I had a great time in HCMC, and would love for you to have a greater time than I did (if you plan on visiting). I hope that these tips and tricks would help you do so!
ok so let's get right to it...
Visa on Arrival | Visa on arrival in Vietnam doesn’t mean that you can just get there and apply for a visa at customs/immigration. You first have to apply online through an agency (there are many online & it costs about $20USD), print the invitation letter once granted, and then take this with you, along with 2 passport pictures, and $25 USD to immigration upon arrival. Please note that you must pay in USD and change isn’t provided, so walk with the exact amount… AND DON’T FORGET YOUR MONEY AT HOME LIKE I DID!
Get a SIM card | I think this is applicable to any country that you visit, as having data is very important, especially when it comes to navigating a city, or for ordering transportation like UBER or Grab Car. You can purchase a SIM card as soon as you exit customs and immigration.
Translation App | I was very surprised when I realized that a lot of Vietnamese are unable to speak English. Save yourself some trouble and download a translation app as you may sometimes need assistance from a local.
Navigation App | Definitely allow yourself to get lost in the city, but every now and again, you are going to need to get some sense of direction.
Day Tours | There’s no need to book day tours in advance. There are a plethora of tour agencies on Biu Vien Street and they are very cheap. With that said, please don’t expect much from these tours that leave from Ho Chi Minh, I really saw it as a waste of my day, but maybe you will have better luck with yours! I would say that for the price, you could waste a day or two if you have the time, especially if you don’t live in Asia. I’d recommend that you choose a tour that includes a visit to a floating market. A day’s visit to Mui Ne to see the Fairy Stream, Red and White sand dunes may also be worth it.
Food | Vietnam is known for it’s amazing food. I was there for Tet, which meant that more than half of the restaurants were closed, but I did get a literal taste of both their local and international gastronomy, which for the most part was pretty impressive.
I also absolutely loved the fresh fruit that was cheap and abundant. Vietnam reminded me of home (Trinidad) in a few ways, and getting to eat pommerac and sapodilla was one of the highlights of my trip.
Coffee Shops/Cafes | They’re everywhere, cute, eccentric, and chic! Vietnam is known for their coffee, and I would suggest that you avoid doing what I did, which was go coffee shop hopping in one day! You’d be left dizzy and with a crazy headache for the rest of the day.
A must visit is the Café Apartments located on 42 Nguyen Street. The walk up the flights of stairs is worth it, as there are many coffee shops, dessert shops, DIY work-spaces, and little restaurants.
Bitexco Financial Tower | This building is not that high compared to structures in other countries, but it gives you a great visual layout of HCMC. You can either pay to go to the Sky Deck, or opt to take that cash and get a drink at one of the restaurants accessible from the other side of the building. The restaurant that I went to was on the 50th floor, a little crowded at the time that I visited, but it had a great view.
Charcoal Tablets/Supplements | This should be a staple when traveling to S.E Asia in general. These little things will save your life over and over and over. Sometimes the food will not agree with your stomach, but instead of being stuck in your hotel's toilet letting your vacation pass you by, just take two charcoal tablets, and like magic you’ll be good to go in about an hour or less. Trust me, it works every time!
Accommodation | There are many options when it comes to accommodation in Ho Chi Minh, and I would suggest that you don’t book your entire stay in advance, as you may want to change the area you are in, or just to another hotel down the street. I wanted to get a really local vibe, so I stayed at an apartment for 3 days in the Consulate Area, then a hostel on backpacker street for one night (because I had to meet for the tour next door early in the morning), after which, I moved to a hotel close to the Basilica for my last night. With the exception of the hostel on that crazy and loud street, I was very happy with my accommodation plan/non-plan.
Biu Vien/Backpacker Street | Check it out during the day and at night for a bit, then leave! Do not try the food at the restaurants on that street as the dishes really suck, but feel free to sip on a drink or two and take in the chaos.
District Hop | District 1 is the preferred area to stay in Saigon, and with due reason as it’s where all the action takes place. But other districts also have their charm. Don’t be afraid to venture out into other areas to check out more local cafes, to see what life is like outside of the tourist/city bubble.
I visited the Pink Cathedral in District 3 as well as Tram Café, an enchanting café with mysterious basement seating, which was a great escape from the city noise.
Visiting District 2 was also a highlight of my trip to HCMC as the life there seems worlds away from what is experienced in District 1. Sprawling villas, modern gated apartments & riverside restaurants and cafes all line the suburb streets of District 2. I initially went to check out The Deck –a riverside restaurant that boasts of having the best river sunset in Saigon and Saigon Outcast –a creative chill spot which I’d read is a great place for laid back vibes and entertainment. Unfortunately they were both closed for Tet.
Tet | It was nice to experience a bit of Lunar Year celebrations Vietnamese style, but it came at the cost of many shops, and restaurants being closed. It also limited what I could have experienced during my stay in HCMC. Try to avoid visiting during this holiday.
On the upside, the streets weren’t as crowded as they normally would have been, and I was told that the pollution gets worse and bike traffic a lot more crazy than it was during my stay.
I hope you enjoyed reading my Saigon recap as much as I enjoyed my time there, if you have any questions or comments, be sure to check in below!
Till next time!