Things to do in Ho Chi Minh City

Is it just me or is it the city as well? What’s changed? Saigon seems so different to the last time I was here, ten years ago.

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. A journalist for more than 20 years, he's been travelling the world since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.


The best things to do in Ho Chi Minh City

Vietnam's largest city is a bustling metropolis, offering visitors just as many local experiences as tourist landmarks.

It takes a while to get your bearings, so to help you plan your trip, these are my tips for what to see in Ho Chi Minh City.

Is this the same city I first came to more than 15 years ago? Honestly, if they hadn’t checked my boarding pass a couple of times before I got on the plane, I might be digging it out and checking it myself now.

Did I really just fly into Saigon? What’s happened to the place?

Things to do in Ho Chi Minh City

I remember Saigon (or Ho Chi Minh City, as I probably should call it now) as an unbearably chaotic place. The noise and the crowds didn’t create vibrancy, it made it stifling and annoying.

After the relative charm of Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City seemed like it was designed to crush you, rather than welcome you.

But now I can see that the city has changed. And maybe I have a bit too.

The new Saigon, Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City has entered the age of modern Asia.

Skyscrapers are going up in spaces where thin family homes would once have squeezed together above speciality shops. The most iconic of these tall buildings, affectionately known as the ‘shark fin’ by locals, can be seen from kilometres away.

A metro system will soon open and the construction sites for stations litter the centre of the city.

Next to one of them, near the tourist Mecca of Ben Thanh Market, a street that was once multi-laned has been closed to traffic in the centre and an unnecessarily large pedestrian mall stretches from the Town Hall and its statue of Ho Chi Minh down to the riverfront.

A Starbucks on the side of the road is an ominous sign of change (it’s one of only 18 Starbucks cafes in the whole country).

The best things to do in Ho Chi Minh City

But these are the large symbols of progress, the examples of infrastructure that show Saigon is becoming more similar to cities like Bangkok or Jakarta. It’s more interesting to look at what’s happening in the surrounding suburbs.

If you’re planning to see more of the country, check out my detailed tips for the perfect two-week Vietnam itinerary.

In the local streets, you still get a sense of the Saigon you might imagine (although still different to how I remember).

Unofficial cafes and restaurants are set up on the street with tiny plastic chairs and tables that can be folded away at the first sign of police…

Motorbikes crisscross each other at intersections with no obvious system…

Men sit in groups and play cards while women watch toddlers pee into the gutter.

The new Saigon, Vietnam

This is the Vietnam that I love and I wonder why I didn’t enjoy it last time. I considered myself to be an open and well-travelled person even then but perhaps it wasn’t that my eyes weren’t open, rather that I was looking for the wrong things.

Perhaps a decade ago I thought a city should be about tourist sights and everything else should be there to help facilitate that aim. I saw the hectic mess of traffic and the crowded streets as impediments rather than part of the cultural journey.

But Saigon for me now is about experiencing the food and drink, the lively nights and the steaming days. What I’m looking for and what I remember is different. And, let’s not forget, Saigon has changed and made that easier.

The new Saigon, Vietnam

Perhaps it’s the Internet Age. That’s one of my theories as to why the city now offers a new culture for eating and drinking.

Trendy little cafes – dare I call them ‘hipster’ – are all across the cities, where you can order lattes while enjoying free fast wifi from your shared large polished wood tables.

Rooftop bars that resemble student gardens have extensive cocktail lists. Casual dining where expats and locals mingle favours quality over price.

There are Westerners at these places, sure, but it’s the wealthy millennial Vietnamese who make them their local haunts. I watch one Vietnamese girl spend ten minutes perfecting a selfie shot while her boyfriend patiently stirs and sips his cocktail.

In short, the fantastic food and coffee that’s always been on the streets has now spread to the new social meeting points of the well-off tech-savvy generation.

The new Saigon, Vietnam

I spend my time in Saigon enjoying it more and more every day. I started to wonder how I could ever have felt wary about coming back. I’m so glad I did.

In fact, I find more things to do in Ho Chi Minh City every time I visit, so let me now share the highlights with you.

