Trip to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam - April 2009
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Flag of VietnamPeople in conical hats, country being the place for ”the American war”, millions of motorcycles in the streets, people transporting every imaginable (and unimaginable) item on mopeds, the Mekong delta, snakes and scorpions in rice wine – this is a trip report from the busy Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon) in Việt Nam in South East Asia.

A short summary
Nikki and Gard getting ready to face the traffic in Ho Chi Minh CityThis trip report will focus on the short trip that my wife, Nikki and I took to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), Vietnam in the period from April 6-11, 2009. In the city we checked out some of the attractions such as Reunification Palace, War Remnants museum, Jade Emperor pagoda, Cu Chi tunnels etc. The trip report is split into sections and this first page will focus on the stay in Ho Chi Minh City. On the next pages you will find information about the hotel we used (Renaissance Riverside Hotel Saigon), an interactive Google map of Ho Chi Minh City and more photos from HCMC.
Please get in touch on if you have any questions or comments. All pictures are taken by Nikki and Gard with our Canon EOS 450D, Canon IXUS and Olympus mju 750.

Nikki and I have been to Asia several times before and we have been to places like China, Thailand, Japan, Malaysia etc. But for a while we have been talking about expanding our horizons and this time it was time to visit some new countries. So in connection with a business trip to Malaysia, we decided to visit Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and Siem Reap/Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Map of Vietnam

Map of Vietnam. Map provided by

Planning the trip
Bag on the street in  Ho Chi Minh CityI have to admit that we didn’t plan our trip to Ho Chi Minh City that well. The period leading up to the trip was pretty busy but we did buy the DK Eyewitness Guide for Vietnam and Angkor Wat. We also got in touch with Kate, an old class mate of Nikki from South Africa (currently living in Ho Chi Minh City) and she was a god send indeed. And we also organized the flights in and out of Vietnam, booked the hotel etc ahead of time.


Note: For flights in Asia you should check out AirAsia for cheap tickets.


Bed at Renaissance hotel in Ho Chi Minh CityFrom our experience, hotels in SE Asia tend to offer a higher level of luxury for a relatively good price per night. We mainly referred to TripAdvisor to pick our candidates. In the end it was between Sheraton Saigon Hotel & Towers and Renaissance Riverside Hotel Saigon. We ended up with the latter but in retrospect I think we should have gone for Sheraton (especially since I’m a Lounge at Renaissance hotel in Ho Chi Minh CityStarwood Preferred Guest). The Renaissance cost us 170 USD/per night but when we booked it we accidently forgot to make sure breakfast was included. So we ended up upgrading to Club level for an extra 50 USD in order to get breakfast, lounge access etc. But if you stay in this area there is a great place called Juice where you can have a western breakfast if you don’t want to eat at the hotel. Here is the review of the hotel Renaissance Riverside Hotel Saigon.


Note: In Vietnam they use Vietnamese Dong. Right now 1 USD is about 17900 Dong. You can get Dong at ATM’s in Ho Chi Minh City and it seems to be the preferred currency. Make sure to check the exchange rate before you arrive in Vietnam as the exchange rates changes constantly

When it comes to vaccines you should check with your local authorities’ recommendations. Ho Chi Minh City and parts of Vietnam are considered malaria areas, so take necessary precautions.

The trip begins
Immigration card to VietnamAfter my business trip to Malaysia I flew to Bangkok and met up with Nikki there. And on Monday April 6th we got up at 04.45 AM in order to catch the plane to HCMC – I wonder who was the genius that decided we had to get an early start :-) At least we were able to have a quick breakfast at the hotel before we left. The taxi to Suvarnabhumi airport was about 400 Baht (about 11 USD) and the check in at AirAsia was quick – Tan Son Nhat International Airportwe did have to pay 300 Baht in overweight so make sure you check this when buying tickets. Our one way ticket from Bangkok to HCMC was 4574 Baht (about 130 USD) for the both of us. Our AirAsia flight was on time and at 07.45 we took off from Bangkok in an Airbus 320. I was looking forward to flying AirAsia again as they’re posters and ads feature pretty good looking flight attendants (what can I say...I’m a guy). I was quite disappointed when we boarded as the male flight attendant was not quite what I was expecting. Well, at least Nikki had something to look at ;-)

Arriving in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC)
The traditional Vietnamese hatThe flight to Vietnam was only a bit over an hour and we landed at about 9 am. The landing strip was a bit bumpy and we passed by lots of old bunkers and old terminals. But when we came to our gate it turned out to be a brand new and shiny terminal. As I have a Norwegian passport I didn’t need a visa and I just went to immigration and Nikki had gotten her visa sorted out in advance so we both passed through immigration without any problems. My immigration officer was an older lady in a green army uniform. She resembled what I envision it would be like arriving in North Korea :-) After immigration we picked up our suitcases and these were scanned as we went through customs.


