Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam | Cruise port of call | CruiseBe
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Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

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. Although the capital of a united Vietnam is Hanoi in the north, Ho Chi Minh City remains Vietnam's main economic and financial center.

Though Vietnam has been united since the conclusion of the Vietnam War, cultural differences arising from the division of Vietnam can be seen to this day. To this day, locals in Ho Chi Minh City tend to be more business-minded and less ideological... Read more

Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam


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. Although the capital of a united Vietnam is Hanoi in the north, Ho Chi Minh City remains Vietnam's main economic and financial center.

Though Vietnam has been united since the conclusion of the Vietnam War, cultural differences arising from the division of Vietnam can be seen to this day. To this day, locals in Ho Chi Minh City tend to be more business-minded and less ideological than those in Hanoi in the north. In addition, Southerners also tend to be more hospitable towards Western visitors than Northerners. The Vietnam War remains a sensitive topic, and it is advisable not to bring it up in discussions with locals. Do not assume that all Vietnamese think alike, as many Southerners are still bitter about having lost to the North.


Ho Chi Minh City has a tropical climate with wet and dry seasons. The dry season which is from December to April. The most pleasant time to visit is from December to February when temperatures and humidity are lower. March and April are hot with temperatures that can reach up to 40°C (104°F). The wet season is long, usually beginning in May and ending in October is characterized by high temperatures and humidity. Cloudy weather is more common although periods of sunshine do occur during the wet season.


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Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam: Port Information

Cruise liners dock at Phu My, a commercial port situated in a 1.5-hour drive from the city.
Liners dock at container terminal piers, and there's nothing to do in the area.
The most convenient way to get to the city is to take an excursion. Taxis are available.

Smaller vessels that can navigate the river will dock closer to the center of Ho Chi Minh.

Get around Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

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. Taxis are numerous and it's usually not hard to flag one down anywhere in the city center from early morning until about 01:00, 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 opportunistic drivers to overcharge foreigners. 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 HCMC residents. In general, the only taxi companies you should use are Mai Linh and Vinasun, as the risk of getting ripped off is much higher with the other companies.

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. Also, beware of "fixed" meters.

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. Pointing the destination on a map application on your phone also works well. Carry small change and notes for paying fares, since drivers are often short of change. Taxis 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, although 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 center 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 07:00-8:30 and 16:30-18:00.

Using a taxi booking app may also prove less hassle and avoid being overcharged. Regional operator Grab Taxi has a free app to download.

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.


By motorbike

Motorbike taxis (xe ôm, literally hug-vehicle) are plentiful (get used to hearing "you want moto?" everywhere), cheap, and are generally quite safe. All riders are now required to wear helmets, a rule that is strongly enforced. Make sure the driver supplies you with a helmet. If he doesn't, find another one, as you'll be the one stung for the fine.

Agree on a price before you set off. 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. Two main categories of motorbike are available for rent: scooters (automatic transmission); and four-speed motorbikes, the gears of which you change 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 relatively easy to drive. 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. Rental agents tend to steer foreigners toward scooters if available, on the (plausible) assumption that they don't know how to ride motorbikes that have manual gears. Motorcycles of 175 cc and above are only legal to ride if you make a connection with a Vietnamese motorcycle club.

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 a 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 pavements, 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 rainy season, make sure to buy a poncho or a raincoat before you start. However, the traffic doesn't stop, it just becomes more chaotic. If you are hesitant or have not driven in such conditions before, it might be prudent to park and wait.

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 hellbent on speed, passing slow trucks where maybe they shouldn't, and leaving not much room at the edge for motorbikes.

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 circumstances, 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").

Traffic police in the cities pull over lots of locals, 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 license. Cities like Ho Chi Minh have several one-way streets, and it is too easy to just steer into them unknowingly as there are limited signs warning you. If you break the law, the police are sure to pull you over and fine you. They will also threaten to confiscate 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 harass you.

By cyclo

A ride on a cyclo through HCMC is a great way to see the city the way the locals do. Cyclos resemble a backwards tricycle, with the passenger(s) sitting in front and the driver peddling at the rear. The sights, sounds, and smells are a large part of the excitement of the city and are best experienced at 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 drive-by motorbike thieves.

For many reasons, not least the government's insistence on restricting cyclos on busy urban streets, this form of transportation is dying. Be sure to bargain hard with the cyclo driver beforehand. Some drivers have been known to try to change an agreed price at journey's end. Another ruse is to stop unbidden at places where the driver earns a commission. To avoid these problems, make sure all are clear on price and destination at departure.

By bus

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. 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 Vietnamese, but with the help of maps, you can get where you want easily. If you cannot find your way, ask the locals nicely, they will try their best to help. At the biggest bus stations, you can read bus destinations at every single stop (useful, for example, if you need to get to Cholon).

The buses are efficient and fast. Most are staffed by two employees: the driver and a conductor. 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 HCMC; 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. The biggest problem is that when you get off the bus, you become a pedestrian.

For those who aren't staying in HCMC very long, or want to save some time, the Vietnam Transfer Service will take you to the famous places in Ho Chi Minh City.

