Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnamese: Thành Phố Hồ Chí Minh ), commonly known as Saigon (Vietnamese: Sài Gòn ) or by the abbreviations HCMC or HCM , is the largest city in Vietnam and the former capital of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam).
Following the fall of Saigon in 1975, Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City . However the old Saigon name is still used by both Vietnamese and foreigners, especially when referring to the most central part of the city to which most tourists flock.
How to get in Saigon
Tan Son Nhat (Tân Sơn Nhất) (IATA: SGN | ICAO: VVTS ) is Vietnam’s largest international airport. There are two terminals: the shiny, pleasant international terminal which took over all international flights from 2007, and the old but functional domestic terminal 200 metres away. The airport is conveniently located about eight kilometres from the heart of the city. The international terminal used to offer duty free shopping after you landed, but that ended in early 2010 – purchase such items at the airport from which you are departing to visit Vietnam. Both terminals have limited food offerings at high prices once you pass immigration on your outbound journey.
Immigration and customs; changing currency
Immigration protocols at the airport are very streamlined. As of August 2012, it is no longer necessary for most passengers to fill in any immigration or customs declaration cards. (The latter may be necessary if you are intending to stay in Vietnam for a long period, or carrying unusual goods.) The baggage carousels are one level down from the immigration booths. You will need to have your checked-in and hand-carry luggage X-rayed before you leave the restricted area.
After you clear customs, you will find currency exchange booths to your right. The currency of Vietnam is the dong. Currency exchange rates at the airport are competitive, and it is preferable to change money here than at the backpackers area in the city which tends to have less favourable touristy rates. Ask first if there’s a commission fee, because this will add to the cost of changing money and remove any rate advantage that is offered. There is an ATM machine on the right side near the currency exchange booths, which you can use to withdraw cash if you have an appropriate bank card. The withdrawal fee is 20,000 dong.
Getting to the city centre
The No. 152 non-air-conditioned airport bus is the cheapest and safest way for backpackers heading to Pham Ngu Lao Street from the airport. (Ignore taxi drivers who tell you that there are no more airport buses.) For 4,000 dong per person (as at January 2012) plus a 4,000 dong fee for bags, the bus will drop you off at the east end of the Pham Ngu Lao area (at the bus terminal on the southwest side of the Ben Thanh Market roundabout). Upon exiting the international airport terminal, turn right and you should see the bus waiting on the road opposite Burger King. There is no sign indicating where the bus stop is, but if you ask a uniformed taxi warden he or she will point it out to you. If not, walk down to the domestic terminal, which is about a three-minute walk away. Try to have exact change or you will be given coins in return. These are legal tender in Vietnam, but many places do not accept them.
Note that the bus is only available until 6:00 pm.
Caution : some travellers have reported that taxi scams at the airport are rife. To avoid being scammed, read the information here as well as in the “Get around” section.
- International terminal
There are three options for getting a taxi from the airport to the city centre (District 1):
- Main taxi queue . The main taxi queue is on your left when you exit through the main door on the ground floor of the terminal building. Some travellers advise that you should head for the taxi queue, ignoring people who approach you offering taxis or advising you to purchase tickets at counters in the airport. It is suggested that you select a green Mai Linh taxi. Apparently, it is not necessary to take the first taxi in the queue. ( See the information on taxi companies below .)
- Mai Linh counter in the terminal building . The Mai Linh taxi company has a counter that is on your right after you clear customs. You can order and pay for a taxi from the staff member there. He will then lead you out of the terminal building to the taxi queue and arrange a Mai Linh taxi for you. As of August 2012, the cost for a single trip from the airport to the city centre was US$10 or 200,000 dong. This fee covers all tolls that may need to be paid by the taxi driver.
- Taxis at the domestic terminal . There are also taxis at the domestic terminal car park. After leaving the international terminal bulding, turn right and walk about 200 metres. ( See the information on the domestic terminal below .)
As of July 2012, the metered taxi fare from the airport to the city centre was about 140,000 dong, plus a toll of 10,000 dong. When traffic is lighter (usually only between 10:00 pm and 6:00 am or on a hot Sunday afternoon), the ride to the city centre takes as little as 15 minutes. More typically, however, taxis creep along in near-standstill traffic for up to an hour.
- Domestic terminal
At the domestic terminal, a company called Sasco has the airport taxi concession and is the only company allowed to pick up passengers directly adjacent to the building. Their cars are the first you will see by the kerb as you exit customs. However, less expensive rival taxis can usually be found usually in abundance 100 metres out in the car park. They have uniformed taxi wardens who will try to capture your business as you approach.
- Taxi companies
Taxi rates are very reasonable in Ho Chi Minh City as long as you use a reputable company and the meter is used. Mai Linh (mostly white with green lettering, though sometimes green or silver) ☎ +18.104.22.168.38.38 (or 08.38.38.38.38 if dialling from a local telephone) and Vinasun (white with green and red lettering) ☎ +22.214.171.124.27.27 have the largest fleets in the city and are generally honest and reliable, with meters that start automatically after the taxis have moved about five metres. At the airport, Mai Linh taxi wardens wear green shirts with green ties, and Vinasun wardens dark green shirts with maroon ties. These wardens can help to radio taxis for you.
Be cautious of taxis from dubious companies with names that resemble the reputable companies mentioned above. Some of these include M e i Linh or Mai Lin instead of Mai Linh, and Vina met , Vinas o n or Vinasu m instead of Vinasun. It has been reported that such companies charge outrageous fares to unsuspecting passengers, sometimes by using meters that run faster or by manually increasing the fare when passengers are not looking. There have also been instances of taxi drivers from such companies driving off with passengers’ belongings still in the boot.
Other taxi companies with smaller fleets that have been reported as reliable include Festive Taxi , Happy Taxi , Hoang Long (yellow top and green sides), Petro Vietnam (silver and green), Petrolimex (white, blue and orange), Savico (blue), Taxi Future (silver with orange lettering) and Vinataxi (bright yellow). Historically, Savico and Vinataxi have been the cheapest by about 10%, though they generally have older and more threadbare cars; while Hoang Long and Taxi Future are perhaps 10% higher than the average.
Taxis that some travellers have suggested avoiding include the following:
- Saigon Air Taxi (mostly white Isuzu SUVs). Their metered rates are reportedly competitive, though the company was started with the purpose of charging high prices to visitors for airport trips. With other taxis abundant, there is no reason to take the risk of an overcharge.
- Saigon Tourist (mostly silver with pink trim and a flower emblem). Their meter rates are reportedly competitive if they agree to use the meter, but they are notorious for refusing when passengers are foreigners, especially when picked up anywhere near a hotel. Drivers might require payment in US dollars instead of in dong, or quote fixed prices that are double the normal metered rate or more. Saigon Tourist taxis cluster around some of the larger, upscale hotels in the city centre such as the Caravelle, New World, Park Hyatt and Sheraton, and hotel staff won’t hesitate to put you into one of these tourist trap taxis unless you specifically ask for a different taxi company. The Sheraton only allows Saigon Tourist to pick up at its door unless you specifically ask the bellman for a different company.
- Other tips for avoiding scams
- Avoid buying taxi coupons from dubious companies . Some dubious taxi companies that overcharge have booths in the airport terminal buildings. Only buy taxi coupons from reliable companies such as those named above.
- Avoid taxi touts . Watch out for taxi touts who dress in uniforms and brandish laminated “fixed price” cards at 4,400,000 dong per car to the city hotels. They will be prepared to drop the price to 2,600,000 dong but it is still a rip-off. Ignore them, and stick to metered taxis or reliable taxi companies.
- Do not ask taxi drivers to suggest hotels . Taxi drivers earn commissions by taking customers to certain hotels, so be explicit about exactly which hotel you want to be taken to. Some taxi drivers have been known to trick visitors into staying at hotels which they recommend by informing them that the hotels the visitors have asked to be taken to have “no vacancies” due to some big event in town or have “burned down recently”.
Car rental and private chauffeured services
Budget car rental offers English-speaking drivers and new model vehicles. One trip to the city costs a fixed price of 140,000 dong.
A pick-up from the airport by a chauffeured car can be arranged online from Your Local Booking, or at booths in the airport terminal building from companies such as Saigon Tourist, Sasco and Vietnam Transfer Service.
Leaving Ho Chi Minh City
When going to the airport, specify clearly which terminal you want to go to. International flights leave from the newer international terminal (go straight). Domestic flights (to Danang, Hanoi, Nha Trang, and so on) are from domestic terminal (turn left). If you get dropped off at the wrong terminal, you’ll have to dash to the correct terminal via a pedestrian walkway link 600 metres away. This is not recommended, especially if you’re already late for boarding.
When entering the airport, taxi drivers will add an airport entry fee of 5,000 dong to your total metered fare. This is not to be confused with the airport departure tax, which should have been included in the price of your airline ticket.
If you take a bus into Ho Chi Minh City, you will end up at one of the following bus stations:
- Cho Ben Thanh Bus Station . This is right in the centre of Ho Chi Minh City, within walking distance of accommodation options and tourist sights.
- Mien Dong Bus Station . Buses heading north arrive and leave from here. You can take bus No. 19 from Cho Ben Thanh Bus station to this station.
- Mien Tay Bus Station . Take bus No. 139 from Tran Hung Dao Street to get here.
- Cholon Bus Station .
From these stations, public buses in around the city will cost you about 3,000 to 4,000 dong per journey.
Most private tour company buses drop passengers off on Pham Ngu Lao just west of De Tham, providing easy access to accommodation options in the backpacker area. Of course, this means that you’ll have at least 40 people shopping for the same rooms, which can be daunting as the nearby spots get snapped up. Patience will reward those who dig deeper into the tiny alleys, which have a life of their own. The French and German embassies warn of taking “Open Tour” buses.
As you hop out of the bus, taxi drivers will surround you with questions like “Where you go?”. You might be confused about your location in the city and the taxi drivers will probably try to benefit from that. You’ll most likely already be in Pham Ngu Lao and when you tell taxi driver to head to the same place, he’ll just zigzag around a few blocks, getting easy money from you.
Several companies provide bus travel from Phnom Penh , Cambodia, at approximately US$12 per person. Visas to Vietnam cannot be obtained at the border, so have one organized before you arrive (see “Cope” below). Capital Tours operates a popular bus line from the Capital Guest House in Phnom Penh that takes passengers to the border. After securing visas, passengers board a partner Vietnamese bus to continue their travel to Ho Chi Minh City.
Ga Sài Gòn (Saigon Train Station; http://www.saigonrailway.com.vn) is on Cach Mang Thang Tam (CMT8) northwest of the city centre, and is a short taxi or public bus ride away from the main hotel districts. An official train ticket office is located in the backpackers district at 275C Pham Ngu Lao.
There are five daily departures from Hanoi along the “Reunification line”. Although several of the trains are called “express”, all journeys take about 30 to 35 hours. The fastest train is SE3 departing from Hanoi at 11:00 pm and arriving at 5:00 am two nights later. However, SE5 departing at 3:45 pm and arriving at 4:40 am has higher-quality tourist carriages run by the private company Livitrans attached to it. Ticket prices are from 1,008,000 – 1,547,000 dong for standard carriages and double that for the tourist ones.
By taxi and rental car
Taxis are the most comfortable way of getting around, and very modest in price compared to other major cities in the world. Rates fluctuate over time depending on the cost of fuel, but in late 2010 with oil in the US$80s per barrel on world markets, honest Ho Chi Minh City taxis were charging in the range of 12,000 to 13,000 dong per kilometre. Taxis are numerous and it’s usually not hard to flag one down anywhere in the city centre from early morning until about 1:00 am, though finding one in the rain or during workday rush hours can be difficult.
Taxi rates are not regulated by the city government, so each company sets its own fare structure which changes from time to time. You cannot choose a taxi at random and expect a standard fare; it is a caveat emptor market with a fringe of dishonest operators which prey on foreigners in particular. Fortunately, the market is fairly competitive and 80% of taxis are operated by reasonably honest companies with similar rates. The market of these companies is more than 90% local, so their policies are designed to win the trust of Ho Chi Minh City residents. For a list of taxi companies reported to be reliable, see “Taxi” in the “Getting to the city centre” section above.
Dishonest taxi drivers may start driving without starting their meters, then demand a high fare or try to negotiate for a fixed price at a location where it’s difficult for you to hire another cab. Therefore, make sure your taxi driver agrees to use the meter, and turns it on before you get in. (As mentioned above, some taxi companies such as Mai Linh and Vinasun have meters in their taxis that start automatically once the vehicle starts moving.)
Drivers generally speak limited English and do not speak any other foreign languages, so it’s wise to write the name and address of your destination, preferably in Vietnamese, to show the taxi driver. Your hotel staff can assist. It also helps to carry one of your hotel’s business cards so you can return to the hotel without too much fuss. Carry small change and bills for paying fares, since drivers are often short of change. Taxi models in service are mostly Toyota Vios sedans (up to four passengers) and Toyota Innova minivans (up to six passengers), which are assembled in Vietnam and inexpensive to buy. Fares are almost always the same regardless of car model, though anything larger than an Innova generally costs more. Some older cars might lack working air-conditioners.
Taxi drivers are likely to drive too fast when given the chance. Ho Chi Minh City has a unique traffic pattern in which cars and buses drive in the centre lanes on two-way streets, or the left lanes on one-way streets, while the outside or right lanes are reserved for motorcycles. During weekday rush hours, the car lanes often barely move for blocks on end, while the motorcycle lanes move a bit faster. Taxi drivers vary in their tendency to squeeze into the motorcycle lane and jump ahead of other cars. In theory, they can be fined for doing so. Rush-hour traffic in the city has become so bad that you might consider just planning not to go anywhere between the hours of 7:00 and 8:30 am, and 4:30 to 6:00 pm.
For trips outside of the city or for the convenience of having a private vehicle for the day, hiring a car with a driver for the day is a good option. Many of the taxi companies such as Mai Linh and Vinasun offer these services.
Saigon River Express.  Suite 2105, Me Linh Point Tower, No. 2 Ngo Duc Ke, District 1 (next to the Renaissance Riverside Hotel), ☎ +84 128 592 0018. Saigon River Express offers VIP speedboat tours to the Cu Chi Tunnels, the Mekong Delta and jungle canal tours around Saigon. They use new speedboats and provide a 5 star service. A sunset tour around Saigon involves exploring narrow jungle canals with a village made of bamboo and thatch as well as visiting a floating temple.
Getting to Vung Tau by Hydrofoil which is a good way to see the commerical maritime areas as the boat runs through the Saigon River to the sea. Price: 10 USD/ 1 ticket/ 1 pax (adult) and 5 USD/ child (age 6-11, high under 1.4m) Duration: 75 minutes Depart at: Bach Dang pier in Saigon, District 1. Not far from the Majestic hotel (100mtrs) Land in Cầu Đá Port, Ben Cau Da, Ha Long Street, Vung Tau There are 3 lines (Petro Express, Greenlines, Vina Express) running this route with the same ticket price of 10 USD for one way.
