Saigon or as it is now officially called Ho Chi Minh City, though it’s older more romantic name is still widely used. Saigon is an amazing city, incredible diverse and much bigger than the nation’s capital Hanoi. The buildings here are a chaotic but attractive mix of old and new, eastern and western. Some of the French colonial buildings in the city rival anything built anywhere in the world. The Notre Dame Cathedral, The Old Post Office and the Opera House are just three incredibly beautiful examples of significant French Colonial Design and build.
Vietam tours packages modern skyscrapers continue to be built at a fast pace, presenting a magnificent skyline particularly when viewed from across the river in District 2. At night the whole city takes on a different appearance as these huge buildings are illuminated to dramatic effect. Saigon rivals any major Western city as a shopping destination, with large modern shopping Malls, designer shops and small indigenous emporiums offering just about everything to delight the shopper. The bars and particularly the restaurants are of an exceptional standard, offering all major cuisines from around the world. This is truly a full-on modern city in every sense. [divider]
How to Get There?
Tan Son Nhat International Airport is the largest in the country and can be found, just a few miles to the north west of the city. The new International terminal is modern and efficient, the old domestic, less so. Always allow a little more time than you would expect as things do not move quickly here. Both Vietjet and Vietnam Airlines operate flights to and from Hanoi and all other major cities in the country, daily. Vietnam Airlines customer service: +84 (0) 20 3263 2062 Vietjet customer service: +84 (0) 1900 1886
Saigon Train Station is on Cach Mang Thang Tam to the northwest of the city centre, and is a short taxi to Pham Ngu Lao. An official train ticket office is located in the heart of the backpacker district at 275C Pham Ngu Lao. There are five daily departures for Hanoi on the Reunification Express. Not very, express, journeys take about 30 to 35 hours. The fastest train is the SE3 these are safe, have air-con, are comfortable, and quite reliable. As always it is better to book in advance.
Public buses run from all the large cities and connect to the main bus stations. Most private buses arrive and depart from the Pham Ngu Lao area of District 1. This is right in the heart of the backpacker district. Be aware of the taxi drivers that hang around the bus drop off points, many have metre rates set at much higher rates than the reputable companies. Public buses arrive and depart from one of the following bus stations:
- Cho Ben Thanh Bus Station: This is right in the centre of the city
- Mien Dong Bus Station: Buses heading to and from the north arrive and leave from here.
- Mien Tay Bus Station
- Cholon Bus Station: in the heart of China Town
- Dinh Bo Linh station: MaiLinh buses from Da Nang arrive here.
Buses arrive and depart for all the other main cities in the country and also international destinations. Many buses leave every day for Phnom Penh, due probably to the fact that it is the nearest destination for expats doing the necessary visa runs.
Taxis: Without any doubt the most convenient and trouble free way to get around the city is by taxi using with either the Vinasun or Mai Linh companies.
- Mai Linh: +84 (0) 22.214.171.124
- Vinasun: +84 (0) 126.96.36.199
Motor bike taxis are available but not as noticeable to spot as in cities like Bangkok where they wear a uniform. They are generally about half price compared to taxis. All expats and locals use motorbikes, the sheer volume of them on Saigon streets is a little daunting to say the least. Many shops around the backpacker district offer rental bikes. If you have a little experience of driving, it is easily the best way to see the city. Cyclos whilst fun, can be expensive. Always get a quote before making a journey. Walking around the city center is a great way to see the city and enjoy the hustle and bustle. Just remember to take care and constant look out for motor bikes, which will appear on footpaths, coming the wrong way up streets and doing the most unbelievable things. To cross the road, take a deep breath, set your path and stick to it. Raise one hand above your head and amazingly all the bikes will somehow miss you. It is not for the faint hearted.
Things To Do & See
Go Back in Time at the Reunification Palace
The Independence Palace was built in 1954 when the French left, to demonstrate the country’s strength. It was torn down in an attempt to assassinate Ngo Dinh Diem and the building that replaced it was named the Reunification Palace when Saigon fell in the 1970s. The interior décor of the palace has not changed since the 70s and the ornate furniture, wood panelling, gaudy carvings and vintage opulence makes it a fascinating time capsule of the era. Outside of the palace you will find the tank that crashed through the gates of the palace on April 30th, 1975.
Drink Vietnamese Coffee
Vietnam is the biggest exporter of coffee in the world and the coffee here is wonderful. It is cheap and available almost everywhere, so your caffeine fix is never hard to find. Vietnamese coffee is rocket-fuel-strong and intensely sweet, with a creamy richness almost like chocolate. Vietnamese coffee is often served with ice and condensed milk, an energising and refreshing drink in hot and steamy Ho Chi Minh City. Sit at one of the many sidewalk coffee shops and watch the chaotic crowds go by.
Enjoy the View from the Saigon Skydeck
Admire the stunning view from the 49th floor, with 360 degree vistas of the entire city as well as the Saigon River. It costs 200,000 dong to visit the tower, which includes free to use binoculars and a complimentary bottled water. If you head up to the 52nd floor in the evenings you will find the bar, where you can end the day with a refreshing drink while gazing out over the city.
What To Eat
Tam means broken rice and Com means simply, cooked. Therefore Com Tam Saigon is Saigon style broken rice. This is a staple in the city and is found on street side stalls and small Vietnamese restaurants just about everywhere. Whilst it is more prevalent in Saigon, it can be found throughout he country.It is more often than not served with bi, which is finely shredded pork meat and fat, then grilled pork ribs or some other cut. The meal is completed by the addition of cooked greens and pickled vegetables. In addition the plate will also come with a Trung Hap or steamed egg, grilled prawns and a prawn paste cake. In a separate bowl, restaurants normally served a thin soup with garlic and chives, to cleanse the palette.
The Banh Mi is a throw back from the French Colonial days. Originally, simply meaning bread. It has become synonymous with a bread sandwich, and in particular a large piece of baguette with a meat and vegetable filling. Fillings vary, steamed or roasted belly pork, patés and spreads, Vietnamese sausage, meatballs and all kinds of other meats are used. Vegetables include carrot, shredded daikon (white radish) and cucumber. Topped off with delicious coriander, and a dressing, they really are good.
Bun Rieu Cua (Crab and Tomato Noodle Soup)
Bun Rieu is a soup consisting of vermicelli and some kind of meat. There are many variations including Bun Rieu Cua which is the crab variation. Fresh water paddy crabs are more often than not the main ingredient. These brown crabs are found throughout the country in the rice paddies which are just about everywhere. As the broth boils the Rieu is added by drizzling it into the boiling liquid. As it hits the hot water it starts to solidify and is now ready to serve. This is then poured over rice noodles in a bowl and is served with shredded lettuce, shrimp sauce and lime wedges. It is a fine soup and extremely popular with the locals here in Saigon.