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Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City? The first used to be the capital of the French colony and the latter - the former state of South Vietnam until the end of the war in 1975. Yet the locals still lovingly call it Saigon. Upon arrival, you’ll immediately be plunged into a lively street atmosphere, cadenced by over 3 million motorcycles, racing along sidewalks dotted with colourful fruit stalls. Ho Chi Minh did not escape the war but it’s now a rapidly growing city. The nation’s economic heart has embarked onto important urban and education developments. Some 50 universities and colleges attract over 300,000 students! You will also find dozens of supermarket chains, luxury shopping malls and modern fashion centres. But Ho Chi Minh is also a city with a rich past! Heavily influenced by the French in terms of culture and style in the past, there are still elegant boulevards and historic colonial buildings.
The best way to see Saigon and its districts is on foot. Most major tourist attractions are in District 1. There you’ll find the History Museum or the famous Ben Thanh Market. You will also find find many beautiful temples and gorgeous architectural buildings in the city. To truly understand the meaning of the temples and buildings around, visit the Museum of History which houses 2, 000 years of Vietnam’s history. Stroll around the city and discover the smaller lovely districts to find your own favourite.
The colonial influence of the French is still very much apparent. On the local side, the Vietnamese dishes are made with fresh vegetables and meat. The seafood is also abundant and excellent. For a fast and efficient lunch break, try the Pho, the typical beef noodle soup! One of the best places to taste the authentic and cheap local food is Thi Sach street (two blocks behind the National Theatre) lined with many small restaurants which are packed nightly.
Ho Chi Minh City is very intense at night. You will find dozens of featured bars and pubs, wine and cocktail bars or backpackers’ bars. District 1 is the best place to stay when the sun goes down, especially around Hai Ba Trung and Dong Khoi. In Saigon, you can have fun and dance to the latest sounds all night long! Like the bars, the best nightclubs are in District 1. They usually have a cover charge and not any particular dressing code to get in. Go as you are.
Welcome to paradise for shoppers! And those who like haggling will get endless pleasure here! Most of the time items without a price sticker can be bought for about two thirds the price initially quoted. You will find plenty of shops with beautiful handicrafts but there is also a lot of tourist junk. Lacquer items are found around District 1. Boxes, vases or rosewood bowls make wonderful gifts! Celadon Green (51 Ton That Thiep, District 1) is one of the best shops for such items. Jewellery, amber, ceramics, antiques, silk and clothes are found in Dong Khai Le Thanh Ton areas. Le Loi Street is home to specialised shops for all kinds of war surplus and hardware items. At the corner with Nguyen Hue is the Tax Department Store with a good supermarket on level 2. Silk and fashion are major draws for shoppers. Khaisilk (107 Dong Khoi, Disctrict 1) has superb creations in silk from Vietnam’s most respected manufacturers. There are also affordable tailors for custom made shirts in just three days for less than ten US dollars! You’ll find most of them in District 1. Nha May Cuong (59 Ly Tu Truong or 247 Le Thanh Ton), or Albert Thanh at 22 Vo Van Tan Street (District 3) have also been recommended as very good by travellers. Those who look for a more westernized style of shopping may head to Diamond Plaza (34 Le Duan St), Saigon’s premier department store. Saigontourist is another huge department store to satisfy all the shopping and entertainment demands of domestic and foreign customers (35 bis Le Thanh Ton St).
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