Traffic In Ho Chi Minh City
Motorbike taxis ( xe ôm , literally hug-vehicle) are plentiful (get used to hearing “you want moto!?” everywhere), cheap, and are generally quite safe. As of 2007 all riders in Vietnam are now required to wear helmets, a rule that is strongly enforced. Make sure a driver supplies you with a helmet. If he doesn’t – find another one, as you’ll be the one stung for the fine.
Absolutely agree on a price before you set off; short hops around town shouldn’t be more than 20,000 dong, and all the way to the airport around 40,000 dong. A rule of thumb for the price is to round up of half the cost of taxi ride for the same travel. Drivers are generally quite friendly and will go slower upon request. They’re also not adverse to a bear hug if you’re really struggling to hold on to the motorbike. Many of the moto drivers, especially in District 1, speak some English and like many Vietnamese will repay you in a flood of smiles (and probably point out all the sights) if you make a little effort to get to know them.
You can rent your own motorbike in many places, especially around the backpacker area (Pham Ngu Lao) in District 1. 110,000 dong should get you a decent 100-110cc bike. Driving in Saigon is best left to experienced drivers. The traffic is intense and has its own rhythms and logic. However, if you’re up for an adventure, it’s best to keep a few things in mind: drivers with limited experience should consider renting an automatic bike (usually a bit more expensive), as at busy crossroads there is not time for worrying about how to change gears. Beware of thieves: always keep your motorbike in sight or parked with an attendant. Most restaurants have guards/parking attendants out front who will issue you a numbered tag and take care of your motorbike. Independent parking lots are scattered around the sidewalks, alleys, and basements of the city. Look for rows of neatly-parked motorbikes or signs that say giu xe .
If you are here during the rain season, make sure to buy ponchos or raincoats before you start. They are available for as low as 10,000 dong for one. It daily rains for around 1-2 hours between 4-8 PM during July and August in Saigon. However, the traffic doesn’t stop, it just becomes more chaotic. If you are hesitant of have not driven in such conditions before, it might be prudent to park in a shade and wait
Prices range from free at some restaurants (though a small tip is common) to 10,000 dong at upscale night clubs. In all possibilities you will need to leave your passport with the guy renting you the motorbike. Even though this is safe, one should try to argue with some other ID card, or advance payment.
Riding in the big cities, especially Ho Chi Minh City, is a very different matter, and not advisable unless you are an experienced rider with a very cool head. Traffic is intense and chaotic, with a long list of unwritten rules that don’t resemble traffic laws anywhere else. “Right of way” is a nearly unknown concept. Riding in HCMC is like finding yourself in the middle of a 3-D video game where anything can come at you from any direction, and you only have one life. Expats who brave the traffic at all typically have an apprenticeship of a few weeks or months riding on the back of others’ motorbikes to learn the ways of the traffic, before attempting to ride themselves. Extreme caution is advised for short-term visitors.
Riding long distance in the countryside can also be harrowing depending on the route you take. Major roads between cities tend to be narrow despite being major, and full of tour buses hell-bent on speed, passing slow trucks where maybe they shouldn’t have tried, and leaving not much room at the edge for motorbikes.
Two main categories of motorbike are available to rent: scooters (automatic transmission); and four-speed motorbikes, the gears of which you shift with your left foot. The ubiquitous Honda Super Cub is a common 4-speed bike that has a semi-automatic gearbox i.e. no clutch so is relatively easy to ride. Other models may be fully manual and therefore you must also operate the clutch using your left hand – this takes a lot of skill and it’s all too easy to over-rev and pull a wheelie or stall the engine – if you end up with such a bike then practice releasing the clutch gently before hitting the roads! Dirt bikes are becoming popular for rent in Hanoi, other cities are not yet ready for these beasts. Rental agents tend to steer foreigners toward scooters if available, on the (plausible) assumption that they don’t know how to ride motorbikes that require shifting gears. Motorcycles of 175cc and above are only legal to ride if you make a connection with a Vietnamese motorcycle club.
Most places you would want to stop have parking attendants who will issue you a numbered tag and watch over your bike. Sometimes these parking operations are overseen by the establishment you are visiting, and sometimes they are free-lance operations set up in places where a lot of people go. You will usually see rows of bikes lined up parked. Depending on circumstance, you might park the bike yourself, or just put it in neutral and let the staff position it. In all but rare cases you keep the key. Parking is sometimes free at restaurants and cafes (look for “giu xe mien phi”). Elsewhere, fees range from 2,000 to 5,000 dong.
Traffic police in the cities pull over lots of locals (often for reasons that are hard to discern), but conventional wisdom has it that they rarely bother foreigners due to the language barrier. Obeying the traffic laws is nevertheless advisable, especially if you have failed to obtain a Vietnamese licence. Cities like Ho Chi Minh have several one way street, and it is too easy to just steer into them unknowingly as there are limited signs warning you. BE SURE that if you break law, the police who are sneaking just at the right spot, will ask you to pull over and will fine you. They will also threaten confiscating your bike. The quoted price for fine is negotiable, and being apologetic and friendly can get you back on road quickly, with a few dollars less in your pockets. It is less likely that they will bully or harasses you.
Helmets have also been required by law since December 2007, so if you don’t have one already ask your rental agent to provide you with one.
A ride on a cyclo, which is sort of akin to a reverse tricycle with the passenger sitting in a front seat, through downtown HCMC is a great way to see the city the way the locals do. The sights, sounds, and smells are a large part of the excitement of the city, and are best experienced from the relaxed pace of a cyclo. A word of warning: be careful with cameras, purses and watches while cyclo riding as these items are easily stolen by motorbike riders.
For many reasons, not least because of government attempts to restrict cyclos on busy urban streets, this form of transportation is disappearing. At around 36,000 dong/hr and because they are so slow, they can be a good choice for taking in the city. Be sure to bargain hard with the cyclo rider beforehand. Some cyclo riders have been known to attempt to change the agreed price after your journey has finished, whilst another trick may include the driver visiting places which benefit his wallet. To avoid these problems, make sure you are clear on the price and destination upon departing.
Bright green public buses serve 150 routes throughout the city. You can find maps of the bus system at the large Ben Thanh bus station across the street from Ben Thanh Market in District 1 – just go into the waiting room to the desk in the middle. The buses are cheap, safe and not too crowded. Many are modern and comfortable, with such amenities as air conditioning, music, and even television. Finding the right line can be a challenge if you don’t speak or read Vietnamese. If you cannot find your way, ask the locals nicely, they will try their best to help. A piece of paper and marker pen may help to ease the conversation.
The buses are efficient and fast. Most are staffed by two employees: the driver and the fare collector. The driver keeps the bus moving while the fare collector interacts with the passengers. Locals claim, plausibly, that buses are even faster than taxis. The reason is that buses have an informal right of way on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City; when another vehicle sees a bus coming, that vehicle gets out of the way. Taxis know that they are supposed to back down from confrontations with buses. Buses are also cheaper (4,000-8,000 dong per ride, which is considerably less that $1) and safer than many of the alternatives. The biggest problem is that when you get off the bus, you become a pedestrian (see below).
For those who aren’t staying in Ho Chi Minh City very long, or want to save some time the Vietnam transfer service  will take you to the famous places in Ho Chi Minh City. Price is from 15,000-75,000 dong, including the tour guide and the information in English.
Traffic is made up of a staggering number of motorbikes and, since import duty was reduced upon Vietnam’s joining of the WTO, an increasing number of private cars. However its exceptionally rare to see a motorbike of more than 150cc, and the traffic rarely gets above 20-30 km/h in central areas.
However crossing the road in Saigon can be a nightmare. It is always scary, for some they will get used to it quite quickly. If ever in doubt, Saigon’s “Tourist Security” officers (guys in marked green uniforms) will happily help you across. A quicker way of getting across is to simply follow the lead of a local crossing the street.
However the true trick to crossing the road is to stay aware, and walk slowly and confidently. The motorbike riders are actually exceptionally good and will simply move to avoid you – just don’t make any sudden lurches forwards, backwards, or stop for that matter. Just look for a gap or seam in the traffic, and begin a slow but steady movement. If you hear a beep coming your way it’s likely a motorbike rider is about to enter your personal space. Be a alert and prepared to stop putting your foot forward until he passes.
Adherence to traffic signals in Saigon is worse, and while they’re not always followed, riders/drivers tend to use “best judgment”. Just remember though that vehicles can always turn right at any time (regardless of lights). Motorbikes often drive in the wrong direction to make a short cut from point A to point B even if they are against the traffic. Crossing roads therefore maybe a challenge for westerners used to traffic laws and traffic lights.
A typical scenario played here, and in other big cities in Vietnam is motorcycles dash from everywhere. The thumb rule of crossing in the US of look to the left and at the median, look to the right does not follow. Look everywhere as you cross, in all directions – to your left, to the back at your left, to your right, to your right in front, even if you have the right of way, like 5 or 6 kamikaze ninjas against one, they will insist and even if you stare at them in the eye and raise your hand horizontally signalling them to stop. Even in sidewalks, they invade and will just appear next to you before you know. Sidewalks are not the domain of pedestrians, they are used for car and motorcycles for passing if not for parking, then whatever space left is for the pedestrian. That’s the hierarchy.
The streets, sidewalks, and outdoor markets are covered by motorbikes, and not yet geared towards pedestrian traffic (although sidewalk clearing campaigns are now underway – a few areas of the centre are easy to negotiate as long as you keep your wits about you for speeding motorbikes). However walking along the edge of the road is easy enough. Not all motorbikes behind you will generally beep at you to let you know they’re there.
The traffic police occupy themselves with random roadside checks and do not bother the motorcyclists that are running red lights or driving on the sidewalks. The police recently announced a crackdown on pedestrians. This does NOT mean that they will hassle you; the most likely meaning of the crackdown is that you will be held responsible if you are involved in an accident.
But there are some open sidewalks to walk safely on and just walking around the city helps you really get a taste of it. Seeing people prepare, cook food and wash dishes, and even shave, manicure and pedicure, not to mention sleep and pee on the side of the street and just standing watching traffic go by in awe is just as entertaining as anything.
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You will receive a free ‘VN Trip Map – for travel and coupons’ by Vietnamese women wearing the traditional ao dai dress as you are leaving Tan Son Nhat International Airport. Additionally, most hotels will provide a free tourist map of District 1 although these vary in quality and tend to be advertising based. The Sheraton have one of the best of these and will provide one if you ask at reception. Within District 1, ‘Bookazine’ at #28 Dong Khoi (between Ngo Duc Ke and Ho Huan Nghiep) have larger city maps if you plan to venture beyond District 1. The one published by Du Lich & Giao Thong has a street index on the back. Fahasa Books also carry a full range of available maps. They have two large stores in District 1 – 185 Dong Khoi, just down from Le Thanh Ton, and 40 Nguyen Hue, just down from Mac Thi Buoi. MySherpa Travel have also published tourist maps of central District 1 with all shops and points of interest marked. Outlets in Saigon include Gaya, Dolce Casa, Annam Fine Foods, T&V Tailor, Galley Deli, and a number of two star hotels.
As with most other parts of Vietnam, the main language is Vietnamese. The local dialect of Vietnamese is the southern dialect, which differs somewhat from the northern dialect spoken in Hanoi, though speakers of both dialects are usually able to comprehend each other. English is spoken by most of the younger well-educated upper class. Educated senior citizens are usually able to speak French, though generally speaking, English is far more useful these days.
Ho Chi Minh City is also home to a sizeable ethnic Chinese community, mostly around Chinatown and many of them are bilingual in Cantonese and Vietnamese. Many of them also speak Mandarin.
A few useful phrases: Hello : Seen Chow Excuse Me, Sorry : Seen Loy What is this/that? : Day La Guy Yee Thank You : Gam Un Very Good : Rut Thoat Bye : Tham Bee-it
The tank that ended the war, outside the Reunification Palace
- Reunification Palace, Enter at 135 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street, ☎ +84 8 9693272. Open daily 7:30AM-11:00AM, 1PM-4PM. Also known as Independence Palace (this is the old name). This is a restored 5 floor time warp to the 60s left largely untouched from the day before Saigon fell to the North (construction started in 1962 and finished in 1966). Formerly South Vietnam’s presidential palace, the war ended on April 30, 1975 when tank #843 crashed through the gate. A replica of that tank is now parked on the lawn outside. Be sure to check out the impressively kitschy recreation room, featuring a circular sofa, and the eerie basement, full of vintage 1960s phones, radios, and office equipment, supposedly left exactly as it was found when the North took over. There is also a photo gallery and a propaganda film recounting how the South Vietnamese supporters and American imperialists succumbed to Ho Chi Minh’s indomitable revolutionary forces, upon which point the South Vietnamese supporters were forgiven and everyone lived happily ever after. Tours are available and are free, but not necessary. There is a nice outdoor café on the grounds outside the palace. Entry 30,000 dong.
- War Remnants Museum (Formerly), 28 Vo Van Tan Street, ☎ +84 89302112, +84 89306325, +84 89305587( [email protected] ). Open daily 7:30AM-12PM, 1:30PM-5PM, last admission 4:30PM. The museum was opened in a hurry, less than five months after the fall of the South Vietmanese regime. It has moved to new premises with 3 stories of exhibits and various U.S. military hardware (tanks, jets, helicopters, howitzers) on display outside the building. This disturbing display of man’s cruelty during the Vietnam (American) War includes halls full of gruesome photographs, a simulated “tiger cage” prison and jars of deformed foetuses attributed to contamination by Agent Orange. There is very obvious bias as there are no “records” of any unpleasant deeds having been committed by the North Vietnamese Army. An exhibit on the 3rd floor tells the story of the war journalists from all over the world who documented, and often disappeared or died in the war. Watch out for the amputees who will try and sell you their wares. It’s a short walk from Reunification Palace — see the museum pamphlet for a map. Entry 15,000 dong.
- On Le Quy Don , just south of the museum, is a soft ice cream vendor, a happy treat for about 2,000 dong in a hot and hectic city.
- City Hall , end of Nguyen Hue Street. Originally called the Hôtel de Ville and now formally re-branded the People’s Committee Hall , it’s a striking cream and yellow French colonial building beautifully floodlit at night. No entry, but the statue of Uncle Ho in front is a very popular place for photos.
- Museum of Vietnamese History, at the intersection of Le Duan Street and Nguyen Binh Khiem (just inside the zoo gates). The museum has a fine collection of Vietnamese antiquities. Read up on Vietnamese history first or you’ll have no idea what you’re looking at. Outside, the Botanical Gardens are very nice and a good place for a cheap lunch away from the crowds. If you care about animal welfare, avoid the zoo.
- Ho-Chi-Minh Museum , Duong Nguyen Tat Thanh, Dist. 4. Open daily 7:30AM-12 noon, 1:30PM-5PM, last admission 4:30PM, 10,000 dong entry. The museum (in a French colonial era building) near the dock of Saigon shows the life story of the modern day father of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh. There’s also a Ho Chi Minh book shop as well. Some may find the theme a little jingoistic but like most things it depends upon your point of view.
