Ho Chi Minh City
Vietnam’s largest city is home to eight million people and almost as many motorbikes - you’ll be mesmerised watching them stream through the streets, just as you’ll feel exhilarated exploring the city on the back of a two-wheeled taxi.
Despite its buzzing, beeping atmosphere, the former Saigon’s previous life as a French colony gives it a genteel, European air. Nowhere is this more evident than in its ornate colonial buildings - and of course, in its sensational cuisine.
Whether you’re relaxing roadside with a sweet Vietnamese coffee or biting into a crunchy bánh mì baguette, you’ll be tantalised by the vibrant collision of fresh Asian flavours and Gallic style.
The streets also boast a world of contrasts. Browse Ho Chi Minh City’s busy markets, selling crafts and textiles, shop for designer clothes at its skyscraper shopping malls, and grab dinner on the go at the many street food stalls filling the warm air with the alluring aroma of grilled meat.
Entertainment-wise, its a city that has embraced the new but still celebrates the old, a place where traditional performance coexist with modern bars and restaurants, as do historic museums and adrenaline-pumping fun-parks. If the pace gets all too much, simply retreat to its tranquil temples or use the city as a base to explore further afield: the fascinating Cu Chi Tunnels, the Mekong Delta’s "fruit bowl of Asia" in the south, or Dalat to the mountainous north.
Best time to go
The dry season from December to April, when the city is hot but humidity is moderate, is most people’s preferred time to visit. Even during the May to December rainy season you’ll rarely experience prolonged downpours. The Lunar New Year, which falls between late January and mid February sees many shops closed and air travel fully booked as Vietnamese people travel home.
How much will it cost
Vietnam is a travel bargain. Accommodation, food, drink and travel are cheap by world standards, and even tickets to well-known attractions won’t drain your wallet. Souvenir shoppers and bargain hunters will have a ball in Ho Chi Minh City’s markets.
Ho Chi Minh City has many hospitals and clinics catering to foreign visitors and expats, with high standards and modern equipment. Make sure have comprehensive insurance cover in case of accidents or serious illness. No vaccinations are required. Drink plenty of water if you’re out and about in the heat of the day.
Vietnam offers a visa on arrival to New Zealand citizens but you’ll have to apply online before you leave. You’ll be issued with an approval letter (make sure the details are accurate), which you present to immigration on arrival.