Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnamese: Thành Phố Hồ Chí Minh), commonly known as Saigon (Vietnamese: Sài Gòn) or by the abbreviation HCMC, 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 moniker is still used by both Vietnamese and foreigners, especially when referring to the most central part of the city, to which most tourists flock.
The helpful, Tourist Information Center (4G 4H Le Loi St, District 1. Tel (84-8) 822 6033) can be found on the northeast corner of the roundabout at the intersection of Le Loi and Nguyen Hue, right in the heart of the city. It's a great place to pick up a free map (which includes a map of Hanoi, as well) and get an idea of what the city and surrounding area has to offer.
Tan Son Nhat (Tân Sơn Nhất) (IATA: SGN | ICAO: VVTS) is Vietnam's largest international airport. There are two terminals: the new international terminal, which took over all international flights from September 2nd 2007, and the old terminal, which will be reserved for domestic traffic. Immigration is notoriously strict and can be time consuming, but if your papers are in order you should be fine. Note that the all-white departure cards are only for those without the 'yellow paper' received upon arrival. The recently introduced No. 152 air-con airport bus is the cheapest way into the city, and will drop you off on the west side of the Pham Ngu Lao area, or at the bus terminal on the south side of the Ben Thanh Market roundabout. The price was recently increased to 3000 dong. Upon exiting the airport, turn right and walk towards the domestic airport, about 5 minutes walk, in front of the airport across a small road you will see the bus waiting there. Taxi drivers may tell you there are no more airport buses- ignore them.
Taxis from the airport to the city center would take as little as 15 minutes in lighter traffic (which only happens between 11:00 am and 4:00 pm). This should cost no more than 80,000VND. The more typical experience is to creep along in near-standstill traffic for 30 minutes or more, at a cost of about 120,000VND to 150,000VND from district 1, inclusive of airport tax. A company called Sasco has the airport taxi concession, and their cars are the first you will see by the curb. They are OK, just a bit more expensive than rivals such as Vinasun, Vinataxi, and Mai Linh, which can be found waiting in abundance 50 meters away, further out into the parking lot. Whichever taxi you choose, make sure the driver uses the meter. Major taxi companies are fairly honest, but if you want to avoid all stress, you could simply buy a "Taxi coupon" at one of the counter after the custom declaration & x-ray at international airport terminal. Budget Car Rental has recently become the first international car rental company in Vietnam. They offer English speaking drivers and new model vehicles at affordable prices. You can find them just outside customs decleration next to the taxi stands. The black VIP taxi (Vinasun, Mai Linh) will give you premium service with better Lexus car at higher rate. These maybe unnecessary expenses for a short trip to the hotel.
Watch out for taxi touts who also dress in white shirt uniforms and brandish laminated "fixed prices" cards at $US25.00 per car to the city hotels. They will be prepared to drop the price to $US15.00 but it is still a rip-off. Ignore them, stick to the metered taxis.
You can change money at the airport, usually just enough to pay for the taxi ride (US$10), but you're probably better off paying for your first trip with US$ and exchanging in the city as the exchange in the airport may charge a commission as high as 3%. For simple calculation, taxi drivers & street vendors usually take 1 USD = 17,000 VND.
Taxi drivers earn commission by taking customers to certain hotels, so be explicit about exactly which hotel you want to be taken to. Driver may come up with any kind of excuses, from "no vacancy" or "circus is in town" just to get you stay at other (commission paying) hotels.
Be specific which terminal you want to go to. International flights go from the newer international terminal (go straight); Domestic flights (to Hanoi, Danang, Nha Trang, etc) are from domestic terminal (turn left). Drop at the wrong terminal and you have to dash your way to the right terminal via pedestrian walkway link 600m away. Not recommended if you're already late for boarding.
When entering the airport, taxi drivers will add the entry fee to your total meter. This is for the airport entry fee (5000 VND). Don't confuse this entry fee with "Airport Departure Tax" as International Departure Taxes should have been included in the price of your flight ticket. In medium traffic from Ben Thanh Market to the airport, the total fare should be no more than 80,000VND as of October 2008 using the green and white metered taxis.
Bus travel is available from Phnom Penh via several different companies, at approximately $12 per person. Visas to Vietnam cannot be obtained at the border, so have one organised before arrival. Capital Tours operates a popular bus line from the Capital Guest House in Phnom Penh that takes passengers to the border, then after securing visas, passengers board a partner Vietnamese bus to continue travel to Ho Chi Minh.
The multitude of private tour company buses usually drop passengers off on Pham Ngu Lao just west of De Tham, giving easy access to accommodation in the backpacker area. Of course, this means that you'll have at least 40-odd people shopping for the same rooms, which can be daunting as the nearby spots get snapped up. Patience will reward those who dig deeper into the tiny alleys, which have a (surprisingly safe) life of their own.
The train station is located on Cach Mang Thang Tam (CMT8) Northwest of the city center, and is a short taxi or public bus ride away from the main hotel districts.
There is an official train ticket office in the backpackers district, located at 275C Pham Ngu Lao.
By taxi and Rental Car
Taxis are the most comfortable way of getting around, and not too expensive - about 12,000 dong for the first 1km, plus 10,000 dong per additional km. (Prices jumped about 30% at the start of 2008, and again in July 2008 due to the soaring price of fuel but have since been reduced.) It's usually not hard to flag a taxi anywhere in the central city, though finding an available one in the rain or during peak hours can be difficult. Possible annoyance: when using the meter some taxi drivers slow down on purpose to increase the price.
Taxi rates are not regulated by the city government, and each company sets its own fare structure, which changes from time to time. The market is fairly competitive, however, and the major companies all reasonably honest with similar rates. Major companies include: Vinasun (white and dark green), Mai Linh (various shades of white (standard), light green (mini w/ cheaper rate), brown, and silver, Vinataxi (yellow and blue), Petrolimex (white with blue and orange) and Savico (blue). Hoang Long (green and yellow) charges similar fares for short trips, but is 10-20% higher for long trips. Some off-brand taxis, such as "Taxi-Meter," have fast meters, and are best avoided unless you are a regular and know them well. Drivers generally do not speak English or any other foreign language, so if your destination is somewhere other than the airport or a major hotel, it might help to write the name and/or address on paper beforehand.
Some of the larger, upscale hotels in the city (Caravelle Hotel, Sheraton, Park Hyatt, et al) are frequented by "Saigon Tourist" taxis, which often charge in dollars and are very expensive. Make sure to specify to your hotel receptionist or concierge that you want either one of the aforementioned taxi companies (Mai Linh, Vinasun, or Vinataxi) rather than the tourist trap taxis, or they will not hesitate to put you in an expensive taxi.
Carry small change and bills for paying fares, since drivers are often short of change. Taxi models in service range from the tiny Daewoo Matiz to big Toyota Innova minivans. Newer cars are more likely to have working air-con; larger mini-SUV-type models sometimes charge a higher rate.
When using a metered taxi be aware of the taxi slowing down on purpose to increase the bill.
For trips outside of the city or for the convenience of having a private vehicle for the day, daily car hire with driver is a good option. Many of the taxi companies such as Mai Linh and Vinasun offer these services. For a little more money, Budget Car Rental, the American car rental company, offers English speaking drivers who serve as tour guides and to take you around the city or to sites such as Cu Chi.
Motorbike taxis (xe ôm, literally hug-vehicle) are plentiful (get used to hearing "you want moto!?" everywhere), cheap, and are generally quite safe. As of December 15th, 2007 all riders in Vietnam are now required to wear helmets and this is strongly enforced. As such, the driver should supply you with a helmet. If he doesn't - find another one, as you'll be the one stung for the fine. Absolutely agree on a price before you set off; short hops around town shouldn't be more than 10000 dong, and all the way to the airport around 30000. Rule of thumb for the price will be nearest round up of half the cost of taxi ride for the same travel. Drivers are generally quite friendly and will go slower if requested. They're also not adverse to a bear hug if you're really struggling. 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. Prices range from US$3-7/day; US$4 should get you a solid 100-110cc bike. Driving in Saigon is best left to experienced drivers, however - the traffic is intense, and has its own rhythms and logic. Drivers with limited experience should consider renting an automatic bike (usually a bit more expensive), as at busy crossroads there is not 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 guard / parking attendants out front who will issue you a numbered tag and take care of your motorbike. Independent parking lots are scattered around the sidewalks, alleys, and basements of the city – look for rows of neatly-parked motorbikes or signs that say giu xe. Prices range from free at some restaurants (though a small tip is common) to 5000 dong (~.30 US cents) at upscale night clubs.
For many reasons, not least because of government attempts to restrict cyclos on busy urban streets, cyclos are disappearing. At around US$2/hour and because they are so slow, they can be a good choice for taking in the city - however in areas popular with tourists, they often try to overcharge, so bargain beforehand. The price changes after your journey as finished, resulting in an embarrassing argument which soon becomes an intimidating atmosphere as other cyclo drivers appear as back up. So taking a cyclo is not really fun. The driver often visits places which benefit his wallet. The driver often ignores your directions for museums and heads to his favored local poor quality gift shop. They circulate around the central market and will immediately try to take you on a city tour the moment you are on board. Unless you fancy the novelty of a cyclo, a taxi will be quicker and just as cheap to anywhere you may want to go.
Look for the bright green buses with 150+ routes (Aug 2008) - maps of the bus system can be picked up across from Ben Thanh Market - just go into the waiting room to the desk in the middle. Cheap, safe and not too crowded either but only if you can find the right line. If you cannot find your way, ask the locals nicely, they will try their best to help. A piece of paper and marker pen may help to ease the conversation. Cheaper 2,000 - 4,000 dong and safer than many of the alternatives, the biggest problem is that when you get off the bus, you become a pedestrian (see below).
For those who aren't staying in Ho Chi Minh City very long, or want to save his/her time, take a look on the website  for the City Look Bus. It'll take you to the famous places in Hochiminh city with the price from 15,000d to 75,000d, including the tour guide and the information in English.
Traffic is made up of a staggering number of motorbikes and, since import duty was reduced upon Vietnam's joining of the WTO, an increasing number of private cars. However its exceptionally rare to see a motorbike of more than 150cc, and the traffic rarely gets above 20-30km/h in central areas.
However crossing the road in Saigon can be a nightmare. The first time may be a little scary, after that you will get used to it quite quickly. If ever in doubt, Saigon's "Tourist Security" officers (guys in marked 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.
However the true trick to crossing the road is to stay aware, and walk slowly and confidently. The motorbike riders are actually exceptionally good and will simply move to avoid you - just don't make any sudden lurches forwards, backwards, or stop for that matter! Just look for a gap or seam in the traffic, and begin a slow but steady movement.
Adherence to traffic signals in Saigon is vastly improving, and while they're not always followed, riders/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 (albeit quite safely and slowly) in unexpected places also. Crossing roads is therefore a challenge for Westerners used to traffic laws and traffic lights.
The streets, sidewalks, and outdoor markets are covered by motorbikes, and not yet geared towards pedestrian traffic (although sidewalk clearing campaigns are now underway- many areas of the center are easy to negotiate as long as you keep your wits about you for speeding motorbikes). However walking along the edge of the road is easy enough. Any motorbikes behind you will generally beep at you to let you know they're there.
The traffic police occupy themselves with random roadside checks and do not bother the motorcyclists that are running red lights or driving on the sidewalks. The police recently 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.
But there are some open sidewalks to walk safely on and just walking around the city helps you really get a taste of it. Seeing people cook on the side of the street and just standing watching traffic go by in awe is just as entertaining as anything.
Most hotels will provide a free tourist map of district 1 although these vary in quality and tend to be advertising based. The Sheraton have one of the best of these and will provide one if you ask at reception. Within District 1, 'Bookazine' at #28 Dong Khoi (between Ngo Duc Ke and Ho Huan Nghiep) have larger city Maps if you plan to venture beyond District 1. The one published by Du Lich & Giao Thong has a street index on the back. Fahasa Books also carry a full range of available Maps. They have two large stores in District 1 - 185 Dong Khoi, just down from Le Thanh Ton, and 40 Nguyen Hue, just down from Mac Thi Buoi. MySherpa Travel have also published tourist maps of central District 1 with all shops and points of interest marked. Outlets in Saigon include Gaya, Dolce Casa, Annam Fine Foods, T&V Tailor, Galley Deli, and a number of two star hotels.
- Reunification Palace, Enter at 135 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street, ☎ 9693272. Open daily 7:30AM-11:00AM, 1PM-4PM. Also known as Independence Palace (this is the old name). This is a restored five-floor time warp to the Sixties left largely untouched from the day before Saigon fell to the North (construction started in 1962 and finished in 1966). Formerly South Vietnam's Presidential Palace, the war ended on April 30, 1975 when tank #843 — a replica of which is now parked on the lawn outside — crashed through the gate. 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, upon 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.Entry 15,000 dong.
- War Remnants Museum, 28 Vo Van Tan Street, ☎ 9302112, 9306325, 9305587(email@example.com). Open daily 7:30AM-12PM, 1:30PM-5PM, last admission 4:30PM. Formerly known as the of Exhibition House of American War Crimes, the museum was opened in a hurry, less than five months after the fall of the South. It's currently housed in a rather confused assemblage of seven warehouses, with new purpose-built premises partially open for temporary and permanent exhibits. 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 fetuses blamed on Agent Orange. There is bias as there are no "records" of any unpleasant deeds having been committed by the North Vietnamese Army. Outside, there are helicopters, jets, tanks, and other bits of armament. However watch out for the amputees who will try and sell you their wares. It's only a block from the Reunification Palace — see the museum pamphlet for a map.Entry 15,000 dong.
- On Le Quy Don, just south of the museum, is a 2000 dong/cone soft ice cream vendor, a happy treat in a hot and hectic city.
- City Hall, end of Nguyen Hue Street. Originally called the Hôtel de Ville and now formally re-branded the People's Committee Hall, 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.
- Museum of Vietnamese History, at the intersection of Le Duan Street and Nguyen Binh Khiem(just inside the zoo gates). The museum has a fine collection of Vietnamese antiquities, but unfortunately they are accompanied by signage which is both in poor English and full of risible Marxist distortions. 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. If you care about animal welfare, avoid the zoo.
- Ho-Chi-Minh Museum, Duong Nguyen Tat Thanh, Dist. 4, for your propaganda dose. Open daily 7:30AM-12:00PM, 1:30PM-5PM, last admission 4:30PM, 10,000 dong entry. The museum (in a French colonial era building) near the dock of Saigon shows the life story of the modern day father of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh (the guy on the money). There's also a Ho Chi Minh book shop as well.
- Notre Dame Cathedral (Nhà thờ Đức Bà), Han Thuyen Street, 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 entry.
There are several Chinese temples in Cholon, the Chinatown district of old Saigon. Only a few are listed here.
- Thien Hau Pagoda, 710 Nguyen Trai Street, 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.Entry free.
- Quan Am Pagoda, 12 Lao Tu, Cholon(Just off Hung Vuong, close to Thien Hau Pagoda). Open 8AM-4:30PM. The oldest pagoda in town, home of a lot of incense and a cheerful puppy.Entry free.
- 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.
If the heat starts to get you down, there are several water parks where you can splash around to cool off.
