HO CHI MINH CITY
HO CHI MINH CITY (about 1,700 kilometers from Hanoi) is reckless, fast-paced and hedonistic city with a short history. Situated on the Saigon (or Dongnai) River about 45 miles from The South China Sea, it lies on the eastern edge of the Mekong Delta and is connected to the Mekong River by a network of canals. Unlike relatively quiet and quaint Hanoi, Saigon is busy place running headlong into the future. Everybody seems to be in a hurry around the clock. Most locals still call the city Saigon—only bureaucrats and tourists call it Ho Chi Minh City, and even they often refer to it as HCM City or even HCMC.
Greater Ho Chi Minh City covers 2,095.5 square kilometers and is home to 7.4 million people (2010). It is Vietnam's southern commercial center and largest city. People in Hanoi will tell you it the second the most important in Vietnam after Hanoi but Saigonese will that is not true. Ho Chi Minh City is not only a commercial center but also a scientific, technological, industrial and tourist center. The city is bathed by many rivers, arroyos and canals, the biggest river being the Saigon River. The Port of Saigon is accessible to ships weighing up to 30,000 tons, a rare advantage for an inland river port.
There is a popular saying that Ho Chi Minh City is 30 years behind Taiwan and Thailand and Hanoi is 30 years behind Ho Chi Minh City. The last part of this saying may be true but Ho Chi Minh City still has a long way to go catch of Bangkok or Taipei, and that is not all bad. Although it has its share of glass-and-steel buildings and billboards advertising foreign brands, old neighborhoods remain and goods enter they center by way of dozens of canals that lace the city. Hawkers on the streets offer everything from ear cleaning to pirated DVDs.
Emily Brady wrote in the New York Times, “With only three centuries of history, compared with Hanoi’s thousand years, the city has a youthful spirit and is quick to embrace change. This is not the Saigon familiar to the West in films like “Apocalypse Now”; it’s a forward-looking city, home to glittering skyscrapers, innovative fashion and a pulsing night life. As Vietnam’s largest city, it has an energy and noise level that can be at once exhilarating and wearying. Sure, you can still catch an occasional glimpse of picture-postcard Vietnam, like an old woman in a conical hat pedaling a bicycle, but she’ll most likely be lost in a sea of motorbikes, rumbling toward the future. [Source: Emily Brady, New York Times, December 18, 2008]
According to the New Yorker” Ho Chi Minh Cityis a single-mindedly commercial place. Lined with pushcarts and venders selling everything from soup to CDs, the streets are roaring rivers of Chinese two-stroke motorcycles. The exhaust fumes are so thick that Saigon’s famously beautiful women have started covering their faces with scarves. “We are all Muslims now,” says Viet, my Honda man, on the back of whose motorcycle I travel around the city.
In a survey of 46 Asia-Pacific cities by the Hong Kong-based Business Traveler, Ho Chi Minh City was ranked as the No. 6 on the list of the ten worst cities in the region. Only Dhaka, Guangzhou, Delhi, Bombay and Karachi ranked lower. Yes, the air of Saigon is filthy and the canals are foul (some families draw drinking and washing water from the same canals where they relieve themselves and toss rotted vegetables), but trees and parks fill up much of the city and cyclos and bicycles still course through the streets, but they are overpowered by the million of motorcycles and motorcycles that have become symbols of Ho Chi Minh City rise. The population of Ho Chi Minh City is expected to rise to 12 million in 2020. The largest ethnic groups in the region are the Viet (Kinh, Vietnamese), Hoa, Khmer and Cham.
HISTORY OF HO CHI MINH CITY
Unlike old Hanoi, which was founded in A.D. 1010, Saigon was little more than a hamlet until 1859, when the French captured it and transformed it into the "Pearl of the Orient," a bustling center of commerce in what became known as French Cochin China. before the French took over the most important town in the area was Cochin, a town founded by Chinese in 1788. At that time merchants from China, Japan and many European countries would sail upstream the Saigon River to reach the islet of Pho, a trading center. Cochin is still around and so are the Chinese.
The Port of Saigon was established in 1862. In 1874, Cholon merged with Saigon, and this grew into the largest city in Indochina. During much the French colonial period Saigon was a lazy colonial outpost surrounded by rubber plantations. Saigon grew from about 400,000 people to one million during World War II when hundreds of thousands fled to the city during the Japanese occupation. After that war many of the 900,000 or so non-Communists that fled from North Vietnam after it was taken over by the Viet Minh fled there also.