On foot

Traffic is made up of a staggering number of motorbikes and, since import duty was reduced upon Vietnam's joining of the World Trade Organization, an increasing number of private cars. However its exceptionally rare to see a motorbike of more than 150 cc, and the traffic rarely gets above 20–30 km/hr in central areas.

Crossing the road in Saigon can be a nightmare. It is always scary. If ever in doubt, Saigon's "Tourist Security" officers (guys in 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.

The true trick to crossing the road is to stay aware and walk slowly and confidently. The motorbike riders are exceptionally good and will simply move to avoid you, just don't make any sudden erratic moves. 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 alert and prepared to stop putting your foot forward until he passes.

Adherence to traffic signals in Saigon is terrible. 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 take a shortcut from point A to point B even against the traffic flow. Crossing roads, therefore, may be a challenge for Westerners used to traffic laws and traffic lights.

The traffic police occupy themselves with random roadside checks and do not bother the motorcyclists who are running red lights or driving on the pavements. The police have 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.


What to see in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

Historical sites

  • People's Committee Hall, Nguyen Hue St. Originally called the Hôtel de Ville 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.
  • Ho Chi Minh Museum, Duong Nguyen Tat Thanh, District 4. 07:30-12:00, 13:30-17:00, last admission 16:30. The museum, housed in a French colonial-era building, relates the life of the modern day father of Vietnam. The exhibits include various personal possessions of Ho Chi Minh but are mainly photographs. It's not overly informative, the interior is shabby and the staff is disinterested. Whilst some may find the theme a little jingoistic, like most things it depends upon your point of view. The onsite shop stocks the usual souvenirs along with some books related to Ho Chi Minh. 
  • Museum of Vietnamese History (At the intersection of Le Duan St 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.
  • Reunification Palace (Also known as Independence Palace (the old name)), 135 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia St, +84 8 969 3272. Daily, 07:30-11:00, 13:00-16:00. This is a restored 4-floor time warp to the 1960s left largely untouched from the day Saigon fell to the North; construction started in 1962 and finished in 1966. Formerly South Vietnam's presidential palace, the war ended on 30 Apr 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, at 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.
  • War Remnants Museum, 28 Vo Van Tan St, +84 8 930 2112, +84 8 930 6325, +84 8 930 5587, e-mail: warrmhcm@gmail.com. Open daily 07:30-12:00, 13:30-17:00, last admission 16:30. The museum was opened in a hurry, less than five months after the fall of the South Vietnamese regime. It has moved to new premises with 3 stories of exhibits and various US 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. 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. 
  • Saigon Opera House, 7 Lam Son Square, Ben Nghe Ward, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, +84 1245 18 11 88. An opera house built by the French during the colonial period, and without a doubt one of the finest performance venues in Southeast Asia. In modern times it is home to the critically acclaimed AO show, an acrobatic show that fuses Vietnamese traditions with modern Cirque Nouveau performances. Occasionally hosts classical music performances when the AO show is not being performed.

Religious sites

  • Cao Dai Temple (Dao Cao Dai or Caodaism) (95 km NW of HCMC). The temple is near the Cu Chi Tunnels where Vietnamese soldiers held out during the Vietnamese/US war. Tours of the Cu Chi Tunnels can also be arranged.
  • Central Mosque, 66 Dong Du, +84 8 8242903. 08:00-20:00. One of 12 mosques in Ho Chi Minh City, the Central Mosque was built in 1935. It was constructed for worshipers from southern India then resident in Saigon, but now Muslims from as far as Pakistan and Indonesia come to pray. Friday has the biggest congregations. The shaded veranda 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 St (Facing down Dong Khoi, next to the Post Office). Closes for lunch and on weekends. A French-built Catholic cathedral in the city center. Free.

There are several Chinese temples in Cholon, the Chinatown district of old Saigon. Only a few are listed here.

  • 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.
  • Quan Am Pagoda, 12 Lao Tu, Cholon (Just off Hung Vuong, close to Thien Hau Pagoda). 08:00-16:30. The oldest pagoda in town, home of a lot of incense and a cheerful puppy. Free.
  • 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. Free.


  • Bitexco Financial Tower, 36 Ho Tung Mau St, +84 8 39156156. Inside is a viewing platform with a 360° panorama of the city. Alto Heli Bar happy hour 13:00 to 19:00. 
  • IMAX cinema, Vivo shopping mall. Vietnam now has an IMAX cinema.

Ethnic neighbourhoods

  • Cholon - This area serves as Ho Chi Minh City's Chinatown. While many of the ethnic Chinese fled Vietnam for Western countries such as Australia and the United States as a result of persecution following the Fall of Saigon, a large number of them continue to reside in the district. Many signs of the Chinese heritage can still be found in the form of Chinese clan temples, as well as stalls selling Chinese food. Many people are also bilingual in Cantonese and Vietnamese.

