We were aware of the difference in population between Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC, a.k.a. Saigon) and Hanoi, but were surprised to find such a difference in wealth and sophistication between the two cities.
HCMC, is a bright, bustling cosmopolitan city. Even with its glitz and splash, it maintains a distinctly Vietnamese feel as street food stalls press up against 5-star hotels. You can still see the French colonial thumbprint in HCMC with buildings like the People’s Committee building (formerly the Hotel De Ville) or the cathedral just a few blocks away.
Although some might argue, both the variety and quality of food was a notch or two above that of Hanoi. The presence of a strong and growing middle class is obvious in the way people dress, shop and eat. We also found that people in HCMC were friendlier, more open and just happier to chat.
Although the traffic volume was also a notch or two above Hanoi’s, HCMC’s large streets allowed pollution to dissipate, making the air easier on the lungs and eyes. But as in Hanoi, we had to adopt a fatalistic attitude and simply step into sea of honking motorbikes, bob, weave, and hope for the best. Specially marked “tourist security” police are strategically placed to rescue paralyzed and stranded tourists. Picture yourself in the middle of a 32-lane boulevard and you’ll be more than happy to be escorted by friendly, brightly clothed crossing guards, like you were back in kindergarten. We were.
Southern Vietnam is warmer in climate and people, making it a good place to visit after touring around the north. We spoke to a number of tourists who went the other way; they had a harder time adjusting.
Video – Street Scenes from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam
How to get there: Flights, trains and buses from all over Vietnam lead to HCMC.
Where to stay: Located near Ben Thanh market, Nymph hotel sits atop a tailor shop that fronts onto a night market. $15/night for a room with an ADSL connection inside a room that is remarkably quiet given the neighborhood. Good internet speeds, nice room, fun neighborhood, highly recommended.
Address: 38 Nguyen An Ninh, Ben Thanh, Ho Chi Minh City, Q1, Tel: +84 (08) 8247561, email@example.com
Where to eat: Food stalls in Ben Thanh market during the day and seafood stalls outside the market in the evening both offer great seafood at reasonable prices. Quan An Ngon (138 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street) offers a variety of street food dishes in a pleasant garden setting.
What to do: Cu Chi tunnels and War Remnants Museum. Just walk around and take in the city and its people.