Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City

Saigon, or as it’s now known, Ho Chi Minh City, is a port city, and so it’s been settled by many different peoples, merchants and traders over the centuries. Khmer fishermen lived here before the Nguyen Dynasty came in. Later the French colonists, looking for a trading post in SE Asia, seized the city and declared it the capital of French Cochinchina.

Saigon War Remnants Museum

After the French capitulated and the American influence grew, Saigon was a centre for the American war effort and the capital of the South Vietnamese government. Finally after the Americans were driven out the country was unified in 1975 and the city was renamed Ho Chi Minh City. You can read brief histories of the city  here and here.

Saigon was our first taste of Vietnam. And we tasted! Vietnamese food is so tasty and fresh, with an emphasis on lightness and herbs and salads, mixed with a little protein and rice or noodles. The classic Pho soup is a perfect example of this.

Pho in Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City

There is also an interesting residue of French colonial times in delicious pastries and the ever-popular Banh Mi – a light crispy French baguette filled with a mix of sliced meat, pate and pickled vegetables.

Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City

Traffic in Saigon is just completely crazy! They “drive on the right” “stop at red lights” “respect pedestrian crossings” theoretically! We learned that the best way to cross the road is to confidently and unwaveringly just go! The traffic will part around you as if you are Moses, and all will be well! (your mileage may vary, I’m not recommending this method!)

Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City
Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City

We stayed in a great little hotel called Bich Duyen. It’s in a great location in backpacker/district 1. In a quiet alley, but very close to some great restaurants and markets. Super helpful and friendly staff. Nice breakfast included, plus efficient a/c which is good in steamy Saigon!  No lift, so we definitely got a good workout walking up to our fourth floor room!

Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City

We enjoyed walking round the city, exploring the grand avenues and little alleyways with markets and stalls everywhere. There are parks and cafes, beautiful old colonial style buildings and intriguing tall skinny buildings. Food and traffic is pervasive. The city appears to be non-stop.

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On a more somber note, the War Remnants Museum is a poignant reminder of the massive damage done to the people and the country during the long drawn out American War. Well worth visiting to see the war from the Vietnamese perspective.

There are also multiple temples around the city. One of the most beautiful is the Temple of the 10,000 Buddhas.

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One evening we did a fun Saigon by Night tour with Vespa Adventures. As well as whizzing round the city on Vespas, we visited a couple of restaurants with excellent food, and enjoyed some fun evening entertainment!

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Rooftop bars are a feature of Saigon nightlife, and range between the very fancy, with (we are told!) pools, and the roof of the local restaurant, which gives great views, a nice breeze and great food.

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While we were here, as Vietnam is a centre of manufacturing, we took the opportunity to replace our rather beaten-up smaller carry-on bags, and enjoyed bargaining in the market for what look like well-made, well-priced bags (we’ll let you know how they last!)

We very much enjoyed Saigon. It’s a crazy traffic, busy, hustle and bustle city, and we loved it! We found the people to be very friendly and welcoming and it was a great first stop in our six week visit to Vietnam.

Related posts: Our totally subjective review of the SE Asian airlines we flew!  and Vietnam Videos.

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