Your guide to Ho Chi Minh City
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August 17, 2022 | View OnlineSign Up

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It’s impossible to escape the chaos of Ho Chi Minh City.

Frenetic energy pulses through its hotwired circuit board of streets and alleyways, pouring into the food, the nightlife, and the day-to-day lives of all who venture into its limits. Many stutter in the face of its overwhelming atmosphere, but for those who allow it to whisk them off, an astounding city awaits — one that’s stepping firmly into the future, away from the horrors that engulfed it decades before.

Don’t be fooled by the skyscrapers growing into the cityscape. This is still very much Vietnam. For every sleek cocktail bar and high-end eatery, there’s an equally wonderful back alley Pho joint ready to blow your gastronomical socks off. Oh, and go easy on the coffee. It packs a punch here.

Take a deep breath and dive in.

Welcome to Ho Chi Minh City.


Saigon and Ho Chi Minh City are the same place

There’s often confusion for those that don’t know the history of Vietnam when it comes to HCMC’s name. You’ll hear both Ho Chi Minh City and Saigon thrown around the second you arrive. Even the airport’s code is SGN, while city signs show Ho Chi Minh.

The reason for this tracks back to the end of the Vietnam War when the communist-backed North of Vietnam emerged victorious over the US-backed South. The capital of Southern Vietnam was named Saigon but renamed in honor of the North’s leader, Ho Chi Minh. Naturally, many in the South still referred to it as Saigon, something that has carried on until today. You’ll hear both used interchangeably.

Don’t worry too much about offending anyone by saying one or the other. The odd person may be bothered, but on the whole, no one will care.


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Forget everything you know about crossing the road

Ho Chi Minh City has about 7 million motorbikes rattling through its streets. To the uninitiated, it seems utterly chaotic. Bikes don’t stop for pedestrians; they flood through intersections in stampedes, yet you’ll see locals safely stride across the street.

Muster up your bravery and just walk. Raise your hand if you want to ensure you’re seen, but if you stride at a steady pace in one direction, you’ll find every bike glances past you nonchalantly. Don’t run, don’t stutter, and definitely don’t stop. You need to give them the best chance possible to see you. It’ll seem scary at first, but it’ll be second nature after a few days.

Just make sure to stop doing this when you return to the States. Doesn’t work so well on an interstate.

Predictable unpredictability

Saigon is going to be hot and humid pretty much the entire year, so don’t bother with too many layers and accept the persistent film of sweat on your brow. It does have a rainy and dry season, however, which can impact your trip.

Luckily, a trip in the rainy season isn’t a write-off. While there’s a good chance it’ll rain a lot during your trip; it will usually only be for a short period of time. It will rain hard, believe us, but it’ll pass. A lightweight jacket or poncho is a good shout, and even a little towel for getting caught out.

Maps are a must

It’s unlikely you’ll find a city with the shape of Ho Chi Minh City. Almost formless, its main avenues are surrounded by an endless maze of alleyways, some only a shoulder-width across. A good understanding of them can open the city up for you - some of the best food is found hidden in these hẻms, as they’re called, and they can also be great shortcuts.

Without guidance, however, they’re a recipe for getting incredibly lost extremely quickly. English isn’t widely spoken, so don’t count on help from locals, even if they want to try. Install Google maps and on your phone before you leave. Download Vietnam maps, so you don’t have to rely on data to see the info and get exploring.


Expereince the flavors of Vietnam with just one cup

Have you ever stopped to think about what exactly those “natural flavors” in your flavored coffee are?

With Copper Cow Coffee, you don’t have to wonder - because you can see and taste the real herbs and spices ground right into their rich, dark roast Vietnamese coffee. (Think Vanilla Coffee with real ground vanilla bean & Churro Coffee with real ground cinnamon!) The universal grind of their new 12 oz bags of coffee makes a perfect cup in a french press, drip coffee maker, Chemex, or your brewing method of choice.

Plus, Copper Cow pays their coffee farmers in Vietnam twice the market rate for their beans, which allows farms to focus on quality over quantity and drastically reduce their chemical farming practices.

Upgrade your daily coffee ritual with 25% off your first Copper Cow Coffee order of $40+ with code: COFFEE25


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Take a look from the other side

Almost 68 thousand Americans died during the eight-year period it was involved in the Vietnam War, but could you say how many Vietnamese died? The answer is in the millions. Ho Chi Minh City offers the opportunity for visitors to understand the toll of war on the country and see that nothing is as black and white as we might think.