Note: make sure to check if you need a visa before you arrive in Vietnam. Rules change constantly so it’s probably best to organize this in advance.


This is how Vietnamese Dong looks likeBefore we left for Vietnam and Cambodia I had heard that US Dollars were the preferred currency. But we decided to change some dollars into Dong and we started by exchanging 40 USD and got 680.000 Dong back! It is tricky converting when the numbers are like this so I downloaded an application on my iPhone and that helped me keep track of the currencies. There are booths in the arrival area where you can book a taxi. We paid 9 USD to go from the airport to our hotel Renaissance Riverside Hotel Saigon. There was also an airport tax when leaving the airport and that was 5000 Dong (30 cent) Make sure you have 1 dollar bills or local currency when paying for the taxi.

Everything can be transported on a bike in  Ho Chi Minh CityComing out of the airport area and into the traffic was quite an experience. There were thousands of Vespa style motorcycles everywhere. They passed the taxi on the left and right hand side, some were driving on the pavement, some were carrying entire families, some were transporting goods etc. I guess the highlight was one guy on an old three wheeled motorcycle transporting a couple of 10 meter long ladders. It just seemed to be very, very chaotic but the traffic seemed to flow.
Traffic in Ho Chi Minh CityThe weather was hot, humid and sunny as you would expect in South East Asia. In order to check what weather to expect, visit a web site like Weatherbase. We enjoyed temperatures of up to 35 degrees celcius (about 95 Fahrenheit) with some rain showers.
View from lounge at Renaissance hotel in Ho Chi Minh CityWhen we checked into the hotel we went to the lounge on the 18th floor and got a great view of the city. The hotel is located right next to Saigon River (as the name indicates) and there were lots of activities on the river...barges transporting all sorts of stuff, small ferries transporting motorcycles across the river, bigger ships in dry docks etc. When I saw the river the first time it seemed to flow “upwards” and later on the evening if flowed downstream as I expected to...I guess this is due to the tide from the ocean?

Time to check out Ho Chi Minh City
Crossing the street can be a challengeAfter checking into the hotel we basically went out to wander a bit around town to get used to the city. Walking around Ho Chi Minh is a bit of a challenge because of all the motorcycles that I described earlier. This means that crossing the road becomes like an “Evil Knievel dare devil” stunt but as long as you walk slowly across the street, take it step by step and look at the bikers you should get the hang of it pretty fast. We got out of the hotel around noon and it was warm and humid. We started out by having a small lunch at a place that we found and it was a set menu for 30000 Dong (about 1.7 USD) for each of us.Cheap lunch in  Ho Chi Minh City It was not a big meal but sufficient. On the way we also ran into a few people on the streets selling stuff – I did buy 10 postcards for 1 USD from one kid but I have to admit they were the most boring postcards I have ever seen. One young girl that I ran into wanted to sell me postcards after I had bought the first bunch so I said no. But she kept on following me and she was starting to ask me why and started pushing me around. It got a bit funny actually as it was all done in a friendly way.
Scenes from Ho Chi Minh City trafficAfter walking around Ho Chi Minh City for a day it was great to get back to the hotel. First of all the noise in the city is quite overwhelming – the horn is used in abundance and it is used in all forms of “communication” when driving. But it was also nice to get back to the hotel to take a shower as the city felt very, very dusty. I don't think I have felt anything like it since we went to Beijing a few years back.

