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  • Writer's pictureJaslynn Wong

A Beginners' Guide to HCMC 🇻🇳☕️

Bưu điện, or Central Post Office in HCM

First time going to Vietnam, specifically Ho Chi Minh City? Don’t worry, here are some must-have tips for your trip to HCMC! These will be especially useful if you plan to go off the beaten track instead of staying in District One.

I personally went to several districts during my trip to HCMC! Most attractions like Skydeck, 4Ps etc are located in the city centre, making it super accessible!

In this article, we’ll focus on useful tips to move around Vietnam and make your overall experience less stressful!

Here are the tips!

Using Papago is truly a life saver!

  • Opt to learn some basic Vietnamese phrases and use PAPAGO when stuck!

Vietnam is a predominantly non-English-speaking country. If you stay in District One, you might be able to get by with just English, however for other districts further in it might be a struggle.

Here are some useful phrases I found myself using while in HCMC:

  • Cái này bao nhiêu tiền? (How much is this?)

  • Nhà về sinh ở đâu? (Where is the toilet?)

  • Xin lỗi (sorry)

  • Cảm ơn (Thank you!)

  • Tôi là người Singapore (I am from Singapore)

  • Xin lỗi, tôi không hiếu (Sorry, I don’t understand)

Another useful tip I have is to download PAPAGO! If you’re not confident in your Vietnamese (like me) you can simply type what you want and it translates for you, you can simply show the translation to the person, which would likely reduce much confusion.

The exchange rate for YouTrip in Vietnam is one of the best rates you can get (not sponsored)

  • Save the cash for roadside stalls, and use REVOLUT or YOUTRIP whenever possible!

I realised that my money was insufficient for my first trip to HCMC as my friends and I mainly ate in restaurants and food stalls.

While restaurant food is safer, the REALLY good food is the roadside stalls or family-owned shophouses. If possible, try to eat at those (of course do ensure that it’s clean too!)

My favourite road stalls were at District 5 (The same street as Corgi Tea) and right outside Cho Ben Thanh Market. The night stores usually start opening at 10 pm to 12 am, so it’s definitely worth it to drop by for some supper.

  • Air BNBs are cheaper…but…

As a broke student, I was immediately drawn to the fact that I could save a lot of money by staying in Air BNBs. However, as something my friends and I realised quite early on, the cleanliness left much to be desired. It was quite dusty and had several cockroaches popping out of the drainage.

My suggestion is to find a 3-star hotel (and above!) that is located near a reputable landmark like Ben Thanh Market. This makes it more convenient and much safer than an Airbnb located in a dark alleyway.

  • Do your research across multiple online platforms before going! (Google Maps, Facebook)

HCMC has several home-based businesses and eateries that do NOT update their Google Maps very often.

For example, there was this doughnut shop that I really liked that I wanted to try, I realised upon reaching that it was closed even though Google Maps had stated it was “open”.

  • The Notre Dame Cathedral in HCM is also closed for renovation! (last checked: 9/10/2023)

  • Grab everywhere! Or learn to ride a bike 🛵

When in HCMC, you might be asked to hop onto a taxi with a price that doesn’t seem so bad. However, there are a lot of scam taxi prices(metre jumping) in VN that target tourists, therefore it’s best for you to simply Grab around. The price for Grab is fixed, and you can select your destination, which saves you the stress of trying to explain to the driver (most of the time an uncle who can’t speak much English) where you wish to go.

If you prefer to bike around HCMC (I’m referring to a scooter or a motorbike, please do NOT ride a normal bike in HCM’s traffic) then it’s truly an eye-opening experience, but it’s definitely only for the brave ones 👀

  • Buy yourself a bouquet! 💐

Flowers in HCMC are relatively cheap and affordable, especially in places outside of District One, take a trip down to Ho Thi Ky Flower Market and buy yourself a bouquet for your Bitexco Skytower trip.

  • Have fun bargaining!

I understand that it might be slightly stressful for us Singaporeans to bargain, as the only bargaining we do is on Carousell. However, Vietnamese people do welcome bargaining (to a reasonable degree).

Do bargain for a cheaper price when stocking up on Vietnamese coffee!

  • Be careful of fake branded goods.

Ben Thanh Market is a prime sport for fake branded goods, so do be careful when buying items from there.

  • Check out some local Vietnamese streetwear brands.

I really enjoyed heading to The New Playground which hosts a lot of trendy streetwear. However, some of the clothing can be quite pricey ($20+ per shirt) the material of the shirt is really soft and good quality. So I personally feel like you get what you pay for! Some of my favourite brands are Missout, Libé, and Levents 👚

Cơm Tấm Mộc, a very popular Com Tam place situated in HCM, this whole plate of food costs around $8 SGD in VN, when it usually costs $20+ in SG!

While I do enjoy eating street food most of the time in HCMC, I would like to say that just because it’s a restaurant doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad place or not authentic. Your best bet is to read reviews of the place before going.

For example, one of my favourite restaurants is Com Tam Moc. Another place that I think is a must-go is definitely 4Ps! They have several outlets scattered around HCMC.

Saigon Ơi, a cafe in Cafe Apartments, is a whole building full of cafes. Nau Nau, an authentic Vietnamese perfume brand located in Saigon Ơi.

  • Pack some charcoal tablets just in case…

While street food in Vietnam is delicious, it is truly not for everyone. One tip is to consume more yoghurt and purchase a pack of charcoal tablets for emergencies. For safety, I also buy mineral water from supermarkets to drink instead of drinking in stores/from the tap.

💯 My MUST GOs for HCM! 💯

  1. 4PS (any outlet, do remember to book a table beforehand, especially if you’re going during the weekends!)

  2. Bitexco Skytower (very nice birds-eye view of the city! Come at around 6.30/7 on a non-rainy day to catch the sunset 🌅)

  3. Cơm tấm mộc (my favourite restaurant in HCM, definitely worth a visit!)

  4. The New Playground (4-cut studio, VN Local streetwear Brands)

  5. District 5 (the street of Corgi Tea - has a lot of roadside stores with very delicious and affordable food!)

  6. Trùng Nguyễn Legend Coffee ( a very famous and popular coffee brand among locals and tourists, a bit more expensive than other coffee Brands)

  7. Cafe Apartments (really pretty place to take photos and sit and chill with your cup of coffee, get a book from the bookstore downstairs then head up to relax!)

  8. BEST PHO 🍜: Phở Miến gà Kỳ Đống (most famously known for their Chicken Pho)

Mì quảng, a noodle dish I ate at a shophouse along District 5, a district with several street stores and lots of delicious food!

Hopefully, these tips prove useful for your trip to Vietnam! Don’t forget: when in Rome, do as the Romans do. When in Vietnam do as the locals do - drink more coffee! ☕️

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