Alice Sullivan is an aspiring writer currently based in Prague as an English teacher. She has travelled to 25 countries and counting!
Ho Chi Minh City (also known as Saigon) was one of my favourite cities in South East Asia. I am indecisive, so I call many parts of my trip my favourite. Every place has its charm and I have good memories from most places I visited. Most of my time here was spent partying on the pub crawl for my hostel job, but I loved exploring different parts of the city on the back of motorbikes, learning Vietnamese history and trying new foods every day. Here are some things I would recommend trying while visiting this wonderful city.
War Remnants Museum
This may seem like a bit of a somber start but, it is important to learn about the history of the countries you visit. Local museums show historic events from the point of view of the country and Vietnam has such a tragic history. This is especially important if you are from the USA where you might have heard a very one-sided account of The Vietnam War.
Some of the photographs in the museum are horrifying and upsetting. It was emotional and intense. I actually cried while walking around. It opened up some fascinating and insightful conversations with the American man I visited with.
He is a veteran and his grandfather served in the Vietnam war. We talked about how it definitely changed his perspective on what he learned previously about the war and he questioned why his grandfather encouraged him to join the military after seeing such atrocities. A lot of Vietnam War veterans refuse to talk about their experiences and from the things I discovered, it is clear why.
Saigon Central Post Office
Another popular tourist destination in Saigon is the Post Office. This may seem like a strange "must-see" attraction, but it is another look into Vietnam's interesting history. The design is very European, due to Vietnam being colonized by the French (something I didn't know until I visited).
There are plenty of opportunities here to write and post your own letters or postcards. We bought stamps and sent postcards home when we visited, which was a lovely end to our visit.
Also, the Saigon Notre-Dame is next-door to the post office and is once again something I was not expecting from Vietnam. It was under construction when I visited, but it is another reminder of Vietnam's past from before the Vietnam War.
Cu Chi Tunnels
This is one of the most popular day trips from Ho Chi Minh and I arranged my trip with a few guys in my hostel dorm. It only cost 160,000 VND for the day, which includes transport, entry, and a tour guide.
This is a much more hands-on way to learn about the history of Vietnam. You will get a chance to go down in the tunnels built by Vietnamese soldiers and learn about the many clever ways they would trap, attack, and avoid capture from the American soldiers.
There is also an opportunity to shoot an AK-47 at the shooting range, but I didn't do that. Guns scare me. I didn't even like sitting and waiting for others in my group to do it. It generally freaked me out. The placement of the cafe next to the gun shooting range was questionable, but the smoothies are good.
I liked Vietnamese food before I visited the country, but I tried so many amazing things during my time here. Summer rolls with peanut sauce, pho and banh xeo (a savoury crepe) were my favourites. Although, sitting outside of a local restaurant on the tiny stools takes a while to get used to.
Tofu and vegetables braised in clay pots with delicious sauces were always a safe option for vegans and vegetarians, but Vietnam was one of the most vegan-friendly countries I visited. "Chay" means vegetarian in Vietnamese, but they don't often use dairy in their food so many of the dishes are actually vegan. Just check there is no eg..
I found a vegan restaurant called Healthy Farm where you choose the ingredients to create your own noodle dish. It was kind-of similar to Subway, but for noodles. The noodle soup options in Veggie Saigon were mind-blowing. The hot and sour soup was a favourite!
You could also find some home comforts in the restaurants in Saigon. Filthy Vegan is a vegan junk-food restaurant with many options for burgers, pizzas, hot dogs and desserts. The restaurant is owned and ran by a British man who lived in Vietnam for many years. He is friendly, and I always felt at home visiting, especially around Christmas. I was able to have a fully vegan Christmas dinner which I wasn't expecting to get to have that year.
Bui Vien Street
The majority of my time in Saigon was spent drinking on Bui Vien Street. It is loud and chaotic. I love it! I used to work on a pub crawl where I took tourists to 3 bars on this street and get drunk. The street is filled with a variety of bars, clubs, and restaurants, but there are also street food stalls and people just performing karaoke on the side of the road with machines. They love their karaoke in Vietnam!! Make sure to stop at a banh mi stall. It's a Vietnamese specialty. A baguette sandwich usually filled with meat and vegetables, but you can choose which options you want.
Two nights come to mind when I think of my highlights of Ho Chi Minh. New Year was insane. Everyone was setting off confetti canons out of the windows on the street at the countdown to midnight and the Vietnamese really know how to celebrate. Then, there was the night where Vietnam won the South East Asia Games (a football tournament) and the sounds of vuvuzelas echoed throughout the city. Cars and motorbikes had Vietnamese flags waving on the back with horns honking wildly. We all had flags painted on our face and we made red and yellow shots to drink every time Vietnam scored a goal.
If the chaos isn't your thing, you could visit one of the many rooftop bars in Saigon. There are a few on the Bui Vien Street which offer a view of the madness below from a distance. Chill Skybar is on the more expensive side, but the cocktails are amazing.
The big cities in Asia aren't often favourited among the backpackers I meet. It is understandable to prefer the beach or the mountains, but I personally enjoy the cities just as much. Ho Chi Minh City can be overwhelming, but it was my introduction to Vietnam and holds a special place in my heart. I would love to be back there, drinking a bucket of gin and tonic on a rooftop without a care in the world.
© 2020 Alice Sullivan
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on December 06, 2020:
I will probably never go there but enjoyed reading your article.
Liz Westwood from UK on December 05, 2020:
This is a well-structured, informative and well-illustrated article. You make the case for visiting very well.