Formerly known as Saigon, it’s easy to get caught up in the streets of Ho Chi Minh City. The colonial buildings and heaving markets of the downtown districts hold countless discoveries for curious travellers.
Want to get under the surface?Here are a few ideas that will show you a different side of Ho Chi Minh City
Spend an afternoon on Thanh Da Island
Ho Chi Minh City is not all hustle and bustle. There’s a quiet, leafy island within the city boundaries. Thanh Da (as shown in the lead photo) is where Vietnamese families go for picnics and buffets on weekends. During the week, it’s a strangely soothing slice of the city, enveloped by swamps, fronds, and waterways. Wile away a few hours in the grassy, flowering garden at Binh An Village to see what we mean.
Hunt down tamarind crab in District 4
Legend has it that this elusive tamarind crab is Vietnam’s answer to Singapore’s famous chili crab. You have to do a bit of hunting online and on the ground, but what awaits you is a once-in-a-lifetime feast: Fresh crab cooked in a flaming wok with cloves of garlic in a secret tamarind sauce. Eat it hot with your hands and use the bread to mop up the rest.
Sneak away to the spa
There are many spas in the city, but L’Apothiquaire is in a class of its own. Deep inside a leafy alley in District 3, the spa is set in a gorgeous colonial villa, complete with delicate tiled floors and sunlit balconies. Enjoy a first-rate foot massage, or carve out a few hours exclusively for a pampering package.
Own the mike at a Vietnamese karaoke club
It’s hard to know what karaoke represents to the Vietnamese until you’ve been in one of their late-night karaoke bars. Prepare (if you can) for an unusual experience. Karaoke bars in Ho Chi Minh City are private rooms where you have full control of what you sing. These spaces are decked out in symbols of modern luxury (hello Gucci room!), and fanciful themes (medieval castle anyone?). If you have Vietnamese friends along, expect an earful of stirring romantic ballads.
Have a proper English afternoon tea
The fabulous Villa Royale, now with two lovely tea rooms in District 1 and 2, is the place to go when you’re hungry for real English finger sandwiches and a strong, fragrant cuppa. Antiques from all over the world are on display inside the tea room, but the TWG teas and irresistible pastries are the best part: fluffy lamingtons, crumbly salmon quiche, hot scones with homemade jam – and so much more.
Sip sun downers by the river
This should actually be a must-do for anybody who loves sunset cocktails with a view. Ho Chi Minh City is set along a river, meaning riverside bars, with happy hour specials, and long, lingering sunsets are part of the deal. The Deck in District 2 has for a long time been the place to beat when it comes to tempting cocktails, lush little bites, and views of caramel-coloured water.
Poke around Apartment 42 on Nguyen Hue
Long considered one the most character-filled buildings in the city, the apartment at 42 Nguyen Hue has become a hotspot for Saigon-chic retailers and hip dining outlets. Grab a healthy bowl of goodness at Poke Saigon. Shop for new threads at The Maker. Down beer and chicken wings at Melee. Each floor has more to offer, including balcony cafes, jewelry stores, and Japanese menswear outlets.
Grab late-night eats on Nguyen Trai
The open-air restaurants on Nguyen Trai are where youthful Ho Chi Minh City dwellers go after the party to fill up on steaming noodle soup, fluffy fried rice, and shrimp dim sum. If you’re looking for a late-night meal in Saigon, grab a seat and enjoy.
Have a taste of Vietnamese luxury
With so many hotels to choose from in Ho Chi Minh City, why not spring for some Vietnamese-style luxury? Local hospitality groups try hard to please, with warm service and unique stays that will give you an even deeper appreciation of Vietnamese culture. The Muong Thanh Saigon Centre Hotel claims a great location in walking distance from top tourism attractions, and the 11th floor swimming pool promises captivating views of District 3.
Sail away on the Saigon River
There are many ways you can do this, from private yacht to tiny fishing boat. Go with Saigon Boat Company for a loop at sunset. Or book one of the dinner cruises that leave from the pier on Ton Duc Thang just after sundown. The buffets on these boats are usually extensive, and you may get a live music or dance performance in the mix.
Article and Photos courtesy of Vietnam Tourism Board — Visit Vietnam Vietnam Travel
Lead Photo of Thanh Da by Damien Donnelly