The trip revealed to me how Ho Chi Minh City’s role as Vietnam’s economic powerhouse has grown in leaps and bounds, plus its people’s unwavering commitment to succeed economically.
Read about ITE HCMC 2023 here.
This time around though, I took it easy so that I could study and understand more of what HCMC is all about at a slower pace, probably also due to age catching up with me sigh. Of course, neophytes should take the opportunity to make the most of their time in the city by ticking off the list of many famous landmarks and spots like the Reunification Palace, Saigon Central Post Office, Ben Thanh Market, 42 Nguyen Hue Cafes Apartment, and even Landmark 81, which massively changed the city’s skyline compared to when I first visited.
The city has grown exponentially. It has now even expanded to incorporate the new Thu Duc City – also known as the Eastern City – across the river, with infrastructure like a mass rapid transit line, highway and expressway aggressively being built to connect it to the rest of HCMC. With the burgeoning population of around 13 million, the city represents Vietnam’s dynamism and determination to become one of Asia’s economic hubs.
Renaissance Riverside Hotel Saigon
I had the chance to stay at the strategically located Renaissance Riverside Hotel Saigon in District 1, the very heart of HCMC, during the ITE 2023, which I think is one of the best lodgings for first timers due to its strategic location because I could conveniently walk to attractions like Nguyen Hue Walking Street, Ben Thanh Market, Saigon Opera House, and the National History Museum. Whether visiting HCMC for business or leisure, this five-star hotel is a dependable base complete with the expected modern conveniences and reliable services.
Renaissance Riverside Hotel Saigon presents comfortable hotel rooms and suites that feature indulgent bedding, high-speed Wi-Fi, and the signature panoramic view of Saigon River. Though the design of the rooms might remind you of the early 2000s, this property is remarkably well-maintained and provides everything the traveller needs. The hotel is even ideal for staycation. If you could, try snagging one of the Club Level rooms and suites grant exclusive Club privileges, making your stay even more rewarding.
Among the things I like about the hotel is having breakfast between 6:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. at the chic all-day food and beverage outlet named Viet Kitchen that has large windows facing east, allowing guests to look at the constant flow of traffic, pedestrians, and the river beyond with boats and cargo vessels cruising on it. You can readily witness how bustling HCMC truly is just by looking at the sheer volume of the incessant traffic, which is a veritable sign of an ever-growing economy.
Breakfast at Viet Kitchen is a relaxing affair, especially when it is also accompanied by uplifting music. Its buffet spread integrates vegetarian and Indian sections, on top of delectable seafood dishes, international fare, and Vietnamese favourites. To fully appreciate the space, do come early in the morning before the crowd builds and the sun shines too strongly.
For fast snacks and tapas, including refreshing beverages like delicious wines, handcrafted cocktails, and hot concoctions, guests can head to the European street café-inspired bistro-style R Bar, ensconced at one side of the hotel lobby and opens from 6:00 a.m. until 11:00 p.m. This is an ideal place for you to hold discussions or meetings, even people-watch, amidst upbeat atmosphere.
After a long day of meeting, work, or exploring the city, take a rejuvenating dip in the open-air rooftop pool on the 21st Floor, accessible daily from 6:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m. The hotel’s fitness centre is on Level 21 too and opens seven days a week, 24 hours a day. On that same floor, Renaissance Spa, which dispenses a blend of Eastern and Western spa therapies and wellness like massages, Ayurvedic treatment, body scrub, body wrap, eye treatment, facials, foot bath, manicure and pedicure, await.
Level 21 is where you can take in the view of some parts of District 1, considered as the best urban representation of contemporary HCMC. You can comfortably deduce HCMC as the city on the up based on the countless surrounding tall buildings and skyscrapers, besides realising that the city’s terrain is generally flat. This is also the place where Liquid Sky bar is located, affording you the dazzling view of the city’s skyline at night that is hard to beat as you imbibe your libation of choice, accompanied by fine bites and finger food.