What to do in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

  • Dai Nam Tourist Park, Hiệp An Ward, Thủ Dầu Một city, Binh Duong (About 40 km from HCMC. Catch Bus 616 from the Ben Thanh bus station and take it all the way to the end, or talk to a travel agent), +84 (0650) 3 891 389 - (0650) 3 845 878.FORMAT. This 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, 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. According to the locals, it is very much worth a visit, purely just to view the temple.
  • Dam Sen Water Park, 03 Hoa Binh, Ward 3, District 11 (Take Bus 11 from Ben Thanh bus station), +84 8 858 8418, +84 8 865 3453, fax: +84 8 858 8419, e-mail: damsenwaterpark@vnn.vn. M-Sa, 08:30-18:00, Su and Holidays 08:00-19:00. Close to the city center. This water park offers some unique water slide experiences, including the amazing "Space Bowl". Restaurant, health services, and animatronic dinosaurs are on the premises. 
  • 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.
  • Galaxy Cinema, 116 Nguyen Du, District 1. A favorite among locals.
  • Happy Ending Massage Yuan, 15B8 Le Thanh Ton St, District 1 Ben Nighe Ward (On Le Thanh Ton between Thai Van Lung and Ngo Van Nam. Across from Sky Garden), +84 8 3825 0795. Despite the name, legitimate foot, and body massage, a hostess will explain pricing to you at the beginning, usually offering 30% discount. 
  • MegaStar Cineplex, 126 Hung Vuong St, District 5 and 60A Truong Son St, Tan Binh District. 2 locations in HCMC and the first to offer 3D movies (at Hung Vuong Plaza only).
  • Les Rives, Suite 2105, Me Linh Point Tower, 2 Ngo Duc Ke, District 1, +84 128 5920018. VIP speedboat tours to the Cu Chi Tunnels, the Mekong Delta and jungle canal tours around Saigon. 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.
  • Twenty-Three September Park (Across from Ben Thanh Market and running the length of Phan Ngu Lao St). Running along Phan Ngu Lao St 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 women]s group aerobics to music are all very popular and are 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 practice 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 to 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.
  • Local bus station. Explore the city catching local buses.

What to eat and drink in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam


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 USD16,000/m², so even a modest-sized restaurant sits on real estate worth more than USD1 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". 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.

  • McDonalds. A McDonalds in the backpacker area in District 1.
  • Burger King, Pham Ngu Lau.
  • KFC, 78 Le Hoi Ben Thanh.
  • Jollibee, 17 Ba Huyen Thanh Quan Phuong 6. Philippines based fast food chain.
  • Pizza Hut, 38 Tran Hung Dao. have 50 stores in Vietnam.
  • Subway, 17 Pham Ngu Lao. have 5 stores in Ho Chi Minh


Food stalls are scattered all over the city, but there's a fair collection in the Ben Thanh market. For local fast food, try the ubiquitous Pho 24 chain (though it can be more the twice the price of local fare).

The setback of eating street food or food prepared in holes-in-the-walls in any town or city in Vietnam is dodgy hygiene. Street hawkers are not only cooks but they are also cashiers. They touch money and often flip over the notes with their fingers moistened with their saliva. If a bun or baguette is dropped in the pavement, it is picked up to be mixed with the rest. A hawker may cough or sneeze and while preparing food, cover their mouth with their bare hands then resume what they were just doing. Food may have unwanted items such as hairs. Utensils may be washed from the same portable 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.

At 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 fall to 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 tap. 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.

However, street food and holes-in-the-wall food are flavourful, fascinating, exotic, ingeniously contrived, and cheap with all the elements of the nutrition pyramid and all the flavours: sweet; sour; salty & hot are well represented.

