After centuries of war Ho Chi Minh City opened to tourism in 1988 and has since become a great city to explore with your feet. Many of the places you will want to see are in the small walking streets dotted between the wide boulevards of District 1. Since there are 4 million motorbikes for a population of 7 million people your top challenge is to integrate with the swarms of traffic found at each intersection. At first try shadowing a local, then you will soon learn to look the oncoming traffic in the eye while walking confidently with no sudden movements and you should be fine. For places that are too far to walk take a white Vinasun or green Mai Linh metered taxi, found all across the city and in the quieter queue to the left of the airport when you arrive.
An hour north of the city you will find the Cu Chi district which is home to the immense underground tunnel network used by the Viet Cong during the war. 250km of tunnels were built to support communication and supply lines, weapons caches, hospitals and living quarters. Australia’s 3 Field Troop specialist engineers would learn decades later that having searched more than 17km of the tunnels that they had found the final trapdoor to the Viet Cong’s Southern Command headquarters when the decision was made to wrap Operation Crimp and pull out. After 7 years of fighting this hidden city lead to the final military success of the Viet Cong.
At night the lively Ben Thanh markets are full of everything you could possible need from souvenirs and jewellery to watches, clothes, shoes, bags, perfume and more. On the edges of the market there are lots of street drink vendors who will sell you the nước mía sugarcane juice – a simple reminder of how things tasted before they got loaded with sugar and corn syrup.
Hanoi Then and Now is an awesome restaurant that was a delight to stumble onto. The walls inside are covered with some really incredible artwork. Overflowing with local hipsters we ordered a handful of tasty unknowns from the menu.
As always if a city does coffee then it is important to hunt it out! The Vietnamese cà phê sữa is an iced coffee with condensed milk, super sweet and great for the warm weather here. I found this one at ID cafe which is further from the city and has a quieter relaxed space.
L’usine has two locations, the first upstairs at 151/1 Dong Khoi St and the second at 70b Le Loi. Combining all the hipster desires with a shop next to the cafes that do great (western) food. After a number of brilliant coffees I was curious what would happen when I tried an eggs benedict and the result magnificently quelled the craving.
Austin lived in Melbourne for a few years before coming back to open Broma Saigon ‘not a bar’, ensuring some brilliant dishes like bacon wrapped asparagus. The well travelled man takes hints of all sorts of cultures back with him to integrate into the lively space you can find at the top of the dark staircase on Nguyen street.
Le Loi is one of the main boulevards and if you find yourself wandering along later in the evening make sure you stop in at Chaya cafe to order the stunning matcha brûlée for desert.
The most expensive cocktails in the city are paired with the most expansive view at Chill Skybar. Every city in Asia has a bar like this and yet I never get tired of them.
After the week of Ho Chi Minh exploration I departed north to stay on this incredibly peaceful lagoon near Hue. Then onwards to Hanoi!
You can follow this Ho Chi Minh list on Foursquare.
Keep your eyes open.