- Dam Sen Water Park, 03 Hoa Binh, Ward 3, District 11, ☎ 858.8418, 865.3453(firstname.lastname@example.org, fax: 858.8419), . Mon-Sat 8:30AM-6PM, Sundays and Holidays 8AM-7PM. Close to the city centre. Opened in 1999, with new water slides added each year — this water park offers some truly unique water slide experiences (including the amazing "Space Bowl")! The slides have been badly designed and it's a common sight to see someone clutching their head when leaving them. Restaurant, health services, and animatronic dinosaurs are on the premises.Admission is height based; under 0.8m free, others 35-80,000 dong.
- There's also Water World in District 9, Ocean Water Park in District 7, and Dai The Gioi Water Park in District 5.
- The Saigon River. The park in front of the Renaissance Hotel offers nice views of the river. Make sure you know how to cross the road before attempting to get there. Expect to encounter some beggars in the park.
Visiting hair salons is also a must do for tourists, as Vietnamese are famous for it. Hair wash, manicure and pedicure cost no more than US$10.
If you're in Saigon on a Sunday night, then beg, borrow, or rent a two-wheeled vehicle and join the throngs for di choi. It's basically a party on wheels, where everyone just rides through the downtown streets until the wee hours.
- Galaxy Cinema at 116, Nguyen Du, District 1, is a favorite among locals and bored tourists. They show up-to-date movies on the big screen.
- Xuan Spa (If you have that much money. Services on the upside of USD 100), Park Hyatt Saigon Hotel, 2 Lam Son Square, District 1, ☎ +84 8 824 1234(email@example.com), .
- Dai Nam Tourist Park, Thu Dau Mot Town, Binh Duong Province(Catch the 616 Bus from the Bus Station, or talk to a travel agent), . Located about 40km from Ho Chi Minh City, the Dai Nam Tourist Park, opened in November of 2008, it 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 sites, and the largest man made mountain range in Vietnam. Costing over 50 Billion VND 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. Reports are that you can catch the 616 bus from the main bus terminal in Ho Chi Minh, but most hotels will tell you that's not possible and insist on a private taxi. According to the locals, it is very much worth a visit, purely just to view the temple.
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; and the goods tend to get progressively simpler and cheaper as you move west toward Ben Than 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 very impressive and offer a taste of history. When buying keep in mind that is very useful to have local currency (Dong).Be advised that Banks and formal exchange business will provide you with a decent rate (16000 dongs = 1 US$ dollar Jul 2008). However, agencies like Statravel on the main Vui Ban street will rip you off offering you 13000 if you are lucky.
- Chợ Bến Thành aka Ben Thanh Market, Southwest end of Le Loi, recognizable with its clock tower on the large traffic circle. 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 about half and half between tourist goods (jeans, T-shirts, smaller souvenirs in abundance) and the stuff of regular life (fruit and vegetables, rice, kitchen wares, flowers, meat, fast food, and local-style pickled fruits and candies). Most items are not price-marked, and vendors always quote a 50-100% higher price to tourists vs. locals, so the fortitude to haggle will save you some money. (There is some talk of 'fixed' prices are being introduced, though if you are polite, and don't offend the vendor's pride, and are willing to walk away, no price is truly fixed). 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. *insider tip* if possible, take your own bag when shopping. vendors have been known to give out different colored bags to indicate if you are a sucker, or a hard bargainer.
- Chợ Bình Tây in the Chinatown, the more underrated twin of Ben Thanh, selling everything from spices, Chinese medicines, silk to obscure varieties of fermented fish, dried seafoods and jerks. If you are searching for varieties of Vietnam silks and velvets, skip the tourist trap Ben Thanh Market, head for Binh Tay and your choice is endless.
- Night Market (just outside of Ben Thanh Market). Here you can enjoy many kinds of different food and drink, and go round to do your shopping as well. Open from 5:00pm (when the Ben Thanh Market closes).
- War Surplus Market, sometimes called the American Market or "Cho Cu" or "Khu Dan Sinh" in corner of Yersin and Nguyen Cong Tru, district 1. Hidden behind rows of hardware and electric supplies shops, just brave yourself and enter in. Dense warrens of stalls with 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. Don't hope to find a genuine Marine zippo, honestly, they're all fake now.
Supermarkets and department stores
- Tax Department Store, corner of Le Loi and Nguyen Hue. 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.
- Small western-style supermarkets, can be found on the top floor of the Parkson department store one block northeast of the Opera House, and in Diamond Plaza, behind the Cathedral, on the top floor of the department store.
- Co-op Mart Supermarkets, frequented by throngs of the Saigon middle-class and backpackers alike, can be found everywhere around HCMC. In district 1 they 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 away from the end of Backpacker street Pham Ngu Lao. Prices are reasonably lower, though the selection leans more toward Vietnamese culinary requirements.
- Three western/Japanese-style department stores exist near the center: Parkson on Dong Khoi a block north of the Opera house; Diamond Plaza, further north behind the Notre Dame Cathedral; and Zen Plaza on Nguyen Trai two blocks west of the New World Hotel. For most visitors, the only reason to go there is to enjoy the air-con, and derive some amusement from the silly-high prices of western-branded consumer goods.
- Phuong Mai Art Gallery, 129 B Le Thanh Ton St., Dist.1(near the Norfolk Hotel and the Revolution Museum). A gallery showing contemporary Vietnamese artists, both established and emerging. There's another showroom at 213C Dong Khoi in Dist. 1.
- Oil-Painting - Bui Vien Street, near backpackers area in De Tham and Pham Ngu Lao streets, in District 1. There are several shops along this street selling oil painting at reasonable prices (ranging from US$25-300). If you like a portrait of Vietnamese paintings or even have your own photographs oil-painted, shop around here. You can get a readily available portrait within a day or two.
- Electronics Just a warning for others, whilst some of the country's cheapest electronics can be found on and around Huynh Thuc Khang, be aware most shops are selling counterfeit items. Things such as dodgy iPods are easy to spot when compared to the genuine thing, but items such as camera batteries are much more difficult. If you are thinking about buying some extra memory for your digital camera, be warned that most of the memory will be fake. Fake Sandisk II Ultra cards are ubiquitous and extremely difficult to tell apart from real ones. These cards are apparently of low quality and one has to ask if it is worth risking your holiday snaps. It is probably worth mentioning that fake batteries have the potential to explode, too, so be careful. You might even be better off buying this stuff from home. That said, you can pick up some bargains if you know what you're looking for. Just exercise caution; if it is too good to be true and so forth.
- Lacquer ware One of the stand out things to bring home from Saigon. Head to Saigon Craft (between Mac Thi Buoi and Dong Du on Dong Khoi) for stunning original works, then Gift 42 (opposite Lucky Plaza on Dong Khoi) for the best of the rest.
- Home Decor Originality and value. If you’re thinking of investing $2,000 or more on home furnishing, a crate shipped from Saigon could pay for your trip. Begin by looking for major items in Gaya (Ton That Thiep just before Pasteur) if you like modern, and Verlim (40 Ho Tung Mao - just up from Ham Nghi), if your style is more formal/traditional. Organize shipping through either of these fine merchants. Then you can go wild and buy up…framed art, Gom Viet pottery (Cnr Ly Tu Trong and Pasteur), Lighting from NGA (Le Thanh Ton between Nguyen Hue and Dong Khoi) or Mosaic (Mac Thi Buoi just before Nguyen Hue) and antiques found on Le Cong Kieu. Provide extra padding for your crate with Catherine Denoual bed ware (Thi Sach, just down from Le Thanh Ton), and/or Dolce Casa cushions/quilts (Dong Khoi opposite the Sheraton). Ask these and other retailers to deliver your purchases back to Gaya or Verlim. They take care of the rest.
- Clothes Vietnamese silk is fabulous and Hoang Khai shows the world. His flagship Khai Silk store at 107 Dong Khoi is a must visit. Next door, Creation and Indochina provide sterling competition. Ladies, you are spoiled for choice after this. Follow your nose, but make sure you don’t miss La Bella, La Bella Blue (Pasteur and Le Thanh Ton), Song (Dong Khoi and Le Thanh Ton and in Eden Mall on Dong Khoi), and acclaimed designer Minh Hanh (Just up from Dong Khoi and Ngo Duc Ke). Look out for exquisite hand embroidered items along the way.
- Accessories At Gaya you’ll spot Anupa bags and you’ll want one. Those not loaded should avoid sticker shock and (ladies) head immediately to Ipa Nima (cnr Pasteur and Le Thanh Ton) for a stunning and more affordable collection. Press on to Mandarina (Le Than Ton just past NKKN) for bargain shoes and Le Hang (Le Thanh Ton between Pasteur and NKKN) for bead/bespoke jewelery nirvana.
- Kids presents Musical stuff from Chuck and Anna (Lucky Plaza - bottom of Dong Khoi) will hit the spot.
- DVD buffs with no scruples should head to Ho Tung Mao
- Romance Candles, oils and soaps from Harnn (Dong Du near Hai Bai Trung)
- Books Fahasa English Bookstore (Dong Khoi cnr Le Thanh Ton and Nguyen Hue just down from Mac Thi Buoi). Also try U.S.A Books  on 100 Pham Viet Chanh, Q1 near backpacker's area. They sell below-listed price,new hardcover/softcover originals imported from the States
- For Men/Tailors Khai Silk and Creation have very desirable shirts at around $30, and ties to compete with your Zegnas for $10. Off the peg shirts can be tailored for you at no charge. Otherwise, take your favourite shirts/shorts/pants to Tricia and Verona (half way up Dong Du), who’ll make you up a perfect copy in silk, linen or finest Egyptian cotton. Allow two days. $25 - $50. Here for five days? You have time for a suit. For quality work from old boys who know their cloth - Cao Minh (Pasteur between Le Thanh Ton and Le Loi). Want to go where old money/ex pats go? Minh Doan (Le Thanh Ton just down from Nguyen Trung Truc) is your pick.
- Art Vietnamese artists are increasing their international reputation. Sell some stock and invest in something yielding a daily return from your walls. Consider your investment in Apricot (Mac Thi Buoi), Mai’s (Nguyen Hue just up from Mac Thi Buoi), Hanoi Studio (Dong Du), or Tu Do ((Ho Tung Mau). Eat and contemplate in Gallery Deli (Dong Khoi just down from Mac Thi Buoi). Listen and contemplate in Sax ‘n Art Le Loi and Pasteur). Bargain frames – Ben Thanh Art and Frame (11 Le Thanh Ton - 100 north from Thai Van Lung).
- Bicycle Shops are most frequent along Vo Thi Sau. The biggest one - actually 6 shops next to each other - is Martin at 93-107 Vo Thi Sau and has the best selection of bikes. They also sell spare parts for western-style mountain bikes.
There are two good guide books for shoppers in Ho Chi Minh City: the Luxe city guide and the MySherpa guide which also includes a map with shops cross referenced.
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 center now sells for around US$16,000 per square meter, so even a modest-sized restaurant sits on real estate worth more than US$1 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.
Food stalls are scattered all over the city, but there's a fair collection in the Ben Thanh market (see Buy). For local fast food, try the ubiquitous Pho 24 chain.
Along Pham Ngu Lao there are many budget Westernised options, and venturing a bit further into the side alleys can uncover some better choices than on the main streets.
- Dong Ba, 110A Nguyen Du, Dist 1. This is a shop that sells Hue Food including Hue beef noodles and traditional banh beo rice cakes.
- Faifo, on an alley off Huynh Tinh Cua, almost to Ly Chinh Thang, about 2km from the center in Q3. A family-run restaurant featuring central-Vietnamese dishes at modest prices -- a combination of value and authenticity not to be found directly in the tourist district. Dinner for two with beer or juice runs about 130,000 dong. It's becoming so popular, getting a table is sometimes difficult.
- Pho Bo Vien Quoc Ky, 52 Ngo Duc Ke (near Nguyen Hué, District 1). A nice and cheap place for a soup. Try the sate version of the usual Pho or My: a spicy delicacy!
- Doner Kebab, 198 Bui Vien st., District 1. Inside the backpacker area, you could easily find this small hawk. 15,000d for each Turkish Kebab.
- Dream Cones, 16 Nguyen Thi Nghia St., Ben Thanh Ward, Dist. 1. What a great respite in such a hot and heaving city. Gelato ice cream for less than 16,000 dong a scoop. Nice quirky and cool neon atmosphere, with lots of white leather seating. Free unlimited (unsweetened) iced tea served with your ice cream they pour at your table.
- Falafellim, 97 Pham Ngu Lao St., District 1. Homemade falafel, tahini and hummus in soft pita bread pockets. Eat in, take away or delivered to your hotel - call 08-915-1733. Free 5 min international calls to limited destinations.
- Pho 24, Clean modern chain found everywhere in Ho Chi Minh City. Excellent beef noodle soup, very cheap.
- BanhMiBistro, 76 Vo Thi Sau, District 1, across from Le Van Tam park. Great fresh gourmet sandwiches, especially the famous Vietnamese "Banh Mi". Bread is baked fresh in the store. There are 3 other outlets around town including one across from the airport in the Parkson CT Plaza.
- Barbecue Garden , 135A Nam Ky Khoi Nghia - Quan 1. HCMC Phone 8233340. Located 100 meters from Ben Thanh Market, behind the General Sciences Library. US$5-7 range. The restaurant is a barbecue specialist with both Vietnamese and International delicous recipes. At night, the garden is full of odors, of ambiance and music with guests sharing cheerfully the barbecue preparation. The restaurant is an amazing place to have diner but also to take a drink (free wifi) when during the day you want, for a moment, to forget about the city.
- Chi Nghia , 53 Thu Khoa Huan, near Ben Thanh market. Small place specializing in Northern style Vietnamese cuisine. It's run by the chef/owner, who has 25 years of experience with Sofitel hotels, so her cooking and presentation is five star quality, but the prices are definitely reasonable. Entrees are US$2-5. Very clean, and nicely decorated.
- Hoa Mai Coffee #43-45 Do Quang Dau Street #(08)-836-8310. Located in a fun, up and coming area, just off Phan Ngu Lao, between Phan Ngu Lao Street and Bui Vien Street. Restaurant downstairs has nice, relaxed atmosphere, and on the second floor is a comfortable bar with pool table. Reasonable prices and lots of international food and local dishes to choose from. Around US$2-5. Fresh fruit shakes, spring rolls, vietnamese noodles and pasta are recommended.
- Huong Dong, which recently moved a bit further from the center, to 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. A whole char-grilled ga ta (local style free-range chicken) is 170,000 dong, head and feet included. A wide variety of other meats and seafood is available for 50,000 - 80,000 dong. Quirkly English translations of the long menu add to the spirit of adventure.
- LA SEN Restaurant (Nha Hang LA SEN), 30 Ba Huyen Thanh Quan, Phuong 6 - Quan 3. Phone 9306682 (+84 8 9306682). Opening hours 9:30AM-11PM. Very nice and clean medium-priced restaurant serving delicious food from the regions (Hue, Saigon and Hanoi) of Vietnam just in the center of district 3. Friendly service, fully air-conditioned, two floors and with room for about 100 persons.
- Lemongrass, 4 Nguyen Thiep Street. A very touristy Vietnamese restaurant. Most dishes are in US$4-6 range, although some seafood items are expensive; try the daily business lunch at US$3++ and weekly special dishes.
- Luong Son Quan, 31 Ly Tu Trong. Great barbecue restaurant with a broad choice of meats: beef, chicken, kangaroo, ostrich, etc, seafood and specialties: frog legs, scorpion, snake, etc. Menu in Vietnamese and English, rate is very good (US$5-10 per person) for such quality. Note that Vietnamese generally enjoy barbecue with local beer (Larue, 333, Saigon).
- Ngoc Suong Marina,19C Le Quy Don, is a restaurant specializing in seafood. Try the fish salad and the clams cooked in white wine.
- Quan An Ngon, 138 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street. A large and busy Vietnamese chain restaurant featuring regional specialties from around the country in the US$3-5 range. Rather than once central kitchen, the place has a row of independently-operated food stalls around the perimeter. (The name literally means "restaurant of delicious eating".) It's set in an atmospheric old French villa across the street from the Reunification Palace. Food can be good although some dishes lack finesse.
- Quan Nuong, 29-31 Ton That Thiep. A delicious, reasonably-priced open-air barbecue restaurant on the roof above Fanny's ice cream parlor and the Temple Club (see splurges below). Every table has a grill in the center, 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.
- Sushi Bar, with two locations: corner of Le Thanh Ton and Ton Duc Thang in Q1, about six blocks northeast of the Opera House; and on the food-court floor of Zen Plaza on Nguyen Trai. Probably the best sushi value in Saigon. They serve a larger and more interesting variety than the typical American or European sushi restaurant, at half the price. Draft Tiger beer is 24,000 dong. Very popular, so you can expect to wait during the middle dining hours.
- Spice, 27c Le Quy Don in Q3. Largest and most visited Thai restaurant in HCM. Mostly local Vietnamese and expats as it is out of the tourist area. Authentic Thai food prepared by the two Thai chefs. Food is served within minutes and thank to a high turnover of clients, it's always very fresh. In addition to a large selection of classics like Tom Yam Kung and Papaya Salad, try the specialties like Spice Shrimp or Bangkok Briany: fusion of Thai with other cuisines. Seating over 200, in a/c, al fresco or Thai style on floor mats. Nice choice for small parites and catering. Delivery available to all districts. New in Spice: top floor BBQ. (The above obviously written by management; more detached view: prices have more than doubled in the last three years and are now similar to the lunch menu at a Thai restaurant in the USA. The food is decent and reasonably authentic, but it's not longer any sort of good value and not worth the extra travel.)
- Wrap and Roll, 62 Hai Ba Trung. A growing chain. Serves up delicious wrapped Vietnamese fusion food in a modern minimalist setting. Try the desserts. Beer and a meal should cost less than US$10.
- The City Diner. Authentic 1950s style American Diner with 2 locations. 110 Ho Tung Mau, District 1, and 91 Nguyen Huu Canh, The Manor, Binh Thanh. Great Burgers, Salads, Sandwiches and more. A fun atmosphere, bottomless cup of coffee, free wi-fi and reasonably priced food make this restaurant a favorite of locals, expats and visitors alike. Ho tung Mau location open till late. Delivery available.
- I Love Burger. Western style bugers. 122A Pasteur St, District 1. Just opened on Dec 30, 2008. My wife and I stopped by since we are big burger fans and these folks have done a great job! Best burger we have had in HSMC and the onion rings are wonderful too! Fast food atmosphere, but for 55,000 Dong for a Cheeseburger, fries and a coke, its a good deal for a great price! Free wi-fi.
- 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. Dist 7. It's a larger and less crowded one with usually better service
- Co Ngu, on Pasteur just before Dien Bien Phu, Q1. 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.
- La Habana, 6 Cao Ba Quat, Q1, 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. A gourmet Italian restaurant with excellent home-made pasta dishes in the range of 125,000 dong and main dishes 150,000+.
- L'En tete, 1st floor, 139 Nguyen Thai Binh, Q.1 (at the junction with Calmette). Excellent French restaurant in a area not normally associated with high dining. Great for a leisurely dining experience, good food with main courses ranging from 150000-450000 dong. Open 17:00-midnight,
- Pomodoro's, Decent small Italian restaurant on Hai Ba Trung, a block from the Hilton and around the corner from the Sheraton. Delicious lasagna is their specialty; the pizzas are a bit oily but OK. Prices are reasonable compared to the USA or Europe, with a nice dinner of 2 starters, cocktails, .5 litre carafe of wine, mains and deserts all for roughly US$50.
- The Sheraton on Dong Khoi has a magnificent, though expensive (US$40-ish) all you can eat buffet dinner.
- Tân Nam, 60-62 Dong Du, Q.1 (a few doors down from Sheraton Saigon). The ground floor is open-air, the upper floor is air-con. Rather expensive and mediocre food, around US$10/person 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) has a 1930's ambiance with separate bar, restaurant, and lounge area sections. The food is fair but most people come to soak up the atmosphere.
- Black Cat, 13 Phan Van Dat, D1, HCMC, ☎ 8-38295096. Black Cat offers one of the best burgers in the world. Fresh and juicy beef patty. Try their jumbo burger at VND250k, which is the size of your face!
Vietnam is the worlds second largest exporter of coffee behind 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). Prices range from 10,000 to 20,000 dong for coffee in the local style.
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 twice the price of the local style.
- Cafe 5 Sao Near the Turtle Pond, on Pham Ngoc Thach. Plays loud techno music. Attractive but pretentious crowd.
- Bobby Brewery Coffee, on Bui Vien st., opened and operated by an American guy who is used to offering money for the charity. It's a nice place with good beverage. Used to show the movies on 2nd and 3rd floor.
- La Fenêtre Soleil 2nd floor on the corner of Le Thanh Ton and Nam Ky Khoi Nghia. Save the world from pint size caramel Lattes. Brave the decrepit stairway and enter an oasis.
- Gloria Jeans Cnr Dong Khoi and Nguyen Thiep (opposite the Sheraton). Popular Starbucks-style chain.
- Kem Café Nearest place for many in downtown D1 to go with a local. Pull up a plastic chair and sit on the pavement. A table will appear. Practice "Cà phê đá" or "Cà phê sữa da". If you want hot then attempt "nowm" but don't expect to be understood. Point.
- Chot Nho Café 189, Nguyen Van Troi, Phu Nhuan District. Reasonable price, good menu. 10 minutes by taxi from main city center. free Wi-Fi.
- Cine Café 116 Nguyen Du, inside the Galaxy Cinema complex. Quiet ambiance with views of the park.
- Givral Café, Dong Khoi (opposite Continental Hotel). More in the French tradition, with fresh pastries, collared waiters and elaborate portions of ice cream. Well located, but over 20000 dong for the simplest cup.
- 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. Decent Western menu, although slightly pricey, is good. Free Wi-Fi.
- Highlands Coffee is an upscale, somewhat pricey chain serving Western-style as well as local-style brews in prime locations around the tourist district. They also serve food and pastries. Cappuccino costs above 30,000 dong, approaching prices in the west, but the quality is disappointing.
- M-Comic 99B vo thi sau a, a rather hard to find coffee shop. Upstairs is like a bedroom with a couple of beds - arrive early if you want to occupy one. It has large selection of magazine and comic book to chose from. The price is fairly cheap, ranging from 11,000 to 30,000 dong. But only serves Vietnamese drinks, and the staff barely speak English. Has free Wi-Fi.
- Cafe Napoly on Pham Ngoc Thach near the Turtle Pond. The decor is Roman-ruin-lite (they meant "Napoli") but the menu is typical for an upscale Vietnamese cafe -- coffee, fruit drinks, ice cream, and a simple food menu including eggs and rice dishes. Piped music is nice, not too loud by day (though louder at night), prices are decent. Has three parts: an outdoor terrace in front, air-con section on the ground floor, and evening time lounge-bar on the upper floor. Next door to the louder, more trendy / pretentious Cafe Nam Sao.
- Poppy Café , 217 Nguyen Dinh Chieu, D3. Modern lounge café where the specialty is fruit-topped natural frozen yogurt. The only café in SG that serves this refreshing healthy treat. Creative fruit smoothies and light Vietnamese + Western fares also on menu. Free Wi-Fi, flat-screen TVs, and English-speaking staff.
- Sozo has two locations, including one in Pham Ngu Lao. Prices are reasonable, Wi-Fi is free, and all proceeds benefit needy Vietnamese families. Good drinks, friendly staff, but their coookies could be better if they were baked in a real oven.
- Trung Nguyen, . 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. Figure on 10000 dong for a basic cuppa, although there are plenty of variations including the infamous weasel coffee (cà phê chồn), made from coffee beans collected from civet excrement. Two convenient outlets are east side of Nguyen Hue right before City Hall, and corner of Thu Khoa Huan and Ly Tu Trong.
- Regina Cofee 84 Nguyen Du Street, District 1, HCM City. It's a great place to get a good cup of Vietnamese coffe or even American style cappuccino. They have an extremely skilled Japanese expresso master who knows how to brew coffee. The place has sort of a French mixed with Asian design with bricks covering all the walls. It's marketed towards tourists but it's a good place for expats with it's good coffee. All proceeds go to the church just around the corner.
- Windows Cafe, near the Reunification Palace. This is a pen for Vietnam's fashion slaves and seems to be THE place to be seen. Pretentious atmosphere, good menu, 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; however this is slowly changing as Westerners become more familiar with the ways of the East (and vica versa). Places with live music usually have no cover charge, but impose somewhat elevated drink prices (typically 55,000 - 85,000 for beer, spirits, and cocktails.) Saigon is an early-to-bed town, and most places close at midnight.
Where you can find tourists
- American Discotheque, located on 3rd floor of An Dong plaza on An Duong Vuong st., District 5. It's definitely the biggest disco in Saigon, with great music and lights. It has also two seperated karaoke rooms where you could be sing 'til being tired. You could also enter it from Windsor Plaza Saigon Hotel.
- VIBE Billiards & Lounge, 02 Sương Nguyệt Ánh, Phường Bến Thành, Quận 1. VIBE - Saigon's most premium billiards lounge in town has a unique combination of high-class professional billiards & spacious lounge. At VIBE, guests can choose not only tasty foods and drinks but also customize the billiard table lights from the special lighting system which is exclusively designed for VIBE..
- 163 Cyclo Bar, 163 Pham Ngu Lao Street, 2 doors down from the Duna Hotel. Thumping music until 2 a.m. and really friendly staff. The Vietnamese girls seem to have a strong affinity for Caucasian men.
- Allez Boo, corner Pham Ngu Lao, De Tham. For those that 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 an air-conditioned bar on the second 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 less crowded atmosphere. Cover charge of 150000 VND (9 USD) for locals (and those of Asian appearance), almost always waived for foreigners and anyone fashionably dressed.
- 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 local & expat people. friendly staff, and the management's always there to make you feel welcome and make sure you get what you are asking for.
- Catwalk, at the side of 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. (Please note that if you want to occupy a room @ KTV, the minimum purchase is USD200.)
- Eden, De Tham Street. Often busy, full of sporties, revellers, expats and others. Dark and deep and reasonably priced for the backpacker main drag.
- Go2 Bar, corner De Tham and Bui Vien. The main backpacker bar while Allez Boo was closed, still a great meeting place, as 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 retractable roof!) with individual BBQs up a steep set of stairs on the fifth floor. Open very late most nights, all night on weekends.
- 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 recently 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. In years past, it was also a good value, but recent aggressive price increases have put it into the expense-account-only catetory: cocktails around 140,000 dong (including the ++, which hotels always add).
- Level 23, Sheraton Saigon 23F. The latest on the 5-star hotel drinking scene, with separate bar and nightclub, and great views over the city. A little soulless though, and very pricey with most drinks 80000 dong.
- Le Pub, 175/22 Pham Ngu Lao, located on the small road which connects Pham Ngu Lao and Bui Vien. Always be busy after 6PM, so famous for its great music, foods and beverage. It has the same owner with Le Pub in Hanoi, of course, the same high quality service!
- 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.
- Saigon Saigon, Caravelle Hotel 9F, 12-13 Lam Son Square. A pleasant, breezy bar with a great view of the city. Live band playing inside every night. Cool, quiet ambience on the terrace. Attracts an expense-account crowd due to the prices (cocktails mostly >100,000 dong including the ++).
- Shadow Bar, 41 Dong Du Street. Expat bar, good place to wind down or up. Recently renovated as an upmarket bar and restaurant under the new name of ZanziBar. Excellent menu, wine selection and imported beers along with a pleasant and relaxing atmosphere.
- Sheridan's, Le Thanh Ton near Thai Van Lung. Small, cozy Irish-themed bar with imported draft beer and live music.
- Underground - more a food than a drink spot, though open for both. Sometimes busy with the business crowd, always packed with people enjoying the reasonably priced burgers, steaks and the like.
Where you can see the locals
- VIBE Billiards & Lounge, 02 Sương Nguyệt Ánh, Phường Bến Thành, Quận 1. VIBE - Saigon's most premium billiards lounge in town has a unique combination of high-class professional billiards & spacious lounge. At VIBE, guests can choose not only tasty foods and drinks but also customize the billiard table lights from the special lighting system which is exclusively designed for VIBE..
- Lush, at the far west end of Ly Tu Trong. A nightclub in the Western style, with loud pulsing music and minimalist too-cool decor. Hugely expensive, but musically about as good as it gets in this part of the world if you like the particular style. Mixed crowd (Vietnamese, tourists and expats), pretty good food - but no dance floor.
- America Disco" at 3rd floor of An Dong Plaza, but you could enter it from Windsor Plaza Saigon Hotel also. One of the best bar in Saigon.
- Q Bar Saigon The original, internationally acclaimed Q Bar 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. DJ nights.
- Xu Bar , Hai Ba Trung street, near the Opera house. Great wine list. Nice ambiance & service. Not a club.
- Velvet, Ho Huan Nghiep/ Dong Khoi corner. Nice ambiance & music. Latest chic bar in town.
- Bounce Club, on top of Parkson on Le Thanh Ton street. Very crowded with locals in the weekends. Large dance floor, great hip hop music, somewhat too crowded.
- 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. On weekends, at least, you need to arrive by 7:30 to have any hope of getting a seat. If your hobby is rock ballad or hardrock, you should go on Friday night
- Carmen, 8 Ly Tu Trong, former home of an unbelievably talented Salsa / Flamenco / Latin pop band, was unfortunately leveled in August, 2007 when the owner of part of the underlying land decided to sell. The owner of the club struggled with efforts to rebuild, and it appears now that Carmen will never be again.
- Ice Blue, Dong Khoi. Downtown English pub, complete with darts board and warm beer (if you want it that way!). Friendly, but shuts at midnight.
- Juice, claims to be Saigon's first juice bar (of course it wasn't, there were many local places before - but maybe it was the first Western-managed one). Food slipped recently, but still a nice place to hang out. Has Wi-Fi.
- Khong Ten, (literally "No Name"), 147 Hai Ba Trung, is a large cabaret featuring some of the biggest Vietnamese celebrity singers still in Vietnam. The headliner is often familiar to the locals from television. Most overseas visitors would not like the musical style very much (mostly the mellow-to-melancholy, soft-jazzy, love-ballady style favored by the middle and older generation of Vietnamese.) But it's pure Vietnam and very popular with HCMC residents and Vietnamese expats on trips home. The cover charge is about the highest in town at 150,000 dong.
