With Backpack

One World in One Lifetime

What to do in Ho Chi Minh City

Posted by Heliocentrism on June 25, 2017

Friday May 5th – 9th, 2017

What are you going to do?

Before leaving Mui Ne I asked my new friend Mimmu what her plans in Ho Chi Minh was. “I don’t know. I think I will find a frozen yogurt place then wait for you guys to plan something. Then I will follow you.”

I looked at her suspiciously. “Really? Because I was going to ask if Mark and I could tag along with what ever plans you come up with.”

One problem with long term travel is the constant planning. We go to a new city or town and have to think of things to do. If we’re lucky, the city is known for something. “If you go to Paris, see the Eiffel Tower.” “In Rome? See the Colosseum.” But what happens when you go to, say… Ho Chi Minh City?

Instead of lollipops we get fruity drinks, ’cause we’re adults!

I. Get Shots

We started our RTW Trip vaccines in Japan. By May it was time for the next round of shots. We first went to the Institut Pasteur in Nha Trang, but I got freaked out when I saw the doctor treat patient after patient without washing his hands, using gloves, or using alcohol to clean the area where the shot was given. Even though we had signed up for shots, I grabbed Mark and ran out of the clinic before seeing a doctor.

Back at the hostel, I talked with a doctor. Well, he wasn’t a doctor-doctor. He was a doctor on paper. He had his degree; he just hadn’t done his residency yet. He would do that after backpacking through South East Asia. He told me, that it was better to get the shot than not, even if the doctor didn’t ever wash his hands or use gloves. He did suggest that I bring my own alcohol wipes and clean my arm myself if the doctor didn’t.

Rather than go back to Nha Trang’s Pasteur clinic, we went to Ho Chi Minh’s. They didn’t use gloves or do any hand washing there either, but they did slather bales of cotton soaked in alcohol on each and every arm before and after each shot, so there was some measure of comfort.

II. Go see some statues

I called Mimmu to ask her if she made it safely to HCMC and what her plans for the next day were.

“I got in Yesterday,” she messaged me. “But, I have no plans. You said you would be the one making the plans.”

“Did I?” That didn’t sound like me. I messaged her back, “Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure. How else do you explain the fact that I have made no plans for myself?”

I couldn’t explain. “Well, then… why don’t we… see some… ummm…. statues?”

Mimmu thought it sounded like a wonderful idea. She let me have 2 hours to put the whole tour together while she terrorized some Japanese girls in her dorm with her in-your-face Finnishness. What exactly Mimmu did, I’m not sure (and neither was she), but she assured me that one of the girls seemed dreadfully afraid of her every time she entered the room.

So, I went on google maps and made a walking tour. I tried to gather as much information as I could, but it was only 2 hours. And while Mimmu was inadvertently harassing her roommates, I spent about half an hour getting to know one of mine and had invited her to join my badly planned tour.

In the end, we all had a wonderful time walking around the city. We posed here and there and everywhere while asking each other about life back home. “Have you ever toured Paris?” I asked Gabriel, my roommate from France.

“No,” she said. “I live there, so I don’t go sightseeing. That’s for tourists. Have you ever toured Tampere?” She asked Mimmu to prove her point.

“No, there is nothing to see there,” Mimmu answered.

“That’s true,” I agreed. “I’ve been there. Everyone had left town and everything was closed.”

Mimmu nodded thinking fondly of her home.

III. Learn about history, see a garden and a sad zoo, then do some shopping

This day, Mark did the planning. He picked a history museum and a botanical garden. The museum was nice, but the botanical garden turned out to also be a zoo. The zoo didn’t take care of its animals very well. We had to leave when it got too depressing looking at scrawny, mangy lions and other animals that were locked up in cages too small for them.

We made our way to the Ben Thanh Market. It had a vast array of things for sale. We walked around while all the shop keepers tried to entice us to buy their products. It was very crowded and the sales people were very aggressive. None of us wanted to buy anything, we just wanted to look around, but no one would leave us in peace. We didn’t stay long.

We found ourselves at Sense Market. It was a smaller, better organized version of Ben Thanh Market with part of a western styled mall thrown in for comfort. We ate dinner there then looked around at the stalls. There was still pushy shop keepers calling to us, but they weren’t too aggressive.

Twice!

IV. Eat 

I made a food tour. I had a list of foods to try in Vietnam. I still had a few items on the list that I hadn’t eaten yet. I wanted to knock them all off in one day. I didn’t find all the places; some restaurants aren’t where google maps say they are. But I found all the dishes even if I had to get them from alternative shops. We didn’t have breakfast or lunch. We ate here and there and there and here.

V. Remember war is hell

In the afternoon we visited the War Remnants Museum. The place is depressing, it’s heavy, it’s awful, and, unfortunately, it’s very necessary. War is not glamorous. It is not heroic. It’s seldom black and white. There is never a real winner. There are always many losers, even years and decades afterwards. Usually, everybody is in the wrong, some more than others.

VI. Eat Bun Cha

I know. It’s a Hanoi dish. But, it’s my favorite Vietnamese food. This was the last thing I ate in Vietnam before getting on a bus to Cambodia. There are many places in HCMC that serve Hanoi style bun cha and I tried as many of them as I could find. They were all delicious. When I go back to Vietnam, bun cha will be the first thing I eat!


Vietnam
(Việt Nam)

How to get there:

  • You can enter by plane, train, boat, or bus.
  • Make sure to get a visa before going to Vietnam. Although some nationals can get a visa at the border for a few days, many cannot or will need a visa for longer stays.
    • Visit the Vietnamese embassy in your country to get a visa.
    • Or you can apply for a visa online if you do not live near an embassy or consulate.
    • Remember if you enter Vietnam on a single entry visa then leave, you must wait 30 days before returning to Vietnam on another visa.

Phone:

Website:

Videos:

Notes:

  • Don’t worry if you cannot get Vietnamese dong from your local bank back home. You can get your dong at the bank in Vietnam. (DO NOT get money at the airport. You will never get a good rate. Use an ATM/bank.) Don’t get too much; no one will buy it back from you. Many hotels, fancy restaurants, and tour agents will take US dollars or Euros. Though who knows what exchange rate they will use? You will need dong for taxis, small shops, and local restaurants and vendors.
  • When you get to Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh pick up a map of the area from any hotel, hostel, travel agency, or tourist information center. Once you have one of those you’ll be able to find anything.
  • Having a map of the area in Hanoi is very important. Every block has a different street name so once you know the name of street something is on you can easily find it with a map.
  • Wherever you choose to stay, make sure you bring a picture and the address of the hotel. One common trick that taxi and motorbike-taxi drivers like to pull is to take you to the wrong hotel. When you say, “I asked for ABC Hotel!” They will tell you that the name changed. They usually get a commission for bringing tourist to certain hotels.
    • Sometimes hotels do change names. But most likely a hotel will not change names between the time of your booking accommodations and your arrival without telling you.
    • Also, asking the average Joe on the street for ABC hotel will do nothing. Locals don’t stay in hotels, so they don’t remember hotel names. But Mr. Joe will know where 123 Hanoi St. is.
  • Also for taxis, NEVER agree to a flat rate fee. The flat rate fee will always be way higher than it should be. Always demand that the cab driver use the meter. If he doesn’t want to use his meter, get out. Taxi drivers are a dime a dozen. This is true in most countries.
  • For motorbike taxis, settle on the cost of the ride before getting on. Ask fellow travelers for advice on how much a ride should cost.
  • Watch out for cyclo drivers that claim not to have change as a way to get more money out of you. If you need to, wait for one of those fruit vendors to come along and buy something from her to make change. You really should ask the cost to your destination and make sure you have exact change before you get in the cyclo. 
  • It’s best not to say anything bad about Ho Chi Minh while in Vietnam. He is still very much loved by his people.
  • There are companies that charge 10USD to take you from Hanoi to the airport. They are all around Hanoi. Use one of those instead of jumping into a random cab.

Ho Chi Minh City 
(Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh)

How to get there:

  • 10°49’24.2″N 106°37’48.3″E

You can get here by train, plane, boat, or bus.

Airport –

The Train –
Long Distance Bus Stations –
  • Cho Ben Thanh Bus Station – This one is downtown and near many tourist sites and hotels.
  • Mien Dong Bus Station – Buses to and from northern destinations
  • Mien Tay Bus Station
  • Cholon Bus Station

Website:

Videos:


Institut Pasteur in Ho Chi Minh City

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 10.786372, 106.688647

Address:

  • P. 8,, 167 Pasteur, phường 6, Quận 3, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam

Phone:

  • +84 8 3823 0352

Websites:

Cost:

  • The shots I got cost 755,000d or 33USD.

Hours:

  • 8:00 – 17:00 Everyday
  • Go early!

Notes:

  • I went there for Hep A&B, Japanese encephalitis, and Typhoid vaccines, not medical care.
    • What I got cost 755,000d or 33USD.
    • There might be other vaccines, but these were all I asked for.
  • From start to finish my whole visit took 45 minutes.
  • The person giving the shots did not wear gloves or wash his hands between serving different patients.
  • Tips:
    • Get there early.
    • Bring a hand fan and some ice water.
    • Bring enough cash.

Statues of Ho Chi Minh City Walking Tour

How to get there:

Websites:

Cost:

  • Free

Hours:

  • 2 to 2.5 hours
  • More if you get lost. Less if you run.

Notes:

  • There are other statues along the way, but I don’t have any information about them.

Phuoc Hai Temple
Jade Emperor Pagoda

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 10.792044, 106.698005

Address:

  • 73 Mai Thi Luu St., Dakao Ward, District 1, Đa Kao, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam

Phone:

  • +84 8 3820 3102

Websites:

Cost:

  • Free

Hours:

  • Sunrise to whenever it closes

Notes:


Vietnam History Museum

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 10.787952, 106.704844

Address:

  • 2 Nguyễn Bỉnh Khiêm, Bến Nghé, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam

Websites:

Cost:

  • 15,000d

Hours:

  • Closed Mondays
  • 8:00 – 11:30 & 13:30 – 17:00

Notes:

  • Most of this museum is not air conditioned.

Saigon Zoo And Botanical Garden

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 10.787304, 106.705301

Address:

  • 5, 2 Nguyễn Bỉnh Khiêm, Bến Nghé, Hồ Chí Minh, TP. Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam

Phone:

  • +84 8 3829 1425

Notes:

  • This place has very little garden; it’s mostly a zoo.
  • This is a terrible zoo. The animals are not treated very well.

Ben Thanh Market

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 10.771929, 106.698358

Address:

  • Công trường Quách Thị Trang, Bến Thành, Hồ Chí Minh, Bến Thành Quận 1 Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam

Websites:

Cost:

  • Free entry
  • Then haggle haggle haggle after that

Hours:

  • Daily 6:00 –24:00 unless it’s closed at 19:00 for “reasons”.

Notes:

  • This place is very crowded.
  • The sales people are quite pushy.

Sense Market

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 10.769280, 106.693742

Address:

  • 04 Pham Ngu Lao, Pham Ngu Lao Ward, District 1, Phạm Ngũ Lão, Ho Chi Minh, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam

Phone:

  • +84 8 3836 4057

Websites:

Cost:

  • There are shops with reasonable set prices and stalls where you can haggle.

Hours:

  • 8:30 – 20:30

Notes:

  • For those who don’t like crowds or very pushy sales people, this is a great alternative to Ben Thanh Market.
  • The food court, which is more like a regular western food court, is quite nice.
    • Delicious affordable food.

Walking Food Tour of Ho Chi Minh City

How to get there:

  • Goi Cuon Thai Binh for Goi Cuon (Spring Roll)
    • Couldn’t find this particular stall, but we found another one that served goi cuon.
    • It was delicious, but I didn’t like the dipping sauce.
  • Banh Cuon Hai Nam for Banh Cuon (Savory rice cake rolls
    • This was the most delicious thing I tried on this tour.
    • I still have cravings for these treats months after leaving Vietnam.
  • Bánh khọt Cô Ba Vũng Tàu for Banh Khot (small savory pancakes)
    • The pancakes were overpriced here. You could go to many other places for better prices.
    • The pancakes were delicious.
  • Some random convenience store for charcoal ice cream.
    • Very delicious. Not sure how long this will be offered.

Websites:

Cost:

  • Most of these dishes were very inexpensive and for the one exception, there is a better and inexpensive version.

Hours:

  • various

Notes:

  • I tried to keep things simple and inexpensive.
  • I only went to the fancy mini pancake place because, looking at it online, I didn’t realize how expensive it would.

War Remnants Museum

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 10.779475°N 106.692132°E

Address:

  • 28 Võ Văn Tần, 6, Quận 3, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam

Phone:

  • +84 8 3930 5587

Websites:

Downloads:

e-mail:

  • warrmhcm@gmail.com

Cost:

Hours:

Notes:

  • War is depressing. This museum is heavy, but very imformative.

Bun Cha 145

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 10.766321, 106.691710

Address:

  • 145 Bùi Viện, Phạm Ngũ Lão, Hồ Chí Minh, phường Phạm Ngũ Lão Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Phone:

  • +84 8 3837 3474

Websites:

Cost:

Hours:

  • 11:00 – 20:00

Notes:

Map:

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