Once ’Nam and GI territory, it’s the moped army that now rules Saigon’s streets. While capital Hanoi is quaint and proper, this mischievous Southerner is caught in a hypnotic swirl of hip cafés and humble street eats, colonial mansions and gleaming tower blocks, baguettes, spice, and elegant silk ao dais. She’s determined to prove her cosmo cred, so hop on, hold tight and enjoy the ride...
Ho Chi Minh City sprawls over 24 districts, but thank (the) God(s), your main action stations are in the commercial and retail centre District One and lower-key, tree-lined adjoining District Three, plus a generous smattering of goodies across the river in expat compound District Two.
Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon? Though technically HCMC, locals use the latter. Take your pick, Nick Dec-Apr dry season and best time to visit, May-Nov wet season (wettest Jun-Sep). Warm all year round Tan Son Nhat airport to city by cab: 30-60 minutes sometimes more, traffic dependent / approx. US$5-$7, grab a metered cab like Mailinh, Vinasun or Vinataxi Tet (Lunar New Year) occurs around mid-Jan to mid-Feb and Saigon shuts down for 3-4 days – can be pleasantly cool, uncrowded and colourful US$ 1 is approximately VND21,000 Dollar versus dong, it’s all money, honey Have plenty of small dong for taxis/bikes Road safety and traffic law – dream on, Dolly Have your hotel’s business card on you at all times as most cabbies/locals don’t speak English Taxis – avoid scams with metered cabs from reliable companies (see above), have places written down, and pre-arrange transfers; or hire a driver (see V. Useful) Quickest way around town and to ruin your hairstyle is on the back of a motorcycle, pay VND12,000 to VND25,000 a pop depending on destination Most large restaurants and shops take credit cards Many kitchens open and close early, so dine early Beware of light-fingered rogues, especially in crowded places – keep your hand on your dong Bag-grabbers on bikes can also be a problem Hawkers. Politely but firmly decline their advances unless you’re keen to buy – in which case, haggle HCMC is in a state of flux and businesses change their addresses and hours more often than you change your knickers, so call ahead to avoid disappointment The international code for Saigon is +84 8 Police 113, Ambo 115, Info 1080, Int’l Operator 110, but limited English is spoken
The following Vietnamese phrases will come in handy...
Chao chi (to gals) / Chao anh (to guys) : Hello / Ta ta Cam on chi / Cam on anh : Thank you kindly, guv’ Troi oi! : Oh my god!
...’kay let’s party