Until 1975, Saigon was the capital and largest port in South Vietnam.After the arrival of the Americans in 1960s, Saigon expanded again, this time into a center of decadence and sin, filled with brothels with mini-skirted prostitutes and opium dens and gambling halls with marijuana-smoking and drug-taking GIs attempting to forget and exorcize their battlefield demons in intense bursts of reckless partying.
After the end of Vietnam war in 1975 the Communist tried to neuter Saigon's spirit by giving it a new name (Ho Chi Minh City), and outlawing anything that hinted of capitalism and the United States. For more than a decade Saigon slept. But when the market reforms were enacted in 1986, Saigon was reborn and the dealmakers, hucksters, drug dealers and prostitutes that prospered in the 1960s returned.
Today, Ho Chi Minh City accounts for one third of Vietnam's $15 billion economy, contributes one third of both the national budget and industrial output and takes in a third of foreign investment that flows into Vietnam. For a while the per capital income of Ho Chi Minh City was three times the national average. Money flows freely; deals are made around the clock; and capitalism has taken hold with an urgency that is not found in Hanoi.
Tourist Information: The central office of ????Saigon Tourist (Cong Ty Du Lich Thanh Pho) is located in downtown Ho Chi Minh City at 39 Le Thanh Ton Street at the corner of Dong Khoi Street (☎ 8230-100, 8295-834). Vietnam Tourism is at 234 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia (☎ 8291-276). These places operate more like travel agencies than tourist information offices.
There are also tourist information offices at Tan Son Nhat International Airport and at the railway station, but they usually don't have much stuff. Many budget traveler make travel arrangements through the Sing Cafe and other cafes and travel agencies s around the backpacker guesthouse area around Pham Ngu Lao Street. Ho Chi Minh City has tourist police.
Orientation: Ho Chi Minh City is divided into 12 urban districts and 6 rural districts. The districts in the city are numbered 1 through 12 and the districts in the rural districts are named after six revolutionary leaders: Go Vap, Binh Thanh, Thuc Duc, Nha Be, Tan Bihn and Phu Nhuan districts.
The streets have names and Western-style addresses. Most places of interest to tourists are on west side of the Saigon river from which canals and side rivers branch out across the city. Cholon (Chinatown) is located in a different area about three kilometers from the city center.
Most of the major top-end hotels are around city center on Tu Do Street and Nguyen Hue Street, which shoot out perpendicular from the river, and Le Loi Boulevard. Major landmarks include the Rex Hotel (intersection of Nguyen Hue and Le Loi Blvds), Notre Dame Basilica Cathedral (Tu Do Street), Ben Thanh Market (at a large roundabout on Le Loi Boulevard) and the Pham Ngu Lao Street backpacker area (about 500 meters southwest of Ben Thanh Market).
Administrative divisions: Districts: District 1, District 2, District 3, District 4, District 5, District 6, District 7, District 8, District 9, District 10, District 11, District 12, Tan Binh, Binh Thanh, Phu Nhuan, Thu Duc, Go Vap, Binh Tan,Tan Phu; Rural Districts: Nha Be, Can Gio Hoc Mon, Cu Chi Binh Chanh.
Climate: Ho Chi Minh City has a a subequatorial climate and is generally hot and humid. There are two distinctive seasons: the rainy season, from May to November, and the dry season, from December to April. The annual average temperature is 27 degrees C. Average monthly sunshine reaches from 160 to 270 hours, average humidity is 79.5 percent. April has the highest average monthly temperature (30.5 degrees C), December has the lowest (26 degrees C). The city has rainfall averaging around 1934 millimeters. In the May-to-November rainy It usually rains late in the of day, quite hard but for short time. Sometimes it continually rains all day.
Tour and Travel Agencies: The Vietnam and Saigon Tourist Offices can supply you with a list tour operators in Hanoi as well as make arrangements for a car with an English-speaking driver and guide.
For Other Kinds of Information such as lists of hotels, restaurants, tour agencies, post offices, telephone offices, shops, bookstores, night clubs, sports places, theaters, swimming pools, embassies, churches, and airline agents, maps, hospitals, pharmacies, car rentals and bike and moped rentals, consult the Lonely Planet Guides.