Ho Chi Minh City Museum
- Central Mosque, 66 Dong Du, Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam, ☎ +84 8 824 2903 (Tourist information),  . 8AM-8PM daily. One of 12 mosques serving Ho Chi Minh City, the Central Mosque was built in 1935. It was originally constructed for worshipers from southern India then resident in Saigon, but now Muslims from as far as Pakistan and Indonesia come to pray. Friday draws the biggest crowds. The shaded verandah and cool stone floors make it an ideal place to sit, read or even nap in the heat of the day. As with most mosques, remember to take your shoes off before entering and dress conservatively if you wish to enter.
- Notre Dame Cathedral (Nhà thờ Đức Bà), Han Thuyen Street, facing down Dong Khoi (next to the Post Office).Closes for lunch and on weekends. A French-built Catholic cathedral in the city centre. Free entry.
- Thien Hau Pagoda, 710 Nguyen Trai St, Cholon. Dedicated to Lady Thien Hau, the sea goddess, who left two giant turtles to keep an eye on things in her absence. A festival is held in her honor on the 23rd day of the March lunar month. Don’t miss the gorgeous sculptures in the walls of the courtyard outside the temple. Entry free.
- Quan Am Pagoda, 12 Lao Tu, Cholon (Just off Hung Vuong, close to Thien Hau Pagoda). Open 8AM-4:30PM. The oldest pagoda in town, home of a lot of incense and a cheerful puppy. Entry free.
- Phung Son Tu Pagoda, 408 3 Thang 2 Blvd (On the outskirts of Cholon). Dedicated to the god of happiness and virtue. The pagoda itself is dusty and dwarfed by high-rises under construction nearby, but the small, sculpted grounds are a good place for a rest from the hectic city.
- Bitexco Financial Tower, 36 Ho Tung Mau Street, ☎ +84 8 39156 156,  . Inside viewing platform for a 360° view of the city. VND 200,000.
If the heat starts to get you down, there are several water parks where you can splash around to cool off.
- Dam Sen Water Park, 03 Hoa Binh, Ward 3, District 11, ☎ +84 8 858 8418, +84 8 865 3453 ( [email protected] , fax: +84 8 858 8419), . Mon-Sat 8:30AM-6PM, Sundays and Holidays 8AM-7PM. Close to the city centre. Opened in 1999, with new water slides added each year. This water park offers some truly unique water slide experiences, including the amazing “Space Bowl”. The slides have been badly designed and it’s a common sight to see someone clutching their head when leaving them. Restaurant, health services, and animatronic dinosaurs are on the premises. Take bus n°11 from Ben Thanh bus station. Admission is based on height and time of arrival; under 0.8m free, others 40 – 110 000 dong (90 000 after 4pm).
- There’s also Water World in District 9, Ocean Water Park in District 7, and Dai The Gioi Water Park in District 5.
- Visiting hair salons is also a must do for tourists, as Vietnamese are famous for it. Hair wash, manicure and pedicure cost no more than US$10.
- MegaStar Cineplex , . Vietnam’s leading world-class cineplex venue with 2 locations in HCMC and the first to offer 3D movies (at Hung Vuong Plaza only). All locations present first-run US Hollywood and International releases and are located at shopping complexes. (1) Hung Vuong Plaza (about 20-30 min from CBD). 126 Hung Vuong Str, District 5, Level 7. (2) CT Plaza (near the airport). 60A Truong Son St, Tan Binh District, Level 10. The latest show session times and dates are available online.
- Galaxy Cinema at 116, Nguyen Du, District 1, is a favorite among locals.
- My Tiger Tour Motorbike Tours, 844/120 Huong Lo 2, Ho Chi Minh City 70000, Vietnam, ☎ +84 129 586 8586,  . Licensed motorbike tours around the city with themes like food, shopping, twilight, general sightseeing, and more. Tours are available in English, German, Italian, Japanese and Spanish. 250.000 vnd to 1.000.000 vnd, ($12-$48 USD).
- Dai Nam Tourist Park, Thu Dau Mot Town, Binh Duong Province (Catch the 616 Bus from the Bus Station, or talk to a travel agent), . Located about 40km from Ho Chi Minh City, the Dai Nam Tourist Park, opened in November of 2008, it is one of the newest and largest tourist attractions in Vietnam. It features the Dai Nam Van Hien Temple, an entertainment site, open range zoo, shopping areas, hotels, local and western cuisine sites, and the largest man made mountain range in Vietnam. Costing over 50 billion dong to build, this park is the beginning of mass tourism in Vietnam, although it is aimed at both tourists and locals and comes highly recommended. Transport options to the park are quite convoluted and as the park is new, online information is scarce. Reports are that you can catch the 616 bus from the main bus terminal in Ho Chi Minh, but most hotels will tell you that’s not possible and insist on a private taxi. According to the locals, it is very much worth a visit, purely just to view the temple.
- Happy Ending Massage Yuan, 15B8 Le Thanh Ton Street, District 1 Ben Nighe Ward Ho Chi Minh City (On Le Thanh Ton between Thai Van Lung and Ngo Van Nam. Across from Sky Garden), ☎ +84 8 3825 0795. “Legitimate” foot and body massage, hostess will explain pricing to you at the beginning, usually offering 30% discount. 223,000 dong.
- Twenty-Three September Park, (Across from Ben Thanh Market and running the length of Phan Ngu Lao Street). Running along Phan Ngu Lao Street are a number of parks which fill up with locals before sunset, after work. They play a variety of games which you can participate in: badminton, kicking a shuttlecock and womens group aerobics (to music) are all very popular and great to watch. If you sit down by yourself in the open area near the Ben Thanh market a number of young university age locals will come and ask to practise english with you, this is a great way to spend an evening and the best way to meet intelligent interesting youth, they will question you either individually or in groups and share with you a lot about their country. *Beware* of those men who want to introduce you to their ‘sister’ who’s working as a nurse and wants move to your country. They will try to make you come into their home so you can reassure their parents, but will actually gamble and cheat at cards with you and/or ask you for money after telling a sad and fake story about some dying relative.
- Emperor Jade (Tortoise) Pagoda (Chua Ngoc Hoang or Phuoc Hai Tu), 73 Mai Thi Luu St. Considered by many to be Saigon’s finest pagoda. Check out the room filled with unusual figurines, to the left of the main hall. There are many turtles in a concrete pond in the courtyard.
Vietnamese arts and crafts, or mass-produced resin knock-offs thereof, are sold by dozens of shops around the central tourist district. The best, most expensive items can be mostly found on Dong Khoi or the immediate side streets. The goods tend to get progressively simpler and cheaper as you move west toward Ben Than Market (though the best wood-carving shop is a stall on the back side of Ben Thanh). A few shops have authentic woven silk textiles from Sapa and the north. Lacquered paintings, plates, bowls, etc. are quite striking and unique to Vietnam. Vietnamese propaganda posters can be very impressive and offer a taste of history. When buying keep in mind that is very useful to have local currency. Be advised that banks and formal exchange businesses will provide you with a decent rate, especially when compared with agencies like Statravel on the main Vui Ban street who will offer much lower rates. Goldsmith shops will also change money at decent rates, though as always it is better to know the going rate than to trust in luck.
- BoSua Local Street Wear, 55B1 Vincom Tower, Dong Khoi St, District 1, ☎ +84 9 04142182,  . 9AM-10PM. 145,000.
- Ginkgo T-shirts, 20, Le Loi, District 1, ☎ +84 9 05493148,  . 8AM-11PM. Original and quality souvenir t-shirts with creative designs inspired by Asian and Vietnamese cultures. They have anoher store within District 1, located at 56, Bui Vien. 210,000 dong.
- Phuong Mai Art Gallery, 129B le Thanh Ton str.,Dis.1 & 213C Dong Khoi St, . Vietnamese contemporary original art works including oil paintings, lacquer paintings, water color paintings and sculpture.
For bookshops, you can go to:
- Nguyễn Huệ bookstore (on the Nguyễn Huệ boulevard)
- FAHASA on Nguyen Hue
- Sai Gòn bookstore (on the Lê Lợi Boulevard).
- small bookstore located around Phạm Ngũ Lão St. and Bùi Viện St.
but they don’t seem to trade books (no second hand).
- Chợ Bến Thành aka Ben Thanh Market , Southwest end of Le Lai: a den of thieves, but some great shopping. Ben Thanh is recognizable from its clock tower on the large traffic circle. The largest old-style market in the central district, with several hundred small stalls stuffed with goods on almost impassably narrow aisles. Due to its popularity with tourists, the market is now divided between tourist goods (jeans, T-shirts, smaller souvenirs in abundance) and regular items (fruit and vegetables, rice, kitchen wares, flowers, meat, fast food and local-style pickled fruits and candies). Most items are not price-marked, and vendors always quote a 50-100% higher price to tourists, so bargaining hard will save you money. The chief method of parting visitors from their money is ambiguity : for example never making it quite clear how many you are being quoted for; or what the exact price is; or what exchange rate is being used to calculate your change. Be ready for these onslaughts (often by a sweetly smiling young lady), or be prepared to part with more cash than you need to. Right at the north side (back) of Ben Thanh Market are some shops that are operated by Ben Thanh Group and they sell goods at fixed price and much cheaper than the stalls in the market. No bargaining needed. If the good selection of knock-offs here just won’t do, there’s plenty to be had in the surrounding side street shops or night market later. If retail warfare isn’t your cup of tea, you could skip the touristy Ben Thanh altogether and go to Chợ Bình Tây (see below).
- Saigon Square will be good place for visit. It is a twin of Ben Thanh but with air-conditioning. Haggling your way through this place is the rule of thumb. Local middle-class Vietnamese shop here on the weekends too. Consider planning your shopping here during the day and go to Ben Thanh for the night market. The Day Ben Thanh can be planned as a sight seeing instead of a shopping spree. It is a stones throw from Ben Thanh Market.
- Chợ Bình Tây in the Chinatown, the more underrated twin of Ben Thanh, selling everything from spices, Chinese medicines, silk to obscure varieties of fermented fish, dried seafood and jerky. If you are searching for a variety of Vietnam silks and velvets, skip the tourist trap Ben Thanh Market and head for Bình Tây instead. Most of Chợ Bình Tây is wholesale goods. In fact, you can see much of Ben Thanh Market’s goods are from here.
- Night Market ( just outside of Ben Thanh Market ). Here you can enjoy many kinds of different food and drink, and go round to do your shopping as well. Open from 6pm (when the Ben Thanh Market closes).
- War Surplus Market , sometimes called the American Market or “Cho Cu” or “Khu Dan Sinh” in corner of Yersin and Nguyen Cong Tru, District 1. Hidden behind rows of hardware and electric supplies shops, just brace yourself and enter. Dense warrens of stalls with old American military gear of indeterminate authenticity (e.g. “nice collection of so called authentic GI’s Zippo lighter from the war era”), cheap t-shirts, and military paraphernalia. Don’t hope to find a genuine Marine Zippo; they’re all fake now.
Supermarkets and department stores
- Tax Department Store , now known as Saigon Square, is located on the corner of Le Loi and Nguyen Hue. Formerly the Russian Market, this is now a rather sterile department store of sorts filled with stalls selling touristy kitsch, although the selections get better as you ascend the levels. There’s a good supermarket on level 2. If you are traveling here by taxi, the new name may be met by blank expressions from taxi drivers. The old name seems to work.
- Small western-style supermarkets , can be found on the top floor of the Parkson department store one block northeast of the Opera House, and in Diamond Plaza, behind the Cathedral, on the top floor of the department store.
- Co-op Mart Supermarkets , frequented by throngs of the Saigon middle-class and backpackers alike, can be found everywhere around HCMC. In District 1 they can be found at the corner of Nam Ky Khoi Nghia and Nguyen Dinh Chieu, about 1km from the centre OR in Cong Quynh, walking distance away from the end of Backpacker street Pham Ngu Lao. Prices are reasonably lower, though the selection leans more toward Vietnamese culinary requirements.
- Western/Japanese-style department stores 3 stores are near the centre. For most visitors, the only reason to go there is to enjoy the air-con, and derive some amusement from the silly-high prices of western-branded consumer goods.
- Parkson on Dong Khoi a block north of the Opera house
- Diamond Plaza , further north behind the Notre Dame Cathedral
- Zen Plaza on Nguyen Trai two blocks west of the New World Hotel.
- Phuong Mai Art Gallery, 129 B Le Thanh Ton St., District.1 (near the Norfolk Hotel and the Revolution Museum). A gallery showing contemporary Vietnamese artists, both established and emerging. There’s another showroom at 213C Dong Khoi in District 1.
- Oil-Painting – Bui Vien Street , near backpackers area in De Tham and Pham Ngu Lao streets, in District 1. There are several shops along this street selling oil painting at reasonable prices (ranging from 450,000-5,000,000 dong). If you want a portrait of a Vietnamese painting or even have your own photograph oil-painted, shop around here. You can get a readily available portrait within a day or two.
- Contemporary art , Galerie Quynh, 65 De Tham St., District 1, ( between Co Bac and Co Giang ), ☎ +84 8 3836 801. Hours: 10AM-6PM, Tues-Sat. . A serious contemporary art gallery located in District 1. Unlike the myriad galleries that focus on more decorative works this gallery represents innovative local and international artists including Tiffany Chung, Do Hoang Tuong, Hoang Duong Cam and Sandrine Llouquet. For serious art collectors this gallery is a must-see for contemporary Vietnamese art.
- Electronics , whilst some of the country’s cheapest electronics can be found on and around Huynh Thuc Khang, be aware most shops are selling counterfeit items. Things such as dodgy iPods are easy to spot when compared to the genuine thing, but items such as camera batteries are much more difficult. If you are thinking about buying some extra memory for your digital camera, be warned that most of the memory will be fake. Fake Sandisk II Ultra cards are ubiquitous and extremely difficult to tell apart from real ones. These cards are apparently of low quality and one has to ask if it is worth risking your holiday snaps. Fake batteries have the potential to explode, too, so be careful. That said, you can pick up some bargains if you know what you’re looking for. Just exercise caution; if it is too good to be true it probably is.
Visiting the local electronics district is another sight, where anything and everything is repaired, and nothing wasted. Loudspeaker repairs and remakes, transformer and armature winding (by hand). Think of any part, and you may find it, including 1968 helicopter parts. It is about a 15 min ride on the #2 bus from District 1. Part of the area was recently closed for re-development, and moved slightly. Some people bring older transistor component and valve gear here to be economically repaired. Novelty: ‘FUKE’ brand multimeter for about 100,000 dong. All things electronic are sourced from here, so they are going to be a lot cheaper than stores anywhere else, and some are even fixed price stores.
- Kool Audiophiles ,  16/1 Phan Ngu, F.Dakao, District 1, ☎ +84 8 3820 1757. Headphone and earphone retail company dedicated to selling only genuine products. Koss, Ibasso, Westone, Grado, Crossroads as well as the limited and hard to find genuine KSC35 products. Authorised dealer for UM Customs Monitors and JH Audio in Vietnam. All their products come with warranty and the shop staff and owner are able to converse in fluent English. Open Mon-Sunday : 9AM-8PM.