A visit to the Cu Chi Tunnels is a must on any visit. The harrowing site of many brutal guerilla-style battles between North and South Vietnam as well as the United States, visitors can see the immense system of underground tunnels built to counter the American presence and even go inside them to feel the claustrophobia. Brutal traps, torture devices, and depictions of how tough life was during the war are all on show. It’s not a pleasant visit, but an important one. Book a small organized tour if you can.

Back in the city, the War Remnants Museum is a sobering excursion. Detailing the effects of the controversial agent orange and its generational impact on the population, graphic accounts of the war, and some of the horrors committed on both sides, few museums in the world are likely to stir emotions like this one for Americans. It can feel biased, and it is in places (it was once called the American War Crimes Museum), but it’s a good place to gain perspective.

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Get buzzed on a coffee tour

Vietnamese coffee is no joke. Those not used to it sometimes feel a little drunk. For everyone else, it’s a glorious hit, whatever form you get. 

One of the best ways to learn is on a coffee tour. These fantastic days out are usually done on two wheels. A private tour guide will whisk you off on the back of their motorbike to the best spots in town, offering a little history of the coffee and trying different varieties. Simple iced coffee with condensed milk will be the starting point before moving on to the wonderful egg coffee, and even a type of bean that’s literally passed through a ferret. 

Some coffee shops frequented on the tour are even tied in with the war. One amazing cafe has a secret bunker built under it that used to stockpile weapons for the Viet Cong. Expect to grab a few nibbles on the way too!

Enjoy the French connection

France’s influence in Vietnam stretched back to the end of the nineteenth century when they colonized the region as part of French Indochina. Just before the Vietnam War, the French were defeated and kicked out, but many of their buildings and cultural influence remain.

Visiting Notre Dame Basilica is a great way to get start. Built in the late eighteen hundreds, the European-styled red-pink brickwork sticks out like a beautiful sore thumb. Just across the road is the old post office. The stunning, strikingly yellow building still functions as such, and you can even send a postcard back to your family and friends from the building.

Don’t forget to check out the Saigon Opera House and Saigon City Hall, all of which wouldn’t look out of place in a European city. Ben Thanh Market is a wonderful clash of cultures to explore. The French-styled walls enclose a traditional market where a morning can be spent browsing local wares.


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Southeast Asian value strikes again

As with much of Southeast Asia, luxury can be found at wonderfully affordable prices. By all means, go big, but don’t discount one of the wonderful guesthouses dotted throughout the city’s alleyways and inner courtyards.

If you feel like getting in touch with your eighteen-year-old self, a cheap hostel on Backpacker Street is a gap year Mecca, packed with cheap bars and atmospheric hostels at rock-bottom prices. Whatever your inclinations, Ho Chi Minh has it covered.

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Our Top Pick: The Reverie Saigon

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
$$$ | See inside

The Reverie doesn’t hold back on the luxury front. Set in one of the city’s most iconic skyscrapers and taking regal design prompts from classic Italian architecture, guests are treated to sprawling views of the city, spacious rooms, and decadent features dotted throughout the property.

It’s a regular on global hotel lists, and considering the level of service and luxury on offer, the prices are extremely reasonable.

Book Your Stay

Other Top Picks


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Go pho it

There’s not enough space to cover the breadth of Vietnamese food. Of course, pho is the household name now found across the world. Try it in one of the city’s sprawling alleyway systems for a few cents, then seek out an upscale interpretation at a high-end establishment.

Don’t skimp on the Banh Mi, effectively a Vietnamese baguette, and gorge on the bun cha. Then take a look around and ask for whatever the locals are having. You’ll never regret it.

Our Top Pick: Anan

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
$$$ Menu

Anan is a stupendously good restaurant that combines the best tastes of Vietnam with classic French cuisine, shook up with a modern twist, before sprinkling in some modern international flavors. It’s an exciting menu featuring the likes of Vietnamese rice paper pizza and frog leg banh mi.

It’s small, atmospheric, and should always be followed by a few cocktails at Nhau Nhau, its sister bar located upstairs. Try the Pho Bullshot- Vietnamese rice wine, sriracha, and real pho broth are surprisingly good in a drink.

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The Best of the Rest


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