ENTERTAINMENT IN HO CHI MINH CITY
Ho Chi Minh City is said to have the have most lively nightlife in the Communist world. Much of the city's upscale nightspots are centered around the top-end hotels on Dong Khoi Street. Here you can find bistros, fancy restaurants, cafes and nightclubs frequented by expatriates, such as the Q-Tip, which is located underneath the 95-year-old Municipal Theater.
There is a lively nightclub scene along Thi Sach and Hai Ba Trung. Many discos, karaokes and nightclubs are found in the large hotels. The backpacker scene is centered around Pham Ngu Lao Street, where Vietnamese used to sometimes take walks to gawk at the foreigners. The Municipal Theater (also known as the Opera House, Nha Thanh Pho) hosts concerts and cultural events. During the day, water puppet performances can be seen at the War Remnants Museum and traditional music can be seen at Reunification Palace.
Hoa Binh Theater (14 3 Thang 2 Boulevard, just outside Saigon) is an open air theater that hosts pop concerts on Saturday night. Water Puppet shows are also held here. On the weekends many young people head to soirée dansantes (dancehalls) at hotel and nightclubs, which cater to people with money. There is usually a live band and they play a mix of Vietnamese, Western and dance hall songs. Expatriates and Vietnamese yuppies haunt Apocalypse Now. A Hard Rock Cafe opened in the mid 2000s. Superbowl is a $13.5 million two-story complex with a 32-lane bowling alley, shopping mall, video arcade and fast food court. Bowlers pay up to $4 a head, a lot of money in Vietnam, to bowl and listen to loud pop music. On the some weekends the main source of entertainment is motorbike racing and fleeing the police.
Ho Chi Minh City has a reputation for raunchy entertainment that dates back to the Vietnam War era. After the arrival of the Americans in 1960s, Saigon became into a center of decadence and sin, filled with brothels with mini-skirted prostitutes and opium dens and gambling halls with marijuana-smoking and drug-taking GIs attempting to forget and exorcize their battlefield demons in intense bursts of reckless partying. After the end of Vietnam war in 1975 the Communist tried to neuter Saigon's decadence by outlawing anything that hinted of capitalism and the United States. For more than a decade Saigon slept. But when the market reforms were enacted in 1986, Saigon was reborn and the gambling halls, drug dealers and prostitutes that prospered in the 1960s returned.
On the entertainment that might appeal to travelers with a little money, Emily Brady wrote in the New York Times, “After serving stiff cocktails and eclectic music to expats for a decade, the ever-popular Vasco’s (74/7D Hai Ba Trung Street; 84-8-3824-2888) this year moved to nicer digs. At its new location in a tiny alley, the outdoor balcony is great for chatting, while indoors it’s all about the music, which can range from visiting French D.J.’s to Vietnamese rap. If the music isn’t to your taste, duck into one of the sedate bars downstairs, where you’ll find a lot of French and other expats sipping wine. [Source: Emily Brady, New York Times, December 18, 2008]
“Push through the lavender doors of L’Apothiquaire Artisan Beauté (61-63 Le Thanh Ton Street; 84-8-3822-1218; www.lapothiquaire.com) and be greeted by the soothing sound of flute music and a cup of anti-stress herbal tea. This tiny day spa feels straight out of Provence, though the motorbikes buzzing by the front doors are a distinct reminder that you’re still in Saigon. The spa offers a range of body treatments, including mud wraps ($30) and 75-minute Swedish-style relaxation massages ($37). There are also house-brand aromatherapy beauty products for sale, along with the anti-stress tea, in case the soothing effects of the massage wear off.
“ At Cage (3A Ton Duc Thang Street; 84-8-3910-7053), a chic new club that opened in June 2007, the namesake birdcages are suspended around crystal chandeliers and filled with votive candles as table decorations. Live music is offered five nights a week. On a recent visit, a Vietnamese singer belted out Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi.” A few hours later, a D.J. got the expats and Vietnamese on their feet with salsa music. For those craving privacy, there are little nooks off to the side, filled with plush purple couches and veiled by long lavender tassels.
“In Vietnam, coffee is brewed directly into your cup through a small, metal filter. Add ice and sweet condensed milk and you have a café sua da, an antidote to the thick heat and the perfect way to refuel. At Café Terrace (65 Le Loi Street; 84-8-3821-4958), a trendy spot in the city’s center, you can drink your coffee (30,000 dong, or $1.70 at 17,647 dong to the dollar) outside beneath an umbrella, or retreat to the stylish, air-conditioned interior, decorated with red curtains, vases of white lilies and lots of pretty people lounging in comfy chairs.