- Lacquer ware , ( opposite Lucky Plaza on Dong Khoi ). One of the stand out things to bring home from Saigon. Head to Saigon Craft ( between Mac Thi Buoi and Dong Du on Dong Khoi ) for stunning original works, then Gift 42 for the best of the rest.
- Home decor , for originality and value. If you’re thinking of investing US$2,000 or more on home furnishing, a crate shipped from Saigon could pay for your trip. Begin by looking for major items in Gaya ( Ton That Thiep just before Pasteur ) if you like modern, and Verlim ( 40 Ho Tung Mao – just up from Ham Nghi ), if your style is more formal/traditional. Organize shipping through either of these fine merchants. Then you can go wild and buy up…framed art, Gom Viet pottery ( Cnr Ly Tu Trong and Pasteur ), Lighting from NGA (Le Thanh Ton between Nguyen Hue and Dong Khoi) or Mosaic (Mac Thi Buoi just before Nguyen Hue) and antiques found on Le Cong Kieu. Provide extra padding for your crate with Catherine Denoual bed ware ( Thi Sach, just down from Le Thanh Ton ), and/or Dolce Casa cushions/quilts ( Dong Khoi opposite the Sheraton ). Ask these and other retailers to deliver your purchases back to Gaya or Verlim. They take care of the rest.
- Clothes , Vietnamese silk is fabulous and Hoang Khai shows the world. His flagship Khai Silk store at 107 Dong Khoi is a must visit. Next door, Creation and Indochina provide sterling competition. Ladies, you are spoiled for choice after this. Follow your nose, but make sure you don’t miss La Bella, La Bella Blue (Pasteur and Le Thanh Ton), Song (Dong Khoi and Le Thanh Ton and in Eden Mall on Dong Khoi), and acclaimed designer Minh Hanh (Just up from Dong Khoi and Ngo Duc Ke). Look out for exquisite hand embroidered items along the way.
- Accessories , at Gaya you’ll spot Anupa bags and you’ll want one. Those not loaded should avoid sticker shock and (ladies) head immediately to Ipa-Nima ( No. 8, Nguyen Trung Truc Street, District 1 ) , for a stunning and more affordable collection. Press on to Mandarina ( Le Than Ton just past NKKN ) for bargain shoes and Le Hang ( Le Thanh Ton between Pasteur and NKKN ) for bead/bespoke jewellery nirvana.
- Kids presents , musical stuff from Chuck and Anna ( Lucky Plaza – bottom of Dong Khoi ) will hit the spot.
- DVD , buffs with no scruples should head to Ho Tung Mao
- Romance , candles, oils and soaps from Harnn ( Dong Du near Hai Bai Trung )
- Books , Fahasa English Bookstore ( Nguyen Hue just down from Mac Thi Buoi ). SahaBook ( 175/24 Pham Ngu Lao, near lePub ) is the unique store which stocks lots of authentic Lonely Planet titles . Tri Books (cnr Dong Khoi – Ly Tu Trong) which stocks a wide range of textbooks and English reference books, plus title on things like design, cookery, business and IT. Bookazine (28 Dong Khoi) is a treasure trove of new and antique copies of international titles like Newsweek and Time, carefully collected and catalogued by the owner.
- For men/tailors , buying a suit can be fun and relatively cheap, but do your research first, and remember that you get what you pay for – labor costs are not what make suits expensive. Tailors frequently use fabrics whose quality is exaggerated ( witness the constant claims of wool being “Italian/English Super 180 ). Cheap Vietnamese suits don’t compare to just having an US$80 H&M suit altered by a tailor. Even the most expensive Saigon tailors fuse the suits, rather than canvas them. Any suit should contain 0% polyester. Any tailor should have multiple fittings, preferably three (with the third just being a check-up that probably won’t require further alteration).
- Khai Silk and Creation , have very desirable shirts at around US$30, and ties to compete with your Zegnas for US$10. Off the peg shirts can be tailored for you at no charge. Otherwise, take your favourite shirts/shorts/pants to Tricia and Verona (half way up Dong Du), who’ll make you up a perfect copy in silk, linen or finest Egyptian cotton. Allow 2 days. US$25-50. Here for 5 days? You have time for a suit. For quality work from old boys who know their cloth – Cao Minh ( Pasteur between Le Thanh Ton and Le Loi ). Go where old money/ex pats go. Minh Doan ( Le Thanh Ton just down from Nguyen Trung Truc ) is your pick.
- Art , Vietnamese artists are increasing their international reputation. Apricot ( Mac Thi Buoi ), Mai’s ( Nguyen Hue just up from Mac Thi Buoi ), Phuong Mai Art Gallery ( 129B Le Thanh Ton str., Dist.1 ) Hanoi Studio ( Dong Du ), or Tu Do ( Ho Tung Mau ). Eat and contemplate in Gallery Deli ( Dong Khoi just down from Mac Thi Buoi ). Listen and contemplate in Sax ‘n Art Le Loi and Pasteur). Bargain frames – Ben Thanh Art and Frame ( 11 Le Thanh Ton – 100 m north from Thai Van Lung ).
- Bicycle shops , are most frequent along Vo Thi Sau. The biggest one – actually 6 shops next to each other – is Martin at 93-107 Vo Thi Sau and has the best selection of bikes. They also sell spare parts for western-style mountain bikes.
There are two good guide books for shoppers in Ho Chi Minh City: the Luxe city guide and the MySherpa guide which also includes a map with shops cross referenced.
You’re spoiled for choice in Saigon, which offers the country’s largest variety of Vietnamese and international food. Bargains are getting harder to find, however, and restaurant prices have been rising at up to 30% per year due to a combination of higher food prices, rising wages, and soaring real estate costs. Land in the city centre now sells for around US$16,000 per square meter, so even a modest-sized restaurant sits on real estate worth more than US$1 million. Authentic local food at bargain prices is one of the glories of Vietnam, but it’s getting harder to find in Saigon as the city becomes ever more upscale and cosmopolitan.
The local food shows influences from French colonial times – bakeries have fresh and excellent baguettes, which they will fill with cheese (typically of the “la vache qui rit” or “laughing cow” brand), potted meat, ham, and onions, or any combination thereof, cheaply. Beef is used in various dishes – whether in any of the many variations of pho, or in a regional specialty such as “bun bo hue” or Hue beef soup. Be sure to try, aside from pho, dishes such as the above-mentioned Hue beef soup, or “banh xeo” aka. Vietnamese omelettes, consisting of a delicious filling of your choice (various options included bamboo shoots and enoki mushrooms, along with meat, prawns, or both) in a crispy outer crepe-like casing.
Local food at bargain prices is very easy to find in Saigon. Banh Mi Thit (Pork sandwiches) can be had for 13,000-15,000 dong. Com tam, a plate of rice with grilled pork (customisable with different types of meat) and a bit of vegetables is 18,000 dong. (May 2011). If you want a wide variety of street food you need to try another district than Sài Gòn, district 5 is good or district 3 and up will get better and cheaper.
Food stalls are scattered all over the city, but there’s a fair collection in the Ben Thanh market (see Buy). For local fast food, try the ubiquitous Pho 24′ chain (though it can be more the twice the price of local fare). Additionally, foreign fast food franchises Lotteria and KFC have established presences in the city.
Interestingly, there isn’t any single McDonald’s in Ho Chi Minh City.
The setback of eating street food or food done on holes-in-the-walls in any town or city in Vietnam is unsure good hygiene. Street hawkers are not only cooks but they are also cashiers. They touch money and often flip over the bills with their fingers moistened with their saliva (added flavor to food). If a bun (baguette) is dropped in the pavement, it is still picked up to be mixed with the rest of the bunch. A hawker (hawkers are about 90% women able to carry loads on poles with their petite body) may cough or sneeze and while preparing food, cover her mouth with her bare hands then resume what she was just doing. Food may have unwanted items like hair particle or even pubic or armpit hair-like strand. Utensils may be be washed from the same portable small 1-litter size ice-cream container washing basin, without detergent. Debris on spoons are just wiped off from the water on that small dish. Drinking glasses may just be dunked two or three times and ready for the next user.
On holes-in-the-wall, if there is shortage of counter space, contained food is placed on the floor. Floors are mostly wet and muddy. Utensils are washed on the floor itself. Waiters tossed used chopsticks and other dishes like bowls and if they don’t get in the tub, they go right in the floor to be picked up later. Vegetables and meat parts are also cut in the floor and if they fell off, they are picked up again. Big quantities of vegetables are placed in plastic buckets and cleaned in the toilet faucet. The plastic buckets may have been used as bathing or toilet flushing pail. And when they are not used, they may be stacked together and stored in the toilet.
But street food and holes-in-the-wall food are absolutely flavorful, fascinating, exotic, ingeniously contrived, and cheap with all the elements of the nutrition pyramid and all the tastes – sweet, sour, salty, hot – well represented.
Along Pham Ngu Lao there are many budget Westernised options, and venturing a bit further into the side alleys can uncover some better choices than on the main streets. This traveler, for instance, had an incredibly tasty bowl of pho at a small roadside establishment near Binh Tay Market in Cho Lon for 10,000 dong, much more flavorful than the stuff at Pho 24 or Pho 2000. It is useful to remember that the local Vietnamese do not necessarily have to spend 50,000 dong on a good meal, and explore accordingly.
- The Burger Corner , 43 Nguyen Hue Street, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City. Delicious rice & traditional hamburgers. The combo meals are cheap but tasty. The restaurant often offers their customers coupons too.
- Dong Ba , 110A Nguyen Du, Dist 1. This is a shop that sells Hue Food including Hue beef noodles and traditional banh beo rice cakes.
- Trang , 102/6A Cong Quynh, Dist 1. Local food including excellent crab served in a friendly atmosphere. Not too far from Pham Ngo Lao.
- Pao restaurant & caffe , 158 Bui Vien, Dist 1. This restaurant is just open on May 2009 but very unique decor with all small instruments, traditional dress, hats, of the minority ethnic group in North of Vietnam. Truly Vietnamese food like spring rolls, hot pot, pho, 35,000-60,000 dong. They have a live Vietnamese instrument show on every Friday, Sunday.
- “Pho 19”, 19 Nguyen Trai St., District 5. A small space and very cheap place for Pho and Bo Kho. Excellent Pho and Bo Kho, a bowl costs only 25,000-30,000dong. Open only 6AM-11AM.
- Pho Bo Vien Quoc Ky , 52 Ngo Duc Ke ( near Nguyen Hué, District 1 ). A nice and cheap place for a soup. Try the sate version of the usual Pho or My, a spicy delicacy.
ATTENTION: for above Saté-Pho they ripped me of 72,000Dong – zero discussion in English possible. Either you are able to discuss their pricing in Vietnamese with them – or better forget the place! [as of 03-2012]
- Doner Kebab , 198 Bui Vien st., District 1. Inside the backpacker area, you could easily find this small hawk. 23,000 dong for each Turkish kebab.
- Dream Cones , 16 Nguyen Thi Nghia St., Ben Thanh Ward, Dist. 1. Gelato ice cream for less than 16,000 dong a scoop. Quirky and cool neon atmosphere, with lots of white leather seating. Free unlimited (unsweetened) iced tea served with your ice cream.
- Falafellim , 97 Pham Ngu Lao St., District 1. Homemade falafel, tahini and hummus in soft pita bread pockets. Sadly it has closed, but has reopened (in a sense) in the guise of a small Kosher restaurant down the alley at 121/37 Le Loi. Open only Mon-Thur 6:30-9:30PM.
- Pho Quynh , 323 Pham Ngu Lao St., District 1. Their specialty here, is without a doubt, pho. Their pho is excellent, with locals who come regularly and lucky backpackers who stumble upon it. It is air-conditioned on the second and third floors, and a bowl costs 40,000 dong. They also have a decent banh mi bo kho (beef stew with carrots, served with french baguettes) if you are looking for a pho alternative. Open 24 hr.
- Pho 2000 , 3 locations, one sharing space with I Love Burger , one right next to Ben Thanh Market, and the last toward the end of Le Thanh Ton Street. The restaurant was once visited by a former US president, Bill Clinton. Has pho (including a seafood version), along with the usual Vietnamese rice dishes, including a superb vegetarian curry.
- Pho 24 , Clean modern chain found everywhere in Ho Chi Minh City. Excellent beef noodle soup, very cheap. Watch out for the fake Pho 24/24 on Pham Ngu Lao Street, which does not belong to the chain and serves terrible and expensive food.
- Thiện Duyên Bễn Thành (vegetarian restaurant), 174 Calmette (near the city bus station), ☎ +84 8 3914 7453. Well presented vegetarian food.
- BanhMiBistro , 76 Vo Thi Sau, District 1, across from Le Van Tam park.  Great fresh gourmet sandwiches, especially the famous Vietnamese “Banh Mi”. Bread is baked fresh in the store. There are 3 other outlets around town.
- Cafe Lam , 175 Bui Vien, District 1. Excellent restaurant in backpackers area. Huge portions with rock bottom prices. US$1 for a big tiger, US$2 for a chicken curry w/ rice which is so large you won’t finish. This is a very inconspicuous place but most of the customers are regular expats. The food is nothing special but the prices, portions, and drink options make it a good bet. Fruit salad to die for, lovely smoothies, and great Tom Yam soup!
- Cafe India , 250 Bui Vien, District 1. Self-described as the “best south Indian food in city,” this place is one of the best budget options in the backpacker’s area. Their “happy menus” (thalis) – available all day – are 5 item meals that weigh in at 25,000 dong (vegetarian) or 50,000 dong for the chicken option.
- Tutti Frutti Frozen Yogurt, 15-17 Phan Chu Triuh (opposite west entrance of Ben Thanh market, near the corner to Nguyen An Ninh), . 8AM-10:30PM. If the heat in Ben Thanh market gets the better of you head over the street and have a snack or a nice cooling frozen yogurt in A/C. Mains from ~40,000 dong, frozen yogurt 25,000 dong/100g.
- The Khmer Viet Kitchen, 185/14 Pham Ngu Lau, ☎ +84 126 5492647. 7AM-11PM. Vietnamese and Western food with a big pasta, sandwich and burger menu, also do enchiladas. Mains from ~40,000 dong (vegetarian~35,000 dong). Beer from 20,000 dong..
- The Lunch Lady (Nguyen Thi Thanh), 23 Hoang Sa. 11AM-3PM. The famous Lunch Lady was featured on Anthony Bourdain’s show and definitely lives up to the billing. Different noodle dish every day. 30,000 dong..
- Bun Cha Van Anh on the corner of Truong Son Street – that’s the main street to the airport – and Song Day Street. ☎ +84 8 486308. No A/C, no menu, no English, no toilet, no walls – just bun cha Hanoi (grilled porky bits with cool rice noodles, soupy stuff and fresh herby veggie stuff that you mix together with condiments to form whatever you like)
- Barbecue Garden  , 135A Nam Ky Khoi Nghia – Quan 1. HCMC ☎+84 8 823 3340. Located 100 m from Ben Thanh Market, behind the General Sciences Library. US$5-7 range. The restaurant is a barbecue specialist with both Vietnamese and International recipes.