Main Sights

If you’re short of time or want to know where to focus your days, there are a few sights in Ho Chi Minh City that I would recommend focusing on. Ranging from 19th-century French-era monuments to towering modern structures, you’ll get to see the old and the new of the city.

Reunification Palace

Also commonly called the Independence Palace, the Reunification Palace was where the Vietnam War officially ended in 1975. Today, it stands as a symbol of the strength of the Vietnamese people and is a major attraction for tourists touching down in the city.

History buffs won’t want to miss this one. You’ll be provided with heaps of information detailing the brutal 20-year war that shook the country.

Underground bunkers, elegant staterooms, and even a cinema space are found at the palace, though the reunification hall is undoubtedly the centrepiece.

Independence Palace, the Reunification Palace, Ho Chi Minh City

I would recommend picking up the audio guide, which will give you a deeper insight into the palace’s background and an interesting take on the Vietnam War in general.

The Reunification Palace is open from 8:00 – 15:30.

A standard ticket is 40,000 VND (US$1.65) and 10,000 VND (US$.40) for children.

Jade Emperor Pagoda

Dating back to the early 1900s, this pagoda is a stunning religious monument built as a shrine to the great Taoist god, the Jade Emperor.

The temple is magnificent both inside and out, from outstanding architectural features to lush green trees in all corners. So be sure to give yourself plenty of time to explore the grounds.

While you’re there, you can wander around the immaculate courtyards, observe devoted Taoists in prayer at the altars, and take in the beauty of the main hall.

Keep in mind that this is a place of worship, so it’s always best to dress modestly and avoid taking pictures of monks and individuals who are praying.

The Jade Emperor Pagoda is open from 8:00 – 18:00.

Admission to the Jade Emperor Pagoda is free.

Central Post Office

With its vibrant yellow exterior and neo-classical European architecture, the Central Post Office is arguably one of the most captivating buildings in Ho Chi Minh City.

Originally built more than 130 years ago when France occupied Vietnam, this remains the city’s most important post office to this day.

It’s situated in the heart of downtown Ho Chi Minh City and you won’t be able to miss the illuminating facade. In fact, it happens to be only a 5-minute walk away from the Independence Palace, making it super easy to combine the two.

The building itself is free to enter and is consistently filled with locals and tourists every day of the week. If you’re a fan of the French colonial designs found all across Vietnam, you won’t be able to get enough of this place. The mix of French elements blended in with Southeast Asian characteristics is a feast for the eyes.

Bitexco Tower

From one of Ho Chi Minh City’s oldest and most beloved constructions to one of its newer additions – the Bitexco Tower.

It’s among the tallest buildings in Vietnam and is also one of my favourite locations to catch an undisturbed view of the city in the evenings. From its lotus bud shape to the helipad jutting out on the 52nd floor, there are plenty of interesting features.

The new Saigon, Vietnam

The Bitexco Tower regularly features on lists of the most impressive skyscrapers on the planet, and although it’s a fantastic spot at any time of day, you should check it out for sunset or at night for even more dramatic views.

Bitexco Tower is open from 9:30 – 21:30.

A standard ticket is 240,000 VND (US$9.85) and a concession is 160,000 VND (US$6.60).


When a country has a history as long and storied as Vietnam, you can bet there are some interesting museums. I think learning about the country and the city through these exhibitions is one of the best things to do in Ho Chi Minh City.

War Remnants Museum

One of the city’s top sights, the War Remnants Museum documents the impact of the Vietnam War on the lives of locals, as told through the perspective of those directly impacted by the conflict.

Even if you don’t typically visit museums during your travels, a stop at this spot is essential to get an understanding of how these events shaped Vietnam into the country it is today.

Some of the exhibitions are quite heavy, such as the collections of devastating photos taken during the war. However, there are some more palatable displays highlighting the international condemnation of the period in the country’s history.

The War Remnants Museum is open from 7:30 – 17:30.

A standard ticket is 40,000 VND (US$1.65) and a concession is 20,000 VND (US$0.85). Children below 6 years old are free.

