As the largest city in Vietnam and the former capital of the Republic of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh, formerly known as Saigon, is a bustling urban city that is beginning to grow quickly now, 30 years removed from the war.
Seemingly always on the move, Ho Chi Minh is Vietnam’s much louder and energetic brother compared to Hanoi, Vietnam’s current capital. People are constantly on the move from eating to drinking to night clubbing to shopping. Whether it’s riding around on a moped in the busy streets, learning about Ho Chi Minh’s history or stumbling upon a random alleyway only to find the best banh mi sandwiches you’ve ever tasted, Ho Chi Minh won't fail to disappoint.
Photo Credits: archer10 (Dennis).
As a city that seems to be constantly moving (it’s been said a lot, but it’s too accurate not to overstate), Ho Chi Minh offers so many different things to do and see. Rest assured, you will not run out of things to do during your studies in Ho Chi Minh. Here are a few suggestions:
- A O Show – Not an O show (grammar nerds don’t worry), the A and the O roughly translate to the phonetics, ahhh and ohhh. It’s a 60-minute show that captures the spirit and essence of Vietnamese people and culture. Taking place at a 114-year old Opera House, the A O show uses a contemporary circus in which an amalgamation of acrobatics, athleticism and dance combine to form a great live show. The ticket box is open everyday from 9am to 6pm, and is located at the Opera House Saigon, No. 7 Cong Truong Lam Son, District 1.
- MegaStar Cineplex – Think you’re going to miss all your movies from back home? Think again! The MegaStar Cineplex is Vietnam’s leading world-class venue and present Hollywood and international releases. Though you’ll probably want to experience other things about Vietnam, this definitely warrants a visit if you find yourself bored on a Sunday afternoon. You can find these Cineplexes in most shopping areas.
- Dai Nam Tourist Park – Opened in November of 2008, it is one of Vietnam’s newest tourist attractions. It boasts the Dai Nam Van Hien Temple, an entertainment area, zoo, western cuisine restaurants, shopping, hotels, and the largest manmade mountain region in Vietnam. Certainly a whole day’s worth, the Dai Nam Tourist Park caters to both tourists and locals, so you will get the whole package by just visiting this park. Entry is 100,000 VND (roughly 5 dollars) for adults and 50,000 VND for children. It is a good idea to note that the attractions inside the park cost money as well, but the price is already very reasonable, so be sure to do as much as you can!
- War Remnants Museum – Here’s your obligatory museum visit for Vietnam. It essentially details the American phase of the Vietnam War with various military hardware, photos and exhibits. This one may hit you a bit hard, but it is worth a visit, and since you’ll be studying here for a while, it will be good to understand what the Vietnamese people went through. There will probably be amputees around the museum attempting to sell their wares, so just a word of forewarning. Entry is a very reasonable 15,000 VND.
- Twenty-three September Park – If you want to really visit Vietnamese culture, visit this park as it is a place locals head to after work to unwind. Whether it’s playing sports or aerobics, the events are very popular and should entertain you for a good amount of time. There’s an open area near the Ben Thanh market where university students may approach you to practice their English as well as simply talk. This is a good way to meet Vietnamese students. However, it is a good idea to keep your guard up, as (and this is most places you study abroad) some locals will want to take advantage of you through exploiting money out of you.
Culture Shock and Support
Vietnam is quite a ways away from the US, so you’ll find yourself going through entirely new and different experiences throughout your study abroad. However, this also means that you may feel some culture shock in the first 2 weeks or so. As such, be sure to pick a problem that caters to American students, so that you can be well informed of the cultural differences and avoid making a faux pas.
However, remember that you have your fellow students! If you’re missing the long hours of studying and the obnoxiously loud people back in the US, well, then you’re weird. On a more serious note, talk to your fellow peers! If you’re experiencing some homesickness, there is every chance that they are as well. Don’t be embarrassed if you need to talk to someone about home, it is completely normal and who knows, you may become even closer friends!
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Vietnam is on the Vietnam Dong, and the conversion rate is about 20,000 Dong for 1 US dollar. As such, Vietnam is extremely student friendly in terms of money. You won’t have to budget much and at the end of your trip, you may find yourself surprised by how much extra money you have. Spend accordingly. There are ATMs all over Vietnam, so drawing cash won’t be a problem. Try to draw money inside the banks for safety reasons.
Bus is probably the easiest way to get around. They’re bright green and travel 150 routes throughout the city. Buses average around 4,000 to 8,000 Dong per ride (less than 50 cents), so it’s very affordable. Air conditioning, music and sometimes television are offered on the buses, so you’ll have a nice time on the bus as well. The locals are generally more than happy to help, but English is sparse, so it may be a bit difficult to converse.
Be sure you haggle your prices. The vendors will try to mark up their prices 50-100% on average, so you can definitely get a better deal if you stand firm on your price.
Contributed by Albert Ji
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