- Hoa Khai Vegetarian Restaurant , 124 126 Nguyen Cu Trinh St, Cu Trinh Ward District 1. About 500m west of the backpacker area. 10.7638 106.6896. Vietnamese vegetarian food. Tasty. 100k dong for a full meal.
- Bi Saigon, 185/26 Pham Ngu Lao Str, District 1 (in an alley just off the main tourist street, Bui Vien). Extensive menu with a choice between Vietnamese, Italian, Mexican and other styles. Open plan kitchen so you can see your food being prepared.
- Black Cat 13 Phan Van Dat, D1, HCMC. Fresh and juicy beef patty. Jumbo burger is US$15.
- Hanoi Oi Bistro , 225/7, Nguyễn Đình Chiểu, Phường 5, District 3. Spread over 2 floors, serving modern and traditional Vietnamese cuisine including some personal northern Vietnamese recipes of the owner/chef Thuy Linh, who is also an accomplished singer in a famous band, 5DK, one of a handful local acts specializing in World Music genre. Local singers, actors, celebrity types, and other locals and foreigners flock to this bistro for its unique take on modern and classic Vietnamese food and its ambience. From US$2-5 and upwards.
- Hoa Mai Coffee #43-45 Do Quang Dau Street. ☎+84 8 836 8310. Located in a fun, up and coming area, just off Phan Ngu Lao, between Phan Ngu Lao Street and Bui Vien Street. Restaurant downstairs, on the second floor is a comfortable bar with pool table. International food and local dishes. Around US$2-5. Fresh fruit shakes, spring rolls, Vietnamese noodles and pasta.
- Huong Dong Recently moved a bit further from the centre, to 68 Huynh Tinh Cua. A modest, open-air restaurant serving mostly southern country-style food. The name literally means “scent of the fields”. It’s a place where families and groups of friends gather, drink a lot of beer, eat a lot of food, and make a bit of noise. You might need a few beers to get up the courage to try some of the more exotic offerings, including field mouse, whole frog, pigeon porridge, and coconut worm. A whole char-grilled ga ta (local style free-range chicken) is 170,000 dong, head and feet included. A wide variety of other meats and seafood is available for 50,000-80,000 dong. Quirky English translations of the long menu add to the spirit of adventure.
- La Sen Restaurant ( Nha Hang La Sen ), 30 Ba Huyen Thanh Quan, Phuong 6 – Quan 3. ☎ +84 8 930 6682. Opening hours 9:30AM-11PM. Clean medium-priced restaurant serving food from the regions of Hue, Saigon and Hanoi. Just in the centre of district 3. Friendly service, full A/C, 2 floors and room for about 100 persons.
- Lemongrass , 4 Nguyen Thiep Street. Near the Opera House. A very touristy Vietnamese restaurant. Most dishes are in US$4-6 range, although some seafood items are more expensive. Daily business lunch US$3++ and weekly special dishes. Expanded to a twin outlet on 14th floor of Palace Hotel Saigon, 10 min away from the first outlet. Same menu, same price.
- Ngoc Suong Marina ,19C Le Quy Don, is a restaurant specialising in seafood. Fish salad and clams cooked in white wine.
- Lion City Cafe & Restaurant, 45, Le Anh Xuan, District 1 (Opposite New World Hotel), ☎ +84 8 3823 8371. 7PM-3PM. The biggest chain of Singaporean restaurants in Vietnam, all ingredients imported. 100% Singaporean food with a head chef and owner from Singapore. US$3-8.
- Papaya by Chi Nghia  , 68 Pham Viet Chanh, Binh Thanh District (near the Zoo). Small place specializing in northern style Vietnamese cuisine. Run by the chef/owner, who has 25 years of experience with Sofitel hotels, cooking and presentation is 5 star quality. From US$2-5 and upwards. Very clean, and nicely decorated.
- Quan An Ngon, District 1. Two different restaurants operate with the same name within a few blocks of each other, one at 160 Pasteur Street, and the other (recently reopened) on Nam Ky Khoi Nghia across from the Reunification Palace. Set in atmospheric old French villas, with similar menus Vietnamese food, including regional specialities prepared in numerous independently-operated food stalls around the perimeter. Both are popular and both tend to be jammed at peak hours requiring a wait for a table. (The name literally means “restaurant of delicious eating”.) The one on Pasteur has dozens of kerosene lamps burning for “atmospheric” decoration at night, so if you have asthma or COPD or feel you got enough pollution already, better to try the other one. Mains from 45,000 dong.
- Quan Nuong , 29-31 Ton That Thiep. A delicious, reasonably-priced open-air barbecue restaurant on the roof above Fanny’s ice cream parlor and the Temple Club (see splurges below). Every table has a grill in the centre, and the menu includes a variety of meats and seafood which you can grill yourself. Try the bacon wrapped salmon & the beef wrapped cheese skewers. They also serve a variety of mostly southern-style salads and noodle dishes. It’s very popular and often fills up by mid-evening.
- Sushi Bar , with four locations: corner of Le Thanh Ton and Ton Duc Thang in Q1, about six blocks northeast of the Opera House; on a large alley full of restaurants off Ton Duc Thang by the river and near the Legend Hotel; on the food-court floor of Zen Plaza on Nguyen Trai; and in the Saigon Court apartment building on Nguyen Dinh Chieu. Probably the best sushi value in Saigon. They serve a larger and more interesting variety than the typical American or European sushi restaurant, at half the price. Draft Tiger beer is 24,000 dong. Very popular, so you can expect to wait during the middle dining hours.
- Spice , 27c Le Quy Don in Q3. Largest and most visited Thai restaurant in HCM. Mostly local Vietnamese and expats as it is out of the tourist area. Authentic Thai food prepared by the two Thai chefs. Food is fresh and served within minutes. Tom yam kung and papaya salad, spice shrimp or Bangkok briany: fusion of Thai with other cuisines. Seating over 200, in A/C, al fresco or Thai style on floor mats. Delivery available to all districts. Top floor BBQ.
- Swiss Chalet Restaurant , 54 Pasteur St. in District 1 ☎ +84 8 3915 3983. Opening hours: Every day from 11:00 A.M. – 11:00 P.M. They serve a large variety of traditional Swiss food such as cheese fondue, chocolate fondue, Steaks, Rosti potaoes and many more. More than that they also have many other Central European dishes. The restaurant is known for its large portions, cosy interior and friendly staff.
- Une Journée à Paris , 234 Le Thanh Ton St. Q1, 100 m from Ben Thanh Market. Authentic French ‘boulangerie, patisserie, et salon de thé’. French petit dejeuner at 50,000 dong, with egg/bacon 100,000 dong.
- Wrap and Roll , 62 Hai Ba Trung. A growing chain. Wrapped Vietnamese fusion food in a modern minimalist setting. Try the desserts. Beer and a meal should cost less than US$10.
- Au Lac do Brazil , 238 Pasteur, between Dien Bien Phu–10:40, 20 October 2011 (EDT)126.96.36.199and Vo Thi Sau. Just to prove that Saigon has everything, here is a Brazilian-style churrascaria (all-you-can-eat restaurant featuring barbecued meat), with live Latin music Tuesday to Saturday. They also have a new outlet in Sky Garden II, Phu My Hung, Dist 7. It’s a larger and less crowded one with usually better service. Price US$30+per person.
- Co Ngu , on Pasteur just before Dien Bien Phu, Q1. Nice Vietnamese and Asian-fusion food in a Villa setting, with indoor and garden seating. Popular for business groups. Prices higher than average for Saigon, but a better value than you will find in the tourist section of town.
- Hard Rock Cafe , part of the Kumho Asiana Plaza complex, which is located at 39 Le Duan Avenue, Dist. 1. The usual American burgers and grill dishes. Around 290,000 dong for a burger meal. Good service and friendly staff. They also have live bands on selected evenings. Great choice if you are craving Western food, and want to pick up some memorabilia from the Rock Shop.
- Huy Long Vien , 99 Nguyen Du, across from the Reunification Palace. Chinese food from Peking Duck to all you can eat dim sum. It’s big and fancy inside with an ancient China ‘theme’. There’s also some a guy who pours tea out of a long kettle while performing Kung fu poses.
- La Habana , 6 Cao Ba Quat, Q1, two blocks northeast of the Hyatt and opera house. Outstanding Spanish and Cuban-style food, including a large tapas menu. Also one of the few places in Vietnam that makes really good cocktails.
- La Hosteria , on Le Thanh Ton a few blocks east of the Hilton. A gourmet Italian restaurant with excellent home-made pasta dishes in the range of 125,000 dong and main dishes 150,000+.
- L’En tete , 1st floor, 139 Nguyen Thai Binh, Q.1 ( at the junction with Calmette ). Excellent French restaurant in a area not normally associated with high dining. Great for a leisurely dining experience, good food with main courses ranging from 150,000-450,000 dong. Open 5PM-midnight,
- Pomodoro’s , Decent small Italian restaurant on Hai Ba Trung, a block from the Hilton and around the corner from the Sheraton and Caravelle Hotels. Delicious lasagna is their specialty; the pizzas are a bit oily. Dinner of 2 starters, cocktails, 0.5 litre carafe of wine, mains and deserts for roughly US$50 but with poor service.
- Tân Nam , 60-62 Dong Du, Q.1 ( A few doors from Sheraton Saigon ). The ground floor is open-air, the upper floor has A/C. Rather expensive and mediocre food, around US$10/person but they will park your motorcycle while you eat, and wander around the waterfront.
- Temple Club , 29-31 Ton That Thiep, Q.1 ( first floor, with an ice cream parlour below ) has a 1930s ambiance with separate bar, restaurant, and lounge area sections. The food is fair but most people come to soak up the atmosphere.
- The Deck Saigon 38 Nguyen U Di, Thao Dien, An Phu, D2 ( 15 minutes from the centre of Saigon ) ( Tel # 8 3 744 6632 ) ( www.thedecksaigon.com ) The only 5* restaurant on the banks of the Saigon River. Modern fusion cuisine using the best local ingredients. Extraordinarily glamorous cocktails created by renowned New York mixologist, open air dining on large wooden Deck alongside the Saigon River or inside air conditioned area and bar. Arrive in style – The Deck can arrange to bring you and your guests right to your dinner table by boat. When you have a location as good as ours, right on the river, there’s no other way to arrive.
- ZanZBar Restaurant & Bar 41 Dong Du Street, Q1 ( diagonally opposite Sheraton Hotel ) has modern casual-upscale feel with extensive range of international & Vietnamese cuisine (plenty for vegetarians to choose from). Eclectic crowd comprised of local Vietnamese, local expatriates and visiting tourists. Wine-by-glass and cocktail menu. At night the lit up columns create a great ambience.
- D’Nyonya Penang Restaurant, 58 Dong Du Street, D1 (Beside the Mosque and Sheraton Hotel), ☎ +84 8 6678 6044,  . Malaysian owned, authentic Malaysian cuisine and local Vietnamese menu.
- Four Season Restaurant, 2 Thi Sach Street, D1, ☎ +84 8 825 7186. Vietnamese and Malaysian cuisine.
- [email protected], 31 Đông Du, District 1 (Opposite to the Indian Jamia Mosque, near Sheraton Hotel), ☎ +84 8 3824 6823 (Vietnamese), +84 8 38274602 (English)( [email protected] , fax: +84 8 38274603), . 10AM-10PM. Vietnamese, Malaysian and vegetarian cuisine prepared to Halal guidelines. Has a Malaysian owner and there are several Malaysian staples on the menu, however it is primarily Vietnamese, with a wide range of dishes from around the country.
- Lion City Cafe & Restaurant, 45 Le Anh Xuan, District 1 (Near Ben Thanh market opposite New World hotel), ☎ +84 8 3823 8371,  . 7PM-3AM daily. Certified halal, serves halal food on 2nd floor.
- Pro döner kebab, 169 De Tham, Pham Ngu Lao Ward, Distr.1, ☎ +84 8 2200 5959. Turkish place with good service serving real doner kebabs, halal style.
- Vn. Halal (Muslim Food Restaurant), 14 Pham Hong Thai, P. Ben Thanh, Q 1 (near Ben Thanh Market), ☎ +84 8 3822 0252. Malaysian cuisine and Vietnamese food.
Vietnam is the worlds second largest exporter of coffee behind Brazil, and cà phê is very popular among the Vietnamese. It’s a paradise for coffee-loving visitors. The local style is strong and sweet; key words to remember are: sữa (sweetened condensed milk), đá (ice), and nóng (hot, pronounced “nowm”). Cà phê đá is strong, sweet iced coffee; and cà phê sữa đá is the same with condensed milk. Cà phê (sữa) nóng is brewed fresh on your table brewed in a little metal apparatus placed over a cup; just lift it off when it has cooled enough to touch (and hence drink). Prices range from 10,000 to 20,000 dong for coffee in the local style.
Since ice might or might not be made with purified water, strictly cautious visitors should avoid it, though long-term residents consume ice from reputable cafes and restaurants all the time.
Espresso, cappuccino, and American-style filter coffee are now also widely available in the tourist district, usually at 2-8 times the price of the local style. You will be able to differentiate the better places if they use fresh UHT milk as opposed to condensed milk.
- Cafe 5 Sao Near the Turtle Pond, on Pham Ngoc Thach. Plays loud techno music. Attractive but pretentious crowd.
- Bobby Brewery Coffee , on Bui Vien st., opened and operated by an American guy who is used to offering money for the charity. It’s a nice place with good beverage. Used to show the movies on 2nd and 3rd floor.
- La Fenêtre Soleil, 44 Ly Tu Trong (a small entrance up to the 2nd floor, near the corner of Ly Tu Trong and Pasteur). Save the world from pint size caramel lattes. Brave the decrepit stairway and enter an oasis.
- Gloria Jeans Cnr Dong Khoi and Nguyen Thiep (opposite the Sheraton). Popular international cafe chain.
- Kem Café Nearest place for many in downtown D1 to go with a local. Pull up a plastic chair and sit on the pavement. A table will appear. Practice “Cà phê đá” or “Cà phê sữa da”. If you want hot then attempt “nowm” but don’t expect to be understood.
- Chot Nho Café 189, Nguyen Van Troi, Phu Nhuan District. Reasonable price, good menu. 10 min by taxi from main city centre. free wifi.
- Cine Café 116 Nguyen Du, inside the Galaxy Cinema complex. Quiet ambiance with views of the park.
- Givral Café , Dong Khoi ( opposite Continental Hotel ). More in the French tradition, with fresh pastries, collared waiters and elaborate portions of ice cream. Well located, but over 20,000 dong for the simplest cup.
