It is fun, chaotic, noisy, part modern, part traditional, and a bit intimidating but most of all Ho Chi Minh City in Southeast Asia, is charming.
But, it is also eccentric. Saigon and Ho Chi Minh City are different names for the same city.
I was there for three days and managed to visit the War Remnants Museum, Reunifications Palace, Saigon Central Post Office, and the Notre Dame Cathedral. And it was a joy just to soak in the atmosphere and stuff myself with delicious Vietnamese food.
It was a great experience but I experienced minor setbacks. The mishaps certainly did not stop me from having a good time but they could have been easily prevented with careful planning. And there are things that I missed or almost missed out on either due to lack of time and preparation.
Here are the 10 things I wish I knew before travelling to Ho Chi Minh City.
Ho Chi Minh City is not immune to flooding. I went to Saigon in June, during the rainy season, and although it only rained once during my stay, the downpour was heavy enough to cause a bit of flooding. Luckily, a mall was nearby so I stayed there until the rain stopped and the floodwaters subsided.
It is easy to blow your budget on transportation costs. I made the mistake of hiring a cyclo (a three-wheel bicycle taxi), and was charged 300,000 VND for my city tour. I was not scammed because I agreed on the price but we only went to 4 sights, which were fairly close to one another. Walking or taking a taxi would have been a better alternative.
The currency in Vietnam is the dong. However different Vietnamese dong notes look similar and one can easily get confused. I was giving a tip to a massage therapist and was meant to give her 60,000 VND but handed her 540,000 VND instead. The girl realized my mistake and handed me back the 500,000 note, which I promptly replaced with a 20,000 note after thanking her profusely.
4Taxi scams exist
A taxi from Tan Son Nhat International Airport to the backpackers’ area in District 1 costs around 6 to 10 USD but I paid 20 USD. The meter was on but I believe the driver took the longer route. It wasn’t until I chatted with my hostel’s receptionist when I realized that I’d been ripped off.
Top Tip: Only take Mailinh and Vinasun taxi when in Saigon.
5Vendors can be aggressive
I shopped for souvenirs at the Ben Thanh day and night markets and I noticed that vendors are pushy, rude, impatient, and even aggressive. If you are not interested in what they are selling, it is best to take a deep breath and just ignore them.
6Not all hotels have lifts
When booking a room in Ho Chi Minh City, always ask if there’s a lift available. If there’s none, ask for a room on one of the lower floors to save yourself from having to carry your bags up several narrow flights of stairs.
7Massages and pedicures are super cheap in Saigon
During my last night in Saigon, I was walking around Bui Vien Street when a young woman handed me a calling card and told me to visit their spa if I wanted to have a massage or a pedicure. I paid less than 10 USD for a full body massage and a pedicure in a clean and well-appointed environment.
8Vietnamese iced coffee is really good
Never leave Saigon without trying ca phe sua da or Vietnamese iced coffee. I ordered a glass at a roadside eatery and it proved to be sweet, refreshing, and definitely a highlight.
9There’s life beyond Districts 1 and 3
It would have been great to spend an hour or two in Chinatown in District 5, or have dinner at a riverside restaurant in District 7.
10Three days is not long enough when visiting Ho Chi Minh City
As my time in Saigon was limited, I skipped the Mekong Delta or the Cu Chi Tunnels Tour. Shame.