- La Habana, 6 Cao Ba Quat, about two blocks north of the Hyatt. A restaurant and bar with Cuban theme that makes outstanding cocktails for 60,000 dong. Some are available in pitcher-size for 150,000 to 180,000 dong. The food is also excellent, though at the high end of Saigon prices. Their Friday night live music headliner, Jeram, has returned from Ireland, and it's usually standing-room only.
- Lion's, 11-13 Lam Son Square, Dist.1 (next to Caravelle hostel). Brewery - Restaurant (somewhat German food), with tasty beers at an affordable price. The outside terrace is a nice place to chill out, and the inside restaurant is very welcoming with its two beer tanks and cosy bar. Cocktails are very good. Not a good place to please your teeth and tongue. though.
- Metallic Bar, 41 Ba Huyen Thanh Quan, District 3. House band plays covers of Metallica, Guns N Roses and other popular rock bands nightly between 9PM and midnight.
- Napoly, Pham Ngoc Thach near the "Turtle Pond". The ground floor is a popular, somewhat upscale cafe with inside and outside seating. The bar is upstairs in the back, with a decent house band singing a mixture of Vietnamese and English songs. The resident band must predate the reunification as they know all the old songs.
- Peaches Saigon South (Phu My Hung). Great place to enjoy a few drinks with friends. Friendly staff, great Asian food!!
- Polo, Ham Nghi Street (above the Liberty Hotel). Mixture of expats and locals, starts getting busy quite early. Reasonably priced food and drink, good music spanning from the Eighties to the present.
- Rio Saigon, A brazilian flowery decor-themed bar/pub with a great Fillipino house band playing Pop/Rock (Bon Jovi, Skid Row fare). This joint was apparently the original "17 Saloon" bar (now at Pham Ngu Lao) when it was still located along the Saigon River. Great service staff and excellent atmosphere. It is situated at 131 Ton That Dam St. (District 1), Tel: (08)8211827 - 8211812. You will be surprised that its located somewhere within a wet street market. Gets crowded around 9 pm and closes at midnight.
- Saigon Pho, this little hole in the wall is only a stone's throw from Allez Boo, but much more expat orientated. Open 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, Saigon South (Phu My Hung) tel: 4120866. Great place to enjoy a cold beer or a great "Western" meal - favourite dishes are fish'n'chips & bangers'n'mash. Reasonable prices and nice, friendly staff and management. Opens for breakfast, closes at midnight.
There are plenty of nice and cheap hotels available for tourists and also the high end names like Sheraton for the "business class" people. Do take note (especially lonely male travellers) that most hotels do not allow you to bring back a local female companion to stay overnight. Only exemptions are those seedier hotels mainly used for "other" businesses.
The main backpacker hangout is Pham Ngu Lao in District 1, just a short walk (10-15 minutes) from Ben Thanh Market. The lanes and alleys in the area between Pham Ngu Lao and Bui Vien are jammed with 5-10 room mini-hotels offering prices around US$6. Don't be dismayed if every place seems full, you can be assured that vacancy is virtually unlimited at this price. Keep heading southwest away from the backpacker hustle closer Ng Thai Hoc, you'll likely find that as the alleys get smaller the rooms get quieter and owners more friendly.
If you can find one of the ladies dressed in a blue uniform, stating something about tourist rooms - half the battle is won. These ladies will find you a room in the Pham Ngu Lao / De Tham area in a matter of minutes, eliminating much of the standard "do you have a room" hassle.
- Ly Loan, 241/11/2 Pham Ngu Lao St, Pham Ngu Lao Ward, Dist 1, HCMC, ☎ 8370067. Family run guest house in a small alley off Pham Ngu Lao St. Very friendly family who speak good English. All rooms are spacious and nicely furnished. With AC, hot water, big beds and some with balconies. It might not be the easiest to find, but it's worth it when you get there.US$13-15.
- Duna Hotel , 167 Pham Ngu Lao. Tel: 8373 699. Rooms range from US$12 for a single room with no window to US$30 for a triple with a window facing the street. All rooms have A/C, satellite TV, a fridge and are very clean for the price. The staff is pleasant and there is an elevator. The only complaint is that the front door is locked early (around 11 or 12pm) and to get back in you must bang loud enough on the shutter door so that the staff sleeping inside can wake up and let you in.
- Me Them Hotel , 203 Pham Ngu Lao. Tel: 08 6 2915 407. Me Them B&B provides weary travellers a warm and comfortable place to stay. Me" in Vietnam means mother. "Me Them" is the name of your host - your one special mother for your stay in Saigon. You will feel like you are in a home away from home. You will be like one of the family as you discover amazing Saigon, eat as part of the family, and learn about the local traditions in the process!
- Hotel Bi Saigon , 185/26 Pham Ngu Lao (in alley #185). Tel: 8360678. Not the cheapest hotel, with a "Superior" room for two costing US$27, but clean, comfortable and terrific staff. In-room Internet access is just US$3/day (bring your own laptop). The lobby houses the La Table De Saigon restaurant, great food and a perfect place to get a snack before heading out on the town.
- Xuan - Spring Hotel, 185/34 Pham Ngu Lao Street, District 1, ☎ +84-8-8372115(firstname.lastname@example.org), . Reasonable price accommodation with good service, price: ~USD14.00-USD17.00 per day for double room. All of rooms are maintained and cleaned in daily basis during your stay. Rooms are equipped with air-conditioner, refrigerator, cable TV and private bathroom with hot shower. Internet is provided for free, online booking provided at .
- Nguyen Khang Hotel, 283/25 Pham Ngu Lao. Tel: 8 373 566, email@example.com. In a small alley that links Pham Ngu Lao and Do Quang Dau, along with several US$8-20 competitors of variable quality. This particular hotel has a nice vibe, kind staff, free Internet and free breakfast. Recently built (or remodeled), clean, tastefully simple in decoration, rooms have air-con, fan, 'fridge (and those at the front have nice large windows). US$15/day and under.
- Rainbow Hotel, 283/5 Pham Ngu Lao. Tel: 8360039. Large bright (albeit somewhat worn) rooms, and those at the front have a nice view. US$15 or more.
- Hanh Hoa Hotel , 237 Pham Ngu Lao. Tel: 08 3 8372361. With a real Rattan feel to the hotel, you will be immersed in traditional Vietnamese styling, complete with bamboo interiors, rattan beds, and authentic wooden floors - combined with some of the best Saigon service you can find.
- Ngoc Minh Hotel, 283/9 Pham Ngu Lao. Right next to the Rainbow this clean hotel with friendly staff and free internet and wi-fi is a good alternative. From US$12 for a room with no windows.
- An Phuong 2, 295 Pham Ngu Lao. Tel: 08. 920 5509 / 08.836 9248, firstname.lastname@example.org. US $15. Situated directly across from where the buses drop tourists, it is a friendly family-run guesthouse, very clean and homely. Free internet, cheap laundry and all rooms have double glazing.
The area around Ben Thanh market along Le Thanh Ton and Ly Tu Trong has many reasonably priced hotels with clean rooms in the US$25-35 bracket; some provide free Wi-Fi.
- Ngoc Ha, 53, Le Anh Xuan. Close to Ben Thanh market and the New World Hotel. Clean and decent rooms, air-con, fridge, Wi-Fi in the lobby. Rooms US$25-35 including simple breakfast.