  • BanhMiBistro, 76 Vo Thi Sau, District 1, directions. Fresh sandwiches, especially the traditional Vietnamese "Banh Mi". Bread is baked fresh in the store. There are 3 other outlets around the city.
  • The Burger Corner, 43 Nguyen Hue St, District 1. Rice and hamburgers. The combo meals are good value.
  • Cafe India, 250 Bui Vien, District 1. 5-item menu available all day.
  • Cafe Lam, 175 Bui Vien, District 1. Huge portions. 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. Good fruit salad, lovely smoothies and great tom yam soup.
  • Doner Kebab, 198 Bui Vien St, District 1 (Inside the backpacker area). 
  • Dong Ba, 110A Nguyen Du, District 1. This is a shop that sells Hue food including Hue beef noodles and traditional banh beo rice cakes.
  • Dream Cones, 16 Nguyen Thi Nghia St, Ben Thanh Ward, District 1. Ice cream in a quirky and cool neon atmosphere, with lots of white leather seating. Free unlimited (unsweetened) iced tea served with your ice cream.
  • The Khmer Viet Kitchen, 185/14 Pham Ngu Lau, +84 126 5492647. 07:00-23:00. Vietnamese and Western food with good selection of pasta, sandwiches, burgers and enchiladas.
  • The Lunch Lady (Nguyen Thi Thanh), 23 Hoang Sa. 11:00-15:00. The famous Lunch Lady was featured on Anthony Bourdain's show. Different noodle dish every day. 
  • Pao Restaurant & Cafe, 158 Bui Vien, District 1. Special decor with small musical instruments, traditional dress and hats from the many ethnic groups of northern Vietnam. Vietnamese food such as spring rolls, hot pot & pho. They have a live Vietnamese instrument show on every Friday and Sunday.
  • Pho Bo Vien Quoc Ky, 52 Ngo Duc Ke (near Nguyen Hué, District 1). A nice cheap place for soup. Try the sate version of the usual pho or my, a spicy delicacy.
  • Pho 19, 19 Nguyen Trai St, District 5. 06:00-11:00. A small space and very cheap place for pho and bo kho. 
  • Pho Quynh, 323 Pham Ngu Lao St, District 1. 24 hours daily. Their specialty is pho. Locals come regularly and lucky backpackers stumble upon it. It is air-conditioned on the second and third floors. They also have decent banh mi bo kho, which is beef stew with carrots, served with French baguette. 
  • 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 St, which does not belong to the chain and serves terrible and expensive food.
  • Pho 2000 (3 locations, one sharing space with I Love Burger; one right next to Ben Thanh Market; and one toward the end of Le Thanh Ton St). 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, as well as a superb vegetarian curry.
  • Thiện Duyên Bễn Thành (vegetarian restaurant), 174 Calmette (Near the city bus station), +84 8 3914 7453. Well-presented vegetarian food.
  • Trang, 102/6A Cong Quynh, District 1 (Not far from Pham Ngo Lao). Local food including excellent crab served in a friendly atmosphere.
  • Tutti Frutti Frozen Yogurt, 15-17 Phan Chu Triuh (Opposite west entrance of Ben Thanh market, near the corner of Nguyen An Ninh). 08:00-22:30


  • Barbecue Garden, 135A Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, Quan 1 (100 m from Ben Thanh Market, behind the General Sciences Library), +84 8 823 3340. A barbecue restaurant offering both Vietnamese and international foods.
  • Bi Saigon, 185/26 Pham Ngu Lao St, 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, District 1. Fresh and juicy beef patty. 
  • Hanoi Oi Bistro, 225/7 Nguyễn Đình Chiểu, Phường 5, District 3. Spread over 2 floors, serving modern and traditional Vietnamese cuisine. Dishes include northern Vietnamese recipes of the owner/chef Thuy Linh, who is also an accomplished singer in a famous band, 5DK. Local singers, actors, celebrities and foreigners flock to this bistro both for its unique take on modern and classic Vietnamese food, and its ambiance. 
  • Hoa Khai Vegetarian Restaurant, 124 126 Nguyen Cu Trinh St, Cu Trinh Ward, District 1 (About 500 m west of the backpacker area). Tasty Vietnamese vegetarian food although with surly service. Be careful of being charged for unexpected items, such as the disposable hand towels that are presented to you without asking as you sit down.
  • Hoa Mai Coffee, 43-45 Do Quang Dau St (Just off Phan Ngu Lao, between Phan Ngu Lao St and Bui Vien St), +84 8 836 8310. Restaurant downstairs, on the second floor, is a comfortable bar with a pool table. International food and local dishes. Fresh fruit shakes, spring rolls, Vietnamese noodles, and pasta..
  • Huong Dong, 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. Quirky English translations of the long menu add to the spirit of adventure.
  • Une Journée à Paris, 234 Le Thanh Ton St (Quan 1, 100 m from Ben Thanh Market.). Authentic French boulangerie, patisserie and salon de thé. 
  • Lemongrass, 4 Nguyen Thiep St (Near the Opera House). A very touristy Vietnamese restaurant. Expanded to a twin outlet on 14th floor of Palace Hotel Saigon, 10 min away from the first outlet. Same menu, same price.
  • Lion City Cafe & Restaurant, 45 Le Anh Xuan, District 1 (Opposite New World Hotel), +84 8 3823 8371. 07:00-15:00. The biggest chain of Singaporean restaurants in Vietnam, all ingredients imported. 100% Singaporean food with a head chef and owner from Singapore. 
  • Ngoc Suong Marina, 19C Le Quy Don. A restaurant specializing in seafood. Fish salad and clams cooked in white wine.
  • Papaya by Chi Nghia, 68 Pham Viet Chanh, Binh Thanh District (Near the zoo). Small place specializing in northern-style Vietnamese cuisine. Run by a chef/owner who has 25 years of experience with Sofitel hotels. Cooking and presentation are top notch. 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 on Nam Ky Khoi Nghia across from the Reunification Palace. Set in atmospheric old French villas, with similar menus Vietnamese food, including regional specialties 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 ambiance at night, so if you have asthma or pulmonary issues or feel you've had enough pollution already, better to try the other one. 
  • Quan Nuong, 29-31 Ton That Thiep. A delicious, reasonably-priced open-air barbecue restaurant on the roof above Fanny's ice cream parlour and the Temple Club. 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.
  • La Sen Restaurant (Nha Hang La Sen), 30 Ba Huyen Thanh Quan, Phuong 6, Quan 3 (In the center of district 3), +84 8 930 6682. 09:30-23:00. Clean, medium-priced restaurant serving food from the regions of Hue, Saigon, and Hanoi. Friendly service, full air-con, 2 floors.
  • Spice, 27c Le Quy Don in Quan 3. Largest and most-visited Thai restaurant in HCMC. 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 gung and papaya salad, spicy shrimp, a fusion of Thai with other cuisines. Seating over 200, in air-con, al fresco or Thai style on floor mats. Delivery available to all districts. Top floor BBQ.
  • Sushi Bar (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 sushi restaurant, at half the price. Very popular, so you can expect to wait during the middle dining hours.
  • Wrap and Roll, 62 Hai Ba Trung. A growing chain. Wrapped Vietnamese fusion food in a modern minimalist setting. Try the desserts. 


