Every Friday I wonder what to do on the upcoming weekend. I love lists of activities in Saigon, but I couldn’t find one that fits my needs. What do you do as a writer?
Correct. Assemble your own list of things to do in Ho Chi Minh City.
And some things your really don’t want to do.
Do: Participate in a live roleplay adventure!
At the moment, there are two major players for live roleplay in Saigon: The Escape Hunt and Ubiquest. In the first one, you are locked up in a room and have to find the key that unlocks the door to freedom. This challenging game was invented by a psychologist in Thailand and spread over the world since. Ubiquest sends you out on the streets of Saigon to solve a murder mystery. Our team participated and had lots of fun discovering Saigon’s Chinatown, Cholon. For more information about live roleplaying games in Ho Chi Minh City, check out our review here:
This is one of the things that I find most amazing during the day. Just walk into one of these alleys and check out where they lead and what they reveal. You may discover the best places for shopping or having a coffee, and have something to impress your friends with. I can lead you into a labyrinth of “hems” and show you the best pineapple tarts in Ho Chi Minh City. Nearby there is a seafood kitchen where an old granny prepares the most delicious shellfish dishes I have eaten so far. All that happens in an alleyway you usually would just walk past.
Did I just say you should discover hidden alleyways? Yes, you should, during bright daylight. At night however, these places tend to be more than just dodgy. Especially in and around the backpacker’s area in Pham Ngu Lao, you should stay away from dark places after midnight. Gangsters roam the alleys and you don’t want to get into a scuffle. Most of them have shanks or knives, some even machetes.
Do: Have a dress or suit tailored for you!
Many tourists come to Hong Kong or Thailand to have suits made for them, but ordering these items is also popular in Ho Chi Minh City. As I extensively described right here in this article: “How to find a good tailor in Ho Chi MInh City”, you first go to An Dong, or another fabric market to pick your favorite fabric and then you pick a good tailor. They measure you from top to bottom and after a few days and a fitting session, your order is ready.
Do: Visit one of the big traditional markets
A market stroll is always a good idea. When have you last been to Binh Tay Market, the central market of Cholon, which nowadays forms Ho Chi Minh City’s chinatown? Delve into the colorful market environment in search for dried shrimp, gastronomy packages of chopsticks and bulk loads of new year decorations. For everybody who wants to avoid the stress of the touristy Ben Thanh Market in the center of Saigon, Binh Tay offers their heart’s desires.
Many people believe that the food sold by international fast food chains is cleaner than street food. I am challenging that on account of several people I have met who worked for those places in the past and came up with stories as scary as any other food scandal. I prefer an honest banh mi over one of these overpriced McWhoppers any day.
And the other reason is: Why did you come to Vietnam in the first place? Try the local food, it’s delicious! And if you are concerned about the cleanliness in those places, get a fresh banh mi at Bier Garden on Dong Khoi street, they even have an open kitchen and their food is delicious.
Do: A day tour to the Mekong delta!
The legendary Mekong delta is just one jump away and waiting to be discovered by daring travellers from all over the world! Just jump into the next travel agency and book a tour. If you are a penny pincher, you may end up with the standard four-island tour, which is nice but a little too touristy for most people’s taste. That’s why I undertook the private tour to Cai Lay & Cai Be I reviewed. The trinkets and souvenirs you can take from there are mostly based on coconuts, so prepare for coconut oil, coconut soap and coconut statuettes. But also honey and rice paper are quite famous things to bring from the Mekong.
Don’t: Drink cheap street coffee!
Apparently Vietnamese palates got so used to not tasting actual coffee that some of the coffee sold for VND 10,000 on the street doesn’t contain a single coffee bean. On August 26th 2012, Thanh Nien News published an article about fake coffee that is made in Saigon. One of these factories, Thong Phat, produces around 1.5 metric tonnes of fake coffee per day from soy, corn and a concoction of partially unidentified chemicals the reporters labeled “life-threatening”. Vietnam Breaking News posted an article in 2014, as another fake coffee producer got busted by the authorities. The inspectors found just soybeans, corn and chemicals. Apparently they did not find any “coffee money” as well, otherwise the workshop would probably continue production, quite like Thong Phat company, that received the rating “good” after a food safety inspection, while the Saigon Department of Health issued a "failing to meet requirements" to the company.
District 1 offers everything you need and the Districts 2 and 7 are the prime living areas for expats and wealthier Vietnamese families. But if you want to experience real Saigon, go to District 12, Bình Thạnh or District 10! Tourists are rare there, so don’t expect people to speak English, but see it as a great opportunity to discover what living in Saigon really means.
One especially cool thing to do on the weekend is to book a pavilion in Van Thanh Park and have a barbecue with friends there.
Don’t: Believe everything I tell you!
Just be adventurous and try stuff you want to experience. You want to live an interesting life after all, and just one street coffee won’t kill you. Avoid that stuff when you are pregnant though! If you are a little street smart and pay attention to your surroundings, you can have a great time in Ho Chi Minh City.
If the opportunities I mentioned are not suitable for your taste, you may want to check out: