What To Do In Ho Chi Minh City
Preparations are underway for an old friend to visit us in Ho Chi Minh City. And the preparations are taking the form of planning what we’re going to do with our stylish European mate while he’s here.
He’s visited before, so he has seen some of the good stuff. But I want to share my Saigon with him, in all its chaotic quirkiness. I want to take him to a footpath eatery to sit on a tiny chair and feast on seafood, then zip him over to a fancy bar for cocktails — all while wearing the same pair of shorts.
I want to show him the smiles, which are warmer and wider outside Ho Chi Minh City’s tourist areas, and the everyday life of Vietnamese people. I want to fill him full of Vietnam’s fabulous coffee, phở, bánh mì, bánh bèo, mì Quảng, bánh cuốn and all my other favourite dishes.
Since my body is flooded with pregnancy-related procrastination hormones, I’ve also been trying to work out how I’d entertain friends and family who are not actually coming to visit.
The procrastination hormones are flowing so fast that I spent hours compiling my procrastinatory thoughts into a helpful blog post for people who are planning to visit Ho Chi Minh City.
All our visitors would be dispatched into town with a map and a guidebook that lists what to do in Ho Chi Minh City and the addresses of the main sights – the shagadelic Reunification Palace, the General Post Office, the Opera House and the Hôtel de Ville (aka City Hall), all interesting, worth visiting and/or seeing and accessible on foot.
They’d be warned to stay away from the Ben Thanh Market with its hideously pushy vendors and sub-standard food stalls and also to steer clear of the xích lô (cyclo) drivers who always overcharge.
They’d be left to choose whether or not to visit the War Remnants Museum, which can be a bit depressing. And they’d be steered towards Saigon River Express and Innoviet for visits to the Cu Chi Tunnels and the Mekong Delta.
All our visitors would be taken along on one or two of our street food tours, because they’re based on what we did with visitors anyway. And a visit to Vietnam should include lots and lots of fabulous food, especially street food.
Because everyone has different tastes and interests, we’d do different things depending on who is (theoretically) visiting.
If my vegetarian sister was coming to visit, we’d:
* eat at Hum vegetarian restaurant for pan-Asian style food in stylish decor;
* have half a half-day of pampering at Cat Moc Spa, owned and operated by the lovely Ms Khanh who went to university with Darling Man;
* act like 1920s colonial overlords at Temple Club;
* do a Saigon Unseen tour; and
If my vegetarian sister’s three boys were coming as well, we’d:
* visit Dam Sen Water Park (not on a Tuesday, though, because it’s closed);
* visit the water and amusement park sections of the ultra-whacky Suoi Tien Theme Park;
* discuss whether teenage boys are too mature for a water puppet show; and
* see if teenage boys (accompanied by their of-age but still amazingly young mum and aunt) could get into Acoustic to see some live cover bands … because the middle boy is a drummer and needs to see the best of the best.
If my hipster DJ sister was coming to visit, we’d:
* visit Hoa Vien microbrewery to try the Belgian-style craft beer and eat Eastern European food with chopsticks;
* get our hair and nails done at Jasmine Spa then pop next door for a squiz at Saigon Kitsch, a cute little gift and souvenir shop;
* be seen at Chill Skybar, billed as Ho Chi Minh City’s hippest spot (certainly one of the most expensive);
* make inappropriate jokes at Fanny Ice Cream (especially if eating durian ice cream);
* get sweaty with David of Golden Hands Pilates (from a distance, of course); and
* discuss the benefits of brunch at the Intercontinental Asiana, which starts at midday and includes a chocolate fountain, free-flow Veuve, tequila shots and an oyster and vodka bar.
If my mum was coming to visit, we’d:
* take Sophie’s Art Tour, fascinating for its overview of Vietnam’s recent history as well as for the art;
* spend a lot of time at Snap Cafe, known at our place as “the cafe playground”, the most child-friendly venue in all of Ho Chi Minh City (because it has free wifi, a free two-for-one book exchange, a fully-stocked bar, great food AND it allows adults to sit while kids run, jump, climb and throw sand at each other);
* look for hidden treasures in Saigon’s “antique street” (Le Cong Kieu) near the banned-by-me Ben Thanh Market;
* watch clumps of water hyacinth float down the Saigon River while sipping cocktails at The Deck in District 2;
* have a family portrait session at Saigon Crazee; and
* take a cooking course at Vietnam Cookery Center.
And that brings me to my old friend who actually is visiting. What are we going to do with him?
When my elegant European friend comes to visit, we’ll:
* go see the Cu Chi Tunnels (because neither he nor Darling Man has been);
* lounge by the pool at Thao Dien Village, a pricey not-everyday option because he’s from Europe and Europeans love lounging when they’re on holidays. The pool is also right by the Saigon River and surrounded by palm trees and deck chairs, so it feels like you’re on a tropical island;
* book in for therapeutic massages with Hieu from Golden Hands Massage;
* dine at the super-groovy Cafe If, which serves contemporary Vietnamese dishes;
* do cheesy Vietnam-style photo-shoots at Van Thanh Park (48/10 Dien Bien Phu Street, Binh Thanh District) and Binh Quoi Tourist Village (1147 Binh Quoi Street, Binh Thanh District); and
Now … what could I have possibly forgotten? Have you got any tips for quirky things to do in Ho Chi Minh City? Leave your suggestions (or questions) in the comments below.
(And now I am imagining my sisters arguing over who got the best suggestions. And my cousin David complaining that I didn’t do one for him, even though it’s obvious he should take the hipster choices.)
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8 years ago