Phu Tho Turf Club was built in 1932, shut down during the war, and turned into a Sports and Education College for training athletic coaches after the liberation of Saigon in 1975. In 1989 it was reopened as a state-run horse track with privately-owned horses and an archaic wagering system that offers only exacta betting. About 5,000 people show up on Saturday and Sunday afternoon for a seven-race card.
A calendar of events may be obtained from the tourist offices. Make sure to check out Time Out, the weekly entertainment supplement of the Vietnam Investment Review. It is available foe $2.50 at newsstands. Also check the Ho Chi Minh City newspapers, the Lonely Planet Books, bulletin boards at the traveler cafes, and posters put up around town.
RESTAURANTS IN HO CHI MINH CITY
Vietnamese food, French food, French-Vietnamese food, Chinese food, Italian food, Thai food, Japanese food, Indian food, Korean food and other international cuisines are all available in Ho Chi Minh City. The city’s first McDonald's opened in January 2014. If you want to try a local version on the same vein there is the Ma nhat tan pizza and several homegrown burger joint). On the Saigon River there are several expensive floating restaurants, including one shaped like a huge whale. The tourist offices in Saigon may be able to provide you with a list of restaurants organized by national cuisine. Also check lists of restaurants in the Saigon newspapers, the Lonely Planet books and other guidebooks.
A good place to sample Vietnamese food is at the numerous small restaurants and food stalls in and around Ben Thanh and Binh Tay markets. For good Chinese (and Vietnamese food) head of Cholon (Chinatown). Mueseli, banana pancakes, ice cream and cheeseburgers can be had around Pham Ngu Lao Street. Noodle soup stalls and sidewalk eateries are everywhere. Jeremy Laurance wrote in The Independent, “Outside the Rex hotel in the center of Saigon the evening rush hour is a scene of motorised pandemonium.... As darkness falls, clusters of tiny plastic tables and stools spread across the pavements - improvised street-side restaurants to feed the armies of office workers. The acrid smell of pigs' trotters seared over charcoal braziers beside pans of meat bubbling on spirit burners fills the humid night air. [Source: Jeremy Laurance, The Independent, February 27, 2006]
The best restaurants are generally located in the large hotels or around Dong Khoi Street. Emily Brady wrote in the New York Times, “What happens when you gather Saigon’s finest street chefs in one location? Enjoy finding out at Quan An Ngon (138 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia; 84-8-3825-7179), an open-air restaurant with one menu listing each chef’s specialty. The place bustles at night with locals and in-the-know foreigners waiting for Vietnamese classics like bun cha — vermicelli with minced pork balls and fresh herbs — and green papaya salad with shrimp (24,000 dong each). Fortunately, there are a lot of tables, so the line moves quickly. For dessert, don’t miss the che suong sa hot luu (10,000 dong), an oddly delicious combination of coconut milk, tapioca pearls, water chestnuts and jelly worms, served in a tall glass over crushed ice. [Source: Emily Brady, New York Times, December 18, 2008]
“Follow the trail of lanterns up the dimly lit stairs to Temple Club (29-31 Ton That Thiep Street; 84-8-3829-9244), an elegant restaurant. The place has a colonial feel, with white tablecloths, whirling fans and antique silverware to accompany the chopsticks, but most of its menu is distinctly Vietnamese. Favorites include grilled beef on lemongrass skewers and fish wrapped in banana leaf (120,000 dong).”
Alan Richman wrote in Conde Nast Traveler, “From the coffee lounge of the Rex, I rode the elevator to the roof and ordered my usual: imperial spring rolls, Saigon style. These are crunchy-fatty little rolls stuffed with pork and shrimp, wrapped in lettuce leaves, and dipped in the all-purpose, slightly sweet/slightly spicy, clear Vietnamese fish sauce. The spring rolls were as good as ever. [Source: Alan Richman, Conde Nast Traveler, December 2005]
“ The rooftop bar wasn't. The cats and the topiary are gone. Saigon has fabulous passageways, which double as odd little food courts. Banh Xeo appears to have taken over an entire alley, plus a lot of the houses in it, with indoor and outdoor seating for about 200. It's an alley empire. The name of the restaurant is also the name of a Vietnamese crêpe that's the specialty of the house. There's more on the menu, but everybody eats banh xeo until they're stuffed. The crêpe, or maybe it's more like a pancake, is filled with bean sprouts, pork, and shrimp and is about a foot long. The idea is to rip off a chunk, place it on a mustard green, pile on fragrant herbs, wrap, and dip in fish sauce. It's great that way, but in my opinion it's even better without so many herbs—the Vietnamese tend to over-accessorize. Leave out some of the greenery and you taste the shrimp and the pork and the unbelievable pancake, which is cooked in blackened pans by little old ladies squatting in front of charcoal fires.
