My recent trip to Singapore was my first trip to Asia. Given it’s long haul, I thought it would be a shame to only visit one country, so I planned to visit a second. I quickly decided on Vietnam. Photo’s I’d seen show a country with so many sides; amazing beaches, vibrant cities and spectacular countryside. Due to having a full time job, we only had 5 days in Vietnam, but we were able to really make the most of it and see lots of Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) and the countryside around the Mekong Delta.
I did a LOT of research before going and stumbled upon some great places when we were there too, so I’m going to use this post to share all that knowledge with you.
Adjusting to Ho Chi Minh life
On arrival the biggest surprise to me was how crazy the roads were in Ho Chi Minh. Although there are traffic lights, only the cars seem to take note of them and scooters probably make up 80% of the traffic on the road. This made crossing the road the first day or so an interesting experience! You really just have to brave it and walk out into the traffic, trusting that the scooters will manoeuvre around you. By the second day I think we’d cracked it, although Lee and I still held each others hand when crossing the road to ensure we got across together! I took a short video which captures how crazy the roads are.
Most of the time we walked in Ho Chi Minh City. All the places we wanted to visit were in District 1 or 3, so within walking distance of our hotel (see where we stayed below). I find walking allows you to stumble upon nice surprises which you otherwise wouldn’t uncover and it allows you to get a better feel for a place.
However, to and from the airport and during rain we wanted a car. There is no Uber in Vietnam, but there’s a company called Grab instead and we had downloaded the Grab app whilst in Singapore. It works just the same as Uber, the only twist being that in Vietnam the cheapest option is to request a scooter rather than a car! We weren’t quite brave enough for that (and had our suitcase!), so opted for a car each time we used it which was only to/from the airport and to escape a rain shower.
The biggest surprise was the cost. A 30 min journey from the airport for example cost only a three pounds, in a premium car! Getting around in Vietnam is really cheap.
Where to stay in Ho Chi Minh City
The city is broken down into districts and the majority of tourist focussed hotels are in District 1. They’re also closest to most of the city’s attractions and restaurants (more on both of those later), making it the best place to be located during your stay. There are a range of hotels available, but one thing to note is that Vietnam is cheaper than many surrounding countries (and wayyyy cheaper than Singapore which is where we’d just been).
We paid £65 + taxes per night to stay in the Silverland Yen hotel. It was conveniently located in District 1 but also close to District 3 and a stones throw from Ho Chi Minh’s Independence Palace. With its decor inspired by Japanese gardens the hotel was a peaceful oasis in an otherwise bustling city. The green rooftop pool and bar were a welcome extra too (though not quite as impressive as the pool at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore).
5 must-do things in Ho Chi Minh City
Even though I’d done tons of research, I wasn’t sure whether we were going to enjoy the bustling streets of Ho Chi Minh City or find ourselves bored pretty quickly. Thankfully there was plenty to keep us occupied. That said, I think you can cover off all the main city attractions in just 2 days. Here’s a run down of the spots I’d recommend:
1. Bitexco Financial Tower Saigon Sky Deck
We didn’t know about this until our last day, but it would make sense to visit on your first day in Ho Chi Minh City to give you a sense of how big the place is. There are great views from the 49th floor sky deck which only costs 200,000 VND (£6.50/$8.50) to visit. There’s also an exhibition space on the sky deck, which during our visit showcased traditional Vietnamese dress.
2. Independence Palace
If you’re interested in a bit of Vietnamese history, then Independence Palace is a good place to start. No prior knowledge is needed and you can walk around at your own pace, reading the signs in each room. The Palace has a mixed past, with the original colonial palace being bombed and then replaced with the current palace, which was completed in 1966. It’s a site of huge historical significance too; a tank bulldozed through the Palace wall in 1975 ending the Vietnam war. I really enjoyed this visit, including seeing all the sixties decor still in place. Lee enjoyed it less so, in part because theres no air con and the palace was sweltering! (Bear that in mind when choosing clothing).
3. War Remnants Museum
A bit heavy going, but this is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Ho Chi Minh. The War Remnants Museum details the various atrocities the Vietnamese were victim to during the Vietnam war. It was originally called the ‘Exhibition House for US and Puppet Crimes’, which gives you an idea of how the contents are presented. Outside you’re able to walk around the remains of a prison and get up close to war-era tanks and aeroplanes. Inside there are exhibits and photos which detail bombings and the spreading of ‘Agent Orange’, which wiped out vegetation and left people deformed. If you do choose to visit be prepared for some shocking pictures. The museum provide an educational insight into the impact of war on the country’s people, so is worth a visit.
4. Vietnamese Architecture and rooftop bars
In addition to the specific points of interest mentioned above, the streets of Ho Chi Minh City are great to wander. There’s some great architecture (such as the Town Hall, Notre Damn Cathedral and the Post Office), rooftop bars (we visited the Rex Hotel, The Caravelle and Chill Skybar) and sites such as the Cafe Apartments. All of these are surrounded by vibrant streets full of culture, with street sellers and great food.
5. Ben Thanh Markets
I didn’t realise before we visited, but Vietnam has some great markets! Many international firms make their produce in Vietnam, meaning the country has the expertise to produce clothing, electronics and leather goods to a standard we’re all used to. These can be picked up at the local markets for a fraction of the usual price if you’re willing to barter. We even went into one shop which was selling ski coats, despite the 30 degree heat!
We ate some great food in Ho Chi Minh. Here are my top five restaurants that we visited, two traditional Vietnamese cuisine, three not so traditional:
Home Finest, District 3, Ho Chi Minh City
This high-end restaurant delivered fantastic Vietnamese food in a beautiful atmosphere, with traditional live music playing too. This was probably my favourite food of the holiday, as I found it really authentic and great quality. The cocktails here were great too, served in some inventive and pretty styles.
The Chopsticks, District 3, Ho Chi Minh City
Another restaurant serving traditional cuisine, they also had an in-house band playing traditional music and singing. The menu was full of traditional food and really tasty once again, though for me the ambience wasn’t quite as good as Home Finest, but maybe thats personal preference. Also, they had some great lanterns in the courtyard outside (pictured left).
Marcel Gourmet Burger, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
This burger joint was a game changer. Grass fed beef, truffle fries, homemade lemonade and ‘pomme dauphines’… mashed potato balls mixed with choux pastry and deep fried. Heaven. Well worth a visit if you’re super hungry in Ho Chi Minh.
Pizza 4Ps, Various locations, Ho Chi Minh City
Before heading to the airport, we fancied pizza and came across this restaurant near to Ben Thanh markets. The pizzas here were great, as was the service. Curiously, they describe themselves online as a ‘Vietnam-based Japanese Italian pizza restaurant’. I’m not sure what the Japanese element is, but we enjoyed two great pizzas, including one with a burrata of mozzarella which was something I haven’t experienced before!
- Topping Beef, District 3, Ho Chi Minh City
Whilst wandering around District 3 we searched google for nearby restaurants and this gem was nearby. A casual steak restaurant, serving fantastic New Zealand beef for a fraction of the price we experience at home. The sides were great too.
Ho Chi Minh
Overall, Ho Chi Minh was a great city to visit, but I feel we’ve only scratched the surface of Vietnam. I plan on going back someday to explore the cities on the North and the coastal region. Thankfully, F1 have just confirmed a Hanoi Grand Prix in 2020, so maybe we’ll plan a visit to coincide with that. It was a Grand Prix that took us to Asia this time around after all!
Have you been to Vietnam? Let me know in the comments the other places I should visit there.