Ho Chi Minh City (Phu My), Vietnam
The largest city in Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City (formerly and still informally known as Saigon) thrums with electric energy. The city’s 10 million residents are the drivers of the nation’s economy, and they also enjoy good food and nightlife. Large cruise ships dock at Phu My Port, about a 90-minute drive from the city center, while smaller ships use the Port of Saigon.
What We Love
French Colonial Architecture: Colonialism was a terrible thing for Vietnam as a nation, but it did leave behind some classically beautiful European-style buildings.
The War Remnants Museum: While modern Vietnam appears free of scars (and full of inhabitants who are too young to remember the war), it’s worthwhile for visitors to acknowledge that dark time in history here.
Best Known For
Amazing Food: Fragrant with mint and cilantro, Vietnamese food is a celebration of subtle flavors. One of France’s most positive contributions was the baguette, which is now the basis for the deservedly popular banh mi sandwiches.
Pagodas: Whatever your belief system, these peaceful religious temples are places for quiet contemplation and architectural admiration. Standouts are the Jade Emperor Pagoda — filled with statues of phantasmagorical Taoist divinities — and Khanh Van Nam Vien Pagoda, which is said to be the city’s only pure Taoist temple.
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Who It's Best For
Foodies: Whether you’re after a bowl of street-side pho, a makeshift feast from the food stalls at Nha Hang Ngon, or a gourmet meal at an upscale restaurant, Ho Chi Minh City is unlikely to disappoint.
Shopaholics: While many of the markets peddle cheap trinkets to tourists, there are treasures to be found if you dig a little deeper. Consider hiring a guide who can help you seek out luxurious silk textiles, custom-made ceramics, lacquered bamboo, vintage propaganda posters, and miniature helicopters made from soda cans.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
Careful Crossing the Street: Seemingly all of Saigon’s residents drive motorbikes, and they ignore traffic signs. You can’t wait for traffic to stop before you cross a street; you just have to wade through, Frogger-style, and hope that everyone will work around you. If you move predictably and try to make eye contact, they should.
Visa Fees Can Be a Mystery: Travel to Vietnam got easier once the country began issuing visas upon arrival, but it still can be perplexing, as there are separate visa fees and visa processing fees. The U.S. Department of State’s website warns that processing fees can vary among applicants and issuing agencies, so be ready to roll with it.
Ann Abel is a Brooklyn-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has also written for Departures.