Ho Chi Minh City · a mini-guide
Ho Chi Minh City · a mini-guide
This Mini-Guide to Ho Chi Minh City, aka Saigon, covers everything from markets, restaurants, coffee shops and sights.
The first stop on my travels through Southern Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand was no other than bustling Ho Chi Minh City. To be honest, the city didn’t live up to my expectations. Part of it was probably due to the point of time we had chosen. We arrived soon after Tết (Vietnamese New Year) and therefore, I assume, most of the shops and restaurants were closed.
Ho Chi Minh City after Vietnamese New Year
During our time in Ho Chi Minh City, my boyfriend and I explored the surroundings on foot. Except for the evenings when an Uber took us to restaurants at the other end of the city. Unfortunately, as soon as we got out of the car we realized that the restaurants were closed. A homepage with details on opening hours and holidays would have been very helpful. However, most of them didn’t have websites.
Some of you might ask yourselves “Why didn’t she just walk up to a street food stall instead of heading to a restaurant?”. Well, I had traveled to the Philippines a year before traveling to Vietnam. And while I was there, I had really bad food poisoning that lasted almost 3-4 weeks. So consequently, I wanted to start my travels in Vietnam off cautiously.
So, here is my mini-guide to Ho Chi Minh City – a small list of recommendations for restaurants and things to do in Ho Chi Minh City:
What to do in Saigon
Saigon is well-known for its coffee scene and I was desperately looking for the best coffee in town. I had read a lot about Vietnamese iced coffee – very simple, but yet abnormal sugary. This is due to the use of sweetened condensed milk instead of normal milk.
My boyfriend loves this coffee, but I just couldn’t get used to the sweetness since I always drink my coffee without sugar. I find that milk already gives a nice sweet flavor to every coffee. I even let the ice cubes melt and was hoping for a lesser sweetness of the coffee, but nuh, it’s really not what I am looking for in a coffee… As I was looking for coffee places on the Internet, I found James’s blog entry on Coffee Shops in Saigon very helpful, so have a look at it too if you fancy a good coffee in Saigon.
I visited Ben Than Market and found it very touristy. For all of you who would like to experience a more local way of living and doing grocery shopping – head to Snob Coffee, ideally have some coffee there, (address after the next paragraph) and follow street Duong Đề Thám in the direction to the river. You’ll pass a huge street market where locals sell fresh fish, vegetables and herbs.
We came across this coffee place by accident. I was in the early morning when we were walking around with no intention on where exactly we wanted to go. As we passed by, a lot of young locals were sitting in the café, which could be compared to our Starbucks shops.
Because it was early in the morning, and I usually have coffee for breakfast, we ordered Vietnamese Iced Coffee and normal coffee before continuing our stroll. Vietnamese Coffee is made with condensed milk, so it’s very sweet. As someone who doesn’t put sugar in her coffee, this was too sweet for me. It’s a typical Vietnamese coffee, make sure to give it a try!
147A Trần Hưng Đạo
Cầu Ông Lãnh, Quận 1
Hồ Chí Minh 700000, Vietnam
War Remnants Museum
Personally, a visit to this museum is a must when exploring Saigon. It displays – very powerfully – the consequences, horrors and suffering the population went through during the Vietnam War.
Thien Hau Temple
My favorite place in HCMC definitely is Thien Hau Temple. Even though it is frequently swamped with tourists, this place didn’t fail to impress. Many locals came to pray and light a candle and we watched them practice their rituals. Our visit was accompanied by the amazing scent spread by the incense coils hanging from the ceiling. I absolutely loved the atmosphere… I don’t think that there is much to see. People actually come and go very quickly, but nevertheless, I felt the need to really relish the moment and observe silently.
Where to eat
I absolutely love the Bánh Mì dishes there! For those of you who have never heard of Bánh Mì before: Banh is the Vietnamese word for bread and as you might know, Vietnam had a history with France who brought the French baguette to the country.
The Vietnamese version of the baguette isn’t as crunchy on the outside as the French version, it is rather more fluffy. Their Bánh Mì is typically cut in half and filled with pork belly, Vietnamese sausages, cilantro, pickled carrots, cucumber and chilis. By adding the liver paté and fish sauce used in the Bánh Mì it gives this dish a very unique taste. There are a few varieties such as Bánh mì trứng ốp-la that has as an addition to the basic ingredients a fried egg.
Their “Bánh Mì style” sandwiches come at a very decent price (50.000VND).
21 Nguyễn Văn Tráng,
Bến Thành, Quận 1
Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
This very modern café offers a wide range of dishes from the Italian cuisine to Vietnamese cuisine. I love the combination of café in the upper floor and a sweet little shop with nice clothes on the ground floor. The prices are ridiculously high in comparison what you can get at a local Vietnamese restaurant or street food stall.
Nevertheless, I wanted to start my first day in Saigon with a nice brekkie without having to worry about getting sick from eating at a local stall. The pancakes were awesome, the smoothies super fresh and my eggs benedict were nicely made. A Bánh Mì at L’Usine Le Loi costs 130.000VND.
70B Le Loi,
District 1, Ho Chi Minh
Hồ Chí Minh 700000, Vietnam
PS: if you ever get woken up at night (lets say around 4am) by really loud trumpet music and crashing cymbals – that’s most probably the final procession of the mourning period. I was woken up at 4am by the music. I thought that a party had just started or someone was still celebrating Tet. But as the music got louder and louder I could hear that it was actually passing by our building. I took a glance out of the window to see what was going on. Shockingly, I saw that there was a coffin carried through the streets followed by quite a lot of people.
I hope you enjoyed reading my mini-guide to Ho Chi Minh City and find some useful recommendations. If you would like to know about where I traveled to next – you can read everything about my trip to Phu Quoc here.