Ho Chi Minh City Museum

Dive deeper into Vietnam’s past and present at the Ho Chi Minh City Museum, which showcases everything from the way of life of the Vietnamese people over time to the country’s lengthy battle for independence.

The museum’s exterior is particularly eye-catching, with its European style blended with Eastern features, a poignant reflection of the country’s turbulent history.

As the Ho Chi Minh City Museum is just a stone’s throw away from the lively Ben Thanh Market, it’s pretty easy to locate and is accessible by public bus.

The Ho Chi Minh City Museum is open from 8:00 – 17:00.

A standard ticket is 30,000 VND (US$1.25).

Museum of Fine Arts

For something a little less intense, head to the Museum of Fine Arts. As Ho Chi Minh City’s largest art museum, you’ll find thousands of remarkable sculptures, paintings, and pottery across sixteen showrooms in three buildings.

Among the artworks on display are pieces by contemporary Vietnamese artists, carvings from war times, and handmade ceramics that go back centuries.

As is often the case with Ho Chi Minh City’s museums, the building is particularly charming, thanks to its colonial design and beautifully preserved exterior.

The Museum of Fine Arts is open from 8:00 – 17:00.

A standard ticket is 30,000 VND (US$1.25).
Entrance is free for children under 6 years old and people over 60 years old.

Museum of History

For an extensive overview of Vietnam’s past, you can’t beat the Museum of History in the centre of Ho Chi Minh City. There are permanent and temporary exhibitions here, so there’s always something new to discover.

Take a journey from prehistoric times right up to the modern-day events of this culturally rich nation, where you’ll come across everything from ornate statues of the Buddha to a mummy of a woman from the 1800s.

Inside the History Museum of Ho Chi Minh City

I think a visit to the History Museum of Ho Cho Minh City is a great way to learn about some of the other parts of Vietnam where you’re likely to visit, like My Son, for example.

The Museum of History is open Tuesday to Sunday from 8:00 – 11:30 and 13:00 – 17:00.
The museum is closed on Mondays.

A standard ticket is 30,000 VND (US$1.25).


You don’t need to just go to the big attractions to get a sense of the city. One of my favourite things about Ho Chi Minh City is the array of unique and intriguing neighbourhoods, offering insights into local life.

A relatively short drive separates late-night districts from localities made up of stunning French architecture from the early 1900s, so I recommend trying to explore a few of them.

Colonial Quarter

Vietnam’s past under French rule is evident in all corners of the city, but it’s perhaps best seen in the Colonial Quarter, which is among the most affluent neighbourhoods.

This is a pocket of Ho Chi Minh City that will be particularly interesting for architecture buffs, as there’s an abundance of gorgeous buildings exuding old-world charm, a huge contrast to what you’d see in the Central Business District.

The new Saigon, Vietnam

Home to the Independence Palace and the Ho Chi Minh City Museum I mentioned at earlier, the Colonial Quarter is also where you’ll stumble upon the red-brick Notre Dame Cathedral and the regal Opera House. If you’re lucky, you might even be able to catch a show!

Cho Lon (Chinatown)

Ho Chi Minh City’s Chinese population primarily resides in the Cho Lon area, a sprawling locale not far from the busy tourist areas in the city centre.

Foodies are in for a treat in Cho Lon, as some amazing street food is available throughout the area, but you should also make a stop at the Binh Tay Market. Here, you can get your hands on local delicacies like Bun Cha and fresh, super-cheap produce… which I’ll talk more about soon.

Food is not all Chinatown has to offer, as you’ll also find colourful streets, glowing lanterns, and majestic temples. A wonderfully diverse part of town, so don’t be surprised to see churches and mosques during your visit too.

Pham Ngu Lao

As the backpacker hub in Ho Chi Minh City, the Pham Ngu Lao district is the go-to spot for round-the-clock partying, tasty street food, and budget-friendly accommodation.

This is where you’ll see the infamous Bui Vien Walking Street, which is where many tourists find themselves at least once during their stay. But there’s more to this area than late-night revelling.

