Ho Chi Minh travel guide

Introduction

Ho Chi Minh City, formerly named Prey Nokor, Saigon , is the largest city in Vietnam.

Under the name Saigon, it was the capital of the French colony of Cochin-china and later of the independent republic of South Vietnam from 1955–75. South Vietnam, as an anti-communist, capitalist republic, fought against the communist North Vietnamese and Viet Cong during the Vietnam War, with aid from the United States and countries including Australia, New Zealand and South Korea. Saigon fell when it was captured by the communists on 30 April 1975, ending the war with a Communist victory. Vietnam was then turned into a communist state with the South overtaken. On 2 July 1976, Saigon merged with the surrounding Gia Định Province and was officially renamed Ho Chi Minh City after Hồ Chí Minh (although the name Sài Gòn is still commonly used).

The metropolitan area, which consists of the Ho Chi Minh City metropolitan area, Thủ Dầu Một, Dĩ An, Biên Hòa and surrounding towns, is populated by more than 9,000,000 people, making it the most populous metropolitan area in Vietnam. The city’s population is expected to grow to 13.9 million in 2025.

The Ho Chi Minh City metropolitan area, a metropolitan area covering most parts of Đông Nam Bộ plus Tiền Giang and Long An provinces under planning, will have an area of 30,000 square kilometers with a population of 20 million inhabitants by 2020. According to the Mercer Human Resource Consulting, Economist Intelligence Unit and ECA International, Ho Chi Minh City is ranked 132 on the list of world’s most expensive cities for expatriate employees.

Geography

Ho Chi Minh City is located in the southeastern region of Vietnam, 1,760 km (1,090 mi) south of Hanoi. The average elevation is 19 metres (62 ft) above sea level. It borders Tây Ninh and Bình Dương provinces to the north, Đồng Nai and Bà Rịa–Vũng Tàu provinces to the east, Long An Province to the west and the Indochine to the south with a coast 15 km long. The city covers an area of 2,095 km2 (809 sq mi) (0.63% of the surface of Vietnam), extending up to Củ Chi (12 mi (19 km) from the Cambodian border) and down to Cần Giờ on the Bien Dong coast. The distance from the northernmost point (Phu My Hung Commune, Củ Chi District) to the southernmost one (Long Hòa Commune, Cần Giờ District) is 102 kilometers (63 mi), and from the easternmost point (Long Binh Ward, District Nine) to the westernmost one (Bình Chánh Commune, Bình Chánh District) is 47 kilometers (29 mi).

Climate

The city has a tropical climate, specifically a tropical wet and dry climate, with an average humidity of 75%.[20] The year is divided into two distinct seasons. The rainy season, with an average rainfall of about 1,800 millimetres (71 in) annually (about 150 rainy days per year), usually begins in May and ends in late November . The dry season lasts from December to April. The average temperature is 28 °C (82 °F), the highest temperature sometimes reaches 39 °C (102 °F) around noon in late April, while the lowest may fall below 16 °C (61 °F) in the early mornings of late December into early January.

History

Many centuries ago, Saigon was already a busy commercial center. Merchants from China, Japan and many European countries would sail upstream the Saigon River to reach the islet of Pho, a trading center. In the year of 1874, Cho Lon merged with Saigon, forming the largest city in the Indochina. It had been many times celebrated as the Pearl of the Far East. After the reunification of the country, the 6th National Assembly in its meeting of the 2nd of July, 1976, has officially rebaptized Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City. The history of city relates closely with the struggle for the independence and freedom of Vietnam.

Economy

Ho Chi Minh City is the economic center of Vietnam and accounts for a large proportion of the economy of Vietnam. Although the city takes up just 0.6% of the country’s land area, it contains 8.34% of the population of Vietnam, 20.2% of its GDP, 27.9% of industrial output and 34.9% of the FDI projects in the country in 2005.[30] In 2005, the city had 4,344,000 laborers, of whom 130,000 are over the labor age norm (in Vietnam, 60 for male and 55 for female workers). In 2009, GDP per capita reached $2,800, compared to the country’s average level of $1,042.

In 2007, the city’s GDP was estimated at $14.3 billion, or about $2,180 per capita, up 12.6 percent from 2006 and accounting for 20% of the country’s GDP. The GDP adjusted to Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) reached $71.5 billion, or about $10,870 per capita (approximately three times higher than the country’s average). The city’s Industrial Product Value was $6.4 billion, equivalent to 30% of the value of the entire nation. Export – Import Turnover through HCMC ports accounted for $36 billion, or 40% of the national total, of which export revenue reached $18.3 billion (40% of Vietnam’s total export revenues). In 2007, Ho Chi Minh City’s contribution to the annual revenues in the national budget increased by 30 percent, accounting for about 20.5 percent of total revenues. The consumption demand of Ho Chi Minh City is higher than other Vietnamese provinces and municipalities and 1.5 times higher than that of Hanoi. As of June 2006, the city has been home to three export processing zones and twelve industrial parks. Ho Chi Minh City is the leading receiver of foreign direct investment in Vietnam, with 2,530 FDI projects worth $16.6 billion at the end of 2007. In 2007, the city received over 400 FDI projects worth $3 billion.

In 2008, it attracted $8.5 billion in FDI. In 2010, the city’s GDP was estimated at $20.902 billion, or about $2,800 per capita, up 11.8 percent from 2009.

By the end of 2012, the city’s GDP was estimated around $28,595 billion, or about $3,700 per capita, up 9.2 percent from 2011.[38] Total trade (export and import) reached $47.7 billion, with export at $21.57 billion and import $26.14 billion.

Transportation

Air

The city is served by Tân Sơn Nhất International Airport, the largest airport in Vietnam in terms of passengers handled (with an estimated number of over 15.5 million passengers per year in 2010, accounting for more than half of Vietnam’s air passenger traffic. Long Thành International Airport is scheduled to begin operating in 2025. Based in Long Thành, Đồng Nai Province, about 40 km northeast of Ho Chi Minh City, Long Thành Airport will serve international flights, with a maximum traffic capacity of 100 million passengers per year when fully completed; Tân Sơn Nhất Airport will serve domestic flights.

Rail

Ho Chi Minh City is also a terminal for many Vietnam Railways train routes in the country. The Reunification Express (tàu Thống Nhất) runs from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi from Saigon Railway Station in District 3, with stops at cities and provinces along the line. Within the city, the two main stations are Sóng Thần and Sài Gòn. In addition, there are several smaller stations such as Dĩ An, Thủ Đức, Bình Triệu, Gò Vấp. However, rail transportation is not fully developed and presently comprises only 0.6% of passenger traffic and 6% of goods shipments.

Water

The city’s location on the Saigon River makes it a bustling commercial and passenger port; besides a constant stream of cargo ships, passenger boats operate regularly between Ho Chi Minh City and various destinations in Southern Vietnam and Cambodia, including Vũng Tàu, Cần Thơ and the Mekong Delta, and Phnom Penh. Traffic between Ho Chi Minh City and Vietnam’s southern provinces has steadily increased over the years; the Doi and Te Canals, the main routes to the Mekong Delta, receive 100,000 waterway vehicles every year, representing around 13 million tons of cargo. A project to dredge these routes has been approved to facilitate transport, to be implemented in 2011–14.

Coach bus

Ho Chi Minh City has a number of coach houses, which house coach buses to and from other areas in Vietnam. The largest coach station – in terms of passengers handled – is the Mien Dong Coach Station in the Binh Thanh District.

What to see

Historical sites

Reunification Palace, Enter at 135 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street, ☎ +84 8 9693272. Open daily 7:30AM-11:00AM, 1PM-4PM. Also known as Independence Palace (this is the old name). This is a restored 5 floor time warp to the 60s left largely untouched from the day before Saigon fell to the North (construction started in 1962 and finished in 1966). Formerly South Vietnam’s presidential palace, the war ended on April 30, 1975 when tank #843 crashed through the gate. A replica of that tank is now parked on the lawn outside. Be sure to check out the impressively kitschy recreation room, featuring a circular sofa, and the eerie basement, full of vintage 1960s phones, radios, and office equipment, supposedly left exactly as it was found when the North took over. There is also a photo gallery and a propaganda film recounting how the South Vietnamese supporters and American imperialists succumbed to Ho Chi Minh’s indomitable revolutionary forces, upon which point the South Vietnamese supporters were forgiven and everyone lived happily ever after. Tours are available and are free, but not necessary. There is a nice outdoor café on the grounds outside the palace. Entry 30,000 dong.

War Remnants Museum (Formerly), 28 Vo Van Tan Street, ☎ +84 89302112, +84 89306325, +84 89305587 (warrmhcm@gmail.com). Open daily 7:30AM-12PM, 1:30PM-5PM, last admission 4:30PM. The museum was opened in a hurry, less than five months after the fall of the South Vietnamese regime. It has moved to new premises with 3 stories of exhibits and various U.S. military hardware (tanks, jets, helicopters, howitzers) on display outside the building. This disturbing display of man’s cruelty during the Vietnam (American) War includes halls full of gruesome photographs, a simulated “tiger cage” prison and jars of deformed foetuses attributed to contamination by Agent Orange. An exhibit on the 3rd floor tells the story of the war journalists from all over the world who documented, and often disappeared or died in the war. Watch out for the amputees who will try and sell you their wares. It’s a short walk from Reunification Palace — see the museum pamphlet for a map. Entry 15,000 dong.