Reunification Palace – a historic landmark in the city
The facade of Reunification hall in Ho Chi Minh CityOne of the first places we found by accident when walking around Ho Chi Minh City was the Reunification Palace. It seems like the place is historic grounds as this was the seat of the French governor general when the French were heavily involved in Vietnam. When the French had to withdraw from Vietnam the palace was taken over by Ngô Đình Diệm who became president of South Vietnam and it was named Independence Hall. Interior at Reunification HallIn 1975 this is where a North Vietnamese tank broke down the fence and it became a sort of symbol for the reunification of Vietnam and hence the name. Anyway, we came to the park in front of the palace and calling it a palace is pushing it a bit in my opinion. But the flat façade of the building stands out when compared to the rest of the buildings in the area and with the Vietnamese flag waving on top it was easy to see that there was something “official” about the place. Game room at Reunification HallThe tickets were 15000 Dong per person (about 80 cent) and we joined a free tour that has just started. Catching the tour here is important as it gives you more info than you would get by just walking around on your own. The guidebook claims that the palace is pretty much unchanged since it was re-built in the 1960. Our guide took us from room to room in the blazing heat and as the palace stretches over several floors we also got to work up some sweat by climbing some stairs. Helicopter at Reunification HallBut it was interesting to see old state rooms, rooms where war command had their base during the Vietnam War, private quarters – even a state of the art game room. Well, state of the art back in the 1960s of course. On the roof was a helicopter used by the president for evacuation. The palace also had a deep basement used as a bunker during the war and here there were also command rooms, old computers (I probably have more processing power in my iPhone these days), radios etc. In the end there was a movie played on a tiny TV summarizing the history of Vietnam in various languages. All in all visiting the Reunification Palace is well worth the time and ticket. But read up a bit on the Vietnam war before you visit and you’ll get more out of it.

Eating at Benh Than Market and a night out
Nikki and Kate on a bike in Ho Chi Minh City - notice the face protectionWe met up with Nikki’s old school mate Kate later the first evening. She had decided that one of the mandatory things to do in Ho Chi Minh is to eat at the night market at Ben Thanh market. The only problem was that she only had one motorcycle – and there were three of us. To a standard Vietnamese family that would not really be a problem as we did see up to seven people on one bike. But it was not really much of a problem as there are lots and lots of motorcycle taxis available. Se we agreed to pay one driver 15000 Dong (80 Cent) and we took off.


Note: make sure that you get a helmet if you take a motorcycle taxi. It might protect you a bit at least – and you will avoid getting a ticket if you get stopped by the police.


Luckily I’m a pretty naïve person and on the back of a bike you just have to trust the driver and hope for the best. But I have to admit that being on the back of a motorcycle in Ho Chi Minh City, at night, without a helmet, without really knowing the city, was a scary experience – but at the same time a very entertaining and crazy experience as well.

We had dinner at one of the stalls at Ben Thanh market and we tasted spring rolls, some sort of wok with poc choy and shrimp, prawns on a stick etc. I was most surprised by the spring rolls as I’m used to the deep fried ones.
Having spring rolls at Ben Thanh market in Ho Chi Minh CityThe ones we had were wrapped in transparent rice paper and felt lighter and fresher than the standard spring rolls. As we sat at the outside table a small kid came over to beg for some money and this brings me over to one of the other challenges: Prawns on a stick at Ben Thanh markethow do you handle begging children. In many guidebooks it says that these kids have a “pimp” that they beg for so the best is probably not to give them any money but rather give them food. We paid about 360000 Dong (about 20 USD) for the three of us including Saigon Beer. We also had a beer at a bar later on in the backpacker area of Ho Chi Minh and I think we paid about 4 USD for 3 large beers.
Informal bar on a pavement in Ho Chi Minh CityWe ended up at a small pavement bar with small tables and small plastic chairs. We stuck to our Saigon beer but the American at the next table went for the cheaper option - Bia Hoi. This seems to be a local brew, sort of like a lager, served in big plastic bottles. I did get to taste some and it was not very good at all and as Wikipedia says “Bia hơi production is informal and not monitored by any health agency”. Local beer in VietnamI’m not sure how to describe it - there was a nasty rubber/petroleum taste to it and it seemed like it was cooled down with big ice cubes in the glasses. Our new American friend decided in the end that it was not worth it so he poured out the rest of his plastic bottle and bought a Saigon beer instead. We saw a couple of people walking around with a scale and we asked Kate about this. It turns out that you can pay a fee and step on the scale to get to know your weight. I’m not sure there is a big market for this amongst Western tourists as we like to keep our weight to ourselves ;-)
We finally called it the night and as we felt that we had had enough excitement for one night we went for a taxi back home to the hotel. The taxi was about 40000 Dong (about 2.2 USD).