“No single dish I ate in Saigon beat that, but for entertainment value, the restaurant Com Nieu Sai Gon is better. It's in another passageway, and yet it's oddly formal, with air-conditioning and a few chandeliers. The food is perfectly good, but the lure is rice charcoal-grilled in a clay pot. The pot is removed from the fire and smashed, and then the rice is scooped up with a paddle and flung across the room. It arcs high over the heads of patrons and is caught on another paddle. The airborne voyage separates the rice from the remaining shards of clay, a flavor-enhancing technique that would surely be impossible in a country with liability laws.
“For those who do not embrace alleys, Deetz suggested the staid Hoang Yen, in the heart of touristy Saigon, between the Grand and the Renaissance hotels. In France, Hoang Yen would be called a bistro; in Italy, a trattoria. It has air-conditioning, tablecloths, and cushioned chairs. It appears unremarkable, and yet it's always crowded but never with tourists. I ate alone, ordered too much, and cleaned every plate. I had shrimp steamed in coconut milk and served in a hollowed-out coconut; a huge grilled prawn that cried out to be eaten with knife and fork; spinachlike morning glory sautéed with garlic; and best of all, fish cooked in a clay pot. I asked for catfish, and my waiter, who spoke a few words of English, pointed to the knuckle of his hand and said, "Bony."
“He recommended the bulbul instead. I hesitated. I always thought a bulbul was a bird. Still, he hadn't tried switching me to the mudfish, and that meant he had my best interests at heart. Here was great eating. The fish was soft, well-cooked, and sweetly caramelized. Pickled vegetables and bean sprouts cut through the honeyed richness. The last of Deetz's irresistible restaurants was Quan An Ngon, which has embraced street food in a way I find acceptable: by bringing the vendors inside. They've set up a kind of perimeter around a gutted old French villa. The food is ordered from a menu, brought by a waiter, and tallied on a computer. Seating is both indoors and out, but the place is so hectic, the bustle so intense, that I really wasn't certain whether we were under a roof or not. The food is basically Vietnam's greatest hits, and the "shaken beef"’stir-fried cubes accompanied by a lime/salt/pepper dipping sauce—was the only beef dish I ate on my trip that I liked. The highlight of the meal was a cool after-dinner drink of jelly, sesame seeds, water chestnuts, and tapioca in sweetened coconut milk. Southeast Asian dessert drinks, sometimes called cold soups, are Asia's top refreshers.”
SHOPPING IN HO CHI MINH CITY
The two largest municipal markets in Ho Chi Minh City are Ben Thanh Market (at a large roundabout on Le Loi Boulevard) and the Binh Tay market (in Cholon near the Cha Tam Church). Ben Thanh Market is a good place to stop on the day before your flight leaves for one-stop souvenir shopping. Other good places to shop for souvenirs, gifts, and interesting items are Cholon (Chinatown) and Pham Ngu Lao Street. On the Rach Ben Nghe, an arm of the Saigon river, there is lively floating market, with peasants countryside who arrive in boats from the Mekong Delta and other places and sell fruits, vegetables, cheap consumer goods and other items. In the tourist areas, visitors are often assaulted by street vendors selling cigarettes, chewing gum, postcards, lighters and other items.
