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Travel guide - Ho Chi Minh City

With Vietnam exploding as a tourist destination in recent years, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) has started to reveal its secrets to the world. A noisy, busy yet fascinating city, it entices travellers with its exotic charm and still­-undiscovered sights. Finnair’s travel guide to Ho Chi Minh City is your guide to hit the hot new Asian destination.

Arguably the most imposing building in the city, the Reunification Palace holds a special place in the history of the city and of the country itself. Formerly the Presidential Palace of South Vietnam, it is a window into the past prior to the reunification of the country. Vietnam’s war-torn history is both a sad and integral part of the makeup of the country and the impact of this terrible time can be experienced at the War Remnants Museum. On display is military hardware from both sides along with information and exhibits – some of them shocking – to help explain the conflict. Moving onto the modern day we head to Ben Thanh Market, the city’s largest and most well­known. Home to hundreds of shouting vendors, you can buy delicious fresh food and bargain over trinkets if you dare. Religion forms a strong part of Vietnamese society and many pagodas dot the city where the Buddhist faithful come to pray. After a long day head up to the Saigon Skydeck for an amazing nighttime view of this fascinating city.

Cu Chi Tunnels – A day trip from the city, you can visit this site to experience what tunnel­based guerilla warfare was really like in cramped underground conditions and learn more about the war itself.

Dalat – High up in the mountains is this retreat, long a place for the wealthier European set to escape the stifling humidity and heat of town.

Beach escapes – Vũng Tàu and Mũi Né are popular weekend escapes for locals and visitors alike, offering palm­lined beaches and sun for a relaxing break from the hectic pace of the city.

Shopping in Ho Chi Minh City is an experience in itself. While definitely not Western in style, the range of goods on offer is large, especially when it comes to traditional goods.

Markets – There are many markets across the city offering a variety of usually locally­sourced goods (along with cheap copies). Some might focus on a certain theme, like produce, while others offer a range of goods to suit visiting tourists. Here is where you can try out your haggling skills.

Street vendors – Vietnamese vendors sell anything and everything from their streetside carts and stalls. Don’t be afraid to step up and examine their wares – you can find everything from handmade art to kitschy trinkets to excellent street food.

Traditional goods – Vietnam is well­known for traditional goods utilising wood and silk. Carved pieces and hand­made textiles are an exquisite gift – just make sure you’re paying for the real deal and not an expensive copy.

Western­-style shopping – Certainly not common, you can find Western-style shopping in a few places around town, such as Saigon Square. Don’t go in expecting a full­blown department store and you can find a bargain or two.

Vietnamese cuisine has rapidly grown in popularity around the world, especially with traditional soup dishes and spring rolls. That makes a great start but don’t be afraid to dive in and try the massive variety of flavours on offer.

Bánh mì kẹp thịt – Now popular around the world, this simple baguette comes in an endless array of flavours and styles. Usually filled with meat and vegetables and garnished with coriander and pepper.

Phở – Another favourite, this soup dish is a combination of meat, usually beef, vegetables and a hot tasty broth. A must­try in Ho Chi Minh City.

Pastries – The French influence on the country is still evident in the food today, not least in the surprising Vietnamese skill in pastry making. All your traditional French favourites are here along with local adaptations. Try the Vietnamese doughnuts for a tasty treat.

Bún bò Huế – A staple soup dish of vermicelli noodle and beef. Similar to phở but distinct in style and taste.

Cháo – Known in other parts of Asia as Congee, these rice gruels defy their unappetising name to offer a hearty dish available in many favourites. Try the fish and beef varieties, popular with the locals.

Cà phê sữa đá – This Vietnamese take on iced coffee uses sweetened condensed milk to pack a sweet punch, excellent on a humid afternoon.

There is no escaping traffic in Ho Chi Minh City and the only way to get around is to embrace it.

By foot – Like the locals, most travellers will get around town by foot. Traffic is a problem in the city centre and walkers must be aware of vehicles zooming by at all times. Some parts of the city are pedestrian­friendly but you will often find you need to walk on roads shared with cars and cyclos. If in doubt, follow a local.

Cyclo – These tricycle­like vehicles are a great way to take in the sights and sounds of the city as your driver whisks you about town. Open to the air, passengers sit at the front, allowing great views of the passing scenes.

Moped – You can hitch a ride with a moped or motorcycle rider for very little. This informal mode of transport, while dangerous, is a quick and easy way to get around town. Driving your own moped around town is best done only if you are very comfortable with extremely dense traffic.

Taxis – Taxis are cheap and plentiful and can take you anywhere you need to go. If hailing a cab from the street, always agree the price beforehand and make sure the driver knows your final destination. Traffic can make the trips very slow, but everyone else is stuck too so you just have to sit it out.

Currency – Vietnamese dong (VND)

Electricity – 220 volts, 50Hz, A, C or type­ G plug.

Tips – Not expected but very much appreciated.

Payment/card – Bring cash as credit cards are accepted only in chain hotels and department stores.

Time zone – Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam) UTC/GMT +7 hours

Water – Drink bottled water and try to avoid ice in drinks.

Tan Son Nhat International Airport (SGN)

The airport is located six kilometres north of Ho Chi Minh City.

  • Check-in opens 3 hours before departure
  • Check-in closes one hour before departure

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