Here at Ahlan! Towers, we can’t get enough of Southeast Asia. We’ve partied in Bangkok, shopped in Kuala Lumpur, sunbathed in Bali, explored the ruins of Siem Reap and eaten street food in Singapore. Not to show off, but we’ve certainly seen and experienced our fair share of the region. So when we finally decided to tick Vietnam’s capital off our ASEAN list, we weren’t sure how it would compare to its thrilling neighbours.
Ho Chi Minh City, formerly (yet still affectionately) known as Saigon, blends traditional values with northern and western cultural features. Widely considered the Pearl of the Far East, it also features war relics from the devastating Vietnam War as well as shiny skyscrapers, elegant nightclubs, and extensive shopping malls against a stunning metropolis backdrop. Best of all, it’s green. Very green! Luscious green parks are dotted across the city, giving the concrete jungle a fresh feel to it (pretty much perfection, really).
And while it doesn’t have the extreme influx of tourists like nearby Thailand, tourism is certainly on the rise. That means more flights, more regularly, at more affordable prices. As a result, the city has become easily accessible from the Middle East, whether it’s for a weekend or merely a pit stop en route to your next destination.
In fact, thanks to travel app Wego, you can find the best prices on flights AND hotels within seconds. That’s right – you can plan, book and pay for your entire trip, according to your schedule and budget, all in one go. In our case, it left us with more time to plan our last minute power trip to Ho Chi Minh City.
Tour the famous Chu Chi Tunnels
Joining a half-day tour to Chu Chi Tunnels is a must! It lets you experience what it must have been like for soldiers who used an extensive network of tunnels to move around undetected by their enemies. Located 70km northwest of the city, the tour includes an informative movie, exhibits displaying a variety of weapons, followed by a guided tour of recreations of daily life for the Viet Cong hiding in the jungle. It makes for great Instagram moments, and you’ll also be able to crawl through a small section of the actual tunnels. But don’t stress, there are emergency exit points every 10 metres. INFO: +84 28 3794 8830
Party at PhamNgu Lao Street
Housing energetic street bars and nightclubs, affordable restaurants, live music venues, and a casual atmosphere, Pham Ngu Lao Street is a popular place for those looking to socialise with fun-loving locals. Whatever night of the week, there is always something going on in Pham Ngu Lao Street. Must-visits here include The View Rooftop Bar, Glow Skybar Saigon and Crazy Buffalo Nightclub.
Shop at local markets
Ho Chi Minh City’s weather, much like the rest of the region, can get pretty humid. Take advantage of the cooler morning temperatures by exploring local markets, where you’ll get a first-hand experience of the daily lives of the local people. Mostly set within the tourist-friendly Districts 1 and 5, markets such as Ben Thanh and Binh Tay open around 6am, with vendors selling fresh produce, household supplies, food items and handicrafts at affordable prices.
Explore the city on foot
The best way to see a city is on foot, hands down. One of the most popular tour options is the Saigon Free Walking Tours, which is managed by Hospitality & Tourism students from the nearby Hoa Sen University. If you’re looking to explore more outside District 1, the Oriental Saigon 1 Tour is conducted via scooter (VND 50,000 – Dhs8 – per person), where you get to visit popular sights in District 5 including Le Hong Phong Market and the Museum of Traditional Vietnamese Medicine. INFO: 8 Nguyen Van Trang Street, Ben Thanh Ward, +84 122 806 4730
Do a street food tour
One of our favourite experiences during our trip to Ho Chi Minh City was the walking street food tour. Not only do you get to eat and cook incredible street food, you also get to explore the city on foot. We opted for Street Food Man, otherwise known as Vinnie, who took us on a four-hour walking tour into Saigon’s street kitchens, markets and alleyways hiding the city’s best street food. For only USD$39 (Dhs143) we got to sample a variety of local cuisine, cook with the chefs and dine with the locals. It’s fun, informative and, as you can imagine, beyond delicious. It’s also pretty healthy thanks to all the fresh produce, so no need to feel guilty. INFO: For more info, visit streetfoodman.com, email email@example.com, +84 123 455 3085
HOW TO BOOK
Thanks to the Wego app and wego.co.ae, we managed to find affordable flights and accommodation at the click of a button. Aimed at travellers living in the Asia Pacific and Middle East regions, you’re guaranteed to get the best prices. While we generally prefer to book flights and hotels on a desktop, we opted to try the Wego app for a change. And we’re glad we did, because unlike many other apps, Wego is extremely user-friendly. The amount of flight options and prices were vast, and we were quickly able to find the perfect flight for the perfect price. Not to mention the wide variety of hotels on offer. Within minutes we were booked and ready to go.
INFO: Visit wego.co.ae or download the Wego app for free on all iOS and Android devices