  • Au Lac do Brazil, 238 Pasteur (Between Dien Bien Phu and 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, District 7. It's a larger and less crowded one with usually better service.
  • Co Ngu (On Pasteur just before Dien Bien Phu, Quan 1). 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.
  • The Deck Saigon, 38 Nguyen U Di, Thao Dien, An Phu, District 2 (15 min from the center of Saigon), +84 8 3744 6632. The only posh restaurant on the banks of the river. Modern fusion cuisine using local ingredients.
  • La Habana, 6 Cao Ba Quat, Quan 1 (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). An Italian restaurant with excellent home-made pasta dishes.
  • Huy Long Vien, 99 Nguyen Du (Across from the Reunification Palace). Chinese cuisine including Peking Duck and dim sum. Large with an ancient China theme.
  • Pomodoro's (On Hai Ba Trung, a block from the Hilton and around the corner from the Sheraton and Caravelle Hotels). Decent small Italian restaurant. Delicious lasagna is their specialty; the pizzas are a bit oily.
  • Tân Nam, 60-62 Dong Du, Quan 1 (A few doors from Sheraton Saigon). The ground floor is open-air, the upper floor has air-con. Rather expensive and mediocre food, 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). 1930s ambiance with separate bar, restaurant, and lounge area sections. The food is fair but most people come to soak up the atmosphere.
  • L'en Tete, 1st floor, 139 Nguyen Thai Binh, Quan 1 (At the junction with Calmette). 17:00-24:00. Excellent French restaurant in an area not normally associated with high dining. Great for a leisurely dining experience. 
  • ZanZBar Restaurant & Bar, 41 Dong Du St (Diagonally opposite Sheraton Hotel). Eclectic crowd comprised of local Vietnamese, local expats, and visiting tourists. Wine-by-glass and cocktail menu. At night the lighted columns create a great ambiance.
  • Urban Kitchen + Bar, 18 Ngo Van Nam, District 1 (At the beginning of Le Thanh Ton Street you will take the first left on to Ngo Van Nam Street. The street splits off into two and the restaurant is located on the left side.), +84 8 6250 6363. 11:00 - late. A welcome addition to the HCMC culinary scene, serving delicious American and International cuisine. The two-level building has a modern industrial design element that makes you feel like you aren't in Vietnam. At night, the restaurant takes on a bar like atmosphere and their bartenders serve up some great cocktails from the amber-lit rock bar. Brunch favorites are served on Saturday and Sunday from 10:00.

Halal food

  • D'Nyonya Penang Restaurant, 58 Dong Du St, District 1 (Beside the Mosque and Sheraton Hotel), +84 8 6678 6044. Malaysian owned, authentic Malaysian cuisine and Vietnamese menu.
  • Four Season Restaurant, 2 Thi Sach St, District 1, +84 8 825 7186. Vietnamese and Malaysian cuisine.
  • Halal@Saigon, 31 Đông Du, District 1 (Opposite the Indian Jamia Mosque, near Sheraton Hotel), +84 8 3824 6823 (Vietnamese), +84 8 38274602 (English), fax: +84 8 38274603, e-mail: info@halalsaigon.com. 10:00-22:00. 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 and Restaurant, 45 Le Anh Xuan, District 1 (Near Ben Thanh market opposite New World hotel), +84 8 3823 8371. Daily, 19:00-03:00. Certified halal, serves halal food on the 2nd floor.
  • Pro Döner Kebab, 169 De Tham, Pham Ngu Lao Ward, District 1, +84 8 2200 5959. Turkish place with good service serving real doner kebabs, halal style.
  • Vietnam Halal (Muslim Food Restaurant), 14 Pham Hong Thai, P. Ben Thanh, Quan 1 (Near Ben Thanh Market), +84 8 3822 0252. Malaysian cuisine and Vietnamese food.



Vietnam is the world's second largest exporter of coffee after 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). 

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 UHT milk as opposed to condensed milk.