Exploring Ho Chi Minh City
Read Gaya Travel Magazine’s first take on Ho Chi Minh City here on where to go and what to see here:
For Ho Chi Minh City first-timers, the following are some places worth considering:
- Chinatown – Stroll around this area in District 5 to observe how the city’s bustling Chinese community go about day-to-day. This is the popular place to purchase traditional Chinese medicine, especially at Binh Tay market where products like dried seafood, candies, apparels, and footwear are abound. Step into the Thien Hau (Goddess of the Sea) Temple – the oldest Chinese built structure in the area – on 710 Nguyen Trai Street to witness rituals and the deities worshipped by the devotees, including the St Francis Xavier Catholic Church that blends Gothic and Chinese elements.
Tip: When walking around Chinatown, or any other neighbourhood in HCMC, be sure to put on comfortable footwear, bring along a cap and umbrella in case it rains or when the heat from the blazing sun proves too much, and don’t forget bottled water.
- Reunification Palace – Constructed according to geomancy principles, this edifice formerly served as the South Vietnam government office. It is well-maintained and stays true to its 1960s mod style interiors, accentuated with Southern Vietnamese motifs and the ubiquitous Chinese character signifying longevity.
- Admire the French-influenced architecture of Saigon Central Post Office, Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon, and Ho Chi Minh City Opera House, all within walking distance. Check out the streetside cafes along the walk for iced coffee or other refreshing beverages.
- Navigate the streets of Ho Chi Minh City like a local but piloted by an experienced rider with Vespa Adventures’ Saigon After Dark package. This experience is a must because it offers travellers the chance to explore the streets of HCMC using the Vespa scooter! The price of the tour includes the Vespa rider service, a dinner by the roadside, and stops at selected hangout spots.
Tip: When crossing the busy traffic, be sure to walk very slowly so that the incoming traffic could anticipate your movement and swerve by accordingly.
Places to eat and drink in Ho Chi Minh City
- Home Saigon for the mix of delicious traditional Vietnamese dishes and modern cooking techniques served in a homely and stylish Art Deco-style villa.
- Propaganda to savour the restaurant’s popular fresh spring rolls and banh mi (Vietnamese sandwich) using home-baked bread.
- LaCaph not only has an espresso bar serving premium coffee but also hold presentation sessions for travellers to learn about how quality Vietnamese coffee is sourced from responsible farms and manufactured to meet the high standards.
Tip: Though you might fall in love with the aroma of Vietnamese coffee, remember that it might turn out to be stronger than what you are used to, so start first by sipping slowly and see how it affects you before chugging down the whole cup or glass.
- Plonk yourself in one of the trendy cafes housed in the Cafes Apartment adjacent to Nguyen Walking Street. My favourite is ‘%’ with its minimalistic, Zen interior and clean lines.
- Muslims who crave for Muslim food can head to Halal Saigon located right across the street from the Jamia Al-Musulman Masjid that is a short walk from Renaissance Riverside Saigon. Alternatively, Muslims can head to Nguyen Anh Ninh Street in Ben Thanh ward – also known as Halal Saigon Street – for more halal options.
Interact with the locals
When you have the chance, strike a conversation with a local, especially an educated Vietnamese youth. You are bound to notice the rising Vietnamese generation, as the generations before them, aspire to continuously better themselves, enhance their livelihood and quality of life. By simply looking at the quality of the next generation, comprising youths who are determined to improve themselves and their lot, it is not a mystery why Vietnam is a dynamic country on the way up. The education system in Vietnam must be doing something right in developing these bright youngsters into nation-builders.
Maybe that fortitude could be traced back to the preceding generations, who were themselves hardy and fiercely independent fighters struggling to free their nation from the clutches of colonialism. Such fighting spirit must have successfully been instilled from one generation to the next. It would be interesting to see how much further Vietnam could go in the coming decades towards becoming a developed, high-income nation, perhaps earlier than the year 2045 as anticipated by the Vietnamese government and the World Bank, making Vietnam, especially HCMC, fascinating for the world to keep a close watch…
Gaya Travel Magazine expresses gratitude towards Vietnam National Authority of Tourism, Ho Chi Minh Department of Tourism, and Wanderlust Tips for turning the writer’s trip to Vietnam into reality.
Filed in: vietnam