Our family had a wonderful time in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) or Saigon as it is still known. Ho Chi Minh was the city we began and ended our three week Vietnam vacation
HCMC is hot, busy and has an amazing vibe. It is a fantastic introduction to the busy Vietnam life and a great starting point to all the other adventures you will have in Vietnam.
We landed at the airport in HCMC which is 7km out from District One. There are so many taxis and private cars that can be hired when you are at the airport. We did not pre-organise any transport and organised a private van for about $10 on arrival and we also did the same trip in a taxi (Vinasun) and it was much cheaper. Read about preparing for Vietnam here.
There are hundreds of places to stay in Ho Chi Minh as well as huge price difference from hostels to 5 star hotels. I would suggest staying anywhere in District 1 as it is close to all the attractions and has myriads of food choices. We stayed in an Airbnb near the Walking Street, which, as much as I enjoyed the place and the atmosphere, the apartment was too loud from all the bars at night. When we returned to HCMC at the end of our trip, we stayed in the most wonderful apartment that suited our family of 5 and I cannot recommend the place enough. Queen Central Apartment Hotel in District 1 had 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms, kitchen, dining and lounge area. The apartment is fully air-conditioned and includes breakfast. We could not fault our stay here.
Tours and Activities
In the backpacking area there seems to be a travel agent in every second shop. We had organised no tours from home and we were glad we waited until we arrived. The tours we booked were the Cu Chi Tunnels and a cooking class. The travel agents had so many different tours to select from and it was great to be able to discuss the options we were wanting for each activity. When booking the tours we were able to negotiate the price and also pay upfront for the tour. All the information regarding meeting times is organised and the pick up for our tours was very easy and flexible.
Things to Do in Saigon
There are endless things to do that cater for all ages in Ho Chi Minh City. District One has the majority of the attractions to see in HCMC. We completed the following in the 4 days we were in the city:
Ben Thanh Markets – full of action and the place to buy clothes and souvenirs. There is a great fresh food and a cheap place for smoothies and quick meals.
23 September Park – a great green open space that has playground equipment
Bitexcon Tower – Level 51 has an amazing view and it is free to go to this level but the drinks are super expensive. The Saigon Skydeck is Level 5 And costs about $12 a person
Grand Post Office –is a very grand building with a long history and a great place to mail a post card.
Notre Dame Cathedral – this is a replica from Paris but was under renovations when we visited and we were unable to enter
Independence Palace – We enjoyed the palace and were able to wander the many floors including the basement level that had rooms used in the war for communications. The grounds are large and well kept with a good playground at the back
Cooking Class – Polly and I met our chef who took us in a taxi to the food markets. We were shown around the markets and had many different types of food explained to us. We were then taken to Mai’s Home Cooking Class. There were 4 of us in the class which made the experience very intimate and personal. We spent 3 hours cooking and eating and were then given all the recipes to try later. The class cost $30 each.
Cu Chi Tunnels – The boys went to the Cu Chi Tunnels and had an incredible and educational experience. They all came back with so many facts and figures and war stories. They chose a small tour of 9 that visited the tour in a mini bus. The trip took about 90mins from HCMC. The boys tried the tunnel opening and then they went into the small tunnels. Billy was given the opportunity to fire an AK47 which was an extra expense. The boys and Billy highly recommended the tour and were talking about it for days.
War Remnants Museum – a very confronting museum that shows the war from Vietnam’s point of view. The photography is brilliant and a lot went over our children’s heads but it still was a good to see how Vietnam has suffered and coped with the war. The rooms are air conditioned which was a nice reprieve from the HCMC heat.
The Food and Drinks
Our family tip is to try all the food you can. From street food to restaurants the food in HCMC is amazing. We loved the pork buns – Banh Mi, the fresh mango salads, savoury panckaes (banh xeo). The smoothies from Five Guys are sensational as are the smoothies at the Ben Thanh markets. Billy was also on the hunt for craft beer and he had a few successes in Saigon. He had a fantastic craft beer at Heart of Darkness and Pasteur Street Brewery.
Where to next?
We headed to Can Tho which is 3 hours south on the Mekong River. Read about our experience here