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Vietnam – a whistle stop guide to Ho Chi Minh City

Firstly, let me point out this is what the title says – a ‘whistle stop’ guide, meaning I do not profess to be in any way an expert on matters Vietnamese. I only spent 6 days there!

However, it left a lasting impression in my heart and mind, and can safely say it has shot straight to the number 1 spot as my favourite S.E Asian country! (everyone has their own ‘top of the charts’ lists right?)

It’s a country steeped in history, dominated by the war history. The people are friendly, a massive bonus, and as a solo female traveller I never felt uneasy or unsafe. But what is the jewel in Vietnam’s crown? THE FOOD! Of course, why on earth would it be number 1 with me if it wasn’t for the amazing street food. I’m going to devote a whole post to the food, to be honest you could (and some have) devote a whole BLOG to the food. It’s that good.

Anyway, I only visited two places as I had limited time in the country, I swung through Da Nang, but only enough tell you there is a lovely noodle place opposite the train station, a kindly man helping me to the right bus stop for Hoi An, and a terrible Banh Mi vendor opposite the train station….the only ‘bad’ food I had in the whole country.

So, I’ll begin with:

HO CHI MINH CITY or as some still call it SAIGON

 

Saigon Beer, rooftop of Rex Hotel, Saigon, Vietnam

 

This crazy busy, manic city is alive with activity, 24 hours a day! Yes, the roads are almost impossible to cross and there are lots of fumes and pollution in the air (if you are there for more than 3 days I strongly recommend you buy a face mask) but it has an amazing charm, and some beautiful architecture, plus a couple of must see museums.

I’m going to say that basing yourself in the Le Loi area, close to the City Hall is pretty much as good as it gets, and I’m going to shout our here to my lovely hotel which was cheap (by western standards) clean, with smiley, lovely, helpful staff. Also a nice little bonus is they provide you with a lovely silk dressing gown for lounging in! The location is up an alleyway, do not be discouraged by this, I felt totally safe at all hours walking up the alley and it also means it’s a little quieter than being on the main road. Here’s a link to their website: Little Saigon Boutique Hotel

So. You’ve got yourself a base and you can now get out and explore. There are many things to see so if you have limited time choose wisely. I read quite a lot of other blogs about the city and loosely based my first day on this walking guide by Sharyn at Hoh Chi Minh City Highlights Walking Guide Day 1

As I’ve already mentioned I’m a fan of the charting method of preference, so here are my ‘Top 5’ of things I did (not saying you should do them too) in HCMC

Tao Dan Park

 

Like the X factor live sing off -  for birds.
Like the X factor live sing off – for birds.

Possibly the best two hours (actually I went there a number of time so racked up many more hours) I spent in HCMC. My train back into the city arrived at 5.20am, so I walked to the park and found a coffee stand…plonked my already sweaty body down on a chair and settled in for some of the best people watching on the planet! It was Sunday morning and the place was BUZZING!

training is harder on concrete
Training is harder on concrete!?

Ranging from ferocious badminton games to gentle fan dances it seemed like the whole of the city had descended upon the park to get their fitness on. I had an urge to join in and do some yoga, but resisted in favour of keep watching and moving to areas that had ‘display’s’ going on.

 

Every piece of space is utilised.
Every piece of space is utilised.

 

Fine Arts Museum

Not only is this museum a wonderful (and a cool break from the heat with lots of fans) way to pass a few hours with lots of beautiful, mostly post war art, but it in housed in a stunning colonial building which I literally could not stop taking photos of.

 

Modern Vietnamese Art, Vietnam

 

Stairwell, Fine Arts Museum, Saigon, Vietnam

 

Colonial Windows, Fine Arts Museum, Saigon

 

 

War Remnants Museum

 

War Remnants Museum, Ho Chi Minh City, Saigon, Vietnam

 

I’d class this as a ‘must do’ regardless of your thoughts and preconceived ideas about this war. It’s harrowing in parts, be warned some of the photography exhibitions can get quite upsetting, and it is of course biased, however it is an education and a thought provoking way to learn more about this devastating war.

Tanks and Helicopters, Vietnam War

 

Sunset at Bitexco

 

Bitexco Tower, Ho Chi Minh City, Saigon, Vietnam

 

Another tip from the HCMC City Highlights website is not to pay for the observation deck in the city’s largest building, the Bitexco Tower, but head up to the 52nd floor Heli Bar for their happy hour, even after buying a VERY expensive drink (in Vietnemese terms) you will still pay less than the observation tower entry price and can sit there whilst the sun sets over the city with the most incredible view.

 

view from Bitexco Tower, Saigon, Vietnam

 

Saigon from Bitexco Tower at night, Sunset Ho Chi Minh city, Vietnam

 

Eating Street Food

 

Pho stand, Ho Chi Minh City, Saigon, Vietnam

 

Of course! what else would I do when in this country?! I wanted to try street food, and after reading this delicious post by Jodi at Legal Nomads: Guide to Saigon’s street food

 

Street eating in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh) Vietnam

 

Although I did try to find the ‘Prison Granny’ Pho stall (seemed to have been replaced with a Com Ta joint?) I gave up and rather just walked the streets, ducking into side alleys and following office workers on their lunch breaks to just find my own food. I also visited a couple of food courts, where they had menu’s so you knew what you were eating, but I found although the food was good these lacked that atmosphere and were double the price of the real street vendor’s. Anyway, food being one of my favourite subjects a whole other blog post will be coming very soon dedicated to my Vietnamese culinary tour.

Chicken Pho, street style, Saigon

 

I hope this post gives you a flavour of why YOU too should visit this wonderful country and city.

2 comments
  1. Sharyn

    Thanks, Claire, Glad you thought one of my walking tours was useful. Your pictures were great. You are so rght. Tao Dan park is a real spectacle in the mornings and evenings, as are many of the other parks around town.

    I also have a second day’s itinerary that gets to the Fine Arts Museum and a couple of other interesting stops as well. A little more alternative and great if you have a few more days. I’m currently about to publish one for Cholon (Chinatown), which is an area with heaps of character and lots to see.

    Next time you’re in town look me up and I’ll show you some other cool spots to visit, eat and drink.

    1. claireyogagogo

      Thanks Sharyn, your blog is fab and I read it a lot before and during my stay. If I come back to Vietnam I will definitely give you a shout for some local hot spots! Likewise if you are ever in the UK where I am slowly heading back to!

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