On Le Quy Don, just south of the museum, is a soft ice cream vendor, a happy treat for about 2,000 dong in a hot and hectic city.

City Hall, end of Nguyen Hue Street. Originally called the Hôtel de Ville and now formally re-branded the People’s Committee Hall, it’s a striking cream and yellow French colonial building beautifully floodlit at night. No entry, but the statue of Uncle Ho in front is a very popular place for photos.

Museum of Vietnamese History, at the intersection of Le Duan Street and Nguyen Binh Khiem (just inside the zoo gates). The museum has a fine collection of Vietnamese antiquities. Read up on Vietnamese history first or you’ll have no idea what you’re looking at. Outside, the Botanical Gardens are very nice and a good place for a cheap lunch away from the crowds. If you care about animal welfare, avoid the zoo.

Ho-Chi-Minh Museum, Duong Nguyen Tat Thanh, Dist. 4. Open daily 7:30AM-12 noon, 1:30PM-5PM, last admission 4:30PM, 10,000 dong entry. The museum (in a French colonial era building) near the dock of Saigon shows the life story of the modern day father of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh. There’s also a Ho Chi Minh book shop as well. Some may find the theme a little jingoistic but like most things it depends upon your point of view.

Religious sites

Central Mosque, 66 Dong Du, Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam, ☎ +84 8 824 2903 (Tourist information). 8AM-8PM daily. One of 12 mosques serving Ho Chi Minh City, the Central Mosque was built in 1935. It was originally constructed for worshipers from southern India then resident in Saigon, but now Muslims from as far as Pakistan and Indonesia come to pray. Friday draws the biggest crowds. The shaded verandah and cool stone floors make it an ideal place to sit, read or even nap in the heat of the day. As with most mosques, remember to take your shoes off before entering and dress conservatively if you wish to enter.

Notre Dame Cathedral (Nhà thờ Đức Bà), Han Thuyen Street, facing down Dong Khoi (next to the Post Office). Closes for lunch and on weekends. A French-built Catholic cathedral in the city centre. Free entry.

Thien Hau Pagoda, 710 Nguyen Trai St, Cholon. Dedicated to Lady Thien Hau, the sea goddess, who left two giant turtles to keep an eye on things in her absence. A festival is held in her honor on the 23rd day of the March lunar month. Don’t miss the gorgeous sculptures in the walls of the courtyard outside the temple. Entry free.

Quan Am Pagoda, 12 Lao Tu, Cholon (Just off Hung Vuong, close to Thien Hau Pagoda). Open 8AM-4:30PM. The oldest pagoda in town, home of a lot of incense and a cheerful puppy. Entry free.

Phung Son Tu Pagoda, 408 3 Thang 2 Blvd (On the outskirts of Cholon). Dedicated to the god of happiness and virtue. The pagoda itself is dusty and dwarfed by high-rises under construction nearby, but the small, sculpted grounds are a good place for a rest from the hectic city.

Architectural attractions

The Bitexco Financial Tower, located in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City’s business and entertainment district, is the most exciting commercial property development undertaken in Vietnam to date. World renowned American architect Carlos Zapata, the creative mastermind behind Bitexco Financial Tower, drew inspiration for this skyscraper’s unique shape from Vietnam’s national flower, the Lotus. To the Vietnamese, the lotus is a symbol of purity, commitment and optimism.

Built at a time of unprecedented growth for the Vietnamese economy, the Bitexco Financial Tower is designed to represent the energy and aspirations of the country’s people and is an iconic embodiment of the new and dynamic Vietnam.

The Observation Deck, (Saigon Skydeck) on Level 49 of the tower offers sweeping 360‐degree panoramic views of the entire city and the nearby Saigon River. Head up to the 54th floor, the one with the helicopter deck (change elevators at the 50th) and ask for the “bar”. Happy hour 17:00-20:00 for not too expensive drinks with free music nuts and olives and a great view of the city.

Address: 36 Ho Tung Mau Street, District 1. Phone: +84 8 39156 156 Ticket price: VND 200,000 for the sky deck

What to do

If the heat starts to get you down, there are several water parks where you can splash around to cool off.

Dam Sen Water Park, 03 Hoa Binh, Ward 3, District 11, ☎ +84 8 858 8418, +84 8 865 3453 (damsenwaterpark@vnn.vn, fax: +84 8 858 8419) . Mon-Sat 8:30AM-6PM, Sundays and Holidays 8AM-7PM. Close to the city centre. Opened in 1999, with new water slides added each year. This water park offers some truly unique water slide experiences, including the amazing “Space Bowl”. The slides have been badly designed and it’s a common sight to see someone clutching their head when leaving them. Restaurant, health services, and animatronic dinosaurs are on the premises. Take bus n°38 from Ben Thanh bus station. Admission is based on height and time of arrival; under 0.8m free, others 40 – 110 000 dong (90 000 after 4pm).

There’s also Water World in District 9, Ocean Water Park in District 7, and Dai The Gioi Water Park in District 5.

Visiting hair salons is also a must do for tourists, as Vietnamese are famous for it. Hair wash, manicure and pedicure cost no more than US$10.

MegaStar Cineplex, . Vietnam’s leading world-class cineplex venue with 2 locations in HCMC and the first to offer 3D movies (at Hung Vuong Plaza only). All locations present first-run US Hollywood and International releases and are located at shopping complexes. (1) Hung Vuong Plaza (about 20-30 min from CBD). 126 Hung Vuong Str, District 5, Level 7. (2) CT Plaza (near the airport). 60A Truong Son St, Tan Binh District, Level 10. The latest show session times and dates are available online.

Galaxy Cinema at 116, Nguyen Du, District 1, is a favorite among locals.

My Tiger Tour Motorbike Tours, 844/120 Huong Lo 2, Ho Chi Minh City 70000, Vietnam, ☎ +84 129 586 8586. Licensed motorbike tours around the city with themes like food, shopping, twilight, general sightseeing, and more. Tours are available in English, German, Italian, Japanese and Spanish.$50 250.000 vnd to 1.000.000 vnd, ($12-$48 USD).

Dai Nam Tourist Park, Thu Dau Mot Town, Binh Duong Province (Catch the 616 Bus from the Bus Station, or talk to a travel agent). Located about 40km from Ho Chi Minh City, the Dai Nam Tourist Park, opened in November of 2008, it is one of the newest and largest tourist attractions in Vietnam. It features the Dai Nam Van Hien Temple, an entertainment site, open range zoo, shopping areas, hotels, local and western cuisine sites, and the largest man made mountain range in Vietnam. Costing over 50 billion dong to build, this park is the beginning of mass tourism in Vietnam, although it is aimed at both tourists and locals and comes highly recommended. Transport options to the park are quite convoluted and as the park is new, online information is scarce. Reports are that you can catch the 616 bus from the main bus terminal in Ho Chi Minh, but most hotels will tell you that’s not possible and insist on a private taxi. According to the locals, it is very much worth a visit, purely just to view the temple. Entry is 100,000 VND for adults, 50,000 for children. Be aware that most attractions in the park cost extra on top of the entry fee, but adult tickets combining the zoo and beach can be had for 280,000 VND.

Twenty-Three September Park, (Across from Ben Thanh Market and running the length of Phan Ngu Lao Street). Running along Phan Ngu Lao Street are a number of parks which fill up with locals before sunset, after work. They play a variety of games which you can participate in: badminton, kicking a shuttlecock and women group aerobics (to music) are all very popular and great to watch. If you sit down by yourself in the open area near the Ben Thanh market a number of young university age locals will come and ask to practise English with you, this is a great way to spend an evening and the best way to meet intelligent interesting youth, they will question you either individually or in groups and share with you a lot about their country. *Beware* of those men who want to introduce you to their ‘sister’ who’s working as a nurse and wants move to your country. They will try to make you come into their home so you can reassure their parents, but will actually gamble and cheat at cards with you and/or ask you for money after telling a sad and fake story about some dying relative.

Emperor Jade (Tortoise) Pagoda (Chua Ngoc Hoang or Phuoc Hai Tu), 73 Mai Thi Luu St. Considered by many to be Saigon’s finest pagoda. Check out the room filled with unusual figurines, to the left of the main hall. There are many turtles in a concrete pond in the courtyard.  edit
Saigon Street Eats (street food tours of Ho Chi Minh City), Nguyen Dinh Chieu, Phu Nhuan Dist, HCMC, Vietnam, ☎ +84908449408. Sample some of the world’s best street food with Saigon Street Eats, run by an Australian-Vietnamese couple who love to share their obsession with Vietnamese food. Morning and night tours available. (Ignore the address, Saigon Street Eats will pick you up from your accommodation.) $40-$55.

Saigon Riders (Culture Meets Adventure), ☎ =+84 913 767 113. Quality guides and safe drivers offering bespoke and off-the-shelf tours on the back of their motorbikes around Ho Chi Minh City and a little further afield. Tours range from a half day exploring the sights of the city to full day excursions in and beyond Saigon. USD$29-$69.

