Ho Chi Minh City has the greenest locating system in place. Every road is lined with tall kapok or dipterocarp trees (bông gòn) numbered trees. The Odd numbered trees on the left and the even on the right of the road. If you are waiting for someone, you just need to tell them road name and tree number for your exact location. These seem to have been planted during the French colonial period. The roundabout along Nguyen Hue St. is a lovely fountain surrounded by bottle brush trees.
If you view the city from a high vantage point, the roads are the green lines criss-crossing the city. So totally awesome.
Take a taxi to get around. Look for Vinsun blue taxis which are metered and are less likely to rip you off. At the airport do take the aiport taxi servce for US$ 7 to take you to your destination in HCMC. Its cheap and convenient.
The innumerable motorists and other vehicles just zip through on the roads like a swarm of bees and you need to be careful while crossing the streets at zebra crossings.
Cyclo or rickshaws are only good for a photo opportunity.
Bargaining is the way to shop. Ask for the price in Vietnamese Dong and start from 30% with a big smile in a friendly manner. If you like it just buy as most goods are are really affordable. Lacquer ware, hand embroidered linen, branded rip offs and lots of other stuff are great buys. Do check out the Cho Ben Than market.
If you are looking for art, local artsts abound across town and one can pick up really vibrant paintings for a song.
Small upmarket boutiques had a good selection of silk garments. Some great designs at rock bottom prices.
There is something to suit virtually every taste here. The local food inspired by Thai and Chinese is defined by the lack of oil, a blending of complementary textures and the liberal use of a pungent, salty fish sauce called nuoc mam.
Do try the popular Vietnamese rice noodle – Pho, which is available almost everywhere. A good place to start is the chain Pho 24 or Pho 2000.
Another favorite is the Vietnamese Sandwich – Bahn Mi. We chanced upon this bakery in
District 1, also grilling pork, chicken and sausages. They offered fresh, oven-warm and aromatic range of French baguettes and breads, spread with pâté, and custom filled with your choice of grilled pork, vietnamese sausage and crisp strips of cucumber, cilantro and shredded pickled radish and carrots.
Shopping is hungry work and the Vietnamese salad roll- Gỏi cuốn, is a rice paper roll wrapped around pork, shrimp, herbs, rice vermicelli and other ingredients. These are light, served at room temperature, and are not deep fried. We visited a smart eatery Wrap & Roll, that serves different types of filling to make into your own spring rolls in a clean and friendly place. All orders come with a big plate of assorted greens like sprouts, basil, mint, and lettuce, and a small pile of vermicelli noodles. Roll it all up in a rice paper wrapper and dip it in the bowl of fish sauce, and it’s a perfect sampling of a Vietnamese classic.
Inspired by the Travel Channel, a visit to Com Nieu Saigon for its Com Dap – smashed rice, an entertaining bowl-breaking, rice-throwing spectacle. Its was a BIG disappointment. The old restaurant has moved across the road to in an imitation of a fine dining restaurant with high prices, slow service and not so great food. The original glory seems to have faded with passing of its founder Madame Ngoc.
Check out the water puppets at the Golden Dragon Theater.
Ho Chi Minh City has very active club and bar scene at night to to suit everyone’s tastes and budget. Evening dinner cruises on the Mekong river can be fun with live music and a sampling of local food. Or just stroll along the riverfront promenade.
All in all, Saigon is dynamic and chaotic city. Food and shopping are the highlights. Langauge is a barrier but smiles and the calculator make it easy.