Get ready for more sightseeing...
Taxi involved in an traffic accident  in Ho Chi Minh CityThe next morning we met up with Kate again for more sightseeing. The first thing that we saw when coming out of the hotel was an accident between a motorcycle and a car. Luckily it was not serious

but as we were about to head out in the traffic on bikes again it was a reminder that anything can happen in this traffic. Getting dressed for a bike trip in Ho Chi Minh is rather amusing...first of all you have the helmet of course. My helmet seemed more like an egg shell but at least I got one as opposed to the night before. Apart from that Kate also brought masks to filter some of the dust and exhaust fumes. Many of the locals also top it off with long white gloves and I assume this was done to avoid getting sunburnt or too much of a tan. We hired one guy for 100000 Dong (about 5,5 USD) to take me to three locations – Jade Emperor Pagoda, Ho Chi Minh City Museum and then Ben Thanh Market.


Jade Emperor Pagoda
After another thrilling ride on the back of a
Entrance at Jade Emperor Pagoda motorcycle taxi we arrived at Jade Emperor Pagoda. This is a small house of worship to honor the king of all heavens, the Jade Emperor. From the outside it didn’t look that impressive and we first came across a fish pond and a tortoise shelter. The fish pond was a sorry sight as there were hardly any water in the pond and the fish was swimming sideways gasping for air. Incense at Jade PagodaBut inside was more interesting as there were lots of rooms with Buddha statues, figures, doors with intricate carvings etc. But as I have seen in other places in Asia it is often the contrasts that are the most striking. As we were walking around in this “temple” there werepeople having lunch there, others were praying to the Jade Emperor while the sun came in through windows in the ceiling and with all the incense in the air the atmosphere was magical.


Ho Chi Minh City Museum
Ho Chi Minh City museumAfter this we drove off to Ho Chi Minh City Museum as my driver totally ignored the traffic rules (by driving in the opposite direction in one way streets etc) we came to the museum before Kate and Nikki. Red lights seem to only be a warning and not treated as a mandatory stop. Display at Ho Chi Minh City museumThere was a guy at the gates of the museum selling water and he asked for 20000 Dong (about 1.1 USD) for a bottle of water but I thought that sounded a bit “expensive”. When Kate came along I asked her how much a bottle should cost approximately and she said 8000-10000 Dong. And when I went over to the guy who was selling water he just smiled when we agreed on 10000 Dong for a bottle. It was not that much money but I don’t like being ripped off – but I don’t blame him for trying ;-).
The entrance to the museum was 15000 Dong per person. Wedding couple takes photos at Ho Chi Minh City museumThis museum displays the history of the city over the last couple of hundred years, Vietnamese dress styles, equipment used during the Vietnam War etc. On the outside you can also find a Huey helicopter, old fighter planes etc. The building itself is also quite striking and it used to be the French governor general’s residence and it was also the office of the president of the republic of Vietnam in the 50’s and 60’s. A couple were getting their wedding photos taken while we were there and it was fun to witness how serious the photographer’s team were. The photographer instructed the couple in every aspect of body positioning – nothing was left to coincidence in the hunt for the perfect wedding shot.


Ben Thanh Market
Nikki and Gard at Ben Thanh market - as you can see it was pretty hot :-)We moved on to Ben Thanh market and we got there just in time so to speak. As I stepped off the bike and paid my driver, I could feel the first rain drops on my face – and in South East Asia that is normally a sign that you need to take cover quickly. Ben Thanh Market was built by the French in 1914 and was named Les Halles Centrales. Today is a big building where hundreds of stores sell everything from fresh flowers, meat, fish, rice wine, clothing etc . Having the Vietnamese speciality Pho at Ben Thanh marketWe were getting hungry so we went to one of the food stalls and had Pho which is a classic Vietnamese dish sold basically everywhere. Pho is a noodle soup with a good broth and served with slices of e.g. chicken and you can top it up with chilies to spice it up a bit. We paid about 105.000 Dong (about 6 USD) for the three of us including the drinks. And while we were eating it was raining so hard that it was even starting to flood inside Ben Thanh market and the noise of the rain on the steel roof was deafening.