The new Saigon, Vietnam

Vietnamese favourites like Pho and Banh Mi are available on every corner, and it’s also a fantastic base for sightseeing, as the likes of the War Remnants Museum and the Notre Dame Cathedral are within walking distance.


Culture, flavourful food, and endless shopping meet at Ho Chi Minh City’s marketplaces. To get a glimpse of the everyday lives of the locals while stocking up on souvenirs and traditional eats, I would suggest checking out at least one of these spots.

42 Nguyen Hue

You’ve likely seen the iconic photo of Ho Chi Minh City’s Cafe Apartment, which is found at 42 Nguyen Hue Street. While many travellers stop by for a photo op, it’s also worth venturing inside.

Once upon a time, this nine-storey building was used to house the likes of government staff and military personnel. In recent years, though, it has developed into a hub for coffee shops, boutique stores, and bookstores.

If you have time on your hands, also make the short walk to 22 Ly Tu Trong. A building with a striking resemblance to 42 Nguyen Hue Street, this spot has a rooftop cafe which US troops left in 1975.

Ben Thanh Market

As far as must-see attractions in Ho Chi Minh City go, Ben Thanh Market ranks highly on almost everyone’s bucket list. Even if you don’t have any room left in your suitcase or have already eaten before your visit, you won’t want to miss this spot.

Street food in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Everything from clothing and homeware to cosmetics and lanterns is for sale here, and that’s before mentioning the wide range of local produce and homemade dishes like Banh Xeo are also on offer.

There’s no need to worry if you’re too late for the main day market, as the outdoor night market kicks off every evening and features much of the same fare.

Binh Tay Market

A slightly less popular but equally excellent shopping hotspot is the Binh Tay Market, the epicentre of the Cho Lon neighbourhood.

Hundreds of stalls line this extensive marketplace, with local vendors selling fresh fish, locally-grown fruit and vegetables, spices, kitchenware, handbags, and every kind of clothing under the sun… to name but a few!

It’s a good idea to arrive at the Binh Tay Market hungry, as you’ll be able to take advantage of the countless booths serving up Vietnamese delights like cao lau and spring rolls.


In such an enormous and hectic city, a guided tour can be a superb way of exploring the best of Ho Chi Minh City without worrying about all the logistics yourself.

As well as seeing the main sights, there are some excellent tours in Ho Chi Minh City that will offer some special local insight.

General city tour

Although it’s possible to visit the main Ho Chi Minh City attractions independently, it’s definitely much easier to have a local guide you to the best ones. But perhaps even more importantly, a tour will give you a lot more context about what you’re seeing and how it fits into the story of the city.

Independence Palace, Ho Chi Minh City

I would recommend getting your fix of culture and history with this half-day tour, where the guide will take you to spots like the Reunification Palace and the Notre Dame Cathedral.

Or there are some other good options for group tours here:

If you prefer to stick to private tours, I think you’ll love this unique experience, where you’ll get to explore the streets of Ho Chi Minh City in a jeep, visiting highlights like the Central Post Office and the Ben Thanh Market.

Local experience tour

Maybe you’ve already seen the top attractions in Ho Chi Minh City. Or maybe you’re just seeking a deeper understanding of the way of life here.

Either way, you’ll love checking out little-known gems and sipping on some of the finest coffee in town on a local experience tour, where you’ll venture down narrow residential alleyways and to local wet markets – all on the back of a motorcycle.

There are a few other great options for local tours here:

These excursions steer clear of the likes of the Opera House and the museums, which are well worth doing but are easier to visit independently than the hidden gems these tours will take you.

Food tour

If I were to name just one thing that you should definitely do in Ho Chi Minh City, it would be a food tour.

Vietnam has phenomenal cuisine, with so many dishes and treats to try during your stay, including the famous Banh Mi sandwiches, fresh spring rolls, and sugarcane juice. But sometimes it can be a bit confusing about what to eat and where to find it.

Food tour, Ho Chi Minh City

A solution is this four-hour tour, where you’ll feast on twelve different dishes as you move from place to place on the back of your guide’s motorbike.

