Our insider guide to Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam
Ho Chi Minh (formerly Saigon) is Vietnam’s largest city – a high-octane metropolis, alive with an exciting and inventive energy unmatched almost anywhere else in Southeast Asia. With its blur of 9 million motorbikes, bustling markets and a tantalising street food scene, there is so much to this exhilarating place, but most of all, it holds a hugely important part in Vietnam’s past that is well worth uncovering with one of our specialists.
Whether Saigon comes at the beginning or end of your adventure in Vietnam, there are a plethora of amazing guided activities and experiences we can create to help make the most out of your time in this chaotic place. Rest assured there is something here for everyone.
Culture, street food + markets
Saigon is a fast-changing city with plenty to offer. The best way to put it into perspective is to meet our friend on the ground, Linh, a Vietnamese-Canadian creative producer. Linh will accompany you on a journey full of storytelling and discovery – showcasing a different side of Vietnam, beyond the pho, bánh mì and conical hats. Rising early to beat the heat and traffic, head to a local street stall known for steaming bowls of bánh canh cua (a tapioca-based noodle dish with shrimp and crab), where Linh divulges her family history and the story of how they became Vietnamese boat refugees who fled at the end of the Vietnam War in 1975.
Returning to Ho Chi Minh more than a decade ago, Linh has spent time getting under the skin of the city, unveiling the daily lives and cultures of the Saigonese people. A morning with Linh can be totally curated to your interests, whether that be exploring local eateries, quirky cafes and busy markets beyond the well-versed Cholon, or meeting local residents, artists and artisans who welcome you into their studios, homes and shops. Linh is all about showcasing what it’s like to work in modern-day Vietnam through the eyes of inspiring and creative individuals. There is no better way to be immersed in this invigorating place.
History + heritage
While entrepreneurial Saigon seems unstoppable, it has not always been like this. One afternoon, your guide can take you through the fraught politics behind the colonial buildings we see today. For history buffs and fans of modernism, don’t miss the Reunification Palace (the former headquarters of the South Vietnamese Government), where a North Vietnamese tank crashed through its gates in April 1975. You will also visit the likes of the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Post Office, but if you are looking for one step further, we can organise for you to meet specialist historian, Ms Duong, who can take you on a deeper exploration of the Vietnamese city, French colonialism, the Vietnam War and the decades of post-war poverty. Ms Duong carefully and consistently ties this in with Ho Chi Minh’s development and its status as a fast-moving economic powerhouse, making this the perfect in-depth insight for history enthusiasts.
Having built up an appetite, you should sample some of the country’s best restaurants – and one of our favourite spots in the city is Cuc Gach Quán. This restored French house is tucked away in a quiet street, where quirky staircases wind up to hidden dining spaces under the eaves. The warm atmosphere here and Vietnamese home-style cooking makes for a relaxed evening feasting on delicious dishes.
Art + architecture
A space dedicated to contemporary creation and Vietnamese culture, Salon Saigon pays homage to a wonderful collection of art from internationally recognised local artists. The former home of US Ambassador, Henry Cabot Lodge, has been tastefully revitalised, and provides a unique vantage point from which to discover Saigon’s growing art scene, literature and philosophical movements. There are regular classical music concerts, exhibitions and talks here, and we regularly check the schedules, and where appropriate, include these in itineraries for clients who wish to delve deeper into the subject. We can also arrange for them to head out into the city with an architecture specialist for a novel perspective.
The Củ Chi Tunnels
On another full day in the city, skip the notorious traffic in favour of a speedboat journey to the Củ Chi Tunnels. Arriving by water not only allows you to beat the crowds but also to pass by wonderful rural scenes along the banks of the Saigon River. This remarkable network of underground tunnels became legendary during the 1960s for facilitating the Việt Cộng’s control of this vast, rural area during the French and American wars, and at its peak stretched 250km up to the Cambodian border. These tunnels are an absolute must-see for anyone interested in Vietnam’s history, but if you’re short on time, the War Remnants Museum in the centre provides incredible detail into Ho Chi Minh’s darkest times, albeit harrowing.
Cuisine + coffee
Mouthwatering street food, buzzing restaurants and some of the best coffee in the world, is reason alone to visit this Ho Chi Minh. Making its debut in 2017, chef Peter Cuong Franklin at ănăn – a restaurant whose name means ‘eat eat’ – elevates humble street food dishes to the next level, using high-quality ingredients and modern cooking techniques, while retaining the spirit and flavour of Vietnamese cooking. Located in one of the oldest markets in the city, ănăn reflects a vision of the new Saigon, and while famous for its US$100 bánh mì (with foie gras and truffle mayonnaise), there is no shortage of more affordable dishes.
Where time allows, and for those keen for a thrill, join the sea of motorbikes and take to the streets to get an intimate view of city life. Go behind the scenes to sample Saigon’s famous drip-fed Vietnamese coffee, explore the busy streets of Chinatown and wander into some of the traditional herbal medicine shops.
With a supercharged charisma, Saigon is an urban adventurer’s dream. However, it’s all too easy to get disoriented by the melee of bikes, buildings and people in the clogged streets. This is where we, at cazenove+loyd, are here to step in – to elevate your experience of this hugely rewarding city to the next level.
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