War remnants museumAfter lunch the rain started to wear off a bit and we took a taxi to the War Remnants museum and that cost 22000 Dong (about 1.2 USD). As we arrived at the museum it started pouring down again so we had to make a sprint for it to avoid getting totally soaked. It seems 15000 Dong is the price for all museums, as it was for this museum. Quote from US air force before the Vietnam warAs the name indicates this museum focuses on the Vietnam War. The museum was previously called “War Crimes museum” and I guess that tells a bit about the perspective of the displays. The museum is not really that big and the main focus is photographs showing scenes from the war. It is depressing stuff of course – photos of war scenes, photos of people with disabilities due to Agent Orange used during the war, people being thrown out of helicopters, American soldiers posing with dead Vietnamese soldiers etc. Weapons at War remnants museumThere are also some weapons on display and outside in the courtyard there are bombs, fighter planes, tanks, artillery, a helicopter etc. There is also in interesting display of replicas of cells used during the war and detention methods. It is sad to walk around and look at all the human suffering that has been involved but I think it is useful for everyone to see – hopefully we can avoid making the same mistakes in the future.


Note: there has been report of bag snatching by people on bikes. We did not see anything but our friend Kate had experienced it. So be sure to keep it in mind at least.

In Vietnam on a budget? Why not surf a couch?
Natasha, Couchsurfing queenHave you ever heard of Well, the idea is that if you love to travel you can join a network and ask if you can use other members couch when visiting a city – or just get in touch with other members to go out for a drink to get to know the city you are visiting better through locals. I’m a member and we have hosted some but I was surprised to see that there was a big couchsurfing community in HCMC. I guess the couchsurfing community is mixed with the expat community but it is worth checking it out if you are going to this city. And by the way – Natasha is the queen of couchsurfing in Ho Chi Minh so get in touch with her to get some help with regards to your visit :-)

Another night out in Ho Chi Minh City
Hummus at WardaAs it was Kate’s birthday we went out to celebrate and we met up with lots of others (both locals and expats). We started with dinner at the Lebanese restaurant Warda on Mac Thi Buoi Street. As we were quite a bunch we had lots of different dishes including hummus, lamb shanks, a tangine dish etc. All in all it was a good meal but I have to admit that I have no idea how much we paid. After dinner it was time to smoke a bit using a “hookah” - the traditional Middle Eastern water pipe where you put in various things to flavor the smoke. I think we had strawberry and peach. I had not tried this since I went to Dubai in 2002 so it was fun to try it again :-) Not a favourite of Nikki’s allergies though.

Trying hookahAfter dinner it was time to lift the party to the next level and we went to the club called Lush on Ly Tu Trong street. The club was pretty much like any other clubs...loud music and crowded :-) I think the girls wanted to go there as Wednesday’s “free drinks for ladies” amazing is that? Nikki stayed on dancing at Lush but I got fed up with the loud music so I ended up going over to the Blue Gecko bar located just a couple of hundred meters down the street. This is an Australian bar and it was great fun hanging out there. When the placed closed the party continued as the owner Simmo, was also celebrating his birthday. Rumor has it that HCMC has a curfew but I’m not sure how this works. I think we wrapped it up at about 2 am – and after a long night of beer, wine and vodka I think it was time to call it a night.

Resting day
Having a smoothie at Juice in HCMCThe following day was spent on recovering from the party the night before. We started the day at the restaurant called Juice on Mac Thi Buoi Street. They have an excellent selection of western breakfast if you are craving that and a great selection of juice and smoothies – Having a Singapore Sling at Caravelle hotel in Ho Chi Minh Cityand in addition to that they also had WiFi which is great when you have an iPhone :-) A smoothie at Juice was typically 42000 Dong (about 2.3 USD).We spent the rest of the day lazing by the pool at the hotel but at sunset we went over to Caravelle hotel to grab a sundowner at Saigon Saigon. This hotel opened in 1959 and back then it was the tallest building in the city. With its bulletproof glass and air-con I guess it was the natural choice for many of the reporters during the Vietnam war. The sun was setting as we had sundowners at Caravelle hotel in Ho Chi Minh CityIt seems to have taken back its position as it is a luxurious hotel today. We had evening cocktails at the rooftop bar for 9 dollars each and my Singapore Sling was enormous. We had dinner at the modernA very good pizza at ZanZbar in Ho Chi Minh City ZanZbar at Dong Du Street and we started with a tastey thin crust pizza and we also had a sushi wannabe and a meat stew with red wine risotto – not bad at all. We ended the evening at a Spanish tapas place called Pacharan. I think we ended up there as they had a ½ price deal on mojitos and to see a live band. Not bad to get a mojito for 50000 Dong (about 3 USD)...well, at least not seen from a Norwegian point of view :-)