- Chao Ba Ca phe (Granny’s Coffee), TK49/5 Nguyen Canh Chan, Q1 (Walk down Nguyen Canh Chan from the junction with Tran Hung Dao and take a left down the alleyway where the fruit salad restaurant is). This place has a really authentic and wonderful cafe sua da served by the famous ‘grandma’ for about 8,000 dong. A little tricky to find.
- Hideaway Café , 41/1 Pham Ngoc Thach, Q.3 – as its name implies, this place is hidden away and a good place to read, or have a quiet conversation or meal. Decent Western menu, although slightly pricey, is good. Free wifi.
- Highlands Coffee is an upscale, somewhat pricey chain serving Western-style as well as local-style brews in prime locations around the tourist district. They also serve food and pastries. Cappuccino costs above 30,000 dong but the food and coffee quality is disappointing and service is terrible, especially at their Vincom centre location.
- M-Comic 99B vo thi sau a, a rather hard to find coffee shop. Upstairs is like a bedroom with a couple of beds – arrive early if you want to occupy one. It has large selection of magazine and comic book to chose from. The price is from 11,000 to 30,000 dong. Only serves Vietnamese drinks, and the staff only speak a little English. Has free wifi.
- Cafe Napoly on Pham Ngoc Thach near the Turtle Pond. The decor is Roman-ruin-lite (they meant “Napoli”) but the menu is typical for an upscale Vietnamese cafe — coffee, fruit drinks, ice cream, and a simple food menu including eggs and rice dishes. Piped music is nice, not too loud by day (though louder at night), prices are decent. Outdoor terrace in the front, A/C section on the ground floor, and evening time lounge-bar on the upper floor. Next door to the louder, more trendy and possibly pretentious Cafe Nam Sao.
- Poppy Café , 217 Nguyen Dinh Chieu, D3,  . Modern lounge café where the specialty is fruit-topped natural frozen yogurt. The only café in SG that serves this refreshing healthy treat. Creative fruit smoothies and light Vietnamese + Western fares also on menu. Free wifii, flat-screen TVs, and English-speaking staff.
- Sozo , has two locations, including one in Pham Ngu Lao. Prices are reasonable, wifi is free, and all proceeds benefit needy Vietnamese families. Good drinks, friendly staff, but their coookies could be better if they were baked in a real oven.
- Trung Nguyen , . The Vietnamese version of Starbucks, but with much better coffee. They have locations all over the city, but are not well represented in the heart of the tourist district. Figure on 10,000 dong for a basic cuppa, although there are plenty of variations including the infamous weasel coffee (cà phê chồn), made from coffee beans collected from civet excrement. Two convenient outlets are east side of Nguyen Hue right before City Hall, and corner of Thu Khoa Huan and Ly Tu Trong.
- Regina Coffee, 84 Nguyen Du St, District 1. Vietnamese coffee or American style cappuccinos. They have a skilled Japanese expresso master who knows how to brew coffee. French mixed with Asian design with bricks covering all the walls. It is marketed towards tourists and all proceeds go to the church around the corner.
- Window 4 Cafe , ( near the Reunification Palace ). This is a pen for Vietnam’s fashion slaves and seems to be the place to be seen. Pretentious atmosphere (it’s not the best for those who want to relax), but their coffee is very good and their menu is quite satisfying, the place is always packed.
- Old Saigon coffee, 2nd floor, 63 Dong Du St, District 1 (opposite the Sheraton). Reminiscent of HCM city in the past. It has a great view to Dong Khoi St . All the drinks and foods are typical to Saigon, the staff are quite nice
Bars and clubs
Saigon has plenty of places to drink, although to a certain degree Vietnamese and foreigners hang out in different places; however this is slowly changing as Westerners become more familiar with the ways of the East (and vice versa). Places with live music usually have no cover charge, but impose somewhat elevated drink prices (typically 55,000-85,000 dong for beer, spirits, and cocktails.) Many places close around midnight or 1AM. Some places remain open later ( Go2 Bar in Pham Ngu Lao – popular with backpackers/budget crowd; Apocalypse Now on Thi Sach St – packed with people from all walks of life (you can find anything in this place regardless of your preferences (prostitutes straight/gay, drugs or just a place to dance the night away); ZanZBar on Dong Du St – will appeal to the “regular” bar crowd and closing time changes daily depending on the number of people in the bar). There are other late night clubs which cater almost exclusively to the young Vietnamese crowd. Anywhere in the city you can find Vietnamese bottle beer places that will stay open until 3-4AM. Several bars in Phu My Hung will stay open until 2-3AM.
Not to be missed (and surprisingly previously not mentioned on this page) are the pavement bars which get very busy with locals and travellers alike, about halfway down BiU Vien. they sell bottles of saigon beer for 10,000 dong. sit on the tiny plastic chairs and enjoy the friendly atmosphere. these are perhaps the best places to drink as a backpacker, as they are very cheap and also great places to meet people (and not just other tourists).
Where you can find tourists
- ZanZBar , located at 41 Dong Du St, Q1 with a second entrance through the lobby of the Saigon Hotel. Casual-upscale, the clients tend to come for the great choice of wines-by-the-glass (huge walk-in wine cellar), for the bespoke cocktail range (using only premium brands) and good selection of imported beers. Not for the budget crowd; but can remain open after midnight, depending on the number of customers.
- American Discotheque , located on 3rd floor of An Dong plaza on An Duong Vuong st., District 5. It’s definitely the biggest disco in Saigon, with great music and lights. It has also two separate karaoke rooms where you could be sing ’til you’re tired. You could also enter it from Windsor Plaza Saigon Hotel.
- VIBE Billiards & Lounge , 02 Sương Nguyệt Ánh, Phường Bến Thành, Quận 1. Professional billiards tables and a spacious lounge. Food and drinks and you can customise the billiard table lights from a special lighting system.
- 163 Cyclo Bar , 163 Pham Ngu Lao Street, 2 doors down from the Duna Hotel. Thumping music until 2AM with friendly staff. Sex workers catering to Caucasian men here. If you’re not interested, just gently disengage.
- Allez Boo , corner Pham Ngu Lao, De Tham. For those that have been here before, you’ll find the original bar is now Highlands coffee and an all new Allez Boo has opened on the opposite corner. It’s shiny and brand-new, but retains the same feel as the original. There’s a bar with A/C on the 2nd floor with DJ-type music, and an airy rooftop patio. Quite similar to its sibling establishment, Go2 Bar. Saigon green 45.000 dong.
- Apocalypse Now , 2C Thi Sach. Legendary and still packed on weekends, although aside from a few movie references it’s not all that much to look at. Stays open late. Now opened their 2nd floor for dj, dancing, drinks with less crowded atmosphere. Cover charge of 150,000 dong.
- Vasco’s , upstairs of 74 Hai Ba Trung Street, District 1, opposite Park Hyatt Saigon Hotel. You go to the alley of 74 Hai Ba Trung and find the bar on your left, 1st floor. It has live music at certain nights in a week and a typical bar atmosphere for both tourists and expats. Drinks from 50,000 dong, including sales tax, tip is not necessary.
- Alibi , 11 Thai Van Lung. Very cozy atmosphere, with sofas lining the walls and beautiful decor. good food & drinks selection, nice music, and a mix of both local & expat people. friendly staff, and the management’s always there to make you feel welcome and make sure you get what you are asking for.
- Catwalk , at the side of New World Hotel. All in one place with a massage parlour, disco, KTV and a mini casino. Price is on the expensive side but it is a sight to behold. (Please note that if you want to occupy a room @ KTV, the minimum purchase is US$200.)
- Eden , De Tham Street. Often busy, full of sporties, revellers, expats and others. Dark and deep and reasonably priced for the backpacker main drag. Open late.
- Fuse , 3A Ton Duc Thang Street, District 1 (formerly Cage ). Full of parties. Lots of expats. Drinks are quite expensive charging around 80,000 dong for a cocktail.
- Go2 Bar , corner De Tham and Bui Vien. The main backpacker bar while Allez Boo was closed, still a great meeting place, as it’s impossible to miss the four floors of neon lights on the outside. Large patio on the sidewalk at street level, a cozier bar on the second floor with occasional live music or big-screen sports, plus a rooftop patio (with retractable roof!) with individual BBQs up a steep set of stairs on the 5th floor. Open 24 hr. Crawling with prostitutes after dark until sun up. Saigon green 30.000 dong.
- Rex Hotel rooftop , corner of Nguyen Hue and Le Loi. They serve a buffet dinner at the dinner hour, which gradually gives way to drinks and music. Acts change over time, but recently included a Filipino band playing FM classics and a Vietnamese group playing Latin and flamenco. It’s a pleasant place to get above the city noise and enjoy some fresh air. Cocktails around 140,000 dong (including the ++, which * * hotels always add).
- Level 23 , Sheraton Saigon 23F. 5 star hotel drinking venue with separate bar and nightclub, and views over the city. A little soulless, most drinks 80,000 dong.
- Le Pub , 175/22 Pham Ngu Lao, located on the small road which connects Pham Ngu Lao and Bui Vien. Always busy after 6PM, famous for its western strength drinks, daily dollar-specials (e.g. Tuesday US$1 for vodka mixers all night) and friendly staff. It has the same owner as Le Pub in Hanoi. The Pub Quiz (almost every Tuesday) is very popular with expats, especially the english teachers. Get there early or it’s too packed to find a place to sit down. Indoors and outdoor tables available.
- Oblivion , Bui Vien. Late night venue with lots of character, claims to be Saigon’s premier music bar and it’s hard to argue – assuming, that is, you have a taste for non-chart buzzy British guitar and obscure dark US/European stuff. You have to ask for happy pop, though if you’re spending enough it’ll sometimes get an outing. Like most Saigon bars, it attracts its share of working girls. If you’re not interested, simply say you’re not and you’ll be left alone.
- Saigon Saigon, 12-13 Lam Son Square.. Saigon Saigon , Caravelle Hotel 9F, 12-13 Lam Son Square. A pleasant, breezy bar with a great view of the city. Great live band (Cuban) playing inside every night. Cool, quiet ambience on the terrace. Attracts an expense-account crowd due to the prices (cocktails mostly >100,000 dong including the ++).
- Shadow Bar , 41 Dong Du Street. Expat bar, good place to wind down or up. Recently renovated as an upmarket bar and restaurant under the new name of ZanziBar. Excellent menu, wine selection and imported beers along with a pleasant and relaxing atmosphere.
- Sheridan’s , Le Thanh Ton near Thai Van Lung. Small, cozy Irish-themed bar with imported draft beer and live music. Brits will appreciate the great food tasting of home (or the closest you’ll get here).
Where you can see the locals
- Lush , at the far west end of Ly Tu Trong. A nightclub in the Western style, with loud pulsing music and minimalist too-cool decor. Drink prices on par with most Saigon Nightclubs. Mixed crowd (Vietnamese, tourists and expats), pretty good food but has a small dance floor. Ladies night on Tuesday offers free drinks for ladies until midnight. Be sure to arrive early as it gets very busy from around 22:30 and it is difficult to get served at the bar.
- America Disco at 3rd floor of An Dong Plaza, but you could enter it from Windsor Plaza Saigon Hotel also. One of the best bar in Saigon.
- Q Bar Saigon The original, internationally acclaimed Q Bar established in 1992 under the Opera House. Mix of locals, tourists and expats in a grotto-like uber-chic setting that could as easily be in Soho as Saigon. Open till late every night. Great cocktails, though at very high prices, similar to the roof-top bar of the Caravelle Hotel across the street. It’s the cool place to be seen if you have a lot of Uncle Hos in your pocket. Terrace and Indoor areas. DJ nights.
- Xu Bar , Hai Ba Trung street, near the Opera house. Great wine list. Nice ambiance & service. Not a club.
- Velvet , Ho Huan Nghiep/ Dong Khoi corner. Nice ambiance & music. Latest chic bar in town. Gets very busy, and at weekends you will need a booking.
- Bounce Club , on top of Parkson on Le Thanh Ton street. Very crowded with locals in the weekends. Large dance floor, great hip hop music, somewhat too crowded.
- Acoustic Cafe , 6E1 Ngô Thời Nhiệm. Though only 1 km from the heavily touristed centre, this club is completely outside the tourist orbit, and offers an interesting view of local life. The all-Vietnamese house band performs every night, mostly American music, and it’s always jammed with student-aged groupies. For some reason, they address the crowd in English between songs, even though half the crowd doesn’t understand. On weekends, at least, you need to arrive by 19:30 to have any hope of getting a seat. If your hobby is rock ballad or hardrock, you should go on Friday night
- Carmen , 8 Ly Tu Trong, reopened in June 2009 after being dark for almost two years. The house band has changed some personnel but is still good, specializing in flamenco, salsa, and Latin pop, with an eclectic mix of other popular songs thrown in. Cocktails 110,000 dong, shots 80-85,000 dong, but with no entrance charge. It’s popular and fills up on weekends.
- Ice Blue , Dong Khoi. Downtown English pub, complete with darts board and warm beer. Friendly, but shuts at midnight.
- Juice , claims to be Saigon’s first juice bar (of course it wasn’t, there were many local places before – but maybe it was the first Western-managed one). The standard of food has recently slipped, but still a nice place to hang out. Has wifi.
- Khong Ten , (literally “No Name”), 147 Hai Ba Trung, is a large cabaret featuring some of the biggest Vietnamese celebrity singers still in Vietnam. The headliner is often familiar to the locals from television. Most overseas visitors would not like the musical style very much (mostly the mellow-to-melancholy, soft-jazzy, love-ballady style favored by the middle and older generation of Vietnamese.) But it’s pure Vietnam and very popular with HCMC residents and Vietnamese expats on trips home. The entrance charge is the highest in town at 150,000 dong.
- La Habana , 6 Cao Ba Quat, about two blocks north of the Hyatt. A restaurant and bar with Cuban theme that makes outstanding cocktails for 60,000 dong. Some are available in pitcher-size for 150,000-180,000 dong. The food is also excellent, though at the high end of Saigon prices. Their Friday night live music headliner, Jeram, has returned from Ireland, and it’s usually standing-room only.
update: Jeram nowhere to be seen – but an excellent Rock-Combo with a just fabulous lead-singer (lady)! Mixed crowd – also many Vietnamese. Absolutely recommended! [as of 03-2012]
- Lion’s , 11-13 Lam Son Square, Dist.1 (next to Caravelle hostel). Brewery – Restaurant (somewhat German food), with tasty beers and cocktails. The outside terrace is a nice place to chill out, and the inside restaurant is very welcoming with its two beer tanks and cosy bar.
- Metallic Bar , 41 Ba Huyen Thanh Quan, District 3. House band plays covers of Metallica, Guns N Roses and other popular rock bands nightly between 21:00 and midnight.
- Napoly , Pham Ngoc Thach near the “Turtle Pond”. The ground floor is a popular, somewhat upscale cafe with inside and outside seating. The bar is upstairs in the back, with a decent house band singing a mixture of Vietnamese and English songs.
- Peaches Saigon South (Phu My Hung). Great place to enjoy a few drinks with friends. Friendly staff, Asian food. Quite low key in comparison to other PMH bars.
