On September 6, 2012Libby Lowe answered the question:The best side trip from Ho Chi Minh City is a trek to Siem Reap, Cambodia, a short one-hour flight away. If you’re not in a hurry to get there, traveling by bus can take anywhere from 10 to 15 hours, and you can also get there by boat from various points on the Mekong Delta. No matter how you travel, you’ll need to obtain a visa either before arriving in Cambodia or once you reach the border — if you choose the latter option, be sure you have extra passport photos on hand.
Once you’re there, our Forbes Travel Guide editors recommend staying at the Golden Banana Boutique Hotel & Resort, which is located just across the river from the main part of town and is an easy five-minute walk from the city center. You’ll enjoy a much quieter stay here than you would at a hotel near busy Pub Street. The Golden Banana has luxe two-floor villas with private balconies and a host of other wonderful amenities such as free Wi-Fi, satellite television and an outdoor hammock. The landscaping here is beautiful, breakfasts are filling and a dip in the large saltwater pool is a superb way to cool down after a long day exploring the ancient temples of Angkor Wat.
The Angkor Archaeological Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with magnificent remains of the Khmer Empire, which ruled many parts of Southeast Asia from the 9th to 15th centuries. Plan to spend at least two days exploring the temples — renting a bike is a great way to cover lots of ground — and be sure to visit Ta Prohm, the temple featured in the 2001 action film Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. If biking around in the sweltering heat doesn’t sound appealing, we recommend hiring a guide who’ll pick you up at your hotel, take you to the most fascinating sites and tell you the history behind the temples, carvings and statues.
Two of our favorite places to eat in Siem Reap are Khmer Kitchen and Old House; we highly recommend the Khmer fish curry, a local specialty bursting with flavor. After dinner, head to Miss Wong Cocktail Bar to sip lemongrass and rose-petal martinis under glowing red lanterns. There are plenty of other bars and restaurants lining Pub Street, too, many of which have large outdoor spaces ideal for prime people watching.
On September 6, 2012Libby Lowe answered the question:If you’re interesting in taking a day trip to the Mekong Delta from Ho Chi Minh City — and it’s definitely worth it — our Forbes Travel Guide editors suggest heading to District 2 early in the morning and joining a guided one-day bus tour. There are many different companies available, but we loved the tour offered by Saigontourist.
The tour starts with a 45-minute bus ride and is led by a local English-speaking guide. After this short transit you’ll hop on a boat and start your journey down one of the most beautiful areas of the country, making stops along the way to see how rice paper is made, eat lunch, watch how coconuts go from shell to candy wrapper, ride a donkey-pulled cart through a local village and listen to traditional music. You’ll also transfer to a smaller boat powered by oars and get a closer look at life on the Delta; at each stop along the way you’ll have the opportunity to buy everything from hand-crafted utensils to homemade candy.
Aside from the scenery, the highlight of our tour was lunch. Along with tourists from Malaysia, Hong Kong and Australia we dined on a whole deep-fried fish and learned how to make fresh, delicious spring rolls stuffed with fresh herbs and rice noodles.
On September 6, 2012Libby Lowe answered the question:The best food experiences in Ho Chi Minh City will give you a taste of locally available herbs, meats, seafood, handmade rice noodles and fragrant curries, with many dishes reflecting the distinct culinary influence of the various foreign countries that at one point occupied Vietnam. Don’t leave without finding out why these are our Forbes Travel Guide editors’ favorite food experiences in the bustling Ho Chi Minh City:
1. Banh mi sandwich. You’ll get a taste of French colonial history wrapped up in Vietnam’s banh mi sandwich — served on baguettes (as good as the ones you’ll find on Paris streets) and packed with a variety of fillings such as soft cheese spread, fresh herbs, pickled veggies, meats, pate and hot sauce, banh mi are a cheap street food staple available at casual restaurants and street carts throughout the city.
2. Pho. Pho is a traditional Vietnamese soup often served for breakfast that’s available in all corners of Ho Chi Minh City. Some ingredients vary, but you can usually expect a rich broth spiced with star anise, ginger, onions, cloves, fish sauce and sometimes other ingredients such as bone marrow or chicken stock. Rice noodles, sprouts, fried garlic, meat, fresh cilantro, basil, lime and hot sauce are among the items you might add to the base — many places serve you the broth and noodles and let you choose the rest of the ingredients to suit your taste.
