30 photos that tell you my travels in Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City is also known as Saigon or HCMC. It is one of the most popular destinations for travelers and backpackers who backpack in South East Asia. This is a historic city and has a lot of historical places to visit. The dream city for many Vietnamese and the increasing expat population has lead to dramatic development of infrastructure. The restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City is a delight to your taste buds and authentic dishes can be found in most restaurants. We already told you what things to do in Ho Chi Minh City.
It takes at least three or four days to understand a city. But if you stay here for more than two months?? Yes, I stayed in Ho Chi Minh city for two months and know most of the city as if I grew up here. Lets look at my travels in Ho Chi Minh City in photos.
Where did I Stay in Ho Chi Minh City
There are a lot of luxury and boutique hotels in Ho Chi Minh City. Most of the star hotels are located in and around the Dong Khoi area in District 1. Few of the notable hotels are Caravelle, Rex, Sheraton, Hotel Continental and so many others.
But I rather chose to stay away from these big hotels because I am a backpacker. I stayed at an alley near De Tham street, which is very famous with the backpackers. There are many landlords who wish to rent rooms in their house. The typical cost in 2012, was USD 8 dollar for a room without air con and 10 USD for a room with air con.
The place where I chose to stay is called Ly Tung. My landlord was very friendly and he is also a Xe Om driver, so I managed to get transportation for free sometimes. I stayed at this place for two months.
What did I eat in Ho Chi Minh City
The food scene is amazing in Ho Chi Minh city. There are many places where you can just grab some food for a very little price. Sometimes I ate food at restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City and sometimes I ate food on the streets. But I have to say, the food on the street is more delicious and more value for money.
The most delicious and liked food not just in Saigon but in Vietnam is Pho (rice noodle soup). It is available for VND 20,000 on the street and at a much higher price if you eat in a restaurant. Pho has many variants and is either made from beef, pork, chicken and rarely with only vegetables. Alongside Pho you will be always served with a plate containing herbs and leaves which you need to add it to Pho before eating it.
Another of my favorite food I used to eat in Saigon are the clams, oysters, crabs and lobsters that were heated on a grill and then salted and spiced. In some places you have the choice to select clams, oysters, crabs and lobsters yourself and the restaurant will cook it for you. I never tried picking them upon my own.
Saigon could really get hot sometimes. Having coconut water daily is good and best way to keep you away from dehydration. A standard size coconut cost VND 10,000 but the sellers might increase the price for a foreigner. The coconuts are stored in ice and served cold. The one kind of coconut that I liked the most was called as Dua Xiem.
The Mekong Delta, which is famous for fruits is not very far away from HCMC. All the fruits that are produced in Mekong are easily available here. They are cheap and fresh, so sometimes I swapped cooked food for fruits. Mangoes and oranges stand out as my favorite.
Everyone in Vietnam loves coffee so do I. I always hang out at Trung Nguyen Coffee Shop in Pham Ngu Lao street. Other coffee shop to try is Highlands Coffee. Thogh there are a lot of coffee shops, I always decided these two. Most of the coffee’s are about USD 2. The place is very energitic and you get free wifi in most of the coffee shops. Have you heard about the Vietnamese Weasel Coffee?
How did I move in Ho Chi Minh City
One of the most adventurous way to get around HCMC is on a cyclo. Previously an iconic mode of transportation, cyclo is now just used by the tourists. Cyclo is a three wheel cycle, with a seat in the front for passenger. On average a cyclo ride cost you VND 40,000 an hour.
For distances that cannot be covered on a cyclo, I used a Xe Om. Xe Om are nothing but a motorbike taxi. The driver sits on the front and the back seat is for the passenger. The cost for one kilometer is VND 12,000. It all depends on your bargaining skills. It’s not difficult to find a Xe Om, when you get onto the streets they will find you.
For even longer distances to go to the outskirts of the city, there are plenty of public buses. The rates are cheap and all the buses are air conditioned.
For longer journey to other cities there are comfortable private buses which are especially for tourists. Though they are little expensive they are perfect for moving from one to another city. Phuong Trang and Thanh Buoi are the major companies that run inter city buses. We have the option to choose a bus with sitting seats or sleeping seats. Most of the tourist buses leave from the backpackers area at Pham Ngu Lao.