- Polo , Ham Nghi Street ( above the Liberty Hotel ). Mixture of expats and locals, starts getting busy quite early. Reasonably priced food and drink, good music spanning from the 80sƒhalal to the present. Noisy and smokey.
- Rio Saigon , A Brazilian flowery decor-themed bar/pub with a great Fillipino house band playing Pop/Rock such as Bon Jovi & Skid Row. It was apparently the original “17 Saloon” bar (now at Pham Ngu Lao) when it was still located along the Saigon River. Great service staff and excellent atmosphere. It is situated at 131 Ton That Dam St. (District 1), ☎+84 8 8211827,+84 8 8211812. You will be surprised that its located somewhere within a wet street market. Gets crowded around 21:00 and closes at midnight.
- Saigon Pho , this little hole in the wall is only a stone’s throw from Allez Boo, but much more expat orientated. Open until late.
- Serenata and Soi Da , 6E Ngô Thời Nhiệm. Two open-air cafe-bars with live music in Villa-style settings, which attract few if any tourists but typify what most Vietnamese consider a pleasant evening out. Both feature a mix of classical chamber music, Vietnamese lounge songs, American FM classics and the odd French song.
- The Tavern SB8-1 My Khanh 2 (H4-2) Nguyen Van Linh, Saigon South (Phu My Hung) ☎+84 8 4120866. Great place to enjoy a cold beer or a great “Western” meal – favourite dishes are fish ‘n’ chips & bangers ‘n’ mash. Reasonable prices and nice, friendly staff and management. Opens for breakfast, closes at midnight.
- Banana Pub Saigon South (Phu My Hung) Park View. The best bar in Phu My Hung. Pool table, darts, friendly staff, beautiful people, tasty drinks, loads of food. Stays open late depending on the crowd. Worth a trip from Q.1 to experience the true expat scene.
There are plenty of nice and reasonably priced local hotels available for tourists as well as the very expensive international chains like Sheraton and Hyatt. Do take note (especially lonely male travelers) that most hotels do not allow you to bring back a local female companion to stay overnight. Inquire about their ‘guest privileges’. Many of the non-international chain properties (that are very nice) do allow guests.
For Hotel Scams see also the Scams section.
The main backpacker hangout is Pham Ngu Lao in District 1, just a short walk (10-15 min) from Ben Thanh Market. The lanes and alleys in the area between Pham Ngu Lao and Bui Vien are jammed with 5-10 room mini-hotels offering prices around US$15 per room (air-con with hot shower and cable TV). There is no difference in price between single or double occupancy so if you are travelling alone you might want to try finding a dorm bed for around $6 (but there are not many of them around.) Keep heading southwest away from the backpacker hustle closer Ng Thai Hoc, you’ll likely find that as the alleys get smaller the rooms get quieter and owners more friendly. The area swarms with touts and other nuisances – be warned that the area is not the safest, and it’d be wise not to run around carrying something like an expensive DSLR camera, thereby making yourself a potential target for thieves.
- An Phuong 2, 295 Pham Ngu Lao, District 1, ☎ +84 8 920 5509 / +84 8 836 9248 ( [email protected] ). Situated directly across from where the buses drop tourists, it is a friendly family-run guesthouse, very clean and homely. Free internet, cheap laundry and all rooms have double glazing. US$15.
- Blue River Hotel, 283/2C Pham Ngu Lao, District 1, ☎ +84 8 3837 6483 or mobile +84 903 679994 ( [email protected] ), . Amazing small hotel in an alley off Pham Ngu Lao. They can arrange an airport pickup for US$15 (though an official taxi from the airport counter will run you only US$8). Some staff members speak English and the service is good. $25 for a room without a view. US$30 for a room with a view that may or may not have a balcony.
- Dai Huy Hoang Hotel, 283/22 Pham Ngu Lao, District 1 (in a small and quiet alley that links Pham Ngu Lao and Do Quang Dau. Coming from Pham Ngu Lao the alley is next to the ‘Canadian Hotel’.), ☎ +84 8 3837 0677 ( [email protected] ). Comfortable rooms with A/C, fan, free internet and breakfast. Friendly staff.US$ 13-20.
- Diep Anh, ☎ +84 8 38 367920 ( [email protected] ), . Very friendly owners. Rooms with A/C, refrigerator, cable TV, ensuite, and wifi. Very reasonably priced minibar. US$10-30.
- Ty Mon, ☎ +84 862870526,  . Friendly owners, very good basic rooms with AC, TV, decent furniture and fridge. Very cheap price, used by Vietnamese people mostly. A bit far out from center. US$8-12.
- Duna Hotel, 167 Pham Ngu Lao, District 1, ☎ +84 8 8373-699,  . All rooms have A/C, satellite TV, a fridge, elevator. Pleasant staff. Note that the front door is locked relatively early (around 11PM ~midnight) and to get back in you must bang loud enough on the shutter door so that the staff sleeping inside can wake up and let you in. From US$12 for a single room with no window to US$30 for a triple with a window facing the street..
- Hanh Hoa Hotel, 237 Pham Ngu Lao, District 1, ☎ +84 8 38372361,  . With a real Rattan feel to the hotel. Vietnamese styling, with bamboo interiors, rattan beds, and authentic wooden floors
- Hotel Bi Saigon, 185/26 Pham Ngu Lao, District 1 (in alley #185), ☎ +84 8 836 0678,  . Clean, comfortable and terrific staff. In-room internet US$3/day (bring your own laptop). The lobby houses the La Table De Saigon restaurant. Double US$27.
- Ly, 84/24B Bui Vien, District 1 (A small alley off Pham Ngu Lao St. with lots of locals), ☎ +84 8 3836 4794 ( [email protected] ). Family run guest house with friendly staff who speak English. A/C, hot water, cableTV with international channels, baggage storage, laundry service, big beds and some with balconies. US$15 sleeping with at least 3. US$10-15.
- Ly Loan, 241/11/2 Pham Ngu Lao, District 1 (From airport take a taxi to Pham Ngu Lao St (7 km) and enter alley 241 (between Liberty 4 Hotel and ABC Bakery), 15 m into the alley, turn left. A few min walk from the bus stops (on Pham Ngu Lao street) you can see the alley 241 between Liberty 4 Hotel and ABC Bakery) turn into 241 alley about 2 min and turn the left side, it is on the 1st house), ☎ +84 8 837 0067 ([email protected]). Family run guest house in a small, safe, quiet alley. Some English is spoken. Rooms are spacious and nicely furnished. With A/C, hot water, big beds and some with balconies. Free internet and wifi. Warning, two yapping small dogs. US$16.
- My Home, 241/43 Pham Ngu Lao, District 1, ☎ +84 8 5559 3898 ( [email protected] ). Friendly staff and clean. The buses from up north drop you right near this hostel. A/C, hot water, comfortable beds, free internet with wifi. Free bananas at all times and they do laundry. Tourist bars and clubs are a couple hundred metres away. Singles US$12, doubles US$15, triples available.
- Nam Chau, 171/2 Co Bac St. (near Co Giant St), ☎ +84 8 3837 0294. Nice and very clean. US$ 10-15 (oct. 2010).
- Ngoc Minh Hotel, 283/9 Pham Ngu Lao, District 1. Clean hotel with friendly staff, free internet and wifi. Elevator available. 5 stories, garden on top floor and free breakfast From US$20.
- Nguyen Khang Hotel, 283/25 Pham Ngu Lao, District 1 (in a small and quiet alley that links Pham Ngu Lao and Do Quang Dau. Coming from Pham Ngu Lao the alley is next to the ‘Canadian Hotel’.), ☎ +84 8 837 3566 ( [email protected] ), . checkout: If checking out after noon but before 5PM half of the room rate is charged. Has a nice vibe and good staff, free internet (PC in lobby and wifi in rooms). Free breakfast served on the ground floor from 7AM-10AM. Recently built (or remodelled), Clean, tastefully simple in decoration, rooms are rather small but have A/C, fan, TV, fridge (and those at the front have large windows). Visa and Mastercard accepted. US$10-20.
- PP Backpackers, 283/41 Pham Ngu Lao (in an alley off PNL along with various other guest houses and hotels, there’s a list over the entrance at #283), ☎ 01262501823 ( [email protected] ). Run by one friendly Englishman, this hostel offers clean dorms and rooms, can book tours and offers a big breakfast (even the so-called ‘small breakfast’) for US$1. Dorm US$6.
- Rainbow Hotel, 283/5 Pham Ngu Lao, District 1, ☎ +84 8 836 0039. checkin: march 8; checkout: march12. Large, bright (albeit somewhat worn) rooms, and those at the front have a nice view. From US$15.
- Tam Anh Guesthouse, 241/21 Pham Ngu Lao, District 1, ☎ +84 8 3837 0756 ( [email protected] ). A clean and secure family-run guesthouse. Good A/C, free wi-fi. US$15.
- Tan Dat My Hotel, 81-83 Ong ich Khiem, District 11 (About a 15min taxi ride to District 1), ☎ +84 8 3963 4424. Large rooms with a view, A/C, wifi, fridge, cableTV and a free rooftop breakfast next to the Dam Sen Park. French bakery 30 m away. American style supermarket 10 min walk on the same street. US$17.
- Thien Hong Hotel, 241/34 Pham Ngu Lao, District 1 (In one of the small alleys running between Pham Ngu Lao and Bui Vien.), ☎ +84 8 3920 6078,  . Helpful and friendly owners, free wifi, TV in rooms with many channels including the Australia Network. A/C room with no window US$15.
- Thanh Guest House, 84/9 Bui Vien, Pham Ngu Lao, District 1, ☎ +84 9 318 8588 ( [email protected] ). Warm and friendly guesthouse. Lobby inside the house with comfy sofa, cableTV and internet. Free wifi throughout. Trips and tours can be booked at reception. US$12-18.
- Nga Hoang Hotel, 269/19 Pham Ngu Lao Ward, District 1, ☎ +848 3 9203 356 ( [email protected] , fax: +84 8 3920 3357), . Friendly German and English speaking staff. A/C rooms with private bathrooms, hot water, wifi, cableTV with international channels. Baggage storage and laundry service. Travel desk can arrange flights and bookings. US$12/day including breakfast..
- Xuan Spring Hotel, 185/34 Pham Ngu Lao Street, District 1, ☎ +84 8 837 2115 ( [email protected] ), . A/C, refrigerator, cableTV and private bathroom with hot shower and free internet. Online bookings. Good service. US$14-17.
The area around Ben Thanh market along Le Thanh Ton and Ly Tu Trong has many reasonably priced hotels with clean rooms in the US$25-35 bracket; some provide free wifi.
- Thuan Thien Hotel, 277 Le Thanh Ton St., Ben Thanh Ward., Dist 1, ☎ +848 3822 8122,  . A/C rooms, cable TV, DVD,, coffee/tea maker, mini-bar, and a private toilet and shower with bathtub. High-speed Internet, dry cleaning and laundry service, and a travel agency for booking tours. From US$34.
- Asian Hotel, 146-148-150 Dong Khoi Street, Ben Nghe District, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, ☎ +84 8 3829 6979,  . Asian Hotel is located along Dong Khoi Street in the Ben Nghe District of Ho Chi Minh City. Every room has A/C, cable TV, and internet. From.
- Dai Nam Hotel, 79 Tran Hung Dao St., District 1, ☎ +84 8 3824 2525 ( [email protected] ), . 3 star. 5 min walk from Ben Thanh Market and the backpacker area on Pham Ngu Lao Street. Breakfast and free in-room wifi. The Gossip night club is in this hotel. US $35-55.
- Elegant Hotel, 122F-122F1 Bui Thi Xuan, Pham Ngu Lao Ward, District 1, ☎ +84 8 3925 8866,  . All rooms and suites have A/C, LCD TV with satellite channels, IDD telephone, coffee/tea maker and mini-bar. Bar, cafe, spa and massage services, business centre, fitness room & gym, and high speed internet access.From US$35.
- Golden Rose Hotel, 3A Vo Van Tan, Ward 6, Dist 3 (20 min from airport), ☎ +84 8 3824 7248 ( [email protected] ), . 80 modern and cozy rooms with A/C, cable TV, mini-bar, and safe. Jacuzzi and fitness centre, high-speed internet and massage services. From US$60.
- Ngoc Ha , 53, Le Anh Xuan. Close to Ben Thanh market and the New World Hotel. Clean and decent rooms, A/C, fridge, wifi in the lobby. Rooms US$25-35 including simple breakfast.
- Bloom Hotel I, 270 Le Thanh Ton St., Ben Thanh Ward, Dist. 1,Ho Chi Minh City (Very near Ben Thanh Market), ☎ 0848 38258698,  . Lovely modern, clean hotel. Rooms come with LCD flat screen tv’s, and the air conditioning unit is a mini computer located on the wall which controls all functions of the room. The suite has a spa tub. Free Wifi access, and friendy staff. 25-40 USD.
- Y Thien , 247 Ly Tu Trong, ( 5 min from Ben Thanh Market ), ☎ 84 8 824 8176. Full service hotel with a range of clean rooms with large bathrooms. Sizes from tiny and windowless (yet functional), to full wall window overlooking the city and streets. The 4th floor room to the right of the elevator is US$20-25. CableTV, A/C, fan, refrigerator, elevator, all night guard for bikes, hotel safe. If you don’t want to stay in the backpacker area and are willing to pay a little more, it’s a good option.
- Nhat Ha Hotel, 252 BC Le Thanh Ton Str – Ben Thanh Ward – District 1, ☎ +84 8 3824 6368,  . 57 rooms decorated with traditional Vietnamese handicrafts. IDD telephone, satellite TV, mini-bar, and A/C. From US$33.
- Sanouva Hotel, 175-177 Ly Tu Trong Street, Ben Thanh Ward, District 1, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, ☎ +84 8 38 275 275,  . Central business district 15 min from Tan Son Nhat International Airport. A/C, 32″ LCD TV with cable, internet and IDD telephone. Restaurant, bar, café, car rental, travel bookings, tour services, and safe deposit boxes. From US$55.00.
- Spring Hotel , 44-46 Le Thanh Ton Street, District 1. ☎ +84 8 829 7362. Boutique hotel. Clean and walking distance to major attractions such as Ben Thanh Market and Cathedral. From US$32-74.
The area around De Tham is close to the Ben Thanh market and is the backpacker area of the city.
- An An Hotel, 40 Bui Vien Street, District 1, ☎ +84 8 3837 8087 ( [email protected] ), . Clean, popular and offers comfortable rooms with double glazing in the centre of the action on De Tham, free wifi in room and lobby. US$40 superior double room to US$50 for a luxury double room.
- An An 2 Hotel , 216 De Tham Street, District 1, ( On the corner of De Tham and Bui Vien, about 20 m down from the original An An hotel ), , ☎ +84 8 3838 5665 ( [email protected] ) This is a (much newer) sister hotel to An An hotel. From US$22 (with window) for standard single, US$25 for double and US$36-$50 for superior and luxury with balcony. The prices can be lowered if you stay for 4+ days (ex: US$20 for double for 6 days).