Shopping

Markets

Chợ Bến Thành aka Ben Thanh Market, Southwest end of Le Lai: a den of thieves, but some great shopping. Ben Thanh is recognizable from its clock tower on the large traffic circle. The largest old-style market in the central district, with several hundred small stalls stuffed with goods on almost impassably narrow aisles. Due to its popularity with tourists, the market is now divided between tourist goods (jeans, T-shirts, smaller souvenirs in abundance) and regular items (fruit and vegetables, rice, kitchen wares, flowers, meat, fast food and local-style pickled fruits and candies). Most items are not price-marked, and vendors always quote a 50-100% higher price to tourists, so bargaining hard will save you money. The chief method of parting visitors from their money is ambiguity: for example never making it quite clear how many you are being quoted for; or what the exact price is; or what exchange rate is being used to calculate your change. Be ready for these onslaughts (often by a sweetly smiling young lady), or be prepared to part with more cash than you need to. Right at the north side (back) of Ben Thanh Market are some shops that are operated by Ben Thanh Group and they sell goods at fixed price and much cheaper than the stalls in the market. No bargaining needed. If the good selection of knock-offs here just won’t do, there’s plenty to be had in the surrounding side street shops or night market later. If retail warfare isn’t your cup of tea, you could skip the touristy Ben Thanh altogether and go to Chợ Bình Tây .

Saigon Square will be good place for visit. It is a twin of Ben Thanh but with air-conditioning. Haggling your way through this place is the rule of thumb. Local middle-class Vietnamese shop here on the weekends too. Consider planning your shopping here during the day and go to Ben Thanh for the night market. The Day Ben Thanh can be planned as a sight seeing instead of a shopping spree. It is a stones throw from Ben Thanh Market.

Chợ Bình Tây in the Chinatown, the more underrated twin of Ben Thanh, selling everything from spices, Chinese medicines, silk to obscure varieties of fermented fish, dried seafood and jerky. If you are searching for a variety of Vietnam silks and velvets, skip the tourist trap Ben Thanh Market and head for Bình Tây instead. Most of Chợ Bình Tây is wholesale goods. In fact, you can see much of Ben Thanh Market’s goods are from here.

Night Market (just outside of Ben Thanh Market). Here you can enjoy many kinds of different food and drink, and go round to do your shopping as well. Open from 18:00 (when the Ben Thanh Market closes).

War Surplus Market, sometimes called the American Market or “Cho Cu” or “Khu Dan Sinh” in corner of Yersin and Nguyen Cong Tru, District 1. Hidden behind rows of hardware and electric supplies shops, just brace yourself and enter. Dense warrens of stalls with old American military gear of indeterminate authenticity (e.g. “nice collection of so called authentic GI’s Zippo lighter from the war era”), cheap t-shirts, and military paraphernalia. Don’t hope to find a genuine Marine Zippo; they’re all fake now.

Supermarkets and department stores

Tax Department Store, now known as Saigon Square, is located on the corner of Le Loi and Nguyen Hue. This is a rather sterile department store of sorts filled with stalls selling touristy kitsch, although the selections get better as you ascend the levels. There’s a good supermarket on level 2. If you are traveling here by taxi, the new name may be met by blank expressions from taxi drivers. The old name seems to work. The name in Vietnamese is “Thuong Xa Tax”.

Small western-style supermarkets, can be found on the top floor of the Parkson department store one block northeast of the Opera House, and in Diamond Plaza, behind the Cathedral, on the top floor of the department store. Citimart can also be found at 230 Nguyễn Trãi, Phường Nguyễn Cư Trinh, District 1 (Quan 1), 10/15 min walk from Zen Plaza.

Co-op Mart Supermarkets, frequented by throngs of the Saigon middle-class and backpackers alike, can be found everywhere around HCMC. In District 1 they can be found at the corner of Nam Ky Khoi Nghia and Nguyen Dinh Chieu, about 1km from the centre OR in Cong Quynh, walking distance away from the end of Backpacker street Pham Ngu Lao. Prices are reasonably lower, though the selection leans more toward Vietnamese culinary requirements.

Western/Japanese-style department stores 3 stores are near the centre. For most visitors, the only reason to go there is to enjoy the air-con, and derive some amusement from the silly-high prices of western-branded consumer goods.

Parkson on Dong Khoi a block north of the Opera house

Diamond Plaza, further north behind the Notre Dame Cathedral

Zen Plaza on Nguyen Trai two blocks west of the New World Hotel.

Souvenirs

Phuong Mai Art Gallery, 129 B Le Thanh Ton St., District.1 (near the Norfolk Hotel and the Revolution Museum). A gallery showing contemporary Vietnamese artists, both established and emerging. There’s another showroom at 213C Dong Khoi in District 1.

Oil-Painting – Bui Vien Street, near backpackers area in De Tham and Pham Ngu Lao streets, in District 1. There are several shops along this street selling oil painting at reasonable prices (ranging from 450,000-5,000,000 dong). If you want a portrait of a Vietnamese painting or even have your own photograph oil-painted, shop around here. You can get a readily available portrait within a day or two.

Where to eat

Budget

Food stalls are scattered all over the city, but there’s a fair collection in the Ben Thanh market (see Buy). For local fast food, try the ubiquitous Pho 24′ chain (though it can be more the twice the price of local fare). Additionally, foreign fast food franchises Lotteria and KFC have established presences in the city.

Interestingly, there isn’t any single McDonald’s in Ho Chi Minh City.

The setback of eating street food or food done on holes-in-the-walls in any town or city in Vietnam is unsure good hygiene. Street hawkers are not only cooks but they are also cashiers. They touch money and often flip over the bills with their fingers moistened with their saliva (added flavor to food). If a bun (baguette) is dropped in the pavement, it is still picked up to be mixed with the rest of the bunch. A hawker (hawkers are about 90% women able to carry loads on poles with their petite body) may cough or sneeze and while preparing food, cover her mouth with her bare hands then resume what she was just doing. Food may have unwanted items like hair particle or even pubic or armpit hair-like strand. Utensils may be washed from the same portable small 1-litter size ice-cream container washing basin, without detergent. Debris on spoons are just wiped off from the water on that small dish. Drinking glasses may just be dunked two or three times and ready for the next user.

On holes-in-the-wall, if there is shortage of counter space, contained food is placed on the floor. Floors are mostly wet and muddy. Utensils are washed on the floor itself. Waiters tossed used chopsticks and other dishes like bowls and if they don’t get in the tub, they go right in the floor to be picked up later. Vegetables and meat parts are also cut in the floor and if they fell off, they are picked up again. Big quantities of vegetables are placed in plastic buckets and cleaned in the toilet faucet. The plastic buckets may have been used as bathing or toilet flushing pail. And when they are not used, they may be stacked together and stored in the toilet.

But street food and holes-in-the-wall food are absolutely flavorful, fascinating, exotic, ingeniously contrived, and cheap with all the elements of the nutrition pyramid and all the tastes – sweet, sour, salty, hot – well represented.

Along Pham Ngu Lao there are many budget Westernized options, and venturing a bit further into the side alleys can uncover some better choices than on the main streets, with much lesser noise and escape gases. This traveler, for instance, had an incredibly tasty bowl of pho at a small roadside establishment near Binh Tay Market in Cho Lon for 10,000 dong, much more flavorful than the stuff at Pho 24 or Pho 2000. It is useful to remember that the local Vietnamese do not necessarily have to spend 50,000 dong on a good meal, and explore accordingly.

Cafe Terrace’, 65 Le Loi Street, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City. Great place to try all sorts of Vietnamese dishes, from noodles to banh mi to spring rolls. No wifi. Nice outdoor seating good for people watching. Seems to be popular with the local, younger, well-heeled Vietnamese crowd.

The Burger Corner, 43 Nguyen Hue Street, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City. Delicious rice & traditional hamburgers. The combo meals are cheap but tasty. The restaurant often offers their customers coupons too.

Dong Ba, 110A Nguyen Du, Dist 1. This is a shop that sells Hue Food including Hue beef noodles and traditional banh beo rice cakes.

Trang, 102/6A Cong Quynh, Dist 1. Local food including excellent crab served in a friendly atmosphere. Not too far from Pham Ngu Lao.

Pasteles de Saigon, 40 Bui Vien, Dist 1 at the entrance of an alley full of guesthouses and small restaurants. Excellent bread, sandwiches, cacao and more. Has Vietnamese and Lavazza coffee (it would be more creative to have the better Vietnamese or Lao cofee…). Service can be slightly indifferent. Inexpensive.

Pao restaurant & caffe, 158 Bui Vien, Dist 1. This restaurant is just open on May 2009 but very unique decor with all small instruments, traditional dress, hats, of the minority ethnic group in North of Vietnam. Truly Vietnamese food like spring rolls, hot pot, pho, 35,000-60,000 dong. They have a live Vietnamese instrument show on every Friday, Sunday.

“Pho 19″, 19 Nguyen Trai St., District 5. A small space and very cheap place for Pho and Bo Kho. Excellent Pho and Bo Kho, a bowl costs only 25,000-30,000dong. Open only 6AM-11AM.

