Busy, densely crowded and filled with energy, hot and humid Ho Chi Minh City is a fascinating stop on at Southeast Asian itinerary. Short on time? Follow our guide to some of the best ways to make the most of a of 48 hour visit.
What to do
Despite the hectic nature of the city and the seemingly endless buzz of motorcycles whipping by at disturbing speed, Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) is a surprisingly walkable city. Base yourself in the District 1, the main city centre and start by exploring on foot. You’ll get a good feel for the city, take in a lot of what the city has to offer, and get used to the frenetic pace a lot quicker. Not to mention you’ll be able to scope out any spots you want to head back to later in the day. Once you get the lay of the land, make your way to Ben Thanh Market to stock up on souvenirs or (if you have room in your bag) bargain for the usual array of T-shirts, hats and bags.
What to see
Take a short 15 to 20 minute taxi ride out to Chinatown (also known as Cholon) in District 5. Just as busy as District 1, you won’t get a reprieve from the hustle and bustle here, but you will get to see another side of HCMC. Start your self-guided tour at Bin Tay Market, which receives less tourist traffic than Ben Thanh Market since the business is mostly wholesale. While you might not need a bulk supply of rice or cookware, the market does offer a glimpse into local life since it’s the locals who are actually doing the buying, and for their own businesses. After the market, check out the numerous temples and pagodas that Cholon is also known for. Many boast intricate carvings, statues and shrines that are well worth a look.
Where to eat
Since Vietnam is known for pho, that comforting, slurp-worthy noodle soup, use your time in HCMC to find some (and see how it compares to the takeout variety you order back home). Two well-known pho spots are Pho 2000 and Pho 24/24 (a chain) but you can get a steaming bowl on just about any corner so just scope out where the locals are eating. Should you need a pick-me-up while sightseeing, head to any number of bahn mi carts for a light but satisfying sandwich on a baguette filled with meats, pate, pickled vegetables and a tangle of herbs. They’re tasty and cheap (most cost less than $2).
Where to drink
If all that walked around made you thirsty (or you just want to cool off with a cold beer), get yourself to Pham Ngu Lao street, essentially the backpacker area of HCMC. Here you’ll find patios as far as the eye can see, and better yet, drink specials. Take a wander to see who is offering the best deal and then order a Saigon red or green (the red has a slightly higher alcohol content). This is a great area for people watching so relax as you sip your beer and watch the evening unfold.