A guide to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
The Constant Traveller: Ho Chi Minh City
Words— Kaitlyn McInnis
A dizzying swirl of street food and scooters, Saigon -- otherwise known as Ho Chi Minh City -- is an adventurer’s dream come true. While currently in the midst of rapid growth what with a metro system currently being built and skyscrapers appearing by the day, there’s plenty of classic Vietnamese charm to be found.
Divided into 24 districts, Ho Chi Minh City has something for every kind of traveller. Whether you’re looking for the best bowl of pho, a sunny terrasse and a cold beer, or a dose of old world wonder by way of perfectly preserved pre-war hotels and bars, Ho Chi Minh City is bursting with adventure around every scooter-filled corner.
Where to eat
The Lunch Lady
The iconic street eatery made popular by Anthony Bourdain, The Lunch Lady is still one of the best spots in the city for a good bowl of pho. Expect a weekly rotating menu of everything from bon bo hue to prawn pho.
Ho Chi Minh City has a major French influence, which you’ll see in their pastries, breads, and their bistro offerings. L’Usine is one of the best places in town to get a cheese board, baguette and glass of wine. Sit on the intimate patio for striking views of the Opera House and bustling District 1 streets.
What comes to mind when you think of Vietnam? BBQ Lua embodies the heart and soul of the city thanks to their street-side terrasse -- plenty with little plastic stools, tabletop barbecues and grill-it-yourself menu.
Pho Hoa Pasteur
Here’s where to go for the absolute best pho in the city. This casual eatery is a bit of a commute from the city centre, but it’s well worth it. Unlike many pho spots in the city, vegetarians can easily get a meat-free alternative here. Meat-eaters will also find what they’re looking for: Pho Hoa Pasteur offers everything from beef tripe to chicken noodle.
This upscale Japanese Italian pizza spot offers a seriously delicious fusion pie. Their wood oven pizzas boast fun options like salmon sashimi, teriyaki chicken and soy garlic beef. They’re open late (until 2 a.m.), making it a great option for a late night snack after a night out.
Where to drink
Located slightly off the beaten path -- and up to the roof of an understated office building -- Mary Jane’s exactly what you’d want in a rooftop dive bar. Here you’ll find unique views of the city, a jungle of plants and potted flowers, and most importantly: all day $5 mojitos.
This historic luxury hotel in District 1 is a must visit. Built in 1925, the French Colonial hotel was a government guest house during the war and has maintained much of its history to this day. Head to the roof for sweeping views of the Saigon River, live music and a unique cocktail menu and wine list.
The view from the roof of the Rex Hotel (left), cocktails at Mary Jane's
Constructed in 1927 during France's colonial rule of Vietnam, the Rex Hotel has an equally deep history. During the war, the hotel was a well-known spot for journalists and military personnel to align. These days, the historic hotel runs the same rooftop bar from the war era -- with a comprehensive menu of everything from light local beers to French wine.
Shri Restaurant and Lounge
For a more upscale option, head to Shri Restaurant and Lounge. Here, you’ll find some of the most creative cocktails the city has to offer. Think: cosmopolitans served in handbags and whiskey in model sailboats.
Galleries and museums
War Remnants Museum
It’s not going to be fun, but it will be significant. The War Remnants Museum is a comprehensive walkthrough of the Vietnam War -- and it doesn’t spare any details. Not for the faint of heart, this informative museum will make you appreciate everything Vietnam has gone through to become the country it is today.
Ho Chi Minh City Museum of Fine Arts
The second biggest art museum in Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City Museum of Fine Arts is packed with everything from contemporary paintings and ceramics to sculptures and ancient Buddhist artwork. The building spans across three floors -- including an open-air pedway.
The Reunification Palace (otherwise known as Independence Palace) was designed by the architect Ngô Viết Thụ for the President of South Vietnam during the Vietnam war. These days, its preserved offices, bedrooms, and safe rooms and underground bunker are on display for curious travellers. It’s a must-see for history junkies.
Tân Định Church
Arguably one of the most uniquely striking churches one will ever come across, the millennial pink Tân Định is well worth the trip outside of the downtown core. Tân Định Church was built in the 1870s during the French colonial era, and while it still functions as a church, it may remind you more of something out of your favourite Disney classic -- in the very best way.
Bitexco Financial Tower
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Bitexco building is a modern behemoth in the middle of the city. The tallest building in Ho Chi Minh City at 262 meters, Bitexco is home to the Saigon Skydeck, a moody 49th-floor bar boasting live music and incredible views.
Things to do
Think of Turtle Lake as Ho Chi Minh City’s answer to Montreal’s Tam Tams. This striking park in the middle of a bustling rotary is constantly bursting with life. From students to families, here’s where locals come to relax, hang out, or even grab a snack from one of the vendors awaiting nearby.
Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre
What started as a pass time in the rice paddies of the Red River Delta in North Vietnam has become a Vietnamese tradition -- that should not be missed. A traditional Vietnamese water puppet show tells a folkloric tale of Vietnamese life, narrated through the splashing movements of in-water puppets alongside a live band.
Saigon International Comedy
In the mood for a laugh? Saigon International Comedy hosts some of the funniest acts from around the world. Located in the upstairs section of Heart of Darkness microbrewery, this English comedy club is a great option for a more low key evening in Vietnam.
Where to shop
Ben Thanh Market
The Ben Thanh Market is District 1 is the largest, most iconic market in the city. The inner market has over 3000 vendors selling everything from street food to groceries to souvenirs to clothing.
A sweet sugar cane stall outside Ben Thanh Market (left), delicious food at Xom Chieu.
Xom Chieu Market
The Xom Chieu Market is across the Saigon River in District 4 is a true foodie’s dream. The off-the-beaten-path market may look a little rough around the edges compared to larger markets in the city, but the indoor vendors and street food stands on the outer edge of the market are absolutely incredible.