If there is one unplanned vacation I had this year, this was last February when I went to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam (formerly Saigon).  This post is delayed due to an overlapping and busy work schedule and other extra-curricular activities.  Nevertheless, I am finally posting this to share with you some insights of what Ho Chi Minh City is all about and what to expect in the country, in general.

aerial view of HCMC at 1AM

This is my second visit to this side of the country and so everything else becomes familiar.  Although I only had a stopover on my first visit (year 2009) as my friends and I were actually bound for Cambodia, I had a short glimpse of what to expect and discover more in this city.  That being said, I came up with the top ten list that may serve as guide to know that you are in Ho Chi Minh City.

1.  When motorcyles become indispensable to the naked eye. 

There's no escaping for motorcycles and scooters to be part of the hustle and bustle of this laid-back city.  As a traveller, I have always wandered through walking and so in this city, crossing the streets becomes a challenge and an adventure to await.  Crossing the streets is basically comparable to walking in EDSA in the Philippines.  I am not a good pedestrian crosser, yet, I know confidence is a must in this act.  And admittedly, because I am not good at crossing streets, my tip is for you to follow and go behind with the locals when they cross the street.  Never change course at an instant as this will prove to be fatal.  Walk with confidence - this principle is literally applicable in crossing the streets of Ho Chi Minh City.

Because wandering within the city by foot is my game plan, I would not be able to vouch if the experience on riding rickshaws, motorcycles or scooters would make a difference.  Nevertheless, if you want to splurge more money while getting acquainted with the city, then, there are rented motorbikes and scooters available on the sidewalks of the city, specifically on District 1.

2.  When Filipinos get chances of becoming an instant millionaire.

Many who have been to Vietnam vouched and attested that surely a Filipino can be a millionaire.  True enough, when we exchanged our currency notes to Vietnamese dong --- an instant millionaire was born.  Just a reminder: you should bring US dollars in the country as the Philippine peso bills cannot be exchanged for Vietnames dong here.  At the Terminal Airport back in the Philippines, change all your Philippine-peso currency notes to US dollars.  It's better to be safe than feel sorry for not having enough Vietnamese currency to spend with.

Estimated conversion is 1USD = 22,000 VND. So, if a product/service costs 100,000 VND, it is approximately 195 pesos in our currency.  Rates definitely fluctuate so be cautious.  As for our initial pocket money, we only exchanged 100USD which is equivalent to 2.12 million in Vietnamese Dong.  There's a little bit of culture shock in here as you get to spend millions and bills costs thousands.  But, don't worry they don't cost that much when converted to our own currency.

3.  When spring rolls is a mainstay in every dining table.

Restaurants, hotels, cafes, inns and even sidewalks offer a variety of sping rolls.  On whatever presentation and method of cooking it may be, it indeed tastes differently and pleasing to one's appetite.  A gastronomic experience in Viet Nam would never be complete without trying their spring rolls.

Boulevard Resto spring rolls

spring rolls wrapper exhibited at the Cu Chi Tunnels

Allez Boo Cafe and Resto
4.  When hardworking street vendors and peddlers are visibile.

Arts, crafts, vegetables, fruits, lacquers, paintings and various wares, name it and the streets of Ho Chi Minh City has it.  Our tour on the city was mainly through an endless walking and so, with this, we were able to look closely at how livelihood and everyday living is for the locals.  The streets are manned by hardworking Vietnamese selling their local produce.  On one of our museum tours, I was able to buy a pair of rubber slippers (being an avid collector of various "tsinelas")  from a sidewalk vendor.  Luckily, this was the last design of its kind, which is so cheap yet durable.

  5.  When architectural landmarks are of French-colonial origin.

Due to the French colonization of Ho Chi Minh City, the architectural landmarks have been greatly influenced by their style and character.  Roaming around the city will present you structures and main establishments both for religion and politics immersed in the style of the French-colonial designs.  To name a few, it includes the Municipal Theatre, The Central Post Office, the People's Committee Building and of course, the famous Notre Dame Basilica, which are all of french-colonial design.  I consider the latter as the most photographed of these architectural landmarks.

the Central Post Office

the People's Committee Building

the Notre Dame Basilica

the Municipal Theater

closer look at the Notre Dame Basilica

6.  When museums are all war-themed.

All museums we have visited are basically centered on the atrocities and struggle of the Vietnamese soldiers against its invaders.  Their people take pride in this and have it preserved in this various museums and exhibits around the city.  The locations are tourist-friendly, as this is just a walk from one museum to the other.  Maps would definitely be a great help in this tour.  Apart from the Cu-Chi Tunnels, these museums include:

War Remnants Museum
28 Vo Van Tan, in District 3, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City Museum
2 Nguyen Binh Khiem Street, Ben Nghe Ward, District 1, in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

The Fine Arts Museum
97 Pho Duc Chinh, phường Nguyễn Thái Bình, Ho Chi Minh City

The Reunification Palace
 135 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Even The Fine Arts Museum unexpectedly showcases paintings mainly themed on atrocities during the Vietnam War.  