Or, I would also recommend any of these other excellent food tours:

One of the best things about these food tours is not just that you’ll be introduced to some wonderful new dishes, but that your guides will also show you some interesting parts of the city’s local neighbourhoods.

Saigon River cruise

I haven’t talked much yet about the Saigon River, but this majestic waterway that winds along the eastern edge of Ho Chi Minh City is a hugely important part of life here.

You’ll probably end up crossing it at some point. But, regardless, it’s worth also going out on the water to get a whole new perspective of the city.

The new Saigon, Vietnam

Taking a cruise will take you along the most picturesque parts of the Saigon River, and most also offer decent food to enjoy as you float along at a relaxed place.

For example, there is this popular evening cruise that provides dinner on the boat, or you can also combine it with a visit to the puppet theatre with this cruise option, a wonderful way to end the day.

Food and drink

If I haven’t already made it abundantly clear, I think Vietnamese food really is incredible! Something it doesn’t always get enough recognition for, though, is its thriving coffee scene and beer culture.

From dreamy egg coffees to bustling bar-lined streets, you’re going to want to hit all the most acclaimed spots during your visit.

Local specialties

It’s really not too hard to find good places to eat in Ho Chi Minh City – the markets are full of good stalls and most neighbourhoods are overflowing with local restaurants.

Best food in Ho Chi Minh City

But here are a few particular suggestions to help you start your culinary adventures.

  • Banh Mi: This crunchy baguette filled with your choice of meat, pickled vegetables and coriander is a firm favourite among locals and tourists. Banh Mi Bay Ho in District 1 is the best in the business and has even featured in Netflix’s Street Food documentary.
  • Bun Thit Nuong: While Bun Cha is native to Northern Vietnam, Bun Thit Nuong is the South’s take on this tasty dish. A mix of cold vermicelli noodles, pork, peanuts, fish sauce, and beansprouts topped with spring rolls – follow the local’s lead and head to Ms Tuyen in District 1.
  • Banh Xeo: A savoury pancake made from rice flour, water, and turmeric, Banh Xeo is commonly referred to as a Vietnamese crepe. Hoang Tam is a fabulous restaurant in District 1 that serves crispy Banh Xeo with filling like pork or mushroom.


From espresso bars selling authentic Vietnamese coffee to aesthetic cafes, Ho Chi Minh has endless coffee houses to check out.

  • Egg coffee: You have to try the famous egg coffee at least once. Much more appealing than it sounds, this sweet drink is made from egg yolks, condensed milk, sugar, and coffee. It originates in the North, but Little Hanoi has some of the best in the country.
  • Vietnamese coffee: Another classic is Vietnamese coffee, which is a dark roast combined with condensed milk. Check out Cà phê Sài Gòn Ơi for hot and iced varieties.
  • Best vibe: Among the city’s prettiest cafes with a chilled-out ambience is Padma de Fleur. Doubling as a florist, you can sip on your coffee and admire the flower arrangements for hours.

Best places to drink

Ho Chi Minh City also has plenty of offer visitors after the sun sets.

  • Cocktails: If you’re after somewhere a little fancy, Snuffbox won’t disappoint. This glamorous speakeasy has a host of classic and signature cocktails and regular live jazz music.
  • Rooftop: Order your favourite beer, wine, or mixed drink and soak up some of the finest views of the city from the Social Club Rooftop, one of Ho Chi Minh’s long-time hotspots.
  • Casual: To experience drinking a bottle of Bia Hoi on one of those teeny seats synonymous with Vietnam, make your way to Bui Vien Street and simply pick from the rows of roadside bars like Hopes 81.

Day trips

Ho Chi Minh City is an excellent base for discovering some of Southern Vietnam’s most spectacular sights, many of which are reachable as part of a day trip. As a result, it’s best to allow yourself a few extra days to explore what lies beyond this buzzing city.


The Mekong Delta is among the most critical features of Vietnam’s natural features, and for the people who live here on its network of waterways, it’s about more than just the striking jungle landscape – it’s also responsible for almost a third of the country’s GDP.

