Ho Chi Minh -- the largest city in Vietnam. Previously French Colony capital under the name of Saigon and later in history, the capital of the independent Republic of South Vietnam. You think Bangkok is crazy? Go to Ho Chi Minh and tell us what you think. They say ‘What a Saigon!’ in Eastern Europe when things get out of hand for a reason. Saigon is likely to be one of the most chaotic and disorganized places you’ll ever visit on your travels. With millions of motorbikes going in all directions, street vendors trying to sell you fake just about everything prepare yourself for a sensory overload that is so worth it!
Saigon should be at least a few days stopover for anyone visiting Vietnam. From the main city sights such as Ho Chi Minh City museum and the War Remnants Museum to outside city adventures visiting the Mekong Delta or Cu Chi Tunnels, you won’t ever be short of things to do.
There are many volunteering options available throughout Vietnam with Ha Noi and Saigon being the main cities and placements usually based in or around them. A lot of Vietnamese orphanages require help from anyone within the medical industry such as doctors, dentists, nurses, nutritionists etc. There are also options for English speaking teachers, carers or work within local NGOs is also available.
There are also placements available in the rural parts of Vietnam and could be anything from 2 weeks to 6 months or longer. There is more information on Volunteering in Vietnam onsite:
Whether you’re planning one term or semester or a whole year of study abroad, there are several options available in Vietnam’s biggest city. Together with education, you’ll get real SE Asian life experience, get to know locals, their history and culture. All is possible in a beautiful country of colors that is Vietnam.
Cost of Living in Ho Chi Minh
You will be a millionaire for once in Vietnam! Only $50 will get you over 1 million Vietnamese Dong. Cash points will give out up to 5 million. Guesthouses and small hotels will set you back around $15-20 per night for a double room with air con and a private bathroom. Do your research first and check reviews for best recommended places to stay.
Small bottle of water will cost you between 25 – 70 cents (remember the inflated prices for tourists!) Street food usually goes for around $2-3 a dish and if you want to eat in local restaurants or cafés, expect a bill an equivalent of around $8-10 for two. Drinks like beer and spirits are cheapest if you buy local brands, anything that Vietnam needs to import will be pretty much an equivalent of what you’d pay at home.
Some of the tourist sights like the Notre Dame Cathedral are free others will be accessible at a small fee. Trips to the Mekong Delta can be arranged for as little as $7-10 per person. Do your research and check with a few travel agents.
Must Do/Must See
- Bitexco Financial Tower and the Saigon Sky Deck: One of the most significant buildings in Saigon, inspired by the shape of Vietnam’s national flower – lotus. It is located in the heart of the financial district and its Sky Deck observation platform offers great views of the city.
- War Remnants Museum: If tanks, helicopters and fighter jets are your thing, then you must visit this museum. On a different note, several floors of the main museum building are full of photographic evidence of the Vietnamese war and some of the most disturbing exhibits must be jars filled with deformed foetuses affected by Agent Orange chemical weapon.
- Ho Chi Minh City Museum: This museum, near to the Saigon dock shows history and life of the Vietnamese revolutionary communist leader, a prime minister and president of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.
- Notre Dame Cathedral: Slightly different and smaller to the famous Paris site. This Catholic Church built by French towers over Ho Chi Minh City Centre. Good place to wander for a walk with a few bars and cafes around.
- Mekong Delta: One of the most exciting adventures Saigon is the gateway for. One or two day trips to the Mekong River Delta will have you exploring coconut plantations and coconut candy factories, local markets and crocodile farms. If you’re lucky you’ll also get to row a traditional Vietnamese boat down one of the narrow and winding canals. And for lunch… anything goes, from a giant elephant fish to crocodile steak. Whatever takes your fancy.
- Cu Chi Tunnels: Located north west of the city, Cu Chi Tunnels are part of an incredible network of underground tunnels underlying most of the country of Vietnam. They were used by Viet Cong guerillas as hiding spots, supply and communication routes during the Vietnamese war. Visiting the site will let you try crawling through small parts of the tunnel network yourself… Beware only for the brave and non claustrophobic out there!
Health and Safety in Ho Chi Minh
The standards of street food and drink are usually the biggest concern for travellers. It has improved significantly over the recent years and is usually safe. The biggest problem is when your try eating solely western style meals, which the locals are simply not used to cooking. More food poisoning cases come from western style spaghettis and burgers than local noodles or pho. Feel free to ask if the water used to make ice cubes was filtered and buy bottled water if in doubt.
Tropical diseases such as malaria are endemic mainly in rural Vietnam and not usually a problem in bigger cities like Ha Noi or Saigon. Always have sun cream and insect repellent with you.
There have been many safety warnings regarding not only Vietnam but also all other South East Asian countries but to be perfectly honest it is all about common sense! You wouldn’t wander around back alleys alone at night when you’re at home so why would you do it when traveling?
Pick-pocketing or motorcycle bag snatching cases have been heard of, so make sure you keep your belongings close. Avoid leaving your bags and backpacks alone on the beach and make sure that if provided you use your hotel room safe. If there isn’t one in your room you can usually arrange to deposit your valuables at a small charge at reception. Hostels and dorms provide lockers.
Tourist scamming practice is sadly still quite popular so beware of different options for tourist and locals, double menus in restaurants, rigged meters in taxis or any offers of being taken on a day trip by a random taxi or a motorcycle driver.
Contributed by Marta Napierala
Gap Year Programs in Ho Chi Minh City
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