Guide to Ho Chi Minh (Saigon)
Ho Chi Minh is a huge city with so much to do. There are great markets, an abundance of history and of course, backpacker parties.
Unfortunately this post won’t be full of photos as usual, as I had my phone stolen when I arrived so didn’t take any photos while I was there (and had to rely on my friend’s).
A lot of people start their Vietnam holiday by flying into here. It takes about 30 minutes to the city by taxi for about $8.
From Nha Trang, take a 10 hour bus for about $12-$18.
Stay in the backpacker district, as it is the cheapest for accommodation, food and going out. This is in District 1, and the main street for action is Bui Vien. A lot of hostels are situated down alleyways off this main street.
I would be cautious staying in one of these alleyways as they are subject to a lot of pick pocketing, especially if you are wandering down them after a night out or when arriving from the overnight bus. If you are taking the bus make sure you book a place that has 24 hour reception so you can leave your bags and sit in a common area before checking in.
For hostels, I would recommend Saigon Backpackers or Saigon Youth Hostel (however the latter is in an alleyway). They are under $10 a night and have very friendly staff who can assist with tours and whatever else.
If you are after a bit of luxury (I know I was after 6 weeks in dorms), stay at Bizu Hotel. It is in the main street and only $20 for a luxury private room, king size bed (which if you’ve ever backpacked is unheard of), bathroom and delicious breakfast.
What to see and do
Vietnam is full of activities and areas to explore.
1. Cu Chi Tunnels
This is about 40km northwest of the city and can be done in a half or full day trip. The tunnels are an underground community up to 250km in length that were built during the Vietnam war. You can climb through them, however due to their claustrophobic nature not many people make it the whole way. You can organise this through one of the hundreds of tour providers in the streets the day before.
2. Mekong Delta tour
This is a fantastic day tour that me and my friends really enjoyed (and for only $15). You take a 3 hour bus ride to the river and set sail on an old wooden boat down the Mekong. You can relax in the sun and take in the culture as it cruises past loads of different villages. You stop for lunch at a local restaurant and enjoy a home cooked meal. You have the option to cycle around the village and see what’s there (which is really awesome!).
You are also taken to a market that shows locals making home made deserts and crafts, where I bought a weeks supply of coconut candy!
On the way back the tides got really low and we couldn’t cruise along in the regular boat. So we hopped in these gorgeous wooden boats and got rowed home by all the locals that had rallied around to help the tour guide! Mine even let me steer the boat for a while, until we crashed into a mud bank…
3. Visit the war museum
I didn’t know a whole lot about the war before I arrived and nor do I usually have an interest in museums at all, but this was really informative and interesting. Some parts and photos were confronting, but it is a great museum and only a few dollars to enter. This is walking distance from District 1 (not by lazy standards though).
4. Wander through Ben Tanh markets
This is a short walk from the main backpacker street and has absolutely everything you could never think you would want to buy. I got a hammock (has been incredibly useful), shorts, bikinis and a whole bunch of other knick knacks that I swear I don’t regret buying… It’s dirt cheap and humongous, so allow a few hours to get lost!
5. Get lost in the city
I spent a whole afternoon wandering down the river and weaving through the alleyways, and found all sorts of intriguing people, scenes and shops. This is a great way to just observe what goes on in the crazy city.
The backpacker nightlife is really interesting, in that there aren’t the signature bars filled with young travelers like every other Vietnamese town; instead there are cafes. On the main street a lot of the cafes turn into bars by 9pm and they set up plastic red stools that quickly sprawl onto the street with backpackers as the night progresses. This seems to be where everyone gathers and is a cheap night out.
How long to stay
I would recommend allowing four full days to discover all the city has to offer. There are a lot of day trips which consume the whole day and you also want time to explore the streets and local markets.