3. Rolls. Fried or fresh, rolls are a good start to any meal in Ho Chi Minh City as well as a great mid-afternoon snack while you’re on the go. Fresh summer rolls are filled with rice noodles, carrots, shrimp, tofu and fresh herbs wrapped in rice paper, while the fried spring rolls are usually filled with vegetables, meat, fish and noodles. Both are often served with fish sauce.
4. Fresh fish. Vietnam is known for its fresh seafood, so don’t miss the chance to try a fish curry, fried or grilled calamari, shrimp stir fry or fried whole fish.
5. Curry. Curries in Vietnam are less spicy than the ones you’ll find in Thailand or India, but they’re still packed with flavor and well worth seeking out. Curry is generally more popular in Ho Chi Minh City and southern parts of the country where there has been more of an Indian influence.
On September 6, 2012Libby Lowe answered the question:You’ll find some of Vietnam’s most happening nightlife in Ho Chi Minh City, where one of the best ways to take it all in and enjoy the city’s youthful energy is to visit a few of the many beautiful rooftop bars.
Our Forbes Travel Guide editors suggest starting at the Rex Hotel’s large Rooftop Garden, where you can enjoy snacks, cocktails and live music. While you’re in the area check out the spectacular views from the rooftop Saigon Saigon Bar at the Caravelle Hotel, then finish your tour of Ho Chi Minh City’s classic District 1 bars by heading to Hotel Continental Saigon’s first-floor Starry Nite Bar for a beer and free billiards.
If you’re looking to mingle with the locals, check out the music scene at Sax N’ Art Jazz Club, which hosts live music nightly and is a regular stomping ground of Tran Manh Tuan, one of the best-known jazz musicians in the country.
On September 6, 2012Libby Lowe answered the question:If you’re squeezed for time and only have one day to see Ho Chi Minh City, our Forbes Travel Guide editors feel it’s fairly easy to hit many of the highlights without feeling too rushed.
Start your day by visiting the two most important Vietnam War sites in the city. The viewable rooms at Reunification Palace, which served as the headquarters of the South Vietnamese army, still look remarkably — and eerily — similar to how they did when North Vietnamese tanks charged through the front gates, seized the palace and effectively brought the war to an end in 1975. A visit to the War Remnants Museum, which provides a compelling view into the communist regime’s side of the story through a series of sometimes jarring exhibits, is a somber but compulsory stop on any trip to Ho Chi Minh City.
After leaving the museum, take a short 15-minute walk to see the impressive Notre Dame Cathedral and to pick up some postcards at the adjacent (and beautiful) Central Post Office. There are a number of cafés and restaurants in this area where you can grab lunch, but keep your eyes peeled for street food vendors making fresh banh mi sandwiches — there’s usually one parked near the post office.
Flag down a taxi — or motorbike taxi, if you’re feeling adventurous — and head to Ben Thanh Market, the city’s famous, centrally located market where you can stock up on all sorts of housewares, clothing, fashion accessories, fabrics, jewelry, Vietnamese coffee and much, much more. This is the place to put your bargaining skills to the test: Vendors have been known to start the initial asking price as much as 50 percent higher than what they’d be happy to accept. Bargain with a smile and a sense of humor, and perhaps most importantly, settle on prices that both you and the vendor are happy with. Plan on spending an hour or two here, then refuel with a hot bowl of pho at nearby restaurant Pho 2000.
Drop your bags back at your hotel and relax for a bit before taking off for sunset cocktails at one of the city’s best rooftop bars — opt for either the Rex Hotel’s Rooftop Garden or Caravelle Hotel’s Saigon Saigon Bar to visit one of the city’s longtime institutions, or hi the stylish Chill Skybar if you’re in the mood for something a bit trendier. Wrap up your whirlwind day sightseeing with a feast of authentic Vietnamese cuisine at one of the courtyard tables at the sleek and excellent Quan An Ngon.
On September 6, 2012Libby Lowe answered the question:Though you’ll find plenty of high-end shopping opportunities around busy Dong Khoi Street in Ho Chi Minh City, our Forbes Travel Guide editors recommend shopping at the labyrinthine Ben Thanh Market, which is located in the heart of the city in District 1.
