Commonly known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City is a bundle of chaos, tradition and modernism thrown together with no instructions. Ruled by motorbikes, you will be charmed by the friendliness of locals and satisfied with the variety and price of the street food. The City is changing rapidly and malls, design shops and international restaurant chains are lapping up prime time real estate. A family orientated country, whose welcoming smiles make you feel at home.
With over 10 million motorbikes on the road, you really need to have your wits about you when exploring this noisy, hot and energetic City. It is unbelievably chaotic to an outsider. Bikes parked on pavements, a family of four without helmets driving the wrong way down the street, bikes turning when the traffic lights are on red….BUT there is a rhythm and a flow that you need to embrace if you want to explore all this place has to offer.
BOOKING YOUR TRIP
BEST TIME TO VISIT?
December to March is classed as the dry season and therefore the best time to book flights to Ho Chi Minh City. The cool but mostly dry winter lasts from November to April when temperatures average 17-22°C with the coldest months being January – March. Summer lasts from May to October when it is hot and humid and the region experiences its highest rainfall.
Reservations for Tet, the lunar New Year, along with flights to Ho Chi Ming City, must be made far in advance. Most businesses close for the holiday, including museums and shops, as it is the most celebrated event in Vietnam. A variety of events take place to celebrate the occasion through grand and impressive displays such as fireworks and street processions. It is tradition in Vietnam for the locals to dress in their finest clothing and visit relatives and friends. The holiday lasts for a week and falls between January 19 and February 20.
HOW LONG IS THE FLIGHT?
Average flight from London to Ho Chi Minh City: 13hrs
Vietnam is 6 hours ahead of UK time.
Currently, November is the cheapest month to fly to Vietnam. The cheapest flights range from £ 359 to £ 500. June, July and August are the most popular months and flights can jump up to £ 700pp.
The official currency of Vietnam is the Vietnamese dong (VND). Because the dong is tied to the US dollar, you can use your money at most hotels and big shops. Exchange rates vary, so be sure to check prior to your trip.The Bank of England has an extensive list that is updated every day. If you intend on using your credit charge or debit card, you may incur charges for payments and cash withdrawals. We often use the Post Office for our exchange or use ATM’s in our destinations.
BOOKING YOUR FLIGHT
We always use Skyscanner to compare prices. Booking 49 days in advance of your planned departure date, can often give you the best price for your flight. The later you leave it, the more money you will pay. Outbound, Friday is the cheapest day to fly on average and Monday is the most expensive. On your return, the best deals are generally found on Tuesday, with Friday being the most expensive.
With a British passport, you can visit Vietnam for a maximum of 15 days for free and without a visa. If you wish to stay for longer (upto 30 days), you will need to apply for a e-visa. The e-Visa takes three working days to process, costs 25 USD, and is a single-entry visa, valid for 30 days. You can enter Vietnam on an e-Visa at any of the country’s eight international airports, including Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Danang, as well as 14 land crossings and seven seaports. If you are planning a multiple-entry visit or a stay of more than 30 days, you will want to apply for a visa on arrival. The cost is 50 USD. For British citizens, you can find out more information via the UK GOV website.
Accommodation in Vietnam varies. From hotels, to hostels and B&B. Home stays are very popular and cheap. You stay with a family who have a few rooms for rent (check whether breakfast is included) and they normally will have a laundry service operated by the grandmother of the family. Hotels at the cheaper end of the scale, are usually targeted towards Vietnamese travellers. And Vietnamese people like to travel in groups, often very big groups! This is great news for families, as you can all stay in one room. Triple rooms are easy to find (either two or three queen-sized beds or a queen-sized and a twin).
Ho Chi Minh City is considered by many visitors to have the world’s worst traffic! The city itself has very clean and modern taxis, which you simply hail down. Motorcycle taxis can also be hailed (not recommended with a baby). They run off of an hourly rate which you can negotiate. Tour operators or travel agents can help you arrange for a car and driver to take you around for the day.
Under Vietnamese law, the driver and the front-seat passenger of a car should wear a seatbelt. There is no requirement for back seat passengers to wear a seatbelt. That means the middle and back seat seatbelts are often missing or broken. It’s just one more reason to leave the bulky car seat at home. Because it’s absolutely useless if there’s nothing to attach it to. You will have to hold your baby whilst in the vehicle. Don’t be frightened, the taxis drive very slowly and due to traffic you can’t get anywhere in a hurry.
Taxis may not be the cheapest way of getting places, but they’re not the most expensive either. They’re usually substantially cheaper than hiring a private car, which is what you’ll get if you ask any tour desk for information about cars. If you find a taxi driver with reasonable English, get his phone number so you can call and ask for a quote on the next leg of travel. There are several fake taxi companies that prey on foreigners, so make sure your taxi is either Vinasun (white with red and green trim) or Mai Linh (green). You can travel by bus, but the buses in Vietnam are far less comfortable than the trains. Even the sleeper buses are cramped, and you have to arrange yourself around your bags/pram etc because there are no compartments for carry-on baggage.
There is only one train in Vietnam, the Reunification Express, which links Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. It takes 33 hours to travel between the two cities by train, which is a long long time compared to the two-hour Hanoi-Ho Chi Minh City flight. However, the train is much cheaper and you can stop at most of the big-name tourist places as well as many little-known places. It is baby friendly and you can cut up the journey and find accommodation along the route.
THINGS TO DO
CU CHI TUNNELS
Used by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War, the Cu Chi Tunnels are a network of underground tunnels stretching more than 124 miles (200km). You can take your pram or/and baby carrier and choose how far into the tunnels you wish to go. The tunnels are huge and there is plenty of room. We recommend the guided tour (all tour guides speak English) so you can learn more about the trap doors and how the tunnels were used. Morning tours are better to avoid being out in peak midday heat. However, they are popular so book in advance. There is a pick up point and the bus is air conditioned and spacious. You can fit a pram on that folds down and then hold your baby on your lap.
