Ho Chi Minh City is a destination for war history buffs. The city is filled with structures that are remnants of the Vietnam War. It’s a great place to learn about the effects of war on locals, that suffering continues after a war ends. Other than that, it’s also a great city to party and meet other travelers.
Where to exchange your money?
Gold Shops! Just west of Ben Thanh Market are gold shops where you can have your currencies exchanged. I brought Philippine Peso and got a great rate. I’m not sure about other currencies, but if they accept PHP, then they must be pretty open to a lot of others.
How to get around?
Walking!!!! Work those legs. Just a tip on crossing the street though. Since Vietnam has a lot of motorbikes, it’s not easy to cross the street in the middle of a busy day. The major key is to never hesitate. Going slow is okay as long as you do not stop. Just walk slowly and the motorbikes would just pass you by. Own that street!
Where to go?
Pham Ngu Lao
This is the backpackers district of HCMC. Hostels are all over the place, so it’s a great area to look for cheap accommodation. If you’re into partying and socializing, Bui Vien is a great place to go bar hopping. The entertainment doesn’t end and people never leave the street all night. This is a also a great place to look for tour packages for destinations outside the city like Mekong Delta or Cu Chi Tunnel.
Ben Thanh Market
We went here just for the experience. We knew products would be overpriced, but what we didn’t expect was how aggressive vendors could be. When you give even just a tiny glance on one of their products, they’re not gonna stop until you buy it or run away. Avoid eye contact at all costs!
Just a few block from the market is the Street Food Market, which is like a typical themed food park. We went there only to rest and have some drinks, but they have a lot of food choices if you’re hungry. Prices are a bit high, but that’s just typical for food parks.
War Remnants Museum
This place may not be for everyone. They have a section of the museum showing the effects of Agent Orange, a toxic herbicide used for war purposes, to Vietnamese people. You’ll see pictures of people born with deformities caused by their parents’ exposure to the chemical. It definitely leaves an impact which may not always be happy vibes.
Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre
A little bit of tradition in the city! This show was important for us, to really have a cultural experience in Ho Chi Minh. We got last minute same-day tickets, back-row seats, but we still enjoyed the show. I really love that everything was performed live, from manning the puppets, to the actual music they dance to. And what’s more impressive is that all the puppeteers are behind the stage. They just know all the cues and movements by heart. It’s an experience you should never miss in Ho Chi Minh.
We went on a tour package so everything was arranged for us already. There was a side trip to a buddhist temple, before going to the main event. For me, the whole experience felt so staged. Even when we got to small boats to paddle through a small branch of Mekong, it felt like an amusement park ride. Still though, the sights were great, and the whole tour was exciting.
Ho Chi Minh was the first destination of our Indochina trip. It was Songkran season too so there were lots of tourists everywhere. Although Vietnam celebrates their new year in a different day (click here to read about my Vietnamese New Year experience in Hanoi), most of their neighboring countries do. So tourists from Cambodia, Thailand, or Laos visit Vietnam as well.
If you’re choosing between Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi, there are good reasons for each of the two. Ho Chi Minh is a good place to start or end a multi-country trip. It’s really close to Cambodia, and there are multiple options of transportation to either Phnom Penh or Siem Reap. But, if you want a more nature-y destination, then Hanoi is a great place to go to. Nonetheless, both cities offer a great introduction to urban life in Vietnam.