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25 Things Women Should Know about Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam...

 

JourneyWoman, Sherry Ott last lived in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and is now continuing her nomadic lifestyle by traveling the world exploring far off places. She is the Co-founder of Briefcase to Backpack, offering career break inspiration and advice to Americans; and she also shares her own travel experiences via her website, Ottsworld.


The city with two names – Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) or Saigon? As women we can exhibit multiple personalities and I find Saigon to be the same. HCMC is the more progressive personality always moving forward towards the ‘western’ model. While Saigon is the alluring, sexy personality; reminding me of the old mystique of the Orient. HCMC is not only a mouthful, but it reminds me that progress is on the way; can you guess which name I prefer?

For the audacious woman traveler, Saigon holds many finds and experiences you won’t find anywhere else in the world. The fact that Saigon is a rapidly developing city means that it’s ever changing. One day your favorite café will be there, and the next day it won’t. No warning, just gone to make way for ‘progress’. It’s personality is sometimes gritty and hard-edged, and sometimes elegant and luxurious; it just depends which streets you walk down. For those Journeywomen who thrive on uncertainty, Saigon is worth a stop!

After spending a year living in this ever-changing city, I slowly evolved from tourist sites to expat insider tips. Since you are a JourneyWoman presumably simply passing through, I’ve tried to pick some of my favorite insider tips that you can accomplish on a short term stay.

 

Get to know the real Saigon...

To visit the grittier side of Saigon and see how the locals live, pass up all of those cyclo drivers that are ‘pitching’ you their tours in District 1, and get out to see the real Saigon with Mr. Binh.

Contact info: Nguyen Nam Binh (Ben)
Cyclo Leader
Mobile +84 0958760273
Email: nambinh53@yahoo.com.vn

Let me explain what a cyclo tour is; you sit in an old cyclo (3 wheeled bicycle contraption with a ‘bucket’ seat) and let a guy peddle you around the city. Mr. Binh and his buddies will take you on a one of a kind 2-hour cyclo tour of the lesser seen districts of Saigon, D5, D8. D10 – all for approximately $12USD. The tour will also provide you a first hand experience with the crazy Saigon motorbike traffic. It looks like chaos to the westerner, but there are ‘guidelines’ which everyone operates by. Having taken his tour multiple times, I can’t say enough good things about this cyclo experience. Mr. Binh is reachable by phone or text and speaks English well. Please note the standard disclaimer here: Going out into Vietnam traffic or crossing the street may seem unsafe, so please use your best judgment as you travel throughout Saigon.

 

For the food fanatics...

Looking for fresh, local, clean, budget eats – then grab some food at Wrap and Roll, a Vietnamese chain you’ll find all over the city. The air conditioning and clean atmosphere will be a great respite after the cyclo tour! Everyone does Pho, but Wrap and Roll serves up authentic spring rolls and salads from around Vietnam with a variety of sauces. The menu has pictures and is in English. It’s sort of like eating street food, but inside in a nice environment!

The French connection is alive and well in Saigon – namely in the form of food. Le Jardin (French bistro, 31 Thai Van Lung, D1), Au Parc (23 Han Thuyen Street, District 1), and La Camargue (191 Hai Ba Trung Street, District 3) are three of the favorites of expats and won’t disappoint. However, my favorite is a tiny family run bistro tucked away where no one will find it serving up amazing mussels and wine – Ty Coz located at 178/4 Pasteur. The atmosphere is simple, but the brothers who run it provide all the personality necessary!

One of the most surprising things about Vietnam is the extensive array of ethnic cuisines offered throughout the city. My favorite being Warda which dishes up Arabic food in a typical Vietnamese dingy alley but packed with middle eastern atmosphere. The juxtaposition of the two cultures will be fascinating to any traveler.

 

Some markets are better than others...

If you want to stay off the tourist trail, then be sure to skip Ben Thanh market where you’ll be assaulted by eager souvenir vendors and potential pick-pockets, and instead go to Cho Lon Market in District 5. It’s just as big, but it’s where the locals go to shop. You may not find your tourist souvenirs there, but you will see how the locals shop. Wander down the back alleys to see the specialized street markets such as the motorbike parts street or the temple street. This is a great place for photography; people are willing models if you ask first. P.S. If you have time, check out both these markets as they each have their own unique flavour.

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