Wild & welcoming, ‘Ho Chi Minh City’ is Vietnam’s free-market capital and gateway to the south. See the Top 7 Highlights, my suggested One-Day Itinerary and free Saigon maps.

Cholon laugher, SaigonWorth It? Definitely, which is good since it’s inescapable if you’re visiting Vietnam’s south.
What to Do Eat, stare and visit a few ‘Vietnam War’ relics and markets, perhaps a day trip to Cu Chi Tunnels
Best Time to Go October to March, but anytime’s fun (weather’s far better than Hanoi’s)
How Long? Two to three days at least
Gateway Saigon is the hub to south Vietnam, reached by air, or boat from Phnom Penh
Fact The communist government calls Saigon ‘Ho Chi Minh City,’ but I go with local usage – ‘Saigon’ – which you hear all over town

Buddha in SaigonNo where in Vietnam does old and new mash so loudly, messily – obviously – as Saigon, the country’s biggest city. Food is superb (and better than anything you’ve had back home), but best is just sitting and staring at Saigon’s manic pace. No subtlety required. Everything in the mix is for wide-eyed taking in – a whirling parade of dark-windowed cards nudging past squeaking wheels of cyclos, sandwich stands next to busy thoroughfares, women in pajamas and conical non la hats shuffling flip-flops into an mass of oncoming traffic, big-bellied guys lounging shirtless next to pig parts, freshly cut and sold two inches from the asphalt.

It may go without saying, Saigon’s not always pretty – though recent greening efforts have broken up the sea of concrete and electric wires – and many travelers move on after a couple days. Activity-wise, Saigon’s role in the Vietnam War is well known and many sights here cater to that memory – Reunification Palace is where the VC tanks crashed in on April 30, 1975; the War Remnants Museum makes a heartbreaking case against war in general; and the Cu Chi Tunnels, north of town, show how VC soldiers lived underground.

Read about my experiences of staring , of people’s expectations, Disney-styled District 11, and taking ping pong lessons during my research trip.