Vietnam's business and financial engine is a fun and thriving metropolis, where tradition meets modernity

Ho Chi Minh City, known to many as Saigon, pulsates with energy unlike any other city in Vietnam. It’s a fast-growing, business-driven place. But as hectic as the city is, its populace certainly knows how to relax, usually over iced coffee or cocktails. In District 1, skyscrapers tower above old French museums while swarms of motorbikes buzz down the streets.

From gourmet restaurants to fast food outlets and the humble curbside carts at Ben Thanh Market, the city’s dining options are as exciting its nightlife. Speaking of which, once the sun sets and the neon lights come on, Ho Chi Minh City serves up everything you could ask for in terms of a night on the town, from no-frills beer joints to swanky cocktail bars and thumping clubs. With so many to choose from, you might find yourself collapsing into bed just in time for sunrise. This isn’t the case elsewhere in Vietnam, so make the most of the after-dark hours while you can.

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Things to do: Ho Chi Minh City

  • A full plate

    If you want to explore Saigon's food scene beyond the street stalls, there are many ritzy but affordable restaurants to sample. Mediterranean, classic French, English high tea, Mexican and various takes on Vietnamese fine-dining – your every food whim will be met in this food-obsessed city.

  • Kidding around

    Dam Sen Park in Hoa Binh offers fun for families with young children. It’s a welcome escape from the city rush. Paddle a boat around the lake, jump on the monorail traversing the park or catch one of the weekend shows.

  • Painful past

    Just a generation ago, this city was in turmoil. Spend a few hours learning about the impact of the war on what was then known as Saigon. Go back in time at the Reunification Palace and The War Remnants Museum. Both spots trace the story of Vietnam during its turbulent 20th century.

  • Party line

    Saigon’s nightlife is legendary, and it keeps going into the wee hours. Start the night early by downing impossibly cheap beer while perched on tiny stools on Pham Ngu Lao Street. Then the choice is yours: pumping clubs, elegant speakeasies, rooftop cocktails, backpacker bars or live music – anything and everything goes.

  • As the river flows

    The small villages of the Mekong Delta are where the Vietnamese continues to live life simply, in tune with the changes in the tides, throughout the year. Experience the Mekong on a boat or cycling through the villages — visit the Cai Be floating market, amble through a fruit orchard, try the local fare as well as the traditional coconut candy.

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Airport information

CBD 6km

Travel time 15 minutes

Taxi Approx VND 130,000 (USD $6)

Bus 152 will get you to Pham Ngu Lao (the backpacker street) for VND 5,000 (USD $0.25) and an extra VND 5,000 for your bag.

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When to go

Ho Chi Minh City has two distinct seasons – wet and dry. It’s said that there’s no bad time to visit but when it rains it pours, and exploring can become difficult. The dry season runs from December until April, a period when there’s considerably less humidity plus possible nighttime lows of 18°C, especially in December.

Many businesses close during Tet, Vietnam’s Lunar New Year from the end of January to mid-February. City residents tend to leave town to visit family in the countryside. This makes things eerily quiet but it also means visitors have the city pretty much to themselves.

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Getting around

Metered taxis can be easily hailed in Ho Chi Minh City. It’s about VND 12,000-15,000 for the first kilometre, with most rides totalling a couple of dollars. If you aren’t in any rush then make use of the city’s ubiquitous cyclos. To avoid overpaying for trips, organise a day-tour through your hotel.

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