Pho Bo Vien Quoc Ky, 52 Ngo Duc Ke (near Nguyen Hué, District 1). A nice and cheap place for a soup. Try the sate version of the usual Pho or My, a spicy delicacy.

ATTENTION: for above Saté-Pho they ripped me of 72,000Dong – zero discussion in English possible. Either you are able to discuss their pricing in Vietnamese with them – or better forget the place!

Doner Kebab, 198 Bui Vien st., District 1. Inside the backpacker area, you could easily find this small hawk. 23,000 dong for each Turkish kebab.

Dream Cones, 16 Nguyen Thi Nghia St., Ben Thanh Ward, Dist. 1. Gelato ice cream for less than 16,000 dong a scoop. Quirky and cool neon atmosphere, with lots of white leather seating. Free unlimited (unsweetened) iced tea served with your ice cream.

Falafellim, 97 Pham Ngu Lao St., District 1. Homemade falafel, tahini and hummus in soft pita bread pockets. Sadly it has closed, but has reopened (in a sense) in the guise of a small Kosher restaurant down the alley at 121/37 Le Loi. Open only Mon-Thur 6:30-9:30PM.

Pho Quynh, 323 Pham Ngu Lao St., District 1. Their specialty here, is without a doubt, pho. Their pho is excellent, with locals who come regularly and lucky backpackers who stumble upon it. It is air-conditioned on the second and third floors, and a bowl costs 40,000 dong. They also have a decent banh mi bo kho (beef stew with carrots, served with french baguettes) if you are looking for a pho alternative. Open 24 hr.

Pho 2000, 3 locations, one sharing space with I Love Burger, one right next to Ben Thanh Market, and the last toward the end of Le Thanh Ton Street. The restaurant was once visited by a former US president, Bill Clinton. Has pho (including a seafood version), along with the usual Vietnamese rice dishes, including a superb vegetarian curry.

Pho 24, Clean modern chain found everywhere in Ho Chi Minh City. Excellent beef noodle soup, very cheap. Watch out for the fake Pho 24/24 on Pham Ngu Lao Street, which does not belong to the chain and serves terrible and expensive food.

Thiện Duyên Bễn Thành (vegetarian restaurant), 174 Calmette (near the city bus station), ☎ +84 8 3914 7453. Well presented vegetarian food.

BanhMiBistro, 76 Vo Thi Sau, District 1, across from Le Van Tam park. Great fresh gourmet sandwiches, especially the famous Vietnamese “Banh Mi”. Bread is baked fresh in the store. There are 3 other outlets around town.

Cafe Lam, 175 Bui Vien, District 1. Excellent restaurant in backpackers area. Huge portions with rock bottom prices. US$1 for a big tiger, US$2 for a chicken curry w/ rice which is so large you won’t finish. This is a very inconspicuous place but most of the customers are regular expats. The food is nothing special but the prices, portions, and drink options make it a good bet. Fruit salad to die for, lovely smoothies, and great Tom Yam soup!

Cafe India, 250 Bui Vien, District 1. Self-described as the “best south Indian food in city,” this place is one of the best budget options in the backpacker’s area. Their “happy menus” (thalis) – available all day – are 5 item meals that weigh in at 25,000 dong (vegetarian) or 50,000 dong for the chicken option.

Tutti Frutti Frozen Yogurt, 15-17 Phan Chu Triuh (opposite west entrance of Ben Thanh market, near the corner to Nguyen An Ninh). 8AM-10:30PM. If the heat in Ben Thanh market gets the better of you head over the street and have a snack or a nice cooling frozen yogurt in A/C. Mains from ~40,000 dong, frozen yogurt 25,000 dong/100g.

The Khmer Viet Kitchen, 185/14 Pham Ngu Lau, ☎ +84 126 5492647. 7AM-11PM. Vietnamese and Western food with a big pasta, sandwich and burger menu, also do enchiladas. Mains from ~40,000 dong (vegetarian~35,000 dong). Beer from 20,000 dong.

Thao Nhi, 185/20 Pham Ngu Lau. -10PM. Vietnamese and Western food with excellent beefsteak, salads, Vietnamese crêpes, Dalat wine… Tasty, healthy, friendly and very cheap. The location is very quiet. Mains from ~40,000 dong (vegetarian~35,000 dong). Beer from 10,000 dong (jan/13).

The Lunch Lady (Nguyen Thi Thanh), 23 Hoang Sa. 11AM-3PM. The famous Lunch Lady was featured on Anthony Bourdain’s show and definitely lives up to the billing. Different noodle dish every day. 30,000 dong.

Bun Cha Van Anh on the corner of Truong Son Street – that’s the main street to the airport – and Song Day Street. ☎ +84 8 486308. No A/C, no menu, no English, no toilet, no walls – just bun cha Hanoi (grilled porky bits with cool rice noodles, soupy stuff and fresh herby veggie stuff that you mix together with condiments to form whatever you like)

Mid-range

Baotique Bar and Restaurant , 35 Ton That Thiep – Quan 1. HCMC . Next to Temple Club and Fanny Ice Cream. The restaurant offers modern Vietnamese food and a good selection of wine by famous Chef from New York Michael Bao but the price is surprisingly affordable. The seafood here is highly recommended ,set lunch ( 8 USD ) is always a treat . Open from 8am to 12am. Price range 20.000vnd (1$) to 400.000vnd (20$).

DeciBel Lounge , 79/2/5 Phan Ke Binh – Quan 1. HCMC ☎+84 8 627 0115. Close to the Jade Emperor Pagoda. The restaurant cafe deciBel Lounge is a place where you can find monthly art exhibition, a nice range of Mediterranean food and Vietnamese breakfast and lunch set menu. Open from 7am to 12am. Price range 20.000vnd (1$) to 200.000vnd (10$).

Barbecue Garden , 135A Nam Ky Khoi Nghia – Quan 1. HCMC ☎+84 8 823 3340. Located 100 m from Ben Thanh Market, behind the General Sciences Library. US$5-7 range. The restaurant is a barbecue specialist with both Vietnamese and International recipes.

Hoa Khai Vegetarian Restaurant, 124 126 Nguyen Cu Trinh St, Cu Trinh Ward District 1. About 500m west of the backpacker area. 10.7638 106.6896. Vietnamese vegetarian food. Tasty. 100k dong for a full meal.

Bi Saigon, 185/26 Pham Ngu Lao Str, District 1 (in an alley just off the main tourist street, Bui Vien). Extensive menu with a choice between Vietnamese, Italian, Mexican and other styles. Open plan kitchen so you can see your food being prepared.

Black Cat 13 Phan Van Dat, D1, HCMC. Fresh and juicy beef patty. Jumbo burger is US$15.

Hanoi Oi Bistro , 225/7, Nguyễn Đình Chiểu, Phường 5, District 3. Spread over 2 floors, serving modern and traditional Vietnamese cuisine including some personal northern Vietnamese recipes of the owner/chef Thuy Linh, who is also an accomplished singer in a famous band, 5DK, one of a handful local acts specializing in World Music genre. Local singers, actors, celebrity types, and other locals and foreigners flock to this bistro for its unique take on modern and classic Vietnamese food and its ambience. From US$2-5 and upwards.

Hoa Mai Coffee #43-45 Do Quang Dau Street. ☎+84 8 836 8310. Located in a fun, up and coming area, just off Phan Ngu Lao, between Phan Ngu Lao Street and Bui Vien Street. Restaurant downstairs, on the second floor is a comfortable bar with pool table. International food and local dishes. Around US$2-5. Fresh fruit shakes, spring rolls, Vietnamese noodles and pasta.

Huong Dong Recently moved a bit further from the centre, to 68 Huynh Tinh Cua. A modest, open-air restaurant serving mostly southern country-style food. The name literally means “scent of the fields”. It’s a place where families and groups of friends gather, drink a lot of beer, eat a lot of food, and make a bit of noise. You might need a few beers to get up the courage to try some of the more exotic offerings, including field mouse, whole frog, pigeon porridge, and coconut worm. A whole char-grilled ga ta (local style free-range chicken) is 170,000 dong, head and feet included. A wide variety of other meats and seafood is available for 50,000-80,000 dong. Quirky English translations of the long menu add to the spirit of adventure.

La Sen Restaurant (Nha Hang La Sen), (moved from 30 Ba Huyen Thanh Quan, Phuong 6 – Quan 3, location unknown). ☎ +84 8 930 6682. Opening hours 9:30AM-11PM. Clean medium-priced restaurant serving food from the regions of Hue, Saigon and Hanoi. Just in the centre of district 3. Friendly service, full A/C, 2 floors and room for about 100 persons.

Lemongrass, 4 Nguyen Thiep Street. Near the Opera House. A very touristy Vietnamese restaurant. Most dishes are in US$4-6 range, although some seafood items are more expensive. Daily business lunch US$3++ and weekly special dishes. Expanded to a twin outlet on 14th floor of Palace Hotel Saigon, 10 min away from the first outlet. Same menu, same price.

Ngoc Suong Marina,19C Le Quy Don, is a restaurant specialising in seafood. Fish salad and clams cooked in white wine.

