Our first stop in Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh was an adventure in itself! Formally named Saigon, the city is bustling with French architecture, local street markets alongside massive superstores and is full to the brim with tourists. The city is famous for its hectic nature, with tourists and many locals flocking to its never-ending supply of bars, clubs and restaurants. Another famous trait of Ho Chi Minh (and something you'll witness first-hand as you risk your life every time try to you cross the road) is the traffic! There is a constant tooting of horns and purr of engines, which is what makes the nature of this city so exciting. Whilst it's all systems GO on the busy roads, you can turn off any off these into numerous quaint little cobbled paths and side streets. Many locals live down these roads and you'll often find them dotted with little businesses and Vietnamese coffee shops. The city offers so many things to do.. So many that we extended our stay here by 3 more days! Below, I've compiled a list of the Top 8 things to do in one and only HCMC.
(If you want some extra inspiration scroll to the bottom for our YouTube vlog!
1 - War Remnants Museum
This museum displays informative accounts, displays memorabilia and shows shocking pictures, all detailing the history of Vietnam and atrocities that took place during the Vietnam war. It's not for the faint hearted and will leave you reading accounts that you will never forget - which is rightly so, as the history of Vietnam is something that shouldn't be forgotten. I left this museum feeling very sad, but privileged to be in a country that has prevailed such trauma. It will open your eyes and it is definitely not to be missed! We're also not really ones for museums, but we found this really interesting and couldn't believe that we'd spent 3 hours there before we left!
2 - Cu Chi Tunnels
Another reminder of the unbelievable circumstances during the Vietnam War. Cu Chi tunnels is a system of underground tunnels that were built and used during the Vietnam War. Vietcong soldiers used these tunnels for months on end, hiding and fighting the Americans whilst living underground. They would disguise their tunnels as termite mounds by using mud and cement on top of the entrances. They would often place these in between real termite mounds so that they would be breezed past by American Soldiers. The tour around the tunnels is conducted by a Vietnamese tour guide, who spoke great English and had a good sense of humour. He showed us the tiny entrances and let everyone have a go at being a Vietnamese Soldier. We all lowered ourselves in to the tunnels, frog-walked or crouched through the tunnels from one entrance and popped back out through another, across the other side of the forest.
The tunnels that you crouch through are usually about 10m in length, however there is a 30m tunnel at the end which is an absolute killer on the legs! Have a go! It was such a great experience to see the reality of what some soldiers lived through for months, or even years during the War. The tour guide was fantastic at showing us real history memorabilia and explaining the lethal traps/weapons that were used to defeat the American Soldiers. He mentioned that overall, there were 900km of tunnels used during the Vietnam War. When dropping bombs over Cu Chi during the war, the Americans only to destroy 10km of the tunnels - which the Vietnamese see as a great result. However, there was no ignoring the second biggest killer to battle wounds, illness and disease was rampant in the tunnels and many soldiers died from Malaria and other diseases that were hard to contain within the tunnels.
3 - Shoot a Gun
You can do this at Cu Chi tunnels. You have a large choice of guns to choose from AK47's to Fully loaded machine guns (obviously these come at a larger price tag). You have to pay per round and can only buy a minimum of 5 rounds. The rounds cost 100,000VND per bullet. Although this was a cool experience, we were a little disappointed by the fact that you didn't get to hold the gun yourself. It was attached to a mount on the top of a cement wall as high as your shoulders. Therefore, it took away the novelty of lying on the floor, looking down the sight and feeling the impact burst against your shoulder as you shot the gun at the target. Also, for 5 rounds, we think 500,000VND was a bit steep. But, a cool thing to do nonetheless!
4 - Book a boat tour on the Mekong Delta
The infamous Mekong Delta Tour can provide a great day out for any of those looking to escape from the madness of Ho Chi Minh city centre. On the tour, you will dive into more rural areas of Vietnam and witness the day to day lives of those who live along the waterways. The Mekong Delta Tour will introduce you to fish farms, desolate mangroves, fruit orchards and local villages. Tours usually start at around $20 per person, depending on the size of the group. They take place from around 8 - 3:30 and will almost always offer a free lunch.
