We arrived in Ho Chi Minh City (previously known as ‘Saigon’ until 1975) after a long journey from the sleepy town of ‘Kep’ in Cambodia. By contrast, as we arrived off our bus into Ho Chi Minh City we found that we had instantly stepped into a sea of scooters. Attempting to cross the road here made me feel like I had been eaten up by the chaos, I didn’t know how on earth to cross a road in this city (despite having already been in Asia for over 4 months) but the drivers seemed to have it all under control as they swerved in what was actually a sort of organised chaos around me.
It was dark when we arrived and the city at night had a buzz to it. We also noticed all the big fast food chain signs lit up – McDonald’s, Burger King and KFC and these easily urged us in after 2 months of being in Laos and Cambodia. Okay so I’m not saying eating in these places should be included in your ‘top things to do in Ho Chi Minh’- it was just a bonus for us! (Plus it’s pretty cheap). Instead, you could always try the local delicacy ‘Pho’ (Noodle Soup) like we
did stupidly did not… We may have eaten a little too much fast food in Ho Chi Minh!
But there’s obviously far more to Saigon than meeting our fast food cravings. The city has more history than I could have imaged and we ended up extending our stay from 3 nights to 6 and our days were still packed full of things to do.
Here are our top 9 cheap things we recommend not to miss:
1. Learn about the brutality of the Vietnam War at the ‘War Remnants Museum’ previously known simply as: ‘Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes’. Entrance fee is just 50,000 Dong (50p).
2. Squeeze through the tiny ‘Cu Chi Tunnels’ to experience the claustrophobia that was gone through by many during the war. The price of this completely depends on if you do it as a tour or not, if you do it as a half or full day tour, who you book with, and of course your haggling skills. The entrance fee to the tunnels was about 110,000 Dong (£4) without a tour.
3. Learn all about Vietnamese life and culture at ‘The Vietnam History Museum’, it costs just 15,000 Dong (50p) and is located just inside the main gate to the city’s botanical gardens.
4. Stroll through the huge grand gates to enter the site of the end of the Vietnam war – The Independence Palace, otherwise known as the ‘Reunification Palace’. Have a stroll around the palace for just 30,000 Dong (£1).
5. If you’re brave enough, try some weird and daring food, local delicacy’s include deep-fried snake (and the still beating heart).
6. See some Grand French Architecture for free, such as the Central Post Office and then located just opposite; the Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral.
7. Shopping! – Shop in the local markets and practice your haggling skills in the city’s big central market: ‘Ben Thanh Market’ in District 1. Or for a not so cheap option, you could even experience high-end shopping in the central business district. We didn’t buy anything here, but it was interesting to wander around these malls and see how the elite locals live.
8. Perch on a little plastic stool at the side of ‘Pham Ngu Lao Street’ drinking extremely cheap homemade beer with other travellers, then party the night away to cheesy music in one of the awesome clubs!
9. Finally, my favourite of all – Try the local Coffee. We became addicted to this very cheap, rich, sweet drink (like all the locals are too) and coffee stops were very often during our days sightseeing. The coffee is strong and served with sweet condensed milk often over ice. Buy from street vendors or in local markets for the best experience.
Where we slept:
Ho Chi Minh is an expensive city for accommodation for South East Asian standards, so we went for the option of a dorm room in a hostel in this city for £6 each – We stayed in the huge ‘Vietnam Inn Saigon‘. The location was great, it was really social with a roof top bar and a view of the city.
One final Top Tip: I eventually learnt how to cross a road in Ho Chi Minh! The rule is generally to just walk slowly into the road, but don’t stop half way through! Stopping will confuse the drivers who will already have planned to swerve around you, so just keep walking and don’t panic 🙂
Have you been to Ho Chi Minh City? Did you find other cheap fun things to do there? Share your thoughts in the comments below!