Lion City Cafe & Restaurant, 45, Le Anh Xuan, District 1 (Opposite New World Hotel), ☎ +84 8 3823 8371. 7PM-3PM. The biggest chain of Singaporean restaurants in Vietnam, all ingredients imported. 100% Singaporean food with a head chef and owner from Singapore. US$3-8.

Papaya by Chi Nghia , 68 Pham Viet Chanh, Binh Thanh District (near the Zoo). Small place specializing in northern style Vietnamese cuisine. Run by the chef/owner, who has 25 years of experience with Sofitel hotels, cooking and presentation is 5 star quality. From US$2-5 and upwards. Very clean, and nicely decorated.

Quan An Ngon, District 1. Two different restaurants operate with the same name within a few blocks of each other, one at 160 Pasteur Street, and the other (recently reopened) on Nam Ky Khoi Nghia across from the Reunification Palace. Set in atmospheric old French villas, with similar menus Vietnamese food, including regional specialities prepared in numerous independently-operated food stalls around the perimeter. Both are popular and both tend to be jammed at peak hours requiring a wait for a table. (The name literally means “restaurant of delicious eating”.) The one on Pasteur has dozens of kerosene lamps burning for “atmospheric” decoration at night, so if you have asthma or COPD or feel you got enough pollution already, better to try the other one. Mains from 45,000 dong.

Quan Nuong, 29-31 Ton That Thiep. A delicious, reasonably-priced open-air barbecue restaurant on the roof above Fanny’s ice cream parlor and the Temple Club (see splurges below). Every table has a grill in the centre, and the menu includes a variety of meats and seafood which you can grill yourself. Try the bacon wrapped salmon & the beef wrapped cheese skewers. They also serve a variety of mostly southern-style salads and noodle dishes. It’s very popular and often fills up by mid-evening.

Sushi Bar, with four locations: corner of Le Thanh Ton and Ton Duc Thang in Q1, about six blocks northeast of the Opera House; on a large alley full of restaurants off Ton Duc Thang by the river and near the Legend Hotel; on the food-court floor of Zen Plaza on Nguyen Trai; and in the Saigon Court apartment building on Nguyen Dinh Chieu. Probably the best sushi value in Saigon. They serve a larger and more interesting variety than the typical American or European sushi restaurant, at half the price. Draft Tiger beer is 24,000 dong. Very popular, so you can expect to wait during the middle dining hours.

Spice, 27c Le Quy Don in Q3. Largest and most visited Thai restaurant in HCM. Mostly local Vietnamese and expats as it is out of the tourist area. Authentic Thai food prepared by the two Thai chefs. Food is fresh and served within minutes. Tom yam kung and papaya salad, spice shrimp or Bangkok briany: fusion of Thai with other cuisines. Seating over 200, in A/C, al fresco or Thai style on floor mats. Delivery available to all districts. Top floor BBQ.

Swiss Chalet Restaurant, 54 Pasteur St. in District 1 ☎ +84 8 3915 3983. Opening hours: Every day from 11:00 A.M. – 11:00 P.M. They serve a large variety of traditional Swiss food such as cheese fondue, chocolate fondue, Steaks, Rosti potaoes and many more. More than that they also have many other Central European dishes. The restaurant is known for its large portions, cosy interior and friendly staff.

Une Journée à Paris, 234 Le Thanh Ton St. Q1, 100 m from Ben Thanh Market. Authentic French ‘boulangerie, patisserie, et salon de thé’. French petit dejeuner at 50,000 dong, with egg/bacon 100,000 dong.

Wrap and Roll, 62 Hai Ba Trung. A growing chain. Wrapped Vietnamese fusion food in a modern minimalist setting. Try the desserts. Beer and a meal should cost less than US$10.

JJ’s Brazilian Barbeque, 279 Pham Ngu Lao. A Western-style barbeque restaurant that serves one of the best steaks in HCM. The all-you-can-eat Churascco buffet with free-flow salad bar cost only 550,000 dong. A beer and a meal from the Ala Carte menu should cost less than $15.

Splurge

1960 Presidential Club, 22nd Floor, Sailing Tower, 111A Pasteur, Dist.1 (www.diamondlife.com.vn). Located on the top floor of a 22-storey building, from here you can have unobstructed view of the Reunification Palace down below. The venue is actually a combination of a restaurant specializing in Vietnamese and Italian cuisines, a spa offering traditional Vietnamese therapies as well as an out-door swimming pool with a great view of the city. If you are looking for a nice day of relaxation for your mind and body, go and give this place a try.

Au Lac do Brazil, 238 Pasteur, between Dien Bien Phu–10:40, 20 October 2011 (EDT)152.26.9.1and Vo Thi Sau. Just to prove that Saigon has everything, here is a Brazilian-style churrascaria (all-you-can-eat restaurant featuring barbecued meat), with live Latin music Tuesday to Saturday. They also have a new outlet in Sky Garden II, Phu My Hung, Dist 7. It’s a larger and less crowded one with usually better service. Price US$30+per person.

Co Ngu, on Pasteur just before Dien Bien Phu, Q1. Nice Vietnamese and Asian-fusion food in a Villa setting, with indoor and garden seating. Popular for business groups. Prices higher than average for Saigon, but a better value than you will find in the tourist section of town.

Hard Rock Cafe, part of the Kumho Asiana Plaza complex, which is located at 39 Le Duan Avenue, Dist. 1. The usual American burgers and grill dishes. Around 290,000 dong for a burger meal. Good service and friendly staff. They also have live bands on selected evenings. Great choice if you are craving Western food, and want to pick up some memorabilia from the Rock Shop.

Huy Long Vien, 99 Nguyen Du, across from the Reunification Palace. Chinese food from Peking Duck to all you can eat dim sum. It’s big and fancy inside with an ancient China ‘theme’. There’s also some a guy who pours tea out of a long kettle while performing Kung fu poses.

La Habana, 6 Cao Ba Quat, Q1, two blocks northeast of the Hyatt and opera house. Outstanding Spanish and Cuban-style food, including a large tapas menu. Also one of the few places in Vietnam that makes really good cocktails.

La Hosteria, on Le Thanh Ton a few blocks east of the Hilton. A gourmet Italian restaurant with excellent home-made pasta dishes in the range of 125,000 dong and main dishes 150,000+.

L’En tete, 1st floor, 139 Nguyen Thai Binh, Q.1 (at the junction with Calmette). Excellent French restaurant in a area not normally associated with high dining. Great for a leisurely dining experience, good food with main courses ranging from 150,000-450,000 dong. Open 5PM-midnight,

Pomodoro’s, Decent small Italian restaurant on Hai Ba Trung, a block from the Hilton and around the corner from the Sheraton and Caravelle Hotels. Delicious lasagna is their specialty; the pizzas are a bit oily. Dinner of 2 starters, cocktails, 0.5 litre carafe of wine, mains and deserts for roughly US$50 but with poor service.

Tân Nam, 60-62 Dong Du, Q.1 (A few doors from Sheraton Saigon). The ground floor is open-air, the upper floor has A/C. Rather expensive and mediocre food, around US$10/person but they will park your motorcycle while you eat, and wander around the waterfront.

Temple Club, 29-31 Ton That Thiep, Q.1 (first floor, with an ice cream parlour below) has a 1930s ambiance with separate bar, restaurant, and lounge area sections. The food is fair but most people come to soak up the atmosphere.

The Deck Saigon 38 Nguyen U Di, Thao Dien, An Phu, D2 (15 minutes from the centre of Saigon) ( Tel # 8 3 744 6632) (www.thedecksaigon.com) The only 5* restaurant on the banks of the Saigon River. Modern fusion cuisine using the best local ingredients. Extraordinarily glamorous cocktails created by renowned New York mixologist, open air dining on large wooden Deck alongside the Saigon River or inside air conditioned area and bar. Arrive in style – The Deck can arrange to bring you and your guests right to your dinner table by boat. When you have a location as good as ours, right on the river, there’s no other way to arrive.

ZanZBar Restaurant & Bar 41 Dong Du Street, Q1 (diagonally opposite Sheraton Hotel) has modern casual-upscale feel with extensive range of international & Vietnamese cuisine (plenty for vegetarians to choose from). Eclectic crowd comprised of local Vietnamese, local expatriates and visiting tourists. Wine-by-glass and cocktail menu. At night the lit up columns create a great ambience.

Halal Food

D’Nyonya Penang Restaurant, 58 Dong Du Street, D1 (Beside the Mosque and Sheraton Hotel), ☎ +84 8 6678 6044. Malaysian owned, authentic Malaysian cuisine and local Vietnamese menu.  edit

Four Season Restaurant, 2 Thi Sach Street, D1, ☎ +84 8 825 7186. Vietnamese and Malaysian cuisine.

Halal@Saigon, 31 Đông Du, District 1 (Opposite to the Indian Jamia Mosque, near Sheraton Hotel), ☎ +84 8 3824 6823 (Vietnamese), +84 8 38274602 (English) (info@halalsaigon.com, fax: +84 8 38274603). 10AM-10PM. Vietnamese, Malaysian and vegetarian cuisine prepared to Halal guidelines. Has a Malaysian owner and there are several Malaysian staples on the menu, however it is primarily Vietnamese, with a wide range of dishes from around the country.