RECOMMENDED TOUR: Cu Chi Tunnels
Situated in the centre of the City, 500,000 visitors a year come to see how war has shaped modern Vietnam. Worried you might not be able to find the building? Keep an eye out for the American Huey helicopter parked next to an M48 Patton tank! The first thing you’ll notice are the large pieces of authentic military hardware outside the main building. As the northern troops pushed south, toward the end of the war, the ARVN — the southern army — fled in droves, leaving behind billions of dollars of American equipment in their wake. With that new hardware, as well as what the Americans jettisoned when Saigon finally fell, the government in Hanoi had plenty of display pieces to choose from.
Some displays within the museum are very raw and you may deem them unsuitable for small children (the 4th floor in particular, Agent Orange Room). It is a very informative museum and they do not hold back. There is a lift for your stroller and children under 2 go free. There are two cafes within the grounds and there is a nappy change facility. Purchase tickets upon arrival (0.66USD). The museum is a popular tourist attraction so we recommend arriving early.
ARRANGE YOUR VISIT: War Remnants Museum
Bitexco Financial Tower is the tallest building in Ho Chi Minh. Standing at an impressive height 262 meters tall. Based on the shape of the Vietnamese national flower, the lotus bud, the building reflects growth in the country’s economy. From the observation deck on the 49th floor, you can enoy 360 degree views of Ho Chi Minh and the Saigon River. On the 50th floor is the bar and food on the 4th floor, however both are pricey and average. Early morning is the quietest and at night time presents some spectacular views. Children under 3 are free.
EXPERIENCE HO CHI MINH FROM ABOVE: Saigon Skydeck
CENTRAL POST OFFICE
The Ho Chi Minh City Post Office, or the Saigon Central Post Office is a post office in the downtown Ho Chi Minh City, near Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica, the city’s cathedral. The building was constructed when Vietnam was part of French Indochina in the late 19th century. The walls and ceiling are decorated with historic maps of South Vietnam, Saigon and Cholon.
The tiled floor is impressive and it is popular with tourists. Send a postcard to a relative or purchase a unique gift from one of the shops situated in the wings of the post office. Suitable for a stroller inside, a few steps you have to overcome to get inside the building. Plenty of seating areas to sit and feed if you need to. Free of charge to enter.
Ben Thanh Market is the most famous among all markets in Vietnam. For many tourists the crowded, smelly and incessantly loud square is a right of passage. The market has four main entrances and 12 gates. The deeper you submerge yourself into the maze of the market, the better deals you will find. Stall holders expect you to barter and can be rather fierce in the selling techniques. Any food stall in the back of the market is worth eating at, as international travel magazines have recognized Ben Thanh as one of the world’s top street food destinations.
From designer handbags, jewellery, childrens clothes, footware, backpacks – anything you can imagine you will find under one roof. They even have catalogues for you to look through, as they have extra stock stored towards the back of the market. The pathways are very narrow and there is no air conditioning. You can take your pram through (we did) but expect a lot of attention from stall holders which some parents may find uncomfortable. If it starts getting too much, there a few western cafes situated at every exit of the market. Take a break, enjoy some air con before re-entering the maze.
GOLDEN DRAGON WATER PUPPET THEATRE
An authentic puppet show, where Vietnamese puppeteers keep tradition alive. Originally it was performed for rural communities as a source of entertainment. The puppeteers deliver their show in waist deep water, sharing legends and stories from their region. This fun, cheap and family friendly show is a fantastic way for young children to experience traditional Vietnamese culture. The show’s is performed using puppets on bamboo rods, on the surface of a water pool. They depict the story of life in the Vietnamese countryside, accompanied by a traditional Vietnamese. Get there early to secure seats near the front. Prams will be given space on the side and you can either hold your baby or keep your baby in their pram.
EXPERIENCE FRONT ROW SEATS: VIP Golden Dragon Tickets
THE INDEPENDENCE PALACE
The 1960s architecture of this government building is spectacular. Stroll through the abandoned corridors and explore rooms where history was made. The first Communist tanks to enter Saigon arrived on 30 April 1975 and the building has remained the same since then. Made famous when journalists captured the dramatic moment a soldier, ran into the building and hung a VC flag from a balcony. The city fell in 1975 and the building pays testament to the style and taste from that time.
HO CHI MINH SQUARES
A wide open space surrounded by French colonial style buildings, that comes alive at night. The square is the home the statue of Uncle Ho, erected to honour the 100th birthday of City Hall. The hall is a symbol of the Ho Chi Minh City People’s committee and is especially beautiful around dusk due to the lighting. No City is complete without stare of the art malls and there a now a handful, which reflects the economic growth of Vietnam. Along with some luxury hotel brands and fashion houses. Take a stroll and let the children run free. Restaurants and cafes litter the streets surrounding the square, or pluck up your courage to purchase street food from one of the hundred street vendors. Free of charge. Visit in the day and at night for two completely different experiences.
With its stilted villages and scenic farms, the Mekong Delta offers a unique experience. Not pram friendly, so you will need to use your baby carrier and be comfortable going on a little boat/canoe. An air conditioned minibus will collect you from your accommodation and drive the 2 hour trip to the river. After boarding a small rowing boat, you will pass rice paddies, fish cages and stilted houses. Purchase goods from the floating market and if your tour includes it, park up and take a look inside one of the infamous houses.
RECOMMENDED TOUR: Mekong Delta Day Tour With Lunch