Can Tho Mekong tour, Vietnam

There are lots of ways to see different parts of the Mekong Delta, and some of them can be easily reached on a day trip from Ho Chi Minh City. With this small-group tour, you’ll sail along the river lined with coconut trees, witness the floating markets in action, and learn about life on the Mekong.

Or there are some other fantastic options from Ho Chi Minh City here:

If you’ve got a bit more time and want to stay overnight, I’ve got some tips in my story about the best things to do in Can Tho.

Cu Chi Tunnels

The Cu Chi Tunnels are a remarkable historic site, not far from Ho Chi Minh City, that offers visitors a thought-provoking insight into one aspect of the Vietnam War.

The Viet Cong famously used these complex tunnel systems as hiding places, booby traps, and even living quarters for ten years up until the conclusion of the war. As well as being notoriously difficult to spot, most of these tunnels were narrow and challenging to navigate.

Explore some of these tunnels for yourself on a half-day tour or combine it with a trip to the Mekong.

Or there are some more good options here:

Additionally, the Cu Chi Tunnels site features exhibits, displays, and demonstrations that provide you with a deeper understanding of the conflict.

Suoi Tien Theme Park

For something completely different, I want to suggest Suoi Tien theme park, about 20 kilometres from the centre of Ho Chi Minh City, on its eastern outskirts.

Yes, this is a theme park so you could come here for the rides. But, to be honest, they’re not quite the quality you might be hoping for. What makes this such an interesting destination is just how weird it is.

Suoi Tien theme park is Buddhist-themed, with attractions shaped like temples that, for example, lead you down into representations of Buddhist hell. There’s a waterpark and a knock-off Harry Potter experience – all very quirky.

Suoi Tien Theme Park, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Kids may enjoy the rides here, while I think adults will get a kick out of the whole spectacle. For more information, you can read my story about visiting Suoi Tien theme park.

Tay Ninh

And finally, escape the hustle and bustle at tranquil Tay Ninh, a huge contrast from the hustle and bustle of Ho Chi Minh City.

This southeastern city is packed with rubber and sugar plantations but is also the birthplace of the Cao Dai faith, a religion with beliefs based on Christianity, Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism.

Located two hours from Ho Chi Minh City, the marvellous Cao Dai temple is included in this Cu Chi Tunnels tour, while the city’s Black Virgin Mountain is also on the itinerary for this jam-packed day trip.

With so many of the popular Vietnamese cities in the north of the country, I think this is a nice option to see something a little different.


Ho Chi Minh City is super busy but accommodation around District 1 will save you a lot of transport hassle.


For a modern and quiet hostel, I would suggest the awesome Tam Social Enterprise Hostel.


A comfortable budget option is Tripwriter Hotel… and I like the name!


For a stylish design hotel, you should try Cinnamon Boutique Hotel.


And if you want to splurge, I think one of the coolest hotels is The Myst Dong Khoi.

16 thoughts on “Things to do in Ho Chi Minh City”

  1. Hi Micheal, It’s been three years ago when I first visited Saigon. And it was my third and last stop of my first time in Vietnam, after Hanoi and Hoi An. I had no idea what it may have looked like a couple of years ago, so I could only compare the city to my other stops. What striked me the most was that Saigon was a more modern, more western city as Hanoi. (I can’t really compare it to Hoi An, as it is not only a UNESCO city, but also so full with tourists that it was too much for me). Anyhow, Hanoi for me is much more the Vietnam that I fell in love with. Maybe it is because I don’t want to go to Starbucks when I travel, I want to eat the streetfood like a local and I don’t want to spend my evenings on fancy roof top bars, but rather with a local beer after having a spicy soup, slurped on a tiny plastic chair. 😉 It may be the view of a romantic traveler and it may be wrong, but that’s the way I like to travel. Anyhow, thanks for this beautiful article! I really would like to go back to Vietnam now! <3 xoxox, Angelika

    • Thanks for sharing such an interesting perspective. I know exactly what you mean and have quite similar sentiments. However, I liked both Hanoi and Saigon on this latest trip – for different reasons. Hanoi does feel a bit more ‘classic’ and there’s almost a romance to the streets and the energy on them. Saigon, on the other hand, is more modern but just as authentically Vietnamese, I think. Other than a few examples of globalisation, I think it’s still got all that buzz that is the best thing about the country’s big cities.