Lion City Cafe & Restaurant, 45 Le Anh Xuan, District 1 (Near Ben Thanh market opposite New World hotel), ☎ +84 8 3823 8371. 7PM-3AM daily. Certified halal, serves halal food on 2nd floor.

Pro döner kebab, 169 De Tham, Pham Ngu Lao Ward, Distr.1, ☎ +84 8 2200 5959. Turkish place with good service serving real doner kebabs, halal style.

Vn. Halal (Muslim Food Restaurant), 14 Pham Hong Thai, P. Ben Thanh, Q 1 (near Ben Thanh Market), ☎ +84 8 3822 0252. Malaysian cuisine and Vietnamese food.

Where to stay

Budget

The main backpacker hangout is Pham Ngu Lao in District 1, just a short walk (10-15 min) from Ben Thanh Market. The lanes and alleys in the area between Pham Ngu Lao and Bui Vien are jammed with 5-10 room mini-hotels offering prices around US$15 per room (air-con with hot shower and cable TV). They probably offer the quiest places in the city. There is no difference in price between single or double occupancy so if you are traveling alone you might want to try finding a dorm bed for around $6 (but there are not many of them around.) Keep heading southwest away from the backpacker hustle closer Ng Thai Hoc, you’ll likely find that as the alleys get smaller the rooms get quieter and owners more friendly. The area swarms with touts and other nuisances – be warned that the area is not the safest, and it’d be wise not to run around carrying something like an expensive DSLR camera, thereby making yourself a potential target for thieves.

Cosman Rucksack inn, 189 Bui Vien St, District 1, ☎ +84 8 66802368 (tuan@cosman.vn). Brand new place, great breakfasts for US$7. Professional high calibre chef serving delicious foods at very reasonable prices. Staff very friendly and helpful, although English is not the greatest. Two free computers for all guests to use, free Wi-Fi. Nicer and cleaner than most places on the road. Around 20 beds, little privacy. Japanese capsule-like sleeps for US$5.

Mai Guesthouse, 241/41 Pham Ngu Lao, District 1, ☎ +84 8 38369176 (maiguesthouse@yahoo.com.vn). Newer Guesthouse run by a very friendly family in main tourist area of District 1. Rooms with A/C, refrigerator, cable TV, ensuite,viber internet and wifi. Highly recommended. Room prices from US$16-28.(4 single bed / 28$,2 twin-bed /04 persons /24$/night,double 02 persons/16$/night).Visa & Mastercard accepted.

An Phuong 2, 295 Pham Ngu Lao, District 1, ☎ +84 8 920 5509 / +84 8 836 9248 (anhphuong2@yahoo.com). Situated directly across from where the buses drop tourists, it is a friendly family-run guesthouse, very clean and homely. Free internet, cheap laundry and all rooms have double glazing. US$15.

Private Studio, Vo Van Kiet Street (two minutes ride from Ben Thanh market). checkin: 2:00 pm; checkout: 1:00 pm. Fully furnished studio with air conditioning, kitchen, washing machine and internet connectivity. It is located in a residential area on Vo Van Kiet Street and is accessible to business and entertainment centers. Friendly Host. Free House Keeping Services USD 25.

Blue River Hotel, 283/2C Pham Ngu Lao, District 1, ☎ +84 8 3837 6483 or mobile +84 903 679994 (blueriver1126@yahoo.com). Amazing small hotel in an alley off Pham Ngu Lao. They can arrange an airport pickup for US$15 (though an official taxi from the airport counter will run you only US$8). Some staff members speak English and the service is good. $25 for a room without a view. US$30 for a room with a view that may or may not have a balcony.

Dai Huy Hoang Hotel, 283/22 Pham Ngu Lao, District 1 (in a small and quiet alley that links Pham Ngu Lao and Do Quang Dau. Coming from Pham Ngu Lao the alley is next to the ‘Canadian Hotel’.), ☎ +84 8 3837 0677 (daihuyhoang06@yahoo.com). Comfortable rooms with A/C, fan, free internet and breakfast. Friendly staff. US$ 13-20.

Diep Anh, 241/31 Pham Ngu Lao street, Dist. 1, Ho Chi Minh City, ☎ +84 8 38 367920 (guesthouse.diepanh@gmail.com). Very friendly owners. Rooms with A/C, refrigerator, cable TV, ensuite, and wifi. Very reasonably priced minibar. US$10-30.

Ty Mon, 693 Nguyen Thi Dinh Street, Dist. 2, Ho Chi Minh City, ☎ +84 862870526. Friendly owners, very good basic rooms with AC, TV, decent furniture and fridge. Very cheap price, used by Vietnamese people mostly. A bit far out from center. US$8-12.

Duna Hotel, 167 Pham Ngu Lao, District 1, ☎ +84 8 8373-699. All rooms have A/C, satellite TV, a fridge, elevator. Pleasant staff. Note that the front door is locked relatively early (around 11PM ~midnight) and to get back in you must bang loud enough on the shutter door so that the staff sleeping inside can wake up and let you in. From US$12 for a single room with no window to US$30 for a triple with a window facing the street.

Hanh Hoa Hotel, 237 Pham Ngu Lao, District 1, ☎ +84 8 38372361. With a real Rattan feel to the hotel. Vietnamese styling, with bamboo interiors, rattan beds, and authentic wooden floors.

Hotel Bi Saigon, 185/26 Pham Ngu Lao, District 1 (in alley #185), ☎ +84 8 836 0678. Clean, comfortable and terrific staff. In-room internet US$3/day (bring your own laptop). The lobby houses the La Table De Saigon restaurant. Double US$27.

Ly Loan, 241/11/2 Pham Ngu Lao, District 1 (From airport take a taxi to Pham Ngu Lao St (7 km) and enter alley 241 (between Liberty 4 Hotel and ABC Bakery), 15 m into the alley, turn left. A few min walk from the bus stops (on Pham Ngu Lao street) you can see the alley 241 between Liberty 4 Hotel and ABC Bakery) turn into 241 alley about 2 min and turn the left side, it is on the 1st house), ☎ +84 8 837 0067 (phphuong90@yahoo.com). Family run guest house in a small, safe, quiet alley. Some English is spoken. Rooms are spacious and nicely furnished. With A/C, hot water, big beds and some with balconies. Free internet and wifi. Warning, two yapping small dogs. March 2013: dogs extremely small, not very yappish, and completely nonthreatening, even to a dog-phobic, so “warning” is a bit overblown. Very friendly place. Recommended. US$16.

(mimibackpackerhostel@yahoo.com). Lovely 20-something Cherry runs the place, speaks great English, and knows everything about HCMC. Great and friendly staff. The place is newly remodeled and squeaky clean. They can setup tours, do laundry, etc. The place has AC rooms, wifi, public computers (“free internet!”), and sells drinks.

Thanh Thu Guesthouse, 241/– Pham Ngu Lao Street, District 1. looking for sugar cane drink shop and you will found teen age boy who always play game online and speak english a little bit but he so cute. good and clean room free wifi 10-13 us.

My Home, 241/43 Pham Ngu Lao, District 1, ☎ +84 8 5559 3898 (myhome.roomforrent@gmail.com). Friendly staff and clean. The buses from up north drop you right near this hostel. A/C, hot water, comfortable beds, free internet with wifi. Free bananas at all times and they do laundry. Tourist bars and clubs are a couple hundred metres away. Singles US$12, doubles US$18, triples available.

Nam Chau, 171/2 Co Bac St. (near Co Giang St), ☎ +84 8 3837 0294. Nice and very clean. US$ 10-15 (oct. 2010).

Ngoc Minh Hotel, 283/9 Pham Ngu Lao, District 1. Clean hotel with friendly staff, free internet and wifi. Elevator available. 5 stories, garden on top floor and free breakfast From US$20.

Nguyen Khang Hotel, 283/25 Pham Ngu Lao, District 1 (in a small and quiet alley that links Pham Ngu Lao and Do Quang Dau. Coming from Pham Ngu Lao the alley is next to the ‘Canadian Hotel’.), ☎ +84 8 837 3566 (nguyenkhanghotel@yahoo.com.vn). checkout: If checking out after noon but before 5PM half of the room rate is charged. Has a nice vibe and good staff, free internet (PC in lobby and wifi in rooms). Free breakfast served on the ground floor from 7AM-10AM. Recently built (or remodelled), Clean, tastefully simple in decoration, rooms are rather small but have A/C, fan, TV, fridge (and those at the front have large windows). Visa and Mastercard accepted. US$10-20.

PP Backpackers, 283/41 Pham Ngu Lao (in an alley off PNL along with various other guest houses and hotels, there’s a list over the entrance at #283), ☎ 01262501823 (duncan11poolton@hotmail.com). Run by one friendly Englishman, this hostel offers clean dorms and rooms, can book tours and offers a big breakfast (even the so-called ‘small breakfast’) for US$1. Dorm US$6.

Rainbow Hotel, 283/5 Pham Ngu Lao, District 1, ☎ +84 8 836 0039. checkin: march 8; checkout: march12. Large, bright (albeit somewhat worn) rooms, and those at the front have a nice view. From US$15.