  • Bobby Brewery Coffee, Bui Vien St. Nice place with good beverages. Used to show movies on 2nd and 3rd floor. Now reopened as La Cantina.
  • Cafe 5 Sao, Pham Ngoc Thach (Near the Turtle Pond). Plays loud techno music. Attractive, but pretentious crowd.
  • Cafe Napoly, Pham Ngoc Thach (Near the Turtle Pond). The decor is Roman ruins-lite (they meant "Napoli"), but the menu is typical for an upscale Vietnamese cafe: coffee, fruit drinks, ice cream, and a simple 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, air-con section on the ground floor, and evening lounge-bar on the upper floor. Next door to the louder, more trendy and possibly pretentious Cafe Nam Sao.
  • Cafe Saigon, 57 Nguyen Du St (Opposite to Immaculate Conception Cathedral Basilica), +84 9378 66066. Italian coffee, foods, free Wi-Fi, relaxing & modern music.
  • 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." A little tricky to find.
  • Chot Nho Café, 189 Nguyen Van Troi, Phu Nhuan District (10 min by taxi from city centre). Reasonable prices, good menu. Free Wi-Fi.
  • 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.
  • Fresco Coffee, 121 Le Loi St, +84 838 211 009. Free Wi-Fi, play hill song music.
  • Givral Café, Dong Khoi (Opposite Continental Hotel). In the French tradition, with fresh pastries, collared waiters and elaborate portions of ice cream. Well-located.
  • 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. A decent Western menu, although slightly pricey.
  • M-Comic, 99B Vo Thi Sau A. A rather hard to find the coffee shop. Upstairs is like a bedroom with a couple of beds. Arrive early if you want to occupy one. It has a large selection of magazine and comic books to chose from. Only serves Vietnamese drinks, and the staff only speak a little English. Free Wi-Fi.
  • Old Saigon Coffee, 2nd floor, 63 Dong Du St, District 1 (Opposite the Sheraton). Reminiscent of HCMC in the past. It has a great view to Dong Khoi St. All the drinks and foods are typical Saigon. The staff is quite decent.
  • Poppy Café, 217 Nguyen Dinh Chieu, District 3. Modern lounge café where the specialty is fruit-topped natural frozen yogurt. The only café in HCMC that serves this refreshing healthy treat. Creative fruit smoothies and light Vietnamese and Western fare. Flat-screen TVs, and English-speaking staff.
  • Regina Coffee, 84 Nguyen Du St, District 1. Vietnamese coffee or cappuccini. They have a skilled Japanese espresso master who knows how to brew coffee. French mixed with Asian design with brick walls. It is marketed towards tourists and all proceeds go to the church around the corner.
  • Sozo, Pham Ngu Lao. All proceeds benefit needy Vietnamese families. Good drinks, friendly staff, but their cookies could be better if they were baked in a real oven.
  • Trung Nguyen (Two convenient outlets are on the east side of Nguyen Hue right before the People's Committee Hall, and the corner of Thu Khoa Huan and Ly Tu Trong). 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. There are plenty of variations including the infamous weasel coffee (cà phê chồn), made from coffee beans collected from civet excrement; however, a quick Google search about the conditions in which the civets are kept may further dissuade some from sampling.
  • Window 4 Cafe (Near the Reunification Palace). This is the scene 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.

Bars and clubs

Saigon has plenty of places to drink, although to a certain degree Vietnamese and foreigners hang out in different places. 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. Many places close around midnight or 01:00. Some places remain open later.

Not to be missed are the pavement bars which get very busy with locals and travelers alike, about halfway down Biu Vien. 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.

  • Chill Sky Bar (Sky Bar). Rooftop bar at AB Tower in District 1 along September 23 park. This is the place to see and to be seen. If you are around the September 23 park at night you will see the lights and hear the music blasting from the top of the AB tower. Look for the spotlights shooting into the sky.

Where you can drink with locals

  • Acoustic Cafe, 6E1 Ngô Thời Nhiệm. Though only 1 km from the heavily touristed center, 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. 
  • Banana Pub, Phu My Hung District. Park View. Pool table, darts, friendly staff, beautiful people, loads of food. Stays open late depending on the crowd. Worth a trip from Q1 to experience the true expat scene.
  • Carmen, 8 Ly Tu Trong. The house band has changed some personnel but is still good, specializing in flamenco, salsa, and Latin pop, and with an eclectic mix of other popular songs thrown in. 
  • Ice Blue, Dong Khoi. Centrally located English pub, complete with darts board and warm beer.
  • Khong Ten (literally 'No Name'), 147 Hai Ba Trung. Large cabaret featuring some of the biggest Vietnamese celebrity singers in Vietnam. The headliner is often familiar to the locals from television. Most overseas visitors may not like the musical style as it is mostly the mellow-to-melancholy, soft-jazzy, love-ballady style favoured by the middle and older generation of Vietnamese. But it's pure Vietnam, and very popular with both HCMC residents and Vietnamese expats on trips home.
  • Lion's, 1-13 Lam Son Sq, District 1. Brewery, restaurant offering 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 cozy bar.
  • Peaches, Phu My Hung District. 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 St (Above the Liberty Hotel). Mixture of expats and locals, starts getting busy quite early. Music from the 1980s to the present. Noisy and smokey.
  • Q Bar Saigon. 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. 
  • Rio Saigon, 131 Ton That Dam St, District 1, +84 8 8211827, +84 8 8211812. Until 24:00. A Brazilian flowery decor-themed bar/pub with a Filipino house band playing pop/rock such as Bon Jovi and Skid Row.
  • 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, Phu My Hung District, +84 8 4120866. Opens for breakfast, closes at midnight. Western food with fish & chips and burgers.
  • Velvet, Ho Huan Nghiep (Corner of Dong Khoi). Nice ambiance & music. Latest chic bar in town. Gets very busy, and at weekends you will need a booking.
  • Xu Bar, Hai Ba Trung St (Near the Opera House). Great wine list. Nice ambiance & service.