  2. Oh dear – I’m not entirely happy about this. I visited (and LOVED) Saigon in 2007, but I guess that’s progress. I just hope the character hasn’t changed too much. I’ll have to visit again soon and see for myself.

    • I would love to hear what you think if you get back there again yourself one day. I felt like the character hasn’t really changed that much at all – it’s a huge city and most of it is still street stalls and chaotic traffic. It’s just around the centre that I saw more of these hipster cafes and trendy restaurants. In some ways it’s nice that most of this change has been organic and is catering to the trends of locals, rather than multinationals forcing their business on people (other than the Starbucks, obviously).

    • Of course – as you say, cities are always changing. If you had a decade away and then went to London or New York, I’m sure you would find it different as well. So it probably shouldn’t be such a surprise. I actually liked the way it was moving with the times and becoming a more modern city for the residents but wasn’t losing too much of the local authenticity.

  3. It’s strange really, I’m a 2nd generation Vietnamese-Australian and I’ve been back 6 times in 95, 2000, 2004 (stop over, grandfather passed away), 2010, 2012 & 2016. The first time I was over in 95, being a 14 year old, I wanted to go back to Australia ASAP, no Maccas, no Western conveniences I’m used to. The older I get, the more I appreciate my heritage and now it’s quite the opposite, when I’m back in HCMC (Saigon), I feel sad, it’s all about becoming to quickly “modernise” or “Westernise” a lot of the older culture I feel will go within 10-20 years. Apartments will mushroom, just how many more of those 3m frontage townhouses stuck side by side will still exist in 20 years time? On one hand, I’m happy the old country is developing, on another, it’s eroding the old way of life, I just feel that sweaty, dirty, grimy lifestyle will be buried with the older generation who will pass in time.

    Flipping through some travel snaps, I felt sentimental and almost feel the most rapid period of transition would have been felt between my visits from 95 to 2000. The difference was stark, 95, Vietnam’s skyline was almost non existent. By 2000, it already developed a semi decent skyline, traffic was noticeably heavier with more cars on the road, the motorcycle was still king though and those rickshaws were diminishing! Frankly, a lot of the services were crap, hotels were grubby, tours were rather poorly prepared and presented and the attractions were far and few between. The majority of the ‘tourists’ were mainly Vietnamese living in the West.

    By 2004, it was more an evolution rather than revolution, until probably 2010, but by then, the concepts of globalisation and internet that took the entire world by storm was already evident in Vietnam itself, that is, you wouldn’t find it much more different in Saigon than say, Sydney.

    • It’s so interesting to hear your point of view – as someone who has seen the city quite a few times over a long period. I can completely understand where you’re coming from. You can’t really argue with progress – everybody deserves that – and it certainly brings some benefits. But then there’s the unfortunate side effect of losing the original culture.
      My experience in HCMC is that there’s still a good mix of culture and development but the balance is constantly changing. Who knows how it will look in another decade or two?

  4. Saigon and most of Vietnam is very much behind the times. That is the effect of having a communist government. A lot of their internet is blocked and almost all their tv shows are home grown or imports from China and Korea. At least that was the way it was about 5-10 years ago. Since my last visit there have been major developments. The Metro, a few major shopping malls have opened, way more cars than ever before. Even the most ‘ghetto’ areas, such as district 4 where I am from, are singled out by the government for major developments.

    There are also sweeping changes made by laws that will affect the character and charm of HCMC greatly. They’ve made it so that street vendors are no longer allowed to set up those small chairs and tables on the sidewalks to sell their food. You must eat in restaurants. This is a law that came into effect only a couple of months ago. The police have begun confiscating signs and chairs and tables that advertise food on the sidewalk.