Tam Anh Guesthouse, 241/21 Pham Ngu Lao, District 1, ☎ +84 8 3837 0756 (tamanhhotel@gmail.com). A clean and secure family-run guesthouse. Good A/C, free wi-fi. Laundry service provided. US$11-15.

Tan Dat My Hotel, 81-83 Ong ich Khiem, District 11 (About a 15min taxi ride to District 1), ☎ +84 8 3963 4424. Large rooms with a view, A/C, wifi, fridge, cableTV and a free rooftop breakfast next to the Dam Sen Park. French bakery 30 m away. American style supermarket 10 min walk on the same street. US$17.

Thien Hong Hotel, 241/34 Pham Ngu Lao, District 1 (In one of the small alleys running between Pham Ngu Lao and Bui Vien.), ☎ +84 8 3920 6078. Helpful and friendly owners, free wifi, TV in rooms with many channels including the Australia Network. A/C room with no window US$15.

Thanh Guest House, 84/9 Bui Vien, Pham Ngu Lao, District 1, ☎ +84 9 318 8588 (nicolassang02@gmail.com). Warm and friendly guesthouse. Lobby inside the house with comfy sofa, cableTV and internet. Free wifi throughout. Trips and tours can be booked at reception. US$12-18.

Nga Hoang Hotel, 269/19 Pham Ngu Lao Ward, District 1, ☎ +848 3 9203 356 (ngahoanghotel@yahoo.com, fax: +84 8 3920 3357). Friendly German and English speaking staff. A/C rooms with private bathrooms, hot water, wifi, cableTV with international channels. Baggage storage and laundry service. Travel desk can arrange flights and bookings. US$12/day including breakfast.

Xuan Spring Hotel, 185/34 Pham Ngu Lao Street, District 1, ☎ +84 8 837 2115 (manager@springhotel.net). A/C, refrigerator, cableTV and private bathroom with hot shower and free internet. Online bookings. Good service. US$14-17.

Mid-range

The area around Ben Thanh market along Le Thanh Ton and Ly Tu Trong has many reasonably priced hotels with clean rooms in the US$25-35 bracket; some provide free wifi.

Binh Hung Hotel, 9A Nguyen Thai Binh St., Tan Binh Ward., Dist 4, ☎ +848 3948 2515 (binhhunghotel2009@gmail.com). Nice, clean, modern hotel with fantastic service. As the writer was checking in, the front desk helped a backpacker not staying at the hotel arrange a bus ticket at no cost (hotel is not a travel agency, ticket was arranged through bus station by phone). Rooms are equipped with A/C, cable TV, and bathrooms with toilet, shower, and bathtub. Internet is lightning fast. Great bang for your buck. From US$25.

Thuan Thien Hotel, 277 Le Thanh Ton St., Ben Thanh Ward., Dist 1, ☎ +848 3822 8122, [45]. A/C rooms, cable TV, DVD,, coffee/tea maker, mini-bar, and a private toilet and shower with bathtub. High-speed Internet, dry cleaning and laundry service, and a travel agency for booking tours. From US$34.

Asian Hotel, 146-148-150 Dong Khoi Street, Ben Nghe District, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, ☎ +84 8 3829 6979. Asian Hotel is located along Dong Khoi Street in the Ben Nghe District of Ho Chi Minh City. Every room has A/C, cable TV, and internet.

Dai Nam Hotel, 79 Tran Hung Dao St., District 1, ☎ +84 8 3824 2525 (sales@dainamhotel.com.vn). 3 star. 5 min walk from Ben Thanh Market and the backpacker area on Pham Ngu Lao Street. Breakfast and free in-room wifi. The Gossip night club is in this hotel. US $35-55.

Elegant Hotel, 122F-122F1 Bui Thi Xuan, Pham Ngu Lao Ward, District 1, ☎ +84 8 3925 8866. All rooms and suites have A/C, LCD TV with satellite channels, IDD telephone, coffee/tea maker and mini-bar. Bar, cafe, spa and massage services, business centre, fitness room & gym, and high speed internet access. From US$35.

Golden Rose Hotel, 3A Vo Van Tan, Ward 6, Dist 3 (20 min from airport), ☎ +84 8 3824 7248 (info@goldenrosehotel.com). 80 modern and cozy rooms with A/C, cable TV, mini-bar, and safe. Jacuzzi and fitness centre, high-speed internet and massage services. From US$60.

Ngoc Ha, 53, Le Anh Xuan. Close to Ben Thanh market and the New World Hotel. Clean and decent rooms, A/C, fridge, wifi in the lobby. Rooms US$25-35 including simple breakfast.

Bloom Hotel I, 270 Le Thanh Ton St., Ben Thanh Ward, Dist. 1,Ho Chi Minh City (Very near Ben Thanh Market), ☎ 0848 38258698. Lovely modern, clean hotel. Rooms come with LCD flat screen tv’s, and the air conditioning unit is a mini computer located on the wall which controls all functions of the room. The suite has a spa tub. Free Wifi access, and friendy staff. 25-40 USD.

Y Thien, 247 Ly Tu Trong, (5 min from Ben Thanh Market), ☎ 84 8 824 8176. Full service hotel with a range of clean rooms with large bathrooms. Sizes from tiny and windowless (yet functional), to full wall window overlooking the city and streets. The 4th floor room to the right of the elevator is US$20-25. CableTV, A/C, fan, refrigerator, elevator, all night guard for bikes, hotel safe. If you don’t want to stay in the backpacker area and are willing to pay a little more, it’s a good option.

Nhat Ha Hotel, 252 BC Le Thanh Ton Str – Ben Thanh Ward – District 1, ☎ +84 8 3824 6368. 57 rooms decorated with traditional Vietnamese handicrafts. IDD telephone, satellite TV, mini-bar, and A/C. From US$33.

Sanouva Hotel, 175-177 Ly Tu Trong Street, Ben Thanh Ward, District 1, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, ☎ +84 8 38 275 275. Central business district 15 min from Tan Son Nhat International Airport. A/C, 32″ LCD TV with cable, internet and IDD telephone. Restaurant, bar, café, car rental, travel bookings, tour services, and safe deposit boxes. From US$55.00.

Spring Hotel [53], 44-46 Le Thanh Ton Street, District 1. ☎ +84 8 829 7362. Boutique hotel. Clean and walking distance to major attractions such as Ben Thanh Market and Cathedral. From US$32-74.

The area around De Tham is close to the Ben Thanh market and is the backpacker area of the city.

An An Hotel, 40 Bui Vien Street, District 1, ☎ +84 8 3837 8087 (ananhotel@anan.vn). Clean, popular and offers comfortable rooms with double glazing in the centre of the action on De Tham, free wifi in room and lobby. US$40 superior double room to US$50 for a luxury double room.

An An 2 Hotel, 216 De Tham Street, District 1, (On the corner of De Tham and Bui Vien, about 20 m down from the original An An hotel), ☎ +84 8 3838 5665 (anan2hotel@anan.vn) This is a (much newer) sister hotel to An An hotel. From US$22 (with window) for standard single, US$25 for double and US$36-$50 for superior and luxury with balcony. The prices can be lowered if you stay for 4+ days (ex: US$20 for double for 6 days).

Many of Saigon’s historical hotels are in the hands of Saigontourist, the former state monopoly. Thanks to recent competition, service and facilities are adequate, although not quite up to modern standards; but if you want to experience a little colonial atmosphere, these remain far and away the best choices at the moment.

Continental Hotel, 132-134 Dong Khoi Street. An old-school colonial hotel dating back to 1880 and the setting of Graham Greene’s novel The Quiet American . Garden, huge rooms, nice balcony views. From US$60 and up (taxes, service, breakfast included). On the minus side, there is no pool, and traffic noise can be irritating.

Dong Do Hotel, 35 Mac Thi Buoi Street, District 1. New hotel with clean and comfortable rooms. From US$20-35.

The First Hotel, 18 Hoang Viet St, Ward 4, Tan Binh District, ☎ +84 8 3844 1199. 4 star hotel, 104 A/C rooms, cableTV, mini-bar, shower with bathtub, and wifi. Casino and ballroom, fitness room, tennis court, swimming pool, airport transfer and car rental. From US$75.

Mai Hotel, 4A-4B Thi Sach Street, Ben Nghe Ward, District 1. Opened in 2008 and expanded with a second wing. Clean and comfortable rooms with A/C and bar fridge. Right around the corner is the Apocalypse Now Club. Breakfast included, free wifi in the lobby, while connections are a little patchy in the rooms. From US$30-55

Rex Hotel, 141 Nguyen Hue Boulevard. Ideally located in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City, next door to the People’s Committee Hall. Another old standby, former haunt of the press corps and site of the daily news briefing during the Vietnam War. The 5th floor rooftop beer garden is famous and its symbol, the golden crown, is rotating again. The rooms are very pleasant and there is a swimming pool on the roof. Buffet breakfast. From US$70.

Thien Thao Hotel “, 89 Cao Thang, Ward 3, District 3. A small hotel with thin walls but also clean and comfortable with A/C rooms, bathtubs, local and cable channels on a large plasma TV, and minibar fridge. About 20 min walk away from the heart of District 1. Bakery and several restaurants less than 5 min away, free wifi in the rooms and three computers in the lobby. From around US$30, breakfast included.

