Ho Chi Minh City, originally known (and still known to the locals) as Saigon, is a really weird place.
I was told that it has a higher rate of violent crime than other parts of Vietnam, though luckily I didn’t see or experience any first-hand. After coming and going a number of times, the staff at our last hostel (assuming we were new in town) worriedly warned Millie not to wear her handbag over her shoulder where it could easily be snatched. What I did notice here were the number of people who were trying to sell drugs on street corners, the men chopping up lines of powder on the pavement and the numerous “spas” and “massage parlours” down dark alleyways, where you’d occasionally spot a half-dressed old man sweating in the doorway.
That’s not to say that Saigon is all about grubby passageways and illicit activities. There are massive public parks, a number of museums and such sights as the Ben Thanh market, where you can waste hours haggling over the price of embroidered handbags and knock-off sportswear.
On my last day here I visited the War Remnants Museum on Vo Van Tan, which costs 15,000 dong (47p) and features not just old tanks and bazookas but also massive photography exhibitions showing everything from the frontline action during the war to the aftermath of Agent Orange. It is, understandably and predictably, a fairly upsetting and disturbing experience. But you should definitely go.
|This photo does not do justice to the madness of how many mopeds are LITERALLY EVERYWHERE|
For most backpackers, Bui Vien street (the first photo in this post) is where you’re likely to spend much of your time. Full of bars and restaurants, and surrounded by cheap hostels with travellers from all over the world, yet again I have found another version of Bangkok’s Khao San Road.
“The View” rooftop garden will provide you with 2-4-1 cocktails all day until 1am (and their staff are brilliant), Donkey bar have a seemingly endless 3-4-2 happy hour on a lot of drinks and if you’ve got the drunk munchies at the end of the night you can get burgers, hotdogs and falafel (including veggie/vegan versions of things) right through until 4am from a bright yellow cafe I’ve utterly forgotten the name of- next to Champion bar.
|Ben Thanh Market|
One thing that did perk me up considerably in Saigon was the vast amount of amazing veggie and vegan food I could find within a stone’s throw of my door. Having travelled through smaller farming communities and fishing villages where vegetarian diets aren’t as common as the rest of the country, finding Saigon Vegan, Bookworm’s coffee and restaurants with great veggie choices like Royal Saigon and the aforementioned late night hotdog stop, was a dream.
Bookworm’s is run by a guy from Crawley who not only serves great Vietnamese food, but also sells jacket potatoes, English-style fry-ups (yes, for veggies too!) and everything from pie and mash to vegetarian sausage baguettes. His wife even made me a cheese and pickle sandwich to take on my flight to Da Nang. What a babe. If you’ve had enough of noodles and rice and want a day off, get yourself there.
|Amazing vegan curry from Royal Saigon|
Obviously for just about everybody coming to Vietnam, Saigon is either the start or end point of your trip. You’re going to be here at some point. So make the most of it. Go to at least one museum, haggle over at least three things (people will try and charge you four or five times the going rate, so laugh and start low!) and go out and meet people from all over the world in the bars and hostels of District 1.
Just don’t go to any spas that require you to go up dark back alleys. Maybe.
|That bag is 250,000? It’s 50 over there! “Ok, 50”|