Where you can drink with tourists

  • 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 locals & expats. Friendly staff, and the management is always there to make you feel welcome and make sure you get what you are asking for.
  • Allez Boo (Corner of Pham Ngu Lao, De Tham). For those who 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 air-con on the 2nd floor with DJ-type music and an airy rooftop patio. Quite similar to its sibling establishment, Go2 Bar.
  • 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 a less crowded atmosphere. 
  • Catwalk (Beside the 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.
  • Go2 Bar (Corner, De Tham and Bui Vien). 24/7. The main backpacker bar while Allez Boo was closed, still a great meeting place. 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 a retractable roof) with individual BBQs up a steep set of stairs on the 5th floor.
  • 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.
  • 163 Cyclo Bar, 163 Pham Ngu Lao St. Two doors down from the Duna Hotel. Thumping music until 02:00 with friendly staff. Sex workers catering to Western men here. If you're not interested, just gently let it be known.
  • Le Pub, 175/22 Pham Ngu Lao (On the small road which connects Pham Ngu Lao and Bui Vien). Always busy after 18:00, famous for its strong drinks, daily dollar-specials (e.g., Tuesday USD1 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.
  • 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 have 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.
  • Saigon Saigon, 12-13 Lam Son Sq (Caravelle Hotel, 9F). A pleasant, breezy bar with a great view of the city. Great live band (Cuban) playing inside every night. Cool, quiet ambiance on the terrace. Attracts an expense-account crowd due to the prices.
  • Seventeen Saloon. American Wild West-themed bar, live music every night and other entertainment. Drinks are expensive.
  • 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).
  • Vasco's, 74 Hai Ba Trung St, District 1 (Opposite Park Hyatt Saigon Hotel. Go to the alley at 74 Hai Ba Trung and find the bar on your left, 1st floor). Live music on some nights of the week and a typical bar atmosphere for both tourists and expats. 
  • VIBE Billiards & Lounge, 02 Sương Nguyệt Ánh, Phường Bến Thành

Shopping in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

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 Thanh 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. It is very useful to have local currency when buying. Banks and formal exchanges will provide you with a decent rate, especially when compared with agencies like Statravel on Vui Ban St which 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 to luck.

There are two good guidebooks for shoppers in Ho Chi Minh City: the Luxe City Guide and the MySherpa Guide which also includes a map with shops cross-referenced.


  • Galerie Quynh, 65 De Tham St, District 1 (Between Co Bac and Co Giang), +84 8 3836801. Tu-Sa, 10:00-18:00. A serious contemporary art gallery located in District 1. Unlike the 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.
  • Gallery Deli, Dong Khoi (Just down from Mac Thi Buoi).
  • Oil-Paintings, Bui Vien St (Near backpackers area in De Tham and Pham Ngu Lao). There are several shops along this street selling oil paintings. 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.
  • Phuong Mai Art Gallery, 129B Le Thanh Ton St, District 1 and 213C Dong Khoi St, +84 8 38 233 181. Daily 09:00-21:00. Vietnamese contemporary original artworks including oil paintings, lacquer paintings, water colors, and sculpture.
  • Saigon Craft, Dong Khoi (Opposite Lucky Plaza). Lots of lacquerware.

Books and newspapers

  • Bookazine, 28 Dong Khoi. New and antique copies of international titles like The Economist.
  • Fahasa, Nguyen Hue Blvd (just down from Mac Thi Buoi).
  • SahaBook, 175/24 Pham Ngu Lao (Near Le Pub). Lots of Lonely Planet titles here.
  • Tri Books, Dong Khoi (Corner of Ly Tu Trong). Stocks a wide range of English language textbooks and reference books.


Vietnamese silk is excellent quality. 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, for example, the common claim of wool being "Italian/English Super 180." Cheap local suits don't compare to just having a USD80 H & M suit altered by a tailor. 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).

  • BoSua Local Street Wear, 55B1 Vincom Tower, Dong Khoi St, District 1, +84 9 04142182. 09:00-22:00.
  • Ginkgo T-shirts, 20 Le Loi and 56 Bui Vien, District 1, +84 9 05493148. 08:00-23:00. Souvenir T-shirts with creative designs inspired by Asian cultures.
  • Ipa-Nima, 8 Nguyen Trung Truc St, District 1. Lots of accessories.
  • Khai Silk and Creation, 107 Dong Khoi. Off-the-peg shirts can be tailored at no additional charge. Can make copies of clothes you supply out of silk, linen or Egyptian cotton. 2 days for shirts, 5 days for a suit.