Places I visited in Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh city is a historic place and filled with museums and other political sites. I chose not to go to all the museums because they make me bored and the entrance fee to museum is high for a backpacker.
Reunification Palace is one of them. Before the merging of North and South Vietnam, this place formerly known as Independence palace served as the headquarters for South Vietnam. But when Vietnam unified, this place was made accessible to the public.
Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica was constructed by French colonists in between 1963 and 1980. The height is 58 meters. Walk able distance from Reunification Palace, this cathedral is located in the downtown area of Ho Chi Minh City. The Saigon Central Post Office is just located near this cathedral.
Ho Chi Minh City hall is a prime example of colonial French architecture. Closed for public this hall was previously a hotel.
Municipal Theater is another example of French colonial architecture and was built first built in 1897. Also known as Saigon Opera House, is open only for high profile events.
Cholon, located in District 5 of Ho Chi Minh city is a Chinese influenced part of the city. It is located 11 kilometers from city center and no doubt you would see lot of Chinese and Taiwan tourists here.
Religion and Culture I experienced in Ho Chi Minh City
HCMC is a diverse city with people of all religions live. Do not be stunned if you find a mosque or a Hindu temple in a Buddhist dominated society.
The most remarkable pagoda in HCMC is Jade Emperor Pagoda. The rooms of the pagoda are filled with the smoke of burning incense sticks. It is a short ride from the city center and can be reached on foot or bicycle.
Most of the Vietnamese believe in spirits. They offer food to the spirits everyday in exchange for good health and well being.
I never taught I would see an Indian temple in HCMC. A temple dedicated to South Indian Goddess Mariamman is located in Da Kao area. Many hindus believe this Goddess has miraculous powers.
A mosque is located just behind the Caravelle Hotel.
What did I buy in Ho Chi Minh City
You could spend a lot of time shopping in HCMC. There are many places you can shop. Cho Ben Than is a good place to start shopping. You can find many things that can be taken back to home as souvenir. They are cheap.
Everyone loves beer. Is it a bad idea to buy a t-shirt that says something about beer? They are cheap. A USD 20 t-shirt can be purchased for USD 5. It all depends on your bargaining skills. Beer is Bia in Vietnamese language.
A must buy product when you are traveling in Saigon is a face mask. There are unbelievable number of motorbikes and the pollution is on rise. They cost about 50 cents for one mask.
There are also lot of luxury shopping malls. The best ones are located in Dong Khoi region. Vincom Center, Parksons’ Plaza, Saigon Center and the luxury fashion stores at Rex hotel. I decided only to window shop at these stores.
Events that I experienced in Ho Chi Minh City
There were innumerable events that happened in Ho Chi Minh city when I stayed there. For almost my every day there was at least one event that took place in 29-4 park.
The first day when I flew from Bangkok to Ho Chi Minh City and reached Pham Ngu Lao, there was a annual food festival that took place in 29-4 park. It was not just a food festival, but an event where performances of dancing and singing were hosted.
At the same event on the other end of the park, there was a boxing competition. This is the first time I ever watched a boxing match live. The intensity of the boxers was amazing and the strength and agility they had was outstanding.
The food festival continued for many days and I never missed even on day. I have to say that the Vietnamese women are charming. On one occasion, on seeing my camera all the girls who were about to dance, formed a circle and posed for me even before I asked them.
As soon as the food festival the celebrations for Christmas have started. Where the Christian population is very less and where Christmas is not even a holiday, the celebrations were attention grabbing. Every mall and hotels had there own set of Santa Claus and a lot of people attended the gatherings.
The celebrations for new year were in full swing and I was at the right place to celebrate it. The celebrations in Saigon have started already on the penultimate day of the year. Lot of international and local artists performed in front of the crowd. But the defining moment was when three western artists performed Gangnam Style.
On the last day of the year, there was a breathtaking event that was sponsored by Heineken which was hosted at the Nguyen Hue street. The atmosphere was amazing and every one were eagerly waiting for the clock to strike 12:00. Once it happened there was unbelievable amount of fireworks in the air.
I had visited many more places, ate at lot of other places and attended many more parties. To sum up, my travels in HCMC were nothing less than spectacular.