Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) is a fascinating city. It is a hodge podge of new and old, decrepit and shiny. It is fast-paced and buzzing with the sound of motorbikes going every which way. I have never seen traffic like in HCMC. Traffic rules? Nope. There doesn’t appear to be any, except honk your horn and do what you want. Wait, is that a red light? None of the drivers seem to notice – or care. Crossing the street is like navigating a minefield – keep your eyes wide open and pray.
Before we settled on Vietnam, I read a bunch of negative reviews of the country from unfriendly locals to annoying scams to overly aggressive vendors. I was so rattled by these reviews, we almost changed our plans. I’m glad we didn’t.
I enjoyed HCMC with its raw energy, cheap prices, and more than its fair share of history. Did some people try to scam us? Sure. But even when we fell for it, the prices were so cheap, it was still way cheaper than anything we would pay in the U.S. or Europe!
Yes, the vendors were aggressive, but no different from their counterparts in similarly poor countries in South East Asia and South America. If anything, the vendors (at least in South Vietnam) were pleasantly aggressive – always telling me how beautiful I was before making their hard sell. And we found most locals perfectly friendly and helpful.
Fire drills are a fascinating HCMC phenomenon. Sure, we’ve all participated in the occasional fire drill. But in HCMC, they take their fire drills very seriously. They actually combat simulated fires, complete with hoses, water, and all the works. As we were walking down charming Nguyen Hue, we stumbled upon this very real looking fire – except there was no fire. It was just a drill.
We made our way to the Bitexco Financial Tower, HCMC’s soaring, lotus-shaped skyscraper. At 861 feet, it is the tallest building in HCMC and third tallest in Vietnam. The observation decks offers 360 degree views of HCMC.
Afterwards, we walked along the Saigon river.
Our final HCMC stop was the Ben Thanh Market, a sweltering, crowded away of stalls selling everything and anything you can possible want or not want. The covered stalls allow for little circulation, and I felt like fainting after walking around in HCMC’s 90-plus degree weather all day. But if you can handle the heat – and the smells – it is an interesting place for people watching and cheap (worthless?) souvenirs.