Given the choice, most travellers would pick the colonial splendour and lethargic pace of Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi, over the modern and bustling Ho Chi Minh City. But the charm of Vietnam is not lost in this eclectic, energetic mix of American, Chinese and French culture. With rooms costing less than the price of a glossy magazine, Ho Chi Minh City is ideal for travellers on any budget.
The best way to see the city is to hire a bicycle or, if you’re brave enough to tackle the lawless roads, a moped. Cruise wide, tree speckled boulevards and watch the paradox of suited businessmen grabbing their morning drink from a street stalled manned by women donning conical hats.
For a dose of history, head to the War Remnants Museum which displays the horrors of the American and French wars, including deformed foetuses showing the effects of US chemical defoliants and the notorious ‘tiger cages.’
Pedal past the Notre Dame Cathedral and General Post Office, regal remnants of French architecture, before wandering through timeless alleys to ancient pagodas and pulsating markets. Stop at a rickety wooden hut for a bowl of pho while perusing vibrant silks and aromatic spices. Get lost in the scrum of Ben Thanh Market where you can bag bargain tailor made clothing.
Although it originated in the North, catch a water puppet show at the War Remnants Museum – a skilful and imaginative show unique to Vietnam. In this thronging metropolis, Indian, Italian and Brazilian restaurants are at home among the sushi bars and teahouses. But forego these in favour of Huong Lai, a traditional Vietnamese restaurant run by people from disadvantaged families of former street children.
Ho Chi Minh City is where an urban maze knits seamlessly together with humble traditions, simplicity meets frustration and the present collides boisterously with the past. But herein lies its beauty; in its mystery.