5 - Stare for too long at the Starlight Bridge water show
Starlight bridge is an amazing spot if you are looking to sit down with your partner and watch the world go by (it's actually supposed to be one of the most romantic spots in Ho Chi Minh). Beginning at 7pm on the weekends, the water flowing from the bridge lights up in many different ways, changing colours, sequences and speed as it splashes into the river until around 10pm. A great show and a must see when in Ho Chi Minh! You can also get really tasty ice creams here for about 8000 dong which is about 20p! Lastly, just round the corner is the Crescent Mall which we loved because they had live singers, loads of fast food - Vietnamese style (inc cheese popcorn!) and for a truly surreal experience hit the cinema, because it'll just be you and a whole load of Vietnamese people.
6 - Grab yourself a bargain at the Ben Thanh market
As per your usual market, you'll be hassled within an inch of your life whilst walking through the narrow walkways in this market. However, it's all fun and games as you can grab yourself a bargain if you find a nice item. This market is great for replacing any of those bloomin' clothes that you have lost or destroyed whilst travelling, or for just buying items that you wish you had brought with you in the first place! Don't be afraid to haggle with the seller, always go in at third of the price - we worked out through trial and error this was the best price you'd get! And also don't be afraid to say no and walk away, no matter how much they try to keep you at their stall. However, most importantly, many of these people are trying to earn a living so you should always settle for what you think is a fair price and not drive it down too much. One lady quoted us so little for a pair of shorts that we didn't even try to haggle and bought them straight away because she was the most lovely lady ever!
7 - Embrace the madness of Walking Street and get drunk on cheap buckets!
If you've ever been to Khao San Road in Bangkok or Pub Street in Siem Reap, you'll know exactly what to expect whilst walking (...or stumbling after one too many buckets of alcohol) down 'Walking Street' in Ho Chi Minh. The bright lights, overflowing bars and blasting music are a great recipe for a good night out! Make sure to grab a fruit shake from Five Boys Number One on your way through the street too, the shakes taste amazing and are only 35,000VND with 3 fruits of your choice!
8 - Rent a motorbike and see how long you can survive driving in HCMC traffic
This one speaks for itself. HCMC is renowned for its busy roads and constant steady flow of traffic. If you really want to test yourself, set out at around 5 o'clock and hit the streets during rush hour! If you aren't too confident on the motorbike beforehand, you definitely will be after half an hour driving through HCMC! As we'd planned on driving all the way to Hanoi from Ho Chi Minh Jac actually learnt to drive a manual motorbike for the first time in this traffic. Talk about trial by fire! 5 days of driving in this madness, a lot of swearing and several close calls we made it out of the city backsides still intact. In fact by the end Jac began to enjoy driving in the traffic. As much as it is absolutely crazy, there is method to the madness and everything just flows. Best of all - and surprisingly, there is no road rage (fortunately for us!)
9 - Head to Saigon Skydeck
The Saigon Centre in Ho Chi Minh is a multi-used facility for businesses of all kinds. It is also home to one of the greatest views in the whole of Saigon. You can purchase tickets to the sky deck for 200,000 VND, where you will be taken up to the 39th floor and be able to see the whole of the city alive at night. It's 360 degree viewing area, with floor to ceiling windows make it an amazing experience and is definitely worth the £7 admission fee. You can also go up to the higher floors and go to the cocktail bar, however being travellers, we decided to go for a bowl of Pho and a Saigon beer afterwards instead.
10 - Last and by no means least - Grab a bowl of Pho!
Phở is a Vietnamese soup consisting of broth, rice noodles, a few herbs and beef or chicken. Pho originated in the early 20th century in northern Vietnam, and was popularised throughout the rest of the world by refugees after the Vietnam War. It's is a popular street food in Vietnam and In Ho Chi Minh you're literally tripping over places selling it. We checked out a few of the recommended places and found that really they were similar in taste, but the price differed a lot. The restaurant prices are around 4 times as much as the street price and the Pho, if anything, actually has less taste. So for an authentic cheap bowl, head over to any street vendor that has a lot of locals eating there (that's usually a good sign!)
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