Long considered the commercial engine room of Vietnam and never more so than today, Ho Chi Minh City (still widely known as Saigon) sums up perfectly the dynamics of modern-day Vietnam. As the paddy is concreted over and the factories dropped in, this region has and continues to go through incredible degrees of change and growth. The population tops nine million. Nowhere in the country is the division between the haves and have-nots as stark as here.
Yet these changes have created an atmosphere that appeals to many foreigners, particularly those who find Hanoi a little on the staid side. Saigon has a certain Bangkokian flavour to it — both in its risque nightlife and growing number of highrises — but it remains a unique destination with a wealth of attractions. From war-era museums and palaces to ancient smokey pagodas, it’ll keep even the most experienced traveller satisfied and on their toes.
Further afield, there’s the Cao Dai temple and the tunnels of Cu Chi (widened for chunky Westerners) out to the west towards the Cambodian frontier. Out towards the sea sits the R&R destination of Vung Tau — today it’s a shadow of its former self, but if you’re after a quick dollop of sun and sea, you could do a lot worse.
Even further, a couple of hundred kilometres off shore in fact, sits the Con Dao Island group, one of Vietnam’s best kept secrets. You’ll need to fly to get there. Is it worth the splurge? YES.
Regardless of your interest, be it exploring the many museums and pagodas, crawling through Viet Cong tunnels or just taking in the crazy whirl of motorbikes, this area of Vietnam has a touch of something for everyone.