Commonly referred to as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) is Vietnam’s largest city and undisputed com-merce capital. It is a dynamic city that is currently en-joying the fruits of Vietnam’s economic boom – lavish hotels, decadent restaurants and trendy nightspots are continually added to the cityscape. The younger residents may seem status oriented and eager to flank their new-found wealth, a significant change from the war-savaged population barely one generation ago. Yet against the backdrop of new-found confidence, frenetic development and urban bustle, the boutique charm of HCMC still lives on amongst the tree-lined boulevards, quaint wooden shops, old temples and co-lonial architecture. The city is quickly making a name for itself in Vietnamese crafts shopping, an emerging art scene and a wide range of dining pleasures (with almost every imaginable cuisine available).
What to see in HCMC?
Within the city, HCMC has many sights that should not be missed. A city tour of the Opera House, Le Loi Street, Reunification Palace, Notre Dame Cathedral and War Remnants Museum on a classic Citroen or Vespa scoot-er are nostalgic ways to be introduced to this former colonial city. Ben Thanh Market, a massive old-style market in the central district, is a place to rummage for knock-offs and interesting souvenirs. However, do not forget to bargain hard (but in a polite manner) for your purchases.
For more ‘posh’ buys, head to art galleries and fashion shops that line Dong Khoi. If you are keen to own a piece of propaganda art, Dogma stocks a unique range. History buffs should reminisce at Rex Hotel, where me-dia briefings known as ‘five o’clock follies’ to inter-national correspondents were held during the Vietnam War. For a night out, hit the city’s chic bars and restau-rants that are crowded by the rich and trendy.
If you have a bit of time to spare, make a day trip outside of Ho Chi Minh City to the Cu Chi Tunnels. This network of over 200 kilometers of tunnels was used by the Vietcong during the American war and offers a fascinating look into the lives of the inhabitants during the war-time era. This can easily be combined with a stop at Wildlife at Risk (WAR) rescue centre, a non-profit organization to stop illegal wildlife trade, and Tay Ninh Temple, home to the intriguing Cao Dai religion.
Where to stay in HCMC?
Park Hyatt Saigon is the city’s most luxurious hotel that packs world-class restaurants and spa services in a classic French colonial building. One of the finest in its class, the Caravelle Hotel offers commanding views of the city and overlooks Lam Son Square and the Op-era House. Recently refurnished, Palace Hotel Saigon retains its original French architecture and is favored for its convenient location in the city’s heart. Another landmark building from the colonial era, Hotel Majestic exudes old world charm combined with excellent ser-vice and rooms come with either pool or river views. The cosy and unique Sanouva is well located close to Ben Thanh market and boasts charms with its well fur-nished interiors and friendly staff.
What to eat in HCMC?
Street eats can be found in almost every corner of this bustling city. To be inducted into Southern Vietnamese cuisine, opt for Lau (hotpot with cook your own ingredi-ents served on the side), Com Nieu (broken rice served out of a claypot) and Banh Xeo (pancakes cooked over a flame). To enjoy the clatter of an authentic Vietnam-ese eatery, Com Nieu will surely leave an impression when the waiters fling claypots across the restaurant. Dong Pho is the best place to enjoy a meal of tradi-tional Hue dishes in Ho Chi Minh City.
If you are looking for authentic Vietnamese cuisine in an old world setting, Anh Vien receives the thumbs-up – it offers superb food and tasteful décor in an old French villa. Tucked in a former opium refinery (hence the name) in a small alley, the Refinery is a French bistro that serves a wide range of light eats in classy décor. Just next door, Hoa Tuc serves a tantalizing selection of Vietnamese dishes in an elegant setting of green and purple hues. Xu is our favorite when it comes to fusion Vietnamese fare, a renowned restaurant cum bar tops with a chic and classy atmosphere.