Dong Khoi Street has long been home to some of the city’s finest shopping. Formerly known as Rue Catinat) and immortalized in Graham Greene's novel The Quiet American and once the most fashionable French street in Asia, it is lined with bookstores, new offices, hotels, restaurants upscale shops, bistros, cafes and nightclubs frequented by expatriates. Up until 60 years ago it was called Rue Catinat. Dong Khoi means “Uprising Street” and before that, it was called Freedom Street. The shops sell lacquerware, silk clothes, souvenirs, jewelry, silver items, Vietnam War paraphernalia and hill tribes crafts. A pleasant place to sit outside and have a beer and watch the street life go by is across from the National Assembly. Up the street from Lam Son Square is the General Post office, a building designed by Gustave Eiffel. For More See the Article on Sights in Ho Chi Minh City
Emily Brady wrote in the New York Times: “In colonial times, it was known as Rue Catinat, and was where the narrator in “The Lover,” by Marguerite Duras, claimed she bought her infamous felt hat. Today, it’s a great place to window shop, home to more silk and handicraft stores than hat shops, not to mention tailors. In a country where custom-made clothing is an affordable luxury, tailors abound. For one with panache and a 24-hour turnaround, duck into Tricia & Verona (39 Dong Du Street; 84-8-3824-4556; www.triciaandverona.com). This boutique and workshop is run by two sisters who have Anglicized their names to reflect their more Western sense of style — namely, more daring cuts. Summer dresses start at $34, men’s suits at $160. [Source: Emily Brady, New York Times, December 18, 2008]
Ben Thanh Market (at the intersection of Le Loi Avenue, Ham Nghi Avenue, Tran Hung Dao Avenue and Le Lai Street, 700 meters south-west of the Rex Hotel) was situated near the Ben Nghe River Dike. After being moved many times, it is now standing in the center of the city where consumers can conveniently find all sorts of products. According to Vuong Hong Sen, author of "the book Saigon of the Past", in 1912, the French filled a pond, the Boresse, into a solid foundation of 12,000 square meters and built a market on it. The market was close to a landing stage (Ben) of the old city (Thanh), hence its name of Ben Thanh. The opening ceremony for the market in March 1914 was a big festive event.
Ben Thanh Market is housed in shedlike building with four entrances. At present, the front of Ben Thanh Market faces Quach Thi Trang Square; its rear faces Le Thanh Ton Street; its right, Phan Chu Trinh Street and its left, Phan Boi Chau Street. At all of its four sides, there are bustling trading shops. Ben Thanh Market is always loaded with varieties of goods, such as consumer goods, cakes and candies, food and foodstuff, and particularly high-quality fruit and vegetables.
R.W. Apple Jr. wrote in the New York Times, “By the door stand piles of rice from several provinces, some with large grains, some with small grains, some darker, some lighter, each with a wholly different aroma. Down the aisle are banks of vividly green herbs and vegetables, with their hyperintense Asian scents and tastes, stunningly fresh despite the lack of refrigeration because they arrive direct from their growers in the middle of the night. Many of the vegetables are Asian natives - bumpy bitter melons, lotus stems, long beans, banana flowers, luffa squashes and pungent Chinese celery. But others are European transplants - delicacies like baby cress, escarole, miniature artichokes and exquisite asparagus. [Source: R.W. Apple Jr., New York Times, September 5, 2003]
“Over there is a cauliflower the size of a basketball. Over here are mounds of delectable, unfamiliar fruit - enormous knobby durians, which smell like rotting cheese but taste like rich custard, and spiny little soursops, which yield a sweet-and-tart juice that makes an unforgettable sorbet, and lipstick-pink dragon fruit. Breadfruit. Jackfruit. Custard apples. Tamarind pods. On the other side of a partition are caged chickens and other fowl, squawking noisily, and all kinds of sea creatures - iced squid, crabs tied with red ropes, clams the size of silver dollars with ridged shells, carp swimming in basins and tiger prawns that look as ferocious as their namesakes, all overseen by a raucous corps of vendors in rubber boots.”