Visit to Cu Chi tunnels
Tour operator Sinh Cafe in  Ho Chi Minh CityWe booked a tour through Sinh Café in the backpacker area. We had to be at Sinh Café at about 8 am and that was about 22000 VND taxi trip from our hotel. The café was already buzzing with life: backpackers moving in and out, beggars trying to get some money from the foreigners, people selling food etc. We got into a bus with lots of others and started our journey the 50-60 km out of the city. Gettin an introduction to the Cu Chi tunnels in VietnamOn the way we got more views of everyday life in the city while our guide explained the history of Vietnam. I think the trip out there took about 1 ½ hours and once we got there we bought a ticket costing 80000 Dong (about 4.5 USD) per person. You may want to take the guide’s advice and use the toilet before the tour starts - not much chance until half way. Example of hole used to get into the tunnels at Cu ChiThe tour started with a video on a tiny TV in a hut – they seriously need to update both the TV and the movie that was displayed on it. After that we went around a pre-defined route with our guide and we got explanations on how the Vietnamese used the tunnels during the war, how they got in and out, traps they made etc. We even got to crawl through a tunnel made to give us an impression of what the real tunnels are like. Tight, small space and left me feeling claustrophobic.Nikki at the shooting range at Cu Chi tunnels in Vietnam It was possible to fire rounds with weapons like AK-47, M-16 and M-60 along the route. After a couple of hours it was time to return and for a Malaysian lady in the group it seemed to be about time as she was eaten alive by mosquitoes. You may want to layer on the mosquito repellant - Tank at Cu Chi tunnels in Vietnammost of the tour is along a tree lined path so a hat/cap should be enough. The Sinh Café tour cost 100000 Dong (about 5.5 USD) and it was well worth it to get a glimpse of an important part of the guerilla warfare during the Vietnam War. It was impressive to see how tiny the entrance point to the tunnels is – it is not something you would like to try if you are claustrophobic. .


Note:  be aware that you don’t get to crawl around the real tunnels and the area around the gun range is loud as people are testing the various weapons.


Walking home after the tour took us through a park near the Ben Thanh market where people were playing badminton, school classes were out on assignments etc. Guys playing games near Ben Thanh marketSome of the beggars that you see on the street especially from Ben Thanh market towards e.g. Sheraton are just heart wrenching. One person that we saw seemed to have some sort of skin disease and it looked so painful, others were missing limbs.

Meat stew at Le Jardin restaurant in Ho Chi Minh CityI would also like to mention a couple of other restaurants that we tried in HCMC. Le Jardin, a French inspired restaurant on Thai Van Lung. Our choice was based on a recommendation from a local and we decided to sit inside as it was a hot evening. But not that it helped a lot – it didn’t seem like they had air-con, just fans. We started with some cured meat for starters and Nikki moved on to some sort of meat stew with mashed potatoes while I had 4 cheese tagiatelle. Not quite the spectacular French cuisine that we expected. Tagiatelle at Le Jardin in Ho Chi Minh CityWe had crème caramel and apple crumble for desert. All in all an OK meal but could have been better. The tables were placed quite closed to each other so we couldn’t help overhearing the couple at the table next to us. The girlfriend was nagging about how much she hated her boss and couldn’t see any future prospects in the same company. The expat boyfriend seemed nervous because they were getting married and she seemed ready to change roles to housewife all of a sudden. He did a great job of reassuring her that things would work out in the end


You can get a beer down from as low as 10000 Dong (50 Cent) during happy hour.