Xuan Loc Hotel, 47-49-51 Le Anh Xuan, District 1, ☎ +84 8 3827 4641, +84 8 3827 4642, +84 8 3827 5507, +84 8 3827 5508 (xuanlochotel@hcm.fpt.vn), [60]. 3 star hotel with clean and comfortable rooms. Breakfast available, internet and computers are provided. From US$60.

Mekong Lodge, 196/1/20 Cong Hoa St, Tan Binh Dist, ☎ +84 933 449 391. A good hotel for those love nature. from US$60.

Splurge

Luxury hotels are popping up faster than mushrooms in the monsoon rains. Expect to pay closer to US$200 for any of these unless you marry the owner’s daughter. The Caravelle, Sheraton, and Hyatt are all within site of each other near the Opera House, in the heart of the city-centre tourist district . New high quality boutique hotels are popping up around the city, an example being Villa Thao Dien in the city’s most elite neighborhood.

Caravelle, 19 Lam Son Square @ Dong Khoi, across from the Opera House, in District 1. In-house restaurants and spas. 7 km from the airport. Deluxe rooms from US$188 per night. May 2009 celebrated their 50th year in Saigon. During the war it was home to many war correspondents and the rooftop bar served as their local “watering hole”.

InterContinental Asiana Saigon Hotel, Corner of Le Van Huu St, Le Duan Boulevard and Hai Ba Trung St, District 1. Located at Asiana Kumho Plaza which also houses the Debenham stores and the Hard Rock Cafe. Dinner buffet is US$40++. Can walk to city centre.

Hotel Majestic, 5 star hotel in District 1, at the waterfront at the end of Dong Khoi Street. It got its start in 1925, and though it has undergone a number of renovations since, it maintains the same basic look outside. Rooftop bar serves mediocre ice cream and drinks. Has a non-smoking wing.

Mövenpick Hotel Saigon, 253 Nguyen Van Troi Street, Phu Nhuan District, ☎ +84 8 3844 9222 (hotel.saigon.reservation@moevenpick.com, fax: +84 8 3844 9200). checkin: 2PM; checkout: noon. 5 star hotel in the Phu Nhuan, 10 min away from the exhibition centre and international airport and 20 min from the Ho Chi Minh city centre. 251 rooms and suites for short and long staying guests. All rooms are equipped with individually controlled A/C system, TV, minibar, private safe, hairdryer. Broadband internet access is available in all rooms. From US$120.

New World Saigon Hotel, 76 Le Lai Street, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, ☎ +84 8 3822 8888 (reservations.saigon@newworldhotels.com, fax: +84 8 3823 0710).

Hotel Nikko Saigon ( Ho Chi Minh ), 235 Nguyen Van Cu, District 1 (beside Nowzone Shopping Mall), ☎ +84 8 3925 7777 (reservation@hotelnikkosaigon.com.vn, fax: +84 8 3925 7766). checkin: 14:00; checkout: 12 noon. From $160.

Park Hyatt Saigon, 2 Lam Son Square, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (Adjacent to Opera House), ☎ +84 8 3824 1234 (saigon.park@hyattintl.com). checkin: 3:00 pm; checkout: 12noon. 5 star hotel which features a collection of contemporary Vietnamese art, a variety of non-smoking dining options including an alfresco setting, an Italian restaurant, Opera, the signature Vietnamese/Western restaurant, Square One, Park Lounge that serves Afternoon Tea, and a martini bar, 2 Lam Son. The hotel also consists of a 20 meter pool, fitness center and the Xuan Spa. US$220-$520.

Renaissance Riverside Hotel, 8-15 Ton Duc Thang Street, District 1. On the river and near the main tourist-shopping district, a block off of Dong Khoi.

Saigon Domaine Luxury Residences, 1057 Binh Quoi Street, Ward 28, Binh Thanh District, ☎ +81 8 483556 6163. 4 star serviced apartments, cableTV, radio, A/C, safe, hair dryer, internet, phone, mini–bar and coffee/tea maker. Swimming pool, fitness room, sauna, business facilities and currency exchange. Car rental and airport and city transfers available. From US$169.

Sheraton Saigon. On Dong Khoi, in the heart of the tourist shopping district. Complete with Prada shop in the arcade. Restaurants and around US$40 for an all you can eat buffet dinner. Red and white wine included.

Sofitel Plaza Saigon, 17 Le Duan Boulevard, District 1, ☎ +84 8 824 1555 (reservations@sofitelsaigon.com.vn, fax: +84 8 824 1666). 290 room hotel in the city centre. Airy if slightly small rooms, comfy beds, free wired internet. Several restaurants, including a buffet and a breakfast spread. US$160-300.

Somerset Chancellor Court Ho Chi Minh City, No 21-23 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street, district 1, ☎ +84 8 3822-9197/8 (enquiry.hochiminh@the-ascott.com, fax: + 84 8 3822-1755). The serviced residence is located in the heart of the business district. It offers 172 apartments ranging from studios to three-bedroom. Each apartment is fully furnished with an open kitchen concept, contemporary western style decor and balcony. Daily rates starts from 2521000 VND.

Thao Dien Village (Villa Thao Dien Hotel and spa resort), 195 Nguyen Van Huong St., Thao Dien Ward, Dist. 2 (15 min by taxi from district 1), ☎ +84 8 3744 6457 (hotel@thaodienvillage.com, fax: +84 8 3744 6458). A colonial style boutique hotel in tropical gardens on the banks of Saigon River. 22 rooms, spa and health club. 4 restaurants; Ngon (Vietnamese), Villa Romaine (Italian), Chaba (Thai), and Tama-Gawa (Sushi bar). Private functions are available at any of the restaurants. Every saturday at 7:30PM there is a traditional Vietnamese water puppet show on the riverside outdoor terrace of Ngon Restaurant. Facilities available for weddings and parties. The Event House can accommodate up to 300 guests.

Windsor Plaza Hotel, 18 An Duong Vuong, District 5 (Chinatown), ☎ +84 8 3833 6688 (reservations@windsorplazahotel.com, fax: +84 8 38336888). checkin: 2PM; checkout: 12 noon. A 5 star hotel with 386 rooms in Cholon (Ho Chi Minh City’s Chinatown). Several restaurants including an extensive Western and Asian buffet on 4th floor; a Chinese restaurant serving live seafood, southern Chinese cuisine and dim sum; and a rooftop international restaurant that has panoramic views of Cholon. Recently upgraded including free wifi located in public areas. Hotel guests can take the free hourly shuttle to the business district.

Get out

Can Tho is the biggest city of the Mekong Delta and famous for its floating market, delicious food and fresh fruits. The name comes from “cầm thi giang” – river of poems. The city is also referred to as “Tay Do”, meaning “Western capital”. It has an estimated population of 1.5 million. Can Tho is 169 km (3 hr) from Ho Chi Minh City. You can get tickets at Le Hong Phong in district 3 and take a free shuttle bus to Ben Xe Mien Tay, where the air conditioned buses leave and cost around 100,000 dong. Free Shuttle buses in Can Tho will bring you directly to your hotel.

Cu Chi Tunnels – day-trips are tirelessly flogged by travel agencies around Pham Ngu Lao, and can be done as a half-day trip, or as a full-day with a stop at Tay Ninh to see the Holy See of the Cao Dai religion. Tours, including admission, should cost 70,000-110,000 dong, and are available every day of the week. It’s worth taking the trips to see these amazing structures so cleverly carved underground and used for survival during wartime. There is also a shooting range in which tourists can fire the same guns used in the tunnels during the war.

Can Gio – the virgin mangrove forest 30 km South of the city, entrance to the Park is near Ca Cam bridge, typical day break from the civilization.

Dalat – popular temperate mountain side ‘European’ escape.

Ha Tien – close to Cambodian border, by the sea.

Mekong Delta – boat tours are available with an almost infinite mix of itineraries. They can be short overnight trips, leisurely meanders over several nights. If doing a two or three day Mekong Tour, expect to be shuffled between tour companies along the way though.

Tay Ninh – Cao Dai Holy See and Ba Den mountain.

Mui Ne – popular beach resort about 4-6 hr away by bus.

Vung Tau – city with good beaches, about 2 hr away by bus, or less by boat along the Saigon River. The boat ride costs 250,000 dong (at Sep 2011).

Phnom Penh – a 6 hr bus ride to the capital of Cambodia ranges from US$10-12 (210,000-252,000 dong). When you pass into Cambodia and the bus rests for 15 min, do not buy anything from the roadside cafe. Instead, cross the road to purchase drinks or food from the roadside shops because prices can be up to 50% cheaper than the bus stop cafe. Alternatively you could book a tour with boat and bus to Phnom Penh in Cambodia, which will have you spending a night in a cheap hotel in Chau Doc before making the trip over the border (cross-border package prices may include visa support, which should cost 360,000-530,000 dong). Avoid Kumho Samco as they will try to charge $25 instead of $20 for the Cambodia visa. See Cambodia Page for more info. Try Mekong Express or MaiLinh.