- Y Thien, 247 Ly Tu Trong. Tel: (84-8) 824 8176. This full service hotel is 5 minutes from Ben Thanh Market and offers a range of rooms from tiny and windowless (yet functional) to quite nice with a full wall window overlooking the city and streets below (try the 4th floor room to the right of the elevator for US$20-25). Rooms are clean, bathrooms are large and recently upgraded (overkill on the shower remodeling). TV with cable, air-con, fan, 'fridge, elevator, all night guard for bikes, in hotel safe. If you don't want to stay in the backpacker area, and are willing to pay a little more, it's a good option.
- Spring Hotel , 44-46 Le Thanh Ton Street, District 1. Tel: (84-8) 829-7362. This boutique hotel is clean and walking distance to major attractions, i.e. Ben Thanh Market and Cathedral. Prices range from $32-$74.
The area around De Tham is close to the Ben Thanh market and is the backpacker area of the city.
- An An Hotel  40 Bui Vien Street, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Tel: (84-8) 837-8087 this hotel is clean, popular and offers comfortable rooms with double glasing in the centre of the action on De Tham, Prices range from $22 for a double room (possibly without a window, but that makes in cooler so isn't really a bad thing) to $28 for a superior room. Note that the "special" prices on their website are offered off the street, but it is probably wise to book ahead anyway as they sell out.
An An also have a (much newer) sister hotel, An An 2, which is located on the corner of De Tham and Bui Vien, about 20 meters down from the original An An hotel. Rooms are of a high standard, and the service is excellent.
Many of Saigon's historical hotels are in the hands of Vietsmile , the former state monopoly. Thanks to recent competition, service and facilities are adequate, although not quite up to modern standards; but if you want to experience a little colonial atmosphere, these remain far and away the best choices at the moment.
- Continental Hotel , 132-134 Dong Khoi Street. A perfectly located old-school colonial hotel dating back to 1880 and the setting of Graham Greene's The Quiet American (but not, alas, its filmatization). Lovely breakfast garden, huge rooms, nice balcony views and only slightly expensive at US$60 and up (taxes, service, breakfast included). On the minus side, there is no pool, and traffic noise can be irritating.
- Dong Do Hotel, 35 Mac Thi Buoi Street, District 1. New hotel with clean and comfortable rooms. Reasonable (around US$20-35) prices.
- Rex Hotel , 141 Nguyen Hue Boulevard. Ideally located in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City, next door to the People's Committee Hall. Another old standby, former haunt of the press corps and site of the daily news briefing during the Vietnam War. The 5th floor beer garden (Rooftop Garden) is famous and its symbol, the golden crown, is rotating again. Slightly more expensive at US$70 and up, but the rooms are very pleasant. There's a swimming pool on the roof and an excellent buffet breakfast.
Luxury hotels are popping up faster than mushrooms in the monsoon rains. Expect to pay closer to US$200 for any of these unless you marry the owner's daughter. The Caravelle, Sheraton, and Hyatt are all within site of each other near the Opera House, in the heart of the city-center tourist district.
- Caravelle, 19 Lam Son Square, across from the Opera House, in District 1. Offers in-house restaurant and spas. Seven kilometers from the airport. Deluxe rooms from US$188 per night.
- Mövenpick Hotel Saigon, 253 Nguyen Van Troi Street, Phu Nhuan District, ☎ +84 8 3844 9222(email@example.com, fax: +84 8 3844 9200), . checkin: 14:00 hrs; checkout: 12:00 hrs. The only 5-star hotel in the Phu Nhuan, the strategically located Mövenpick Hotel Saigon is just 10 minutes away from the exhibition centre and international airport and 20 minutes from the Ho Chi Minh city centre. The 251 well-appointed rooms and suites are designed to accommodate both short- and long- staying guests. All rooms are equipped with individually controlled air-conditioning system, TV with a variety of channels, minibar, private safe, hairdryer and safety standard fittings. Broadband Internet access is available in all rooms. ]Prices from US$120. (10°47'45.89N,106°40'22.45E)
- Windsor Plaza Hotel, 18 An Duong Vuong, District 5, ☎ +84 8 38336688(firstname.lastname@example.org, fax: +84 8 38336888), . checkin: 2pm; checkout: 12 noon. The first 5-stars hotel which is owned by Vietnamese in Vietnam. This large, 405-room luxury hotel is located in Cholon, the historic China Town, so it is close to many pagodas, temples and the famous Binh Tay Market. Features several great restaurants including a extensive, largest and extreme delicious buffet dinner on 4th floor; a Chinese restaurant serving live seafood, southern Chinese cuisine and dim sum; and a rooftop international restaurant that has panoramic views of Cholon. Windsor has recently been offering the free pick-up and drop-off from/to the international airport. Hotel guests can take the free hourly shuttle to the business district.
- Hotel Majestic, 5 star hotel in District 1, at the waterfront at the end of Dong Khoi Street. It got its start in 1925, and though it has undergone a number of renovations since, it maintains the same basic look outside. Nice but expensive rooftop bar serving mediocre ice cream and drinks, and a non-smoking wing.
- New World Saigon Hotel. Recently renovated, a single bedroom suite on the Executive Floor is US$250 including butler service, unlimited food/snacks/drinks during the day, and lavish buffet-style happy hour in the executive floor lounge every night. The nightly all-you-can-eat seafood buffet in the Park View Coffee Shop for US$20 is fantastic. On the downside, the rooms can be noisy, and the air conditioning is weak in some rooms.
- Park Hyatt Saigon, 2 Lam Son Square, District 1(central downtown), ☎ +84 8 824 1234(email@example.com), . 5 star hotel with a collection of contemporary art and a variety of dining options including al fresco. Also host to a 20m pool and Xuan Spa.
- Sheraton Saigon. On Dong Khoi, in the heart of the tourist shopping district. Complete with Prada shop in the arcade.
- Sofitel Plaza Saigon, 17 Le Duan Boulevard, District 1, ☎ +84 8 8241555(firstname.lastname@example.org, fax: +84 8 8241666), . World class 290 room hotel in the city center. Airy if slightly small rooms, comfy beds, free wired Internet. Several restaurants, including good buffet, and a tasty breakfast spread. Compared to other top-end hotels, the Sofitel is closer to the universities and consulates of District 1, and farther from most of the shopping, restaurants, and nightlife.$160-300.
- Renaissance Riverside Hotel, 8-15 Ton Duc Thang Street, District 1, Ho Chi Minh city. On the river and near the main tourist-shopping district, a block off of Dong Khoi.
- Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) telephone code: 8; be aware that as of late 2008, many of the land line phone numbers in Ho Chi Minh City have changed to a telephone code of '38'.
- Cu Chi Tunnel day-trips are tirelessly flogged by travel agencies around Pham Ngu Lao, and can be done as a half-day trip, or as a full-day with a stop at Tay Ninh to see the Holy See of the Cao Dai religion. Tours, including admission, should cost US$4-6, and are available every day of the week.
- Can Gio the virgin mangrove forest 30 km South of the city, entrance to the Park is near Ca Cam bridge, typical day break from the civilization.
- Dalat -popular temperate mountain side 'European' escape.
- Mekong Delta boat tours are available with an almost infinite mix of itineraries. They can be short overnight trips, leisurely meanders over several nights, or end in a boat + bus to Phnom Penh in Cambodia, which will have you spending a night in a cheap hotel in Chau Doc before making the trip over the border (cross-border package prices may include visa support, which should cost US$20-30). If doing a two or three day Mekong Tour (which is exceptionally worth while), expect to be shuffled between tour companies along the way.
- Tay Ninh - Cao Dai Holy See and Ba Den mountain.
- Mui Ne - popular beach resort about 4-6 hours away by bus
- Vung Tau - city with great beaches, about 2 hours away by bus, or less by boat along the Saigon River
This page was last edited at 04:44, on 27 March 2009 by Anonymous user(s) of Wikitravel. Based on work by Marc Heiden and Philip Arthur Moore, Anonymous user(s) of Wikitravel and others.