48Hrs in Saigon, Vietnam

  • Issy Ormandy
So less than 72hrs ago, I embarked on my first ever solo trip across Southeast Asia and my first stop…VIETNAM.

Saigon, otherwise known as Ho Chi Minh City is one of Vietnam’s largest southern cities, second to none other than its northern capital Hanoi. My decision to start here was simple being that the main itinerary of backpacking Vietnam (after multiple conversations with other travellers) tends to be South to North and visa versa. As my first solo trip in a completely new continent I thought it best to stick to the more traveller populated destinations.

Landing in Tan Son Nhat International, my first order of business was to get my visa stamped, and from previous horror stories I’d be told, I expected the worst. I opted for the approval letter and stamp approach to getting myself in the country.

Applying through http://vietnamvisa.govt.vn, I paid for an signed approval letter allowing me entry into Vietnam (which cost me around $19/£14 and approving a visa stamp on arrival which cost a further $25. Although everything went smoothly, looking back, this website claims to be a government website which is untrue, so an immediate red flag there, my suggestion would be do some more research (more than me, which meant picking the first website I found out of urgency) and find a website that you feel happy and comfortable using, if unsure ask around.

A hop skip and jump through passport control, I collected my waiting bags at baggage claim and before I knew it I was sailing through the sea of bikes and horn happy cars which is Vietnam. I used the Grab app to get myself a taxi to the hostel I was staying at, which was recommended as the most safe and efficient way of travelling via transport around the city, with only a short experience using the app all I can say is my driver arrived very prompt, it was cheap fast and I felt safe throughout.
The hostel I stayed in while in Ho Chi Minh was the Vy Da Backpackers Hostel based in District 1 which is an ideal base, in walking distance of a large majority of popular attractions. With a relaxing rooftop bar and a colourful picturesque view of its corner of the city, I felt finally at ease.

After a long ass flight to get to Vietnam, I will admit my first 4 hours in the country I spent catching up on my sleep as I wanted to make the most of my first night in the city so I decided to recharge and head out later in the evening. When night falls on the city of Saigon, there are two places every traveller needs to experience and coincidentally they’re both named ‘Walking Street’.

Bui Vien Walking Street stands to be one of the most attractive partying communities for travelling tourists. Bustling nightlife with loud music playing from every second club on the strip and an inundation of cheap massage offers and delicious food options, enough to last you a lifetime. With sky high rooftop bars, happy hours offering beers for less than a £1 and cocktails containing more varieties of alcohol than I can count on one hand, it’s easy to see why couples, groups and solo travellers flock to this neighbourhood after dark.
I stopped off at The View Rooftop Bar for a cold drink and a glimpse of the glowing city.

Although I didn’t spend an awful lot of time here (the overlapping of different music every step you take gets a little tedious after a while) there was a little restaurant just off one of the side streets called Ngoc Tho which I cannot recommend enough. Ran by a lovely Vietnamese family, their food is incredible and at such an amazing price. They have amazing vegetarian and vegan options, as well as Western favourites such as pizza and Mexican food, so to say there is something for everyone would be an understatement.
On the opposite end of the nightlife spectrum, comes Nguyen Hue Walking Street.

When you first step onto the promenade, it seems as if the whole city is there with you and the scene is like something out of a cheesy foreign film. You have the loved up teenagers, cuddling and kissing on their parked up scooters, the tiny children crazily running around every now and then freezing in awe of the bright lights and towering buildings above and the assemble of elderly people chatting amongst themselves on park benches. For a more humbling type of evening, this street is the hub for a taste of Saigon reality. A perfect ending to my first night in Ho Chi Minh.

Bright and early (if you can call 11am early), I headed to the Ben Thanh Market which was a 2 minute walk from my hostel. This place is a foodies paradise, all kinds of fruits and vegetables for sale, as well as food stalls with Vietnamese favourites, Pho, fried rice and noodle soups.
A piece of advice I got regarding finding places to eat was to pick the busiest looking spots, in this case that didn’t help me all that much as there were people eating in every nook and cranny of this place, so I took a seat at one of the MANY venders alongside hungry strangers and ordered myself a ‘Hue Beef Soup’ and a bottle of water, totalling to 75,000 Vietnamese dong = £2.50 BARGAIN!

Spoilt for choice and surrounded by all things noodle and rice related, the Ben Thanh Market was a great first stop before a busy day and with the endless options to choose from it could be a favourite you frequent more than once on your trip.

From there, we made the 10 min walking journey to the Notre Damn Cathedral, Ho Chi Minh Post Office and Book Street which are all in touching distance of each other. A nice collection of sights to see one afternoon but can all be seen and enjoyed within an hour or less, so don’t plan on spending your entire day here.

The magnificent Ho Chi Minh Post Office lived up to its grand reputation with its high, finely detailed walls and ceilings and the original artefacts still in place for tourists snap pictures with. I was a little disappointed to see that alongside the beautiful Vietnamese postcards and small intricate sculptures on sale, the other avenues of the building had been turned into your average market stalls selling cheap rubbish to tourists. Although I understand it’s a means of making a living but it debased the overall experience for me.

A street filled with bookshops you say? Surely not, we can’t be that lucky?
If you are a lover of the written word and an overall nerd for books old and new (I am guilty of both of these) then this is a stop you should add to your itinerary. Filled to its brim with English and Vietnamese classics, 100 year old books wrapped in plastic and indie reading cafes. When we visited, we were lucky enough to catch a group of children on a school trip to Book Street, giggling and laughing with school books in hand and a group of performers dressed up on stage.

A very busy first couple of days in Ho Chi Minh City, visiting all the colourful attractions and sights the city has to offer. Saigon was a beautiful start to my trip and I found it a great place to ease myself into Vietnamese culture.