City Guide: Saigon, Vietnam

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Saigon, or it’s current name, Ho Chi Minh City, is a city worth visiting in Vietnam. This sprawling city is much larger than I anticipated, with over 10 million residents. This explains some of the ridiculous traffic we encountered! This ancient city is historically known as Saigon, but after the reunification of the city in 1976, the central city of South Vietnam took on the name of it’s first leader, Ho Chi Minh.  The city has an interesting layout, using numbers to indicate neighborhood, similar to the arrondissements of Paris. However, in Saigon, these neighborhoods are referred to as “Districts”, and all I could literally think of was Hunger Games. Most of the tourist highlights & accommodations are located in District 1. Saigon is a city brimming with life.

We didn’t have nearly enough time to spend in this great city, but here’s some of my highlights/recommendations for 24 hours in Saigon.

EAT:

  • Phở. It’s a Vietnamese classic, a must-try while in Vietnam. Phở is a basic noodle soup dish, sometimes served with meat and/or herbs. We not only tried phở, but also pho rolls, which is a fresh take on the traditional dish.
  • Spring rolls. Another classic from southeast Asia, and Vietnam does spring rolls right. Usually filled with fresh vegetables & herbs, sometimes with meat, they are just a delight.
  • Bánh Tráng Nướng & Bánh Dẻo at  Coo2. These two dishes were two of my favorite foods I ate in Saigon. The first, Bánh Tráng Nướng, is a crispy flat rice paper topped with veggies, meats or sauces, much like a crepe or pizza. The rice paper has been grilled over an open flame for a smoky crispy flavor. The Bánh Dẻo reminded me of a burrito, a nice soft rice paper wrap which has been filled with meats, cheese, and vegetables, and then just covered in a sweet & spicy sauce. It literally melts in your mouth. Both of these can be found at C002 restaurant in District 3.

DRINK:

  • Saigon Special. Vietnam has cheap [yet tasty] beer, and the standard for the south is the Saigon Special.
  • Iced Vietnamese coffee. Of course, the country is famous for it’s coffee but in Saigon it’s important to try the coffee iced. One of the strangest comments I heard while in Saigon was that northern Vietnam doesn’t use as much ice, but it’s so true! We regularly  found iced Vietnamese coffee in the south and hot coffee in the north. So be sure to try it iced before heading north.

SEE:

  • Bitexco Tower. It’s the tallest tower in Saigon’s skyline at 68 stories, and not to be missed. There is a pricy observatory deck, or you can just visit the EON Cafe at Floor 51 for a great cup of Vietnamese coffee, dessert or a meal, and take in the magnificent views of the city below.
  • Central Post Office & Notre Dame Cathedral. Beautiful architecture on display at these buildings in central Saigon. They are right across the street from each other and a must see!

DO:

  • Take a tour of the city! There’s lots of great tour companies, including the two we toured with, Tiger Tours & Saigon on Bikes. Doing these tours really enhanced our visit to Saigon, especially in such a short visit!

GETTING AROUND SAIGON:

  • Walking. It’s a pedestrian friendly city with plenty of sidewalks. However, traffic can be INSANE. Crossing the street is an art form. Use wisdom, and be safe. But, hey, we survived! See video below.
  • Grab Taxi & Uber. These app based taxi services are a game changer. Get yourself a SIM card at the airport [around 200,000 dong] and the whole city is at your fingertips. You can not only call a Grab Taxi or Uber quite easily using their applications, but also access Google Maps which allows you to feel confident in always knowing your location. And that of your driver!

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WHERE TO STAY IN SAIGON:

  • I recommend District 1, just because it’s going to be centrally located to the majority of the things you will want to see! That being said, here’s two sites I regularly use to book accommodations:
    • AirBnB: Imagine you are visiting a friend in a new city, and you get to stay in their guest room and they leave you all kinds of tips for navigating their hometown. That’s exactly what an AirBnB feels like. It’s locals renting out rooms or even their whole place to travelers. If you are looking for something unique, and not a chain hotel experience, you’ll definitely want to check out AirBnB. Our room in Saigon was located on top of a bookstore. How cool is that??!
    • Agoda: If you are looking a hotel, whether it’s budget or luxury, check out Agoda.com. It’s especially helpful when traveling through Asia. You can find hotels, hostels, and more. Compare prices, locations and ratings of other users. I use Agoda so often when planning a trip, they should pay me!

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A city like this one can hardly be captured in still photographs, but in live motion. Check out this video to see Saigon in Motion.

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