    The number of tourists flowing into the city are growing by huge numbers. So much so that Bui Vien/Pham Ngu Lao looks impossibly packed viewed from recent videos on youtube. There is barely walking space on the road, much less room enough for motorbikes and cars. I couldn’t believe how packed it is. It use to be a nice little lively area during the night but now it looks like Khao San road in Thailand. Just packed with foreigners drinking beer and sitting around. Basically the spillover from Thailand and Cambodia are making Vietnam into one of those party destinations. You see hostesses and scantily clad ladies walking around looking for johns and ‘customers’. It’s awful.

    Saigon is losing it’s character and it’s charm. 2007 was the perfect time to visit Saigon because it was just the right mix of original character with hints of modernism. There were only a few Shopping malls. Tourists were visible but they weren’t in your face like they are now. They are literally everywhere. There weren’t many multinational franchises opened yet. I don’t remember even seeing a Starbucks. Most of the coffee shops were home grown like Cafe Nguyen. Now I see that even a Popeyes chicken chain has opened across the street from the Notre Dame Cathedral. There was so many things that were just uniquely Saigon to me. But now they want to sweep it away and try to morph into something else. Something very commercial.

    But I am speaking as an outsider, as someone from the west. Maybe this is something the people want. Maybe it’s good for them. It’s not something I would want but it would be unfair for me to want them to remain the Saigon I feel in love with the first time I visited.

    • I completely agree with your point that, as outsiders, we can’t expect a city to stay the same just because it’s more enjoyable to visit. Everyone deserves progress if they want it. But I wonder who really wants to see the food stalls on the street disappear, or have scantily-clad ladies servicing the tourism trade. I would be really disappointed if I went back again in another ten years and all of the charming things about Saigon had disappeared, just to be replaced by metro trains and department stores. I’m hopeful the authentic city will always be there somewhere, even if certain areas change a bit.
      Oh, and thanks for your great comment – really appreciate it!

  5. Hey Michael. I’m from Saigon and I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on my hometown. Please share more of what you experience in Saigon so I can learn what life is like from the perspective of a traveler. By the way I’m picking up some really awesome vocab to describe my city thanks to you!

    • Hi Dat. As you can see, I think Saigon is a fascinating place. It may not have a lot of tourist ‘sights’ but you could easily spend days exploring and still not feel like you’ve seen even a tiny fraction of the city.
      I’ll try to write some more about Saigon and Vietnam at some point. Hopefully I’ll even do another trip!

  6. Cities change, for better or worse, I feel that the difference between Hanoi and Saigon is that the former’s charm is the ‘place’ while Saigon’s is its ‘people’. It irks me whenever people claim ‘Hanoi feels more Vietnamese’ because there’s an element of cultural differences that people do not take into consideration.

    In spite of all the changes on the physical level, Saigon is still as hectic and welcoming as ever, even if its traffic has progressively become worse but that’s what happens with an economic boom. I also feel that nostalgia can be a giant roadblock in moving forward. People all too often romanticise the past without cherishing the present.

    Saigon still welcomes people from ‘tứ phương’ (four corners of the world), it still has its hundreds of little alleyways, it still retains hundreds of colonial remnants and its people are just as ready to offer a smile when greeted. That’s what makes Saigon for me, not what the physical form necessarily looks like or how bad the traffic can get.

    Saigon is what Saigon is, you either love it or hate it. I love it!

  7. A lot different from my last US sponsored trip in 1969. I wish nothing but the best for all the Vietnamese people.

    • I bet it’s changed!! Yikes! I think you would hardly recognise the country now. And what is so nice is that the history of the conflict seems to have been largely left in the past as the country finds a new identity in the 21st century.

  8. the greatest source of freedom for Citizens [especially Christian Citizens and more especially Catholic Christians] of South Vietnam and those underground in North Vietnam are worthy of all they have to put up with. The Capitalistic Christian Societies and Cultures have always proven their statue of truth for all the world. 2 Thessalonians 3:10
    Verse Concepts
    For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either.

    Acts 4:34-37
    For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need. Now Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means Son of Encouragement)


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