Binh Tay Market (in Cholon at Tran Hung Dao Street, District 5, near the Cha Tam Church) has a lively atmosphere and lots of good buys. Emily Brady wrote in the New York Times: “For everything from fermented duck eggs to flip-flops, head to Binh Tay Market, a rambling market laid out like an Arab souk and far less touristy than the Ben Thanh Market downtown. Situated between Thap Muoi and Phan Van Khoe Streets, the market is divided into sections that contain everything one might need to run a household, from kitchenware, to cloth, to candied fruit. Pushy peddlers are almost nonexistent; some merchants even nap in hammocks between customers. Toward the back, you can grab lunch, like a tasty bowl of seafood noodle soup at one of the many stalls (18,000 dong) and listen to a rooster crow in the nearby butcher section (not for the squeamish). [Source: Emily Brady, New York Times, December 18, 2008]
Art Galleries: There are about a dozen first-rate art galleries scattered around town. Well known ones in the early 2000s included Gallery Saigon (5 Ton Duc Thang), in a garden near the waterfront; the Blue Space in the Art Museum (1 le Thi Hong Gmay Pho Duc Chinh Street), with works by young artists; Gallery of Tran Hau Tuan (14 Ly Chinh Thang), where the artist Tran Hau Tuan sells his own work; Phai Memory House (next to the Gallery of Tran Hau Tuan), dedicated to Bui Xuan Phai, a famous realist painter who died in 1988; and the Photographers's Association (122 Suong Nguyet Street)
Ho Chi Minh City is famous for its copyists who can do credible Rembrandts, da Vinces. Picassos, Monets and Van Goghs. The artist tend to congregate in the alleys of the central business district, around the Thanh Hoa Gallery on Le Loi Street. The artists dipslay their works of art and will paint any painting you give them. You can have changes and improvements made to great masterpieces. A credible Van Gogh cost about $50. Large works can cost several hundred dollars.
ACCOMMODATION IN HO CHI MINH CITY
Most of the top-end hotels are around the Rex Hotel (at the intersection of Nguyen Hue and Le Loi Blvds, (141 Nguyen Hue Boulevard; 84-8-3829-2185; www.rexhotelvietnam.com). The Rex was a famous officer and journalist hang out in the Vietnam War. Other famous hotels include the Continental (featured in Graham Greene's novel The Quiet American ) and the Floating Hotel (towed from Australia to the banks of the Saigon River). Developers from Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and elsewhere built more than a dozen hotels that opened since the late 1990s. One is a five star luxury hotel with a $1,000-a night presidential suite. More hotels of the same ilk have been built since then.
Most backpackers and budget travelers stay around Pham Ngu Lao Street (about 500 meters southwest of Ben Thanh Market). There are several dozen of guesthouses, mini-hotels and hotels here as well as restaurants, shops and travel agents that offer reasonably-priced tours. Other hotels and guesthouses are scattered around town.
The tourist office in Ho Chi Minh City and the hotel information desk at the airport can help you find three star hotels and up. The Lonely Planet books have good lists and descriptions of cheap accommodation options. Hotel touts often wait outside the airport and train station for new arrivals. Taxis drivers can take you some place if you are stuck.
Saigon has a Marriot, Hyatt and Ramada Inn. The ultra-swank Caravelle Hotel (19 Lam Son Square; 84-8-3823-4999; www.caravellehotel.com) overlooks the opera house and the Saigon River, and has 335 sleek rooms, starting at about $230. In the early 2000s the Caravelle Hotel was rebuilt and looks like a Hyatt.
Across the square is the historic Continental Hotel (132-134 Dong Khoi Street; 84-8-3829-9201; www.continental-saigon.com). Founded by a Frenchman in 1880, the hotel was a popular watering hole for journalists during the war. It has high ceilings and lots of carved wood. Rooms start at $125. It was remodeled and lost some of its charm More modest digs include the modern Elios Hotel (233 Pham Ngu Lao Street; 84-8-3838-5584; www.elioshotel.vn), a new, 90-room guesthouse overlooking a leafy park in Pham Ngu Lao, the backpacker district. Rooms with a view start at $80, including breakfast. See Famous Hotels Under Sights.
TRANSPORTATION IN HO CHI MINH CITY
Taxis, cyclos and motorcycle taxis are cheap available. Don't bother with the buses. Jeremy Laurance wrote in The Independent, “Outside the Rex hotel in the center of Saigon the evening rush hour is a scene of motorised pandemonium. Tens of thousands of scooters sweep along the six- lane highways, blithely ignoring the rules of the road, like herds of migrating wildebeest across the Serengeti plains.[Source: Jeremy Laurance, The Independent, February 27, 2006]
Ho Chi Minh City is not nearly as bicycle friendly as Hanoi. Even so, there are many places that rent bicycles around Pham Ngu Lao Street. They charge about a few dollars a day and accept a driver license as a deposit.
