48 hours in SAIGON

Ho Chi Minh City — to give it its of­fi­cial name — is the place to visit if Viet­nam is on your hol­i­day sched­ule. By Helen Cof­fey

Belfast Telegraph - Weekend - - TRAVEL -

WHY GO NOW?

With the pound be­ing buf­feted about by an ever more tur­bu­lent po­lit­i­cal land­scape, Brits are fast run­ning out of des­ti­na­tions where they can get bang for their buck.

Viet­nam is still grat­i­fy­ingly cheap — even the most lux­ury five-star ho­tel in Ho Chi Minh City, for­mally known as Saigon, can be bagged for around £125, while a pri­vate room at a clean, ser­vice­able hos­tel costs in the re­gion of £20 a night.

A three-course meal at a high-end restau­rant comes in at un­der £15; a fill­ing bowl of tra­di­tional pho costs no more than £3. All this comes in a hot, noisy, dy­namic city that rarely sleeps, with a com­plex his­tory and plenty of cul­ture to soak up.

GET YOUR BEAR­INGS

Ho Chi Minh City, on the south coast of Viet­nam, is split into 19 dis­tricts, with the Saigon River curl­ing its way across the mid­dle. Much of the ac­tion takes place in District 1, which boasts most of the trendy res­tau­rants and bars, plus the ma­jor mar­ket, Ben Thanh. North of 1, District 3 also has a buzz about it, while District 5, south of 1, is home to Ho Chi Minh’s Chi­na­town. Don’t be sur­prised (or dis­ap­pointed) if you spend most of your time in District 1 — it’s un­de­ni­ably where the party’s at. The Tourist In­for­ma­tion Cen­tre (0084 38226033) is here too, on the north­east cor­ner of the round­about at the in­ter­sec­tion of Le Loi and Nguyen Hue.

TAKE A VIEW

Head for the Bi­tex- co Fi­nan­cial Tower, oth­er­wise known as the Saigon Sky­deck (0084839156156, bi-t ex co fi­nan­cial tower. com), in District 1 for 360-de­gree views of the city from 230m. Opt to visit the bar on the 50th floor — it’s free, and you can grab a drink for roughly the same price as en­try to the Sky­deck while en­joy­ing the panoramic views in plusher sur­round­ings. En­try to the Sky­deck is 200,000VND (£7); cock­tails start from 220,000VND (£7.60) at Eon Heli Bar.

TAKE A HIKE

Start at Tao Dan Park in District 1. Take a stroll through this tree-filled won­der, stop­ping to ad­mire a mini bridge and Bud­dhist-style tem­ple. Cross over Truong Dinh and carry on walk­ing down the un­named path op­po­site; you’ll quickly reach the grounds of the In­de­pen­dence Palace (0084 838 223 652, din­hdo­clap.gov.vn). An in­stru­men­tal build­ing dur­ing the Viet­nam War, the palace is now open to the pub­lic daily from 7.30am-11am and 1pm-4pm; 40,000VND (£1.40). From here, con­tinue in the same di­rec­tion up Le Duan, which runs through 30/4 Park (the name in hon­our of the date that Viet Cong and North Viet­namese troops cap­tured Saigon in 1975, sig­nalling the end of the Viet­nam War). At the end of the park, take a right onto Cong xa Paris; to your left you’ll see the mag­nif­i­cent Notre Dame Cathe­dral (0084 8 3822 0477, gio­thanhle. net/gio-le/nha-tho-ducba-sai-gon), built by French colo­nial­ists in the 1880s. Open daily from 5.30am-5pm.

WIN­DOW SHOP­PING

Ben Thanh (0084 8 3829 9274, choben­thanh.org.vn) is Ho Chi Minh’s big­gest and best mar­ket. Open 24/7, it’s the per­fect place to pick up tra­di­tional Viet­namese sou­venirs, such as lanterns, dec­o­ra­tive chop­sticks, or ‘lucky’ cats that move one arm up and down.

AN APER­I­TIF

Head to Snuff­box (0084 126 387 2603) if you’re in the mood for clas­sic cock­tails in Gatsby-es­que sur­round­ings. This up­mar­ket speakeasy is suit­ably hid­den away down a back al­ley and up some stairs in a dingy-look­ing res­i­den­tial block — the only in­di­ca­tion of its ex­is­tence is a large disco ball vis­i­ble from the street. Try a Bee’s Knees — gin, lime juice and honey syrup — for 150,000VND (£5.20).

If you’re in more of a malt mood, East West Brew­ing Co (0084 91 306 07 28, east­west­brew­ing.vn) is Ho Chi Minh’s hippest craft beer joint, chan­nelling the ur­ban cool of Brook­lyn with its ex­posed brick and huge cop­per stills. Or­der a set of four tast­ing beers for 175,000VND (£6).

DINE WITH THE LO­CALS

One of Ho Chi Minh’s more deca­dent eater­ies is Hum Cafe (0084 28 3930 3819, humviet­nam.com) in District 3, a highly-rated vegetarian restau­rant so pop­u­lar that a sib­ling, Hum Lounge, has also opened up in District 1.

Dine at the orig­i­nal Hum for an in­ti­mate vibe, at­ten­tive staff and pretty fairy lights twin­kling in the trees out­side.

The meat-free menu is so ex­ten­sive that even car­ni­vores should find some­thing they fancy. Start with the fresh spring roll (85,000VND; £3) fol­lowed by the pineap­ple rice (130,000VND; £4.50).

OUT TO BRUNCH

Viet­nam isn’t fully on board with the whole brunch thing yet, but l’Usine (0084 8 3521 0703, lusines­pace.com) is all over the con­cept. This ul­tra-stylish bou­tique shop-cum-gallerycum-cafe boasts an all-day Euro­pean-style brunch menu, served to you by suit­ably hip­ster wait­ers.

It has two branches now, L’Usine Dong Khoi and L’Usine Le Loi, both in District 1. Start the day right with the banana bread and cin­na­mon mascarpone (95,000VND; £3.30), or plump for a pork, potato and pump­kin hash with a fried egg (140,000VND; £4.85).

Don’t aban­don the East en­tirely though —do as the lo­cals do and wash it down with a Viet­namese cof­fee.

It’s best served cold with con­densed milk for a smooth, sweet fin­ish.

TWENTY-FOUR SEVEN: Saigon zoo and (right) a night time view of the city that rarely sleeps

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