7.  When Ho Chi Minh's image and sculptures are well-preserved and displayed in prominent establishments in the city.

Honestly, forgive me for my ignorance but I don't know who Ho Chi Minh was.  All I know is that, this is the name of one of the cities which proves to be my favorite.  And so, as per my research and for your reference, here is what I found at Wikipedia:  

Hồ Chí Minh (Vietnamese pronunciation: [hô̤ tɕǐmɪŋ]  ( listen), Chữ Nôm: 胡志明), born Nguyễn Sinh Cung and also known as Nguyễn Ái Quốc (19 May 1890 – 2 September 1969) was a Vietnamese Marxist revolutionary leader who was prime minister (1945–1955) and president (1945–1969) of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam). He formed the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and led the Việt cộng during the Vietnam War until his death.

This person must have made a great impact to the history and lives of every Vietnamese.  

at the Reunification Palace

in front of the People's Committee Building

8.  When great bargains for branded merchandise are available.

There are establishments in the city that would cater to visitors who love shopping.  And I am one of them.  You would love the city specifically for the low-priced branded items.  Here in the Philippines, when you visit shopping malls with average to high-income earners as its patrons, these branded goods definitely cost much and when you look closely at the labels, it is "made in Vietnam".  For my curiosity to be fed, I made a thorough research and ocular inspection.  And to my surprise, indeed prices in Viet Nam are so low with the same quality, design and brand sold in the Philippines.  These establishments just need to be researched well.  Note that bargaining skills is a must in Ho Chi Minh City.  This trait is truly one which every Filipino has, thus, this is not a problem for us.

One such venue is the Ben Than Market, situated at the center of the busy city.  Goods for sale are a variety to choose from, from fruits to dry goods and for low-priced souvenirs.  Being one of the busiest markets in the city, this is a must visit for every tourist.

Ben Than Market
Intersection of Le Loi, Ham Nghi, Tran Hung Dao Avenues and Le Lai Street, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

9.  When Highlands coffee are all over the city.

If you're looking for Starbucks coffee in the city, you will be disappointed.  They have their own local coffee shop which is also competitive as compared with other western coffee shops.  This is a good rendezvous for friends and good place for business meetings as well.  Since the said coffee shop is visible everywhere, it is important to be cautious of the exact address and try their local version of frappucino.  Wifi (internet usage) is free, which makes this shop tourist-friendly.

corner of De Tham and Pham Ngu Lau

refreshing fruit shakes at Highlands near Ben Than Market

10.  When proper diet and exercise is mandatory.

For practical travellers and wanderers, proper diet and exercise in the city is unwillingly obligatory.  

This is due to the city's cuisine which offers a healthy gastronomic experience and the mandatory walking which will always be a good exercise unless you opt for a more comfortable experience like riding rickshaws of over-priced fares. Popular landmarks are accessible from one to another so it would be impractical to ride taxi cabs.

Vietnamese cuisine from wikipedia:

Vietnamese cuisine is a style of cooking derived from Vietnam with fish sauce, soy sauce, rice, fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables all commonly used. Vietnamese recipes utilize a diverse range of herbs, including lemongrass, mint, Vietnamese mint, long coriander and Thai basil leaves. Traditional Vietnamese cooking is greatly admired for freshness of the ingredients and for the healthy eating style.

The most common meats used in Vietnamese cuisine are beef, pork, chicken, fish, and various kinds of seafood. The Vietnamese also have a strong vegetarian tradition influenced by Buddhist and Chinese values.

With the increasing popularity of Ho Chi Minh City as a tourist destination, I hope this would be of great help to those who wanted to explore the city.  This is just an insight of what to expect in the city.  Still, there are a lot more to discover.

You May Also Like


  1. Nice post.
    Continue spreading the Vietnamese culture and wonders.
    Vietnamitas en Madrid

  2. thank you very much for reading!

    I love Vietnam so much! In fact i'll be back again this April!