Ho Chi Minh City is the main junction for trains, roads, water, and air transportation systems for domestic trips and for foreign destination. By road Ho Chi Minh City is 1,730 kilometers from Hanoi, 99 kilometers from Tay Ninh, 30 kilometers from Bien Hoa (Dong Nai), 70 kilometers from My Tho, 125 kilometers from Vung Tau, 168 kilometers from Can Tho, 308 kilometers from Dalat, and 375 kilometers from Buon Ma Thuot. National Highway 13 connects Ho Chi Minh City with the rest of Indochina.
Train: Thong Nhat express train connects Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, vie many provinces in Vietnam. The Saigon Railway Station (ga Sai Gon) is located is District 3 at 1 Nguyen Thong. See Trains.
Ho Chi Minh City Domestic Airport: Tan Son Nhat International Airport, seven kilometers from center of city, is the biggest airport in Vietnam with many domestic and international routes. Airport to City transport: VND 50,000 (Taxi); Vietnam Airlines Sales Office: 116 Nguyen Hue Street, District 1, Tel: 3823 0695; Fax: 3823 0273. See Airports.
Domestic Flights from Ho Chi Minh City: Buon Ma Thuot , 23 flights/ week, Vietnam Airlines, 162, 261, 01h00'14 flights/ week, Air Mekong, 00h50'; Ca Mau , Daily, Vietnam Airlines, 154, 248, 01h50'12 flights/ week, Vasco, 01h00'; Chu Lai, Daily, Air Mekong, 01h40'; Can Tho , 5 flights/ week, Vietnam Airlines, 81, 130, 00h45'; Con Dao , 14 flights/ week, Vietnam Airlines, 154, 248, 01h00'14 flights/ week, Air Mekong, 00h45'24 flights/ week, Vasco, 01h00'Da Lat, 14 flights/ week, Vietnam Airlines, 133, 214, 00h50'Daily, Air Mekong, 00h45'; Danang , 70 flights/ week, Vietnam Airlines, 375, 604, 01h10'; Dong Hoi , 4 flights/ week, Vietnam Airlines, 463, 745, 01h35'; Nha Trang , 28 flights/ week, Vietnam Airlines, 198, 319, 00h55'; Hai Phong , 28 flights/ week, Vietnam Airlines, 691, 1,112, 02h00'; Hanoi , 30 flights/ week, Vietnam Airlines, 707, 1,138, 02h00'Hue, 25 flights/ week, Vietnam Airlines, 392, 631, 01h20'; Pleiku , 14 flights/ week, Vietnam Airlines238, 383, 01h05'Daily, Air Mekong, 00h55'; Phu Quoc , 72 flights/ week, Vietnam Airlines, 188, 303, 01h00'30 flights/ week, Air Mekong, 00h50'; Rach Gia , Daily, Vietnam Airlines, 120, 193, 00h45'; Quy Nhon , 8 flights/ week, Vietnam Airlines, 268, 431, 01h10'Daily, Air Mekong01h05'; Tam Ky , 4 flights/ week, Vietnam Airlines, 347, 558, 01h40'; Tuy Hoa , Daily, Vietnam Airlines, 238, 383, 01h15'Daily, Vasco, 01h15'; Vinh , 21 flights/ week, Vietnam Airlines, 549, 884, 01h45'.
Bus Stations: Many travelers sign up for buses at the Sinh Cafe and other cafes, guest houses, hotels and travel agencies in the Pham Ngu Lao Street backpacker area. Otherwise, there are thee major long distance bus terminals: Cholon Station (near Binh Tay Market) and Mien Tay Bus Station (near Cholon Station) handles buses to the Mekong Delta; Mien Dong Station (3 miles form the city center in Binh Thanh District) handles to Hanoi, Hue, Pleiku and other destinations in the north.
Bus Stations: 1) An Suong Station, Address: Highway 22, Ba Diem, Hoc Mon Dist., Tel: 3891 8798, For buses to Tay Ninh; 2) Ben Thanh Station, Address: Ham Nghi Road, Dist.1, Tel: 3821 7182, For buses to Vung Tau City and Cu Chi Dist. 3) Cho Lon Station, Address: 86 Trang Tu Str., Dist. 5, Tel: 3855 7719, For buses to Mytho City and My Thuan (Mekong Delta). 4) Mien Dong Station, Address: 227/6 Highway 13, Binh Thanh Dist. Tel: 3898 4899, For buses to the north andVung Tau City. 5) Mien Tay Station, Address: 137 Hung Vuong Str., Binh Chanh Dist. Tel: 3877 6593. For buses to the south and Mekong Delta.
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated May 2014