Though some of the shops surrounding the main market have fixed prices, inside you can bargain for just about anything that’s for sale. There is a ton of stuff here: lacquered bamboo boxes, beautiful hand-woven fabrics, cheap t-shirts and soccer jerseys, handbags, backpacks, spices, Vietnamese coffee — the longer you browse, the more surprises you’ll find. After you’re done shopping, refuel with snacks and a cold drink at one of the many superb restaurants or street food stalls that surround the market, or make like former president Bill Clinton once did and head to nearby Pho 2000 for a simple, satisfying bowl of authentic pho.
On September 6, 2012Libby Lowe answered the question:Ho Chi Minh City offers a mix of activities for kids, ranging from Vietnamese cultural immersion to familiar Western-style fun. Here are our Forbes Travel Guide editors’ picks for some of the best kid-friendly activities in Vietnam’s modern metropolis:
1. Get wet at Dam Sen Water Park. Take a break from the Ho Chi Minh City heat at this massive outdoor water park that features rope swings, a wave pool and a variety of water slides, including the 390-foot-long Tornado. The children’s pool area and the lazy river are ideal for younger kids.
2. Visit the Mekong Delta. A day trip down into the delta is a great way to introduce kids to the rich culture of Vietnam. Kid-friendly highlights of most organized tours include boat trips, rides in horse-drawn carts, a visit to a candy factory and the chance to hold a giant python.
3. Play at Dai Nam Park. Located about 25 miles outside the city center, Dai Nam is well worth the short trek, particularly if you’ve got kids in tow. You can easily spend a full day here biking between impressive temples, cooling off in a water park and walking through a safari-like zoo that houses white tigers, hippos and all sorts of birds and reptiles. You’ll also find a mall and movie theater at Dai Nam Park, and can stay overnight at the onsite Dai Nam Great Wall Hotel.
4. Explore Giac Lam Pagoda. Built in the late 18th century and filled with countless religious statues and figurines, Giac Lam is one of the oldest pagodas in the city and provides for an eye-opening experience sure to leave a lasting impression on kids of all ages. If you ask nicely (and perhaps offer a small tip, too), the amiable monks here will likely be happy to pose for a picture with your little ones.
5. Browse Ben Thanh Market. Finally, treat the kids to some unforgettable souvenir shopping at Ho Chi Minh City’s most popular market, where you can browse everything from traditional Vietnamese clothing and cheap t-shirts to toys, jewelry, flowers, candies, dried fruits and much more.
On September 6, 2012Libby Lowe answered the question:Hit the highlights of Vietnam’s largest metropolis with our Forbes Travel Guide editors’ picks for the best things to see and do in Ho Chi Minh City:
1. Meander through Reunification Palace. This spot is one of the two most important attractions in Ho Chi Minh City that is tied to the Vietnam War, which effectively came to an end when the North Vietnamese stormed the front gates of the palace in 1975. Many of the rooms here more or less look the same as they did back then, which makes for both an accurate and eerie visit.
2. Visit the War Remnants Museum. Formerly known as The House for Displaying War Crimes of American Imperialism and the Puppet Government [of South Vietnam], this government-run museum tells the story of the war from the Communist regime’s perspective. You’ll see protest photos from around the world, weaponry and a sad, shocking exhibit about the long-term impact of Agent Orange on the country and its people. A visit here is an emotional experience and an impactful way to learn about another side of the war story.
3. Shop Ben Thanh Market. A sprawling maze of shops and stalls packed with lacquered wooden items, clothing, antiques, fabrics, handbags, tea, coffee, this market is undoubtedly the best place in the city to stock up on souvenirs. Be prepared to do some bargaining — prices will decrease as you increase the number of items you buy from the same vendor.
4. Explore the Central Post Office. Located next to the impressive Notre Dame Cathedral, the still-functioning Central Post Office is one of the more underrated sights in Ho Chi Minh City and one of our favorite places to pick up, fill out and mail postcards to friends and family back home. The high, vaulted ceilings and architecture are gorgeous, and there are some great finds (and deals) to be found at the souvenir shops.
5. Trek to the Mekong Delta. Guided one-day tours are probably the easiest way to see these heavily canopied waterways winding though small villages. If you take a tour from Ho Chi Minh City you’ll see how locals turn coconuts into candy, bowls and utensils, listen to traditional music and see what life is like in these picturesque farming and fishing villages nestled along the river.