Thursday, May 29, 2014

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How to Spend One Day in Ho Chi Minh City

If you had unlimited time in Vietnam, you would surely be able to explore every facet of what makes this country unique. If you had unlimited time in Vietnam, you would surely be able to explore every facet of what makes this country unique.  Unfortunately, many people who travel here have limited time and want to make the most of it.  As part of our new “Custom Itineraries in Vietnam” series, we will guide you through the various cities in Vietnam and help you experience the country to its fullest.  We will also show you how to get off the beaten path and see the country in a unique way.  The first of our “Custom Itineraries in Vietnam” series – Ho Chi Minh City!

Tourists often transit through Ho Chi Minh City before moving on to a packed itinerary in Vietnam.  Though Ho Chi Minh City has a lot to offer in terms of attractions and cultural experiences, it is difficult to take part in everything when you have limited time here.  We have compiled a thorough itinerary that helps you maximize your time here.  If you only have one day in Ho Chi Minh City, we recommend that you…

Eat Soup for Breakfast

Vietnamese people love their noodle soup dishes.  You may already be familiar with pho, but there are countless more noodle soups that are in fact not pho!  What’s more, with a generous helping of various meats, veggies, and noodles, these soups are a breakfast of champions.  So start your day off Vietnamese style and devour a bowl of Pho, Banh Canh Cua, Bun Bo Hue, or whatever the guy next to you is having.

Recommendation Ben Thanh market has a huge section in the middle with food stalls.  The turnover is quite high here so it is usually a safe place to eat

Ben Thanh market food
Eating inside Ben Thanh market is safe, exciting, and delicious!

Visit Ben Thanh Market
Ben Thanh market is the iconic central market in Ho Chi Minh City.  It wouldn’t be a complete trip to the city without seeing this wonder.  They sell everything from souvenirs to kitchen supplies to groceries and meat.  It’s a one stop shop!  Or, just a great place to people watch.  This market is not air conditioned so it gets hot and muggy here during the day.  And the sellers can be quite aggressive with both tourists and locals – that’s just the nature of this market.  Having said that, it’s important to give this place a chance.  It is more than just a tourist grab.  Even for people who live here, the market sells things that are ordinarily hard to find otherwise.  The market is a lot bigger than it seems so make sure you leave some time to navigate through and really explore all that it has to offer.  Be aware that the prices here are very marked up so be sure to negotiate.  If a sign says ‘fixed price’ and the seller is hesitant to budge, you will most likely find the same items at another stall

Marvel at the Architecture

The architecture in the city is a mish mash of new skyscrapers, old tube houses, and French colonial buildings.  The old colonial buildings in the centre of the city have a lot of character and hold a lot of history.  Fortunately, they are all quite close together so a short walk offers you the opportunity to enjoy most of them.  If you walk between the Notre Dame cathedral and the Saigon River along Dong Khoi street, and wander around Nguyen Hue and Le Loi streets, you will be able to appreciate many of the beautiful old buildings of downtown Ho Chi Minh City.  If you have time, walk into the main historical post office for a closer look at colonial style architecture at its best.

Colonial architecture in Ho Chi Minh City. The Notre Dame cathedral, the Saigon Opera House and the Post Office are some of the most popular tourist sights.
Colonial architecture in Ho Chi Minh City. The Notre Dame cathedral, the Saigon Opera House
and the Post Office are some of the most popular tourist sights.

Sip Some Coffee

Vietnamese people really pride themselves on their coffee and there is no shortage of coffee shops in Ho Chi Minh City.  Coffee culture was huge here well before Starbucks and other big name coffee brands arrived.  If you’ve been walking around the city for a while,  sipping on coffee and people watching is the perfect break from the hustle and bustle.  Fortunately, most coffee shops have excellent regional fare.

Recommendation: One of the coolest coffee shops in the city is L’Usine at 151/1 Dong Khoi.  The entrance is through an alleyway and up two flights of stairs.

Get a Massage and Hair Wash
Ho Chi Minh City may be chaotic but Vietnamese people sure do know how to provide a serene escape to the chaos.  Cheap foot massages can be found everywhere and for $5-10, you can achieve complete relaxation for an hour to 90 minutes.  If you are in the mood for a more authentic spa service, get a hair wash (Goi Dau).  This isn’t a regular run of the mill hair wash – a proper Vietnamese hair wash includes a head massage, face wash and mask, and a shoulder massage!  They will even blow your hair out and style it for you after.

Recommendation:  Get a 70 minute foot massage at 118 (adequately named since its address is 118 Pasteur) for $7 including tip and then go around to Jasmine Spa (45 Ton That Thiep, at the corner of Pasteur and Ton That Thiep) for a relaxing hair wash.

Go on a Motorbike Tour
Soon after arriving in Ho Chi Minh City, you will notice that motorbikes are the vehicle of choice.  What better way to see the city than to experience it on the back of the bike?  XO Tours is a leading motorbike tour company in the city.  We have a range of motorbike tours to suit your taste, but by far our most popular is The Foodie.  Not only does it take you to several different districts of the city that are not generally visited by tourists, you will also have the opportunity to try the best street food Ho Chi Minh City has to offer.
The Foodie Tour in Viet Nam
The Foodie Tour takes you to see and eat in 4 other districts besides District 1.
See the Backpackers’ Area

Ho Chi Minh City is a popular destination for backpackers because it is relatively cheap to travel around here.  Over time, this small area around Pham Ngu Lao and Bui Vien streets has become a magnet for budget accommodations, colourful restaurants, and lively watering holes.  Even if you aren’t traveling as a backpacker, this particular area in the city is a tourist attraction in itself.  It is quite lively at night when hundreds of people sit on child sized plastic stools, drink local beer and mingle with the crowd.

Get a View

The city has very few tall buildings so going to the top of one of these buildings gives you an excellent view of the city.  Luckily, there are a handful of bars on really high floors so you can enjoy the view and sip on a drink at the same time.  After a long and activity filled day in the city, this is the perfect way to end your night.  It is mesmerizing to look out onto the streets hundreds of feet below and truly appreciate how the city moves.

The Great View in Ho Chi Minh Viet Nam

The different kinds of nightlife in the city – backpacker style with watering holes on the street and upscale rooftop bars with an amazing view of the city.
Recommendation:  The Heli Bar in the Bitexco tower (52nd Floor, 2 Hai Trieu) is one of the highest viewing points in the city, but the perspective is much better from Chill Skybar (AB Tower, 76 Le Lai).  Both these places have a strict dress code and shoe policy.

Our recommended locations within District 1 to visit during your action-filled day in Ho Chi Minh City. For sights outside D1, we recommend taking a motorbike tour.
We hope you enjoyed the 1st part in our ”Custom Itineraries in Vietnam” series


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