Many of Saigon’s historical hotels are in the hands of Saigontourist, the former state monopoly. Thanks to recent competition, service and facilities are adequate, although not quite up to modern standards; but if you want to experience a little colonial atmosphere, these remain far and away the best choices at the moment.
- Continental Hotel , 132-134 Dong Khoi Street. An old-school colonial hotel dating back to 1880 and the setting of Graham Greene’s novel The Quiet American . Garden, huge rooms, nice balcony views. From US$60 and up (taxes, service, breakfast included). On the minus side, there is no pool, and traffic noise can be irritating.
- Dong Do Hotel , 35 Mac Thi Buoi Street, District 1. New hotel with clean and comfortable rooms. From US$20-35.
- The First Hotel, 18 Hoang Viet St, Ward 4, Tan Binh District, ☎ +84 8 3844 1199,  . 4 star hotel, 104 A/C rooms, cableTV, mini-bar, shower with bathtub, and wifi. Casino and ballroom, fitness room, tennis court, swimming pool, airport transfer and car rental. From US$75.
- Mai Hotel , 4A-4B Thi Sach Street, Ben Nghe Ward, District 1. Opened in 2008 and expanded with a second wing. Clean and comfortable rooms with A/C and bar fridge. Right around the corner is the Apocalypse Now Club. Breakfast included, free wifi in the lobby, while connections are a little patchy in the rooms. From US$30-55
- Rex Hotel , 141 Nguyen Hue Boulevard. Ideally located in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City, next door to the People’s Committee Hall. Another old standby, former haunt of the press corps and site of the daily news briefing during the Vietnam War. The 5th floor rooftop beer garden is famous and its symbol, the golden crown, is rotating again. The rooms are very pleasant and there is a swimming pool on the roof. Buffet breakfast. From US$70.
- Thien Thao Hotel “, 89 Cao Thang, Ward 3, District 3. A small hotel with thin walls but also clean and comfortable with A/C rooms, bathtubs, local and cable channels on a large plasma TV, and minibar fridge. About 20 min walk away from the heart of District 1. Bakery and several restaurants less than 5 min away, free wifi in the rooms and three computers in the lobby. From around US$30, breakfast included.
- Xuan Loc Hotel, 47-49-51 Le Anh Xuan, District 1, ☎ +84 8 3827 4641, +84 8 3827 4642, +84 8 3827 5507, +84 8 3827 5508 ( [email protected] ), . 3 star hotel with clean and comfortable rooms. Breakfast available, internet and computers are provided. From US$60.
- Mekong Lodge, 196/1/20 Cong Hoa St, Tan Binh Dist, ☎ +84 933 449 391,  . A good hotel for those love nature. from US$60.
Luxury hotels are popping up faster than mushrooms in the monsoon rains. Expect to pay closer to US$200 for any of these unless you marry the owner’s daughter. The Caravelle, Sheraton, and Hyatt are all within site of each other near the Opera House, in the heart of the city-centre tourist district . New high quality boutique hotels are popping up around the city, an example being Villa Thao Dien in the city’s most elite neighborhood.
- Caravelle , 19 Lam Son Square @ Dong Khoi, across from the Opera House, in District 1. In-house restaurants and spas. 7 km from the airport. Deluxe rooms from US$188 per night. May 2009 celebrated their 50th year in Saigon. During the war it was home to many war correspondents and the rooftop bar served as their local “watering hole”.
- InterContinental Asiana Saigon Hotel , Corner of Le Van Huu St, Le Duan Boulevard and Hai Ba Trung St, District 1. Located at Asiana Kumho Plaza which also houses the Debenham stores and the Hard Rock Cafe. Dinner buffet is US$40++. Can walk to city centre.
- Hotel Majestic , 5 star hotel in District 1, at the waterfront at the end of Dong Khoi Street. It got its start in 1925, and though it has undergone a number of renovations since, it maintains the same basic look outside. Rooftop bar serves mediocre ice cream and drinks. Has a non-smoking wing.
- Mövenpick Hotel Saigon, 253 Nguyen Van Troi Street, Phu Nhuan District, ☎ +84 8 3844 9222 ( [email protected] , fax: +84 8 3844 9200), . checkin: 2PM; checkout: noon. 5 star hotel in the Phu Nhuan, 10 min away from the exhibition centre and international airport and 20 min from the Ho Chi Minh city centre. 251 rooms and suites for short and long staying guests. All rooms are equipped with individually controlled A/C system, TV, minibar, private safe, hairdryer. Broadband internet access is available in all rooms. From US$120.
- New World Saigon Hotel, 76 Le Lai Street, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, ☎ +84 8 3822 8888 ( [email protected] , fax: +84 8 3823 0710), .
- Hotel Nikko Saigon ( Ho Chi Minh ), 235 Nguyen Van Cu, District 1 (beside Nowzone Shopping Mall), ☎ +84 8 3925 7777( [email protected] , fax: +84 8 3925 7766), . checkin: 14:00; checkout: 12 noon. From $160.
- Park Hyatt Saigon, 2 Lam Son Square, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (Adjacent to Opera House), ☎ +84 8 3824 1234 ( [email protected] ),. checkin: 3:00 pm; checkout: 12noon. 5 star hotel which features a collection of contemporary Vietnamese art, a variety of non-smoking dining options including an alfresco setting, an Italian restaurant, Opera, the signature Vietnamese/Western restaurant, Square One, Park Lounge that serves Afternoon Tea, and a martini bar, 2 Lam Son. The hotel also consists of a 20 meter pool, fitness center and the Xuan Spa. US$220-$520.
- Renaissance Riverside Hotel, 8-15 Ton Duc Thang Street, District 1, . On the river and near the main tourist-shopping district, a block off of Dong Khoi.
- Saigon Domaine Luxury Residences, 1057 Binh Quoi Street, Ward 28, Binh Thanh District, ☎ +81 8 483556 6163,  . 4 star serviced apartments, cableTV, radio, A/C, safe, hair dryer, internet, phone, mini–bar and coffee/tea maker. Swimming pool, fitness room, sauna, business facilities and currency exchange. Car rental and airport and city transfers available. From US$169.
- Sheraton Saigon . On Dong Khoi, in the heart of the tourist shopping district. Complete with Prada shop in the arcade. Restaurants and around US$40 for an all you can eat buffet dinner. Red and white wine included.
- Sofitel Plaza Saigon, 17 Le Duan Boulevard, District 1, ☎ +84 8 824 1555 ( [email protected] , fax: +84 8 824 1666), . 290 room hotel in the city centre. Airy if slightly small rooms, comfy beds, free wired internet. Several restaurants, including a buffet and a breakfast spread. US$160-300.
- Somerset Chancellor Court Ho Chi Minh City, No 21-23 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street, district 1, ☎ +84 8 3822-9197/8 ( [email protected] , fax:+ 84 8 3822-1755), . The serviced residence is located in the heart of the business district. It offers 172 apartments ranging from studios to three-bedroom. Each apartment is fully furnished with an open kitchen concept, contemporary western style decor and balcony. Daily rates starts from 2521000 VND.
- Thao Dien Village (Villa Thao Dien Hotel and spa resort), 195 Nguyen Van Huong St., Thao Dien Ward, Dist. 2 (15 min by taxi from district 1), ☎ +84 8 3744 6457( [email protected] , fax: +84 8 3744 6458). A colonial style boutique hotel in tropical gardens on the banks of Saigon River. 22 rooms, spa and health club. 4 restaurants; Ngon (Vietnamese), Villa Romaine (Italian), Chaba (Thai), and Tama-Gawa (Sushi bar). Private functions are available at any of the restaurants. Every saturday at 7:30PM there is a traditional Vietnamese water puppet show on the riverside outdoor terrace of Ngon Restaurant. Facilities available for weddings and parties. The Event House can accommodate up to 300 guests.
- Windsor Plaza Hotel, 18 An Duong Vuong, District 5 (Chinatown), ☎ +84 8 3833 6688 ( [email protected] , fax: +84 8 38336888), . checkin: 2PM; checkout: 12 noon. 5 star hotel with 405 rooms close to Binh Tay Market. Several restaurants including an extensive Western and Asian buffet on 4th floor; a Chinese restaurant serving live seafood, southern Chinese cuisine and dim sum; and a rooftop international restaurant that has panoramic views of Cholon. Recent upgrade. Hotel guests can take the free hourly shuttle to the business district.
Be aware that scam artists, reminiscent of Nigerian email scams, are operating in the streets of Ho Chi Minh. A person will strike up a friendly conversation claiming they’ve either seen you at the airport or some other tourist place where they work. Usually they’ll be with other family members who will join the conversation very naturally and once they find out where you’re from they’ll mention that another family member is moving to a city in your country. You will be invited over for food at their house to help console a worried grandmother or to give advise to their family member. Once you arrive at the house however the family member is not there, or the grandmother has suddenly fallen ill and had to go to the hospital. You’ll be presented with various business opportunities, legal or not, or asked for financial support for the suddenly sick grandmother.
Hotel scams are very common, even in the mid-range price level US$~20-70. The hotel will remind you once that you should place your valuables in the room safe or the hotel safe. Be sure that hotel staff cleaning may steal it faster than you can think since they can get into your room any time, and they will use the chance. Lock up everything that is more or less valuable. Some robberies have been known to happen in the middle of the night, while guests are sleeping. It would be wise to do your research.
Research is key in these matters as many places in HCMC are very pleasant and provide little chance of being affected by such activities.
As Vietnam expands internationally there is a growing list of places to learn the language. Here are some of the schools around HCMC to learn Vietnamese:
- Vietnamese Language Garden  135/10 Nguyen Cuu Van, Binh Thanh District, near district 1, the school offers one-on-one study, quick one-week classes and home stays for those just trying to get by for a few months, or longer term programs for those staying a while.
- VNS University  In District 1, the University of Social Sciences has comprehensive University style courses in Vietnamese, group classes typically 6-10 people.
- Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) telephone code: 08. Please note that in late 2008 many (but not all) land line phone numbers in Vietnam were given the prefix 3.
Free wifi access is provided at many hotels, guesthouses, restaurants and cafés. You can find open access points that don’t require a password throughout the area around Pham Ngu Lao/Vu Bien and Ben Than Market.
- Far East Dental, 249 Le Thanh Ton St, Ben Thanh Ward, Dist 1, HCMC, ☎ (848) 38 257789 ( [email protected] ), . 9:00-12:00, 13:30-19:00. Just a stones throw away from Ben Thanh Market. Equipment is modern, and the staff are knowledgeable and friendly. Pricing is well below many western countries rates.US$13 for a cleaning.
- Institut du Coeur / CMI Vietnam, 1 Han Thuyen, Q1, HCMC (just near Notre Dame cathedral, opposite of central post), ☎ (08) 38 27 23 66 / 67 ( [email protected] ), . Mon-Fri 8:00-19:00, Sat 9:00-13:00; Emergencies 24/7. Created by Fondation Alain Carpentier, famous french cardiologist, modern equipment and french level trained staff. speaking english and french.
- Immigration department, 161 Nguyen Du, District 1 (~ 15-20min by walk from reunification palace, ~10min from Ben Thanh market following Le Lai street), ☎ 8299398. To get a visa or modify once, you can either get here, either ask a travel agent. Typical cost for a visa extension of one month is 10$, 5 working days delay where they keep passport. You need to fill form N14/M with your details and the one of your sponsor, either hotel, either private house and get a stamp from police station corresponding to your accomodation. This point could be tricky as it implies that you have register at the police station before (See Vietnam/Sleep ). If not, expect extra delay or cost (5 days more for example). A quick process (2d) is possible but you need to justify it. Going through travel agents could cost about US$ 30 but they manage the police stamp whatever your situation is (extra fee of US$20 for quick process). Other prices from immigration office at Sep 2011: single entry visa 25$, multiple </> 6m 50/100$, change visa single in multiple </>6m 25/75$, modification/extension of visa 10$
If you need to fill a complaint (for example, a stolen object), you can go at a police station. For a stolen thing, you need to report to the station corresponding at the place where the theft is supposed to have happened. It can be tricky as small station will probably not have an officer with very good english. If possible, go with someone speaking vietnamese.
- Police station District 1, 24-26 duong pasteur, District 1 (10mn by walk from ben thanh bus station, near Fideco tower, crossing Ham Nghi & pasteur streets.), ☎ 0838297373. 7h30-11h30, 13h-17h.
- Police station Phu Nhuan, 181 Hoang Van Thu, Phu Nhuan. 7h30-11h30, 13h-17h.
- Can Tho is the biggest city of the Mekong Delta and famous for its floating market, delicious food and fresh fruits. The name comes from “cầm thi giang” – river of poems. The city is also referred to as “Tay Do” meaning “Western capital”. It has an estimated population of 1,5 million. Can Tho is 169 km (3 hours) from Ho Chi Minh City. You can get tickets at Le Hong Phong in district 3 and take a free shuttle bus to Ben Xe Mien Tay, where the air conditioned buses leave. Tickets to Can Tho cost around 100,000 Dong. Free Shuttle buses in Can Tho will bring you directly to your hotel.
- Cu Chi Tunnel – day-trips are tirelessly flogged by travel agencies around Pham Ngu Lao, and can be done as a half-day trip, or as a full-day with a stop at Tay Ninh to see the Holy See of the Cao Dai religion. Tours, including admission, should cost 70,000-110,000 dong, and are available every day of the week. Cu Chi tunnels are about a 1.5 hr drive out of HCMC centre. It’s worth taking the trips to see these amazing structures so cleverly carved underground and used for survival during wartime. One way to get to the tunnels is by speedboat.
- Can Gio – the virgin mangrove forest 30 km South of the city, entrance to the Park is near Ca Cam bridge, typical day break from the civilization.
- Dalat – popular temperate mountain side ‘European’ escape.
- Mekong Delta – boat tours are available with an almost infinite mix of itineraries. They can be short overnight trips, leisurely meanders over several nights. If doing a two or three day Mekong Tour (which is exceptionally worth while), expect to be shuffled between tour companies along the way though. Different Mekong Tours options can be found 
- Tay Ninh – Cao Dai Holy See and Ba Den mountain.
- Mui Ne – popular beach resort about 4-6 hr away by bus
- Vung Tau – city with good beaches, about 2 hr away by bus, or less by boat along the Saigon River. The boat ride costs 250,000 dong (as per Sep-2011).
- Phnom Penh – a 6 hr bus ride to the capital of Cambodia ranges from US$10-12 (210,000-252,000 dong). When you pass into Cambodia and the bus rests for 15 min, do not buy anything from the roadside cafe. Instead, cross the road to purchase drinks or food from the roadside shops because prices can be up to 50% cheaper than the bus stop cafe. Alternatively you could book a tour with boat and bus to Phnom Penh in Cambodia, which will have you spending a night in a cheap hotel inChau Doc before making the trip over the border (cross-border package prices may include visa support, which should cost 360,000-530,000 dong).