We had sea bass at Lemongrass restaurant in  Ho Chi Minh CityMy friend Meena also travelled to HCMC and for some reason she took a photo of a restaurant called Lemongrass ;-). We walked past it one day as we stayed in the same area as Meena and we decided to try it out. We had seafood kebab, sweet and sour soup, sea bass with lemongrass and a chicken hot pot. Live entertainment at Lemongrass restaurant in  Ho Chi Minh CityAll in all a pretty good meal (the sea bass is our recommendation) in nice surroundings and live music (a girl playing a local string instrument) – we paid 470000 Dong for the meal including drinks.
We rounded off our stay in HCMC by grabbing a beer (at 65000 Dong per bottle) at the Rooftop bar on Rex hotel. As we sat there and enjoyed the cold beer we started talking about the city and who should visit this place and why.
The rooftop bar at Rex hotel in  Ho Chi Minh City I think the city reminds me a bit of Tokyo or Kuala Lumpur – to start with it doesn’t seem like it has anything typically touristy to offer but you need time to get to know the place to find its hidden gems. While HCMC might not be that rich on big attractions it is rich when it comes to people watching – at least for me coming from a totally different culture. All the motorcycles, the liveliness of the city, the atmosphere but also the big smiles from the people selling stuff on the street, the store owners at Ben Thanh market trying to convince you to buy that Saigon t-shirt etc. We even ended up just standing at an intersection looking at all the motorcycles and the flow of traffic.

Portrait of Ho Chi Minh at the post officeSo who should go there? Well, I guess the backpacker that wants to get away from the hordes of backpackers in Thailand. Or the couple that just want to have some time together instead of stressing when trying to cover all the big attractions of e.g. Bangkok. But I have to admit that I’m not sure that I have gotten to know Ho Chi Minh City or Vietnam – Municipal theaterI keep thinking back to the bag I saw when walking in the street – it had the text “I Sai Gon”...but the heart symbol was made up with the test saying “have never been to”. So I think to get to know Vietnam you have to spend more time there and travel further north to visit rural areas, beach areas etc. So maybe we should have done what the Top Gear guys did – bought a couple of motorcycles and driven from south to north to see more of this country.
City Hall in Ho Chi Minh CityTo quote one of the guys from Top Gear “To most Vietnam is just a war, not a country” – but I hope that this trip report has given a taste of what you can expect if you do travel to Ho Chi Minh City. Rice wine for sale at a market. As you can see there are all sorts of things in the bottlesWe went there with an open mind and we had no idea what to expect. After getting over the shock of the traffic chaos we found a city that was more modern than expected, a city developing fast with nice hotels and a wide variety of restaurants. One can only wonder what will happen when the city 6.5 million inhabitants trades their bikes in for cars ;-)
Ho Chi Minh City is well worth visiting even if it doesn’t have the large and well know attractions as many other cities – but I think my recommendation is that you also set off some time to visit other parts of Vietnam. To round of this trip report we would like to send a huge "thank you" to Kate for taking such good care of us :-)

Time to go
Our Vietnam airlines flight from Ho Chi Minh City to Siem ReapOn Saturday April 11th we took a taxi to the airport. It took about 40 minutes and the meter stopped at 80000 Dong (about 4.5 USD). Checking in was fast and getting through immigration was also quick and all of a sudden we were inside a small modern terminal that could have been anywhere in the world. We found a small booth where we changed the rest of our Dong bills as they are not accepted outside Vietnam and we grabbed a coffee before we waited for our flight to Siem Reap in Cambodia. I hope to be back one day to see more of Vietnam.


Some useful tips:

  • There are metered taxis in HCMC and they are pretty inexpensive to use. If you are going to use a motorcycle taxi remember to agree on the price in advance and make sure the driver can offer you a proper helmet.

  • Wondering about the weather in HCMC? Check out to get some weather stats so you know what to expect. It can be very hot and humid so make sure to drink enough water.

  • A good guidebook: yes, you can find a lot of useful info on the internet. But get a good guidebook with a comprehensive street map. Which one to buy is up to you :-) We bought Eyewitness Guides while Kate had the Lonely Planet book for Vietnam and that looked better than our guidebook.

  • Which forums to ask questions: Try TripAdvisor, LonelyPlanet Thorntree, Fodor’s and Frommer’s .

  • Are you bringing a laptop? We did and it was great to use this to check out attractions and opening times, maps etc. There are quite a few places that offer free WiFi connection.

  • Do you wonder how far it is from one place to another in HCMC? Why not use Google Earth/Google Maps to measure? I find this to be a great tool.

  • Here is a interactive Google map of Ho Chi Minh City where I have highlighted some of the places that we went to and restaurants we visited.

Feel free to check out the next section: Interactive Google map of Ho Chi Minh City :-)


Back to index pageGet in touch if you have any questionsClick here to check out the HCMC Google map