Visiting the local electronics district on and around Huynh Thuc Khang is quite a sight, where anything and everything is repaired, and nothing wasted. It's about a 15 min ride on Bus 2 from District 1. Loudspeaker repairs and remakes, transformer, and armature winding by hand. Think of any component and you may find it here, including 1968 helicopter parts. Some people bring older solid state and valve gear here to be repaired economically. Most electronics equipment in Vietnam originates here, so it's going to be a lot cheaper here than elsewhere.

While some of the country's cheapest electronics can be found here, most shops sell counterfeit items. Things such as dodgy iPods are easy to spot when compared to the genuine item, but things like camera batteries are more difficult to assess. If you are thinking about buying extra memory for your digital camera, e.g., be warned that most of the memory will be fake. These cards can be low quality and one has to ask if it is worth risking irreplaceable holiday snaps. Worse, knock-off batteries sold here have been known to explode. Nevertheless, if you know what you are doing, you can pick up some bargains here.

  • DVD buffs with no scruples should head to Ho Tung Mao.
  • Kool Audiophiles, 16/1 Phan Ngu, F Dakao, District 1, +84 8 38201757. 09:00-20:00. Headphone and earphone shop selling genuine products.


  • Ben Thanh Market (Chợ Bến Thành) (Southwest end of Le Lai). Till 18:00. A den of thieves, but some great shopping. Ben Thanh is recognizable from its clock tower on the large roundabout. 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). 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 much you are being quoted or what the exact price is or what exchange rate is being used to calculate your change. Be ready for these ruses (often by a sweet, 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 a 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.
  • Chợ Bình Tây (In Chinatown). The underrated twin of Ben Thanh, selling everything from spices, Chinese medicines, and 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 go to Bình Tây instead. Most of Chợ Bình Tây is wholesale goods. Much of Ben Thanh Market's goods are from here.
  • Night Market (Just outside of Ben Thanh Market). 18:00-late. Here you can enjoy many kinds of different foods and drink and do your shopping as well. But it is just a small street with traffic passing and pushy sellers, not the nicest place to hang around.
  • Saigon Square (A stone's throw from Ben Thanh Market). A good place for a 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 daytime Ben Thanh can be planned as a sightseeing trip instead of a shopping spree.
  • War Surplus Market, Yersin, District 1 (Intersection with Nguyen Cong Tru). Sometimes called the American Market or "Cho Cu" or "Khu Dan Sinh". Hidden behind rows of hardware and electric supplies shops, just brace yourself and enter. Dense warrens of stalls include those selling 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: just don't hope to find a genuine US wartime Zippo, they're all fakes now. Despite the name, most stalls now specialize in various industrial-type products such as hand tools and personal safety equipment.


  • Co-op Mart Supermarkets (In District 1 can be found at the corner of Nam Ky Khoi Nghia and Nguyen Dinh Chieu, about 1 km from the center or in Cong Quynh, walking distance from the end of backpacker street, Pham Ngu Lao.). 07:00-22:00. Co-op Mart can be found everywhere around HCMC. Prices are reasonably lower, though the selection leans more toward Vietnamese foods.
  • Tax Department Store (On the corner of Le Loi and Nguyen Hue.). Now known as Saigon Square. 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.
  • Giant Supermarket, 506 Nguyen Dinh Chieu Ward 4 District 3, +84 8-54121416. 09:00-21:00. Part of dairy farm Hong Kong which has supermarkets all over Asia.
  • Big C Super Center, 138 a To Hien Thanh Cu Xa Bac Hai Phuong 15, +84-8-38632990. 07:30-22:30.
  • Lotte Mart, Nguyen Thi Thap Tan Hung Quan 7.
  • Aeon Citymart, 96 Cao Thang Phomg 4 Quan 3. 05:30-22:00. Has 22 supermarkets all over Ho Chi Minh.

Safety in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

In general, Ho Chi Minh City is a safe city, with violent crimes such as armed robbery being relatively rare. The most common crimes faced by tourists are pickpocketing and snatch theft from motorbikes.

Scam artists operate on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City. A person will strike up a friendly conversation claiming they've either seen you at some 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 advice 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.

Don't hold up expensive things near the street or leave them out on the table while you're having a meal, especially in District 1, especially around the backpacker area. Petty theft is a big problem, and a lot of times it's done by people on motorbikes. It's easy to prevent by not giving thieves the opportunity.

A favorite trick is for the vendors to strike up a conversation with you, let you hold the carrying-stick, take a picture, and while you're distracted open a coconut for you that you really didn't ask for.

Also, the prostitutes on Bui Vien and Ton That Tung will try to rob you. Usually, they'll approach guys just acting like they're up to normal prostitute business, but they're really trying to pickpocket you.

Language spoken in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

As in most other parts of Vietnam, the main language is Vietnamese. The local dialect is the southern, 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 (Xin chào)
  • Excuse Me, Sorry: Seen Loy (Xin lỗi)
  • What is this/that?: Day La Kai Yee (Đây là cái gì)
  • Thank You: Kam On (Cảm ơn)
  • Very Good: Rat Tot (Rất tốt)
  • Bye: Tam Bee-it (Tạm biệt)


3:36 am
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