of you’re looking to relax and spend some good cash on some awesome clothes and things. It certainly didn’t have the cultural air as Hanoi, but in a way it has its own identity of being a modern city with a twist of Vietnamese. Highly recommended for the bored.
Places To Eat: Saigon somehow feels a little more hygienic than Hanoi, so I wouldn't mind eating anywhere. If you need Halal food, then the Du Dong street offers a row of Halal restaurant options, from Vietnamese to Middle Eastern to Malaysian menus. Otherwise there are bakeries along the main roads that sell excellent baguettes, which are awesome eaten with scrambled eggs, meat slices. And how about some street pho? Awesome!
The Opera House at night.
Eating Pho and baguettes by the street!
The Notre Dame Cathedral