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Vietnam Travel Guide

Following the fall of Saigon in 1975, Saigon was "officially" renamed Ho Chi Minh City. However the old Saigon name is still used by both Vietnamese and foreigners, especially when referring to the most central part of the city to which most tourists flock.

Buy

Vietnamese arts and crafts, or mass-produced resin knock-offs thereof, are sold by dozens of shops around the central tourist district. The best, most expensive items can be mostly found on Dong Khoi or the immediate side streets. The goods tend to get progressively simpler and cheaper as you move west toward Ben Than Market (though the best wood-carving shop is a stall on the back side of Ben Thanh). A few shops have authentic woven silk textiles from Sapa and the north. Lacquered paintings, plates, bowls, etc. are quite striking and unique to Vietnam. Vietnamese propaganda posters can be very impressive and offer a taste of history.

When buying keep in mind that is very useful to have local currency - bargaining in dollars will likely make it more difficult to get the same price, and paying with US dollars instead of dong, while often possible, will leave you minus a few percent from rounding (as of 2013, US$1 is widely accepted as 20,000 dong, while in fact the exchange rate for the last few years has fluctuated around 21,000). Be advised that banks and formal exchange businesses will provide you with a decent rate, especially when compared with agencies like Statravel on the main Vui Ban street who will offer much lower rates. Goldsmith shops will also change money at decent rates, though as always it is better to know the going rate than to trust in luck.

Eat

You're spoiled for choice in Saigon, which offers the country's largest variety of Vietnamese and international food. Bargains are getting harder to find, however, and restaurant prices have been rising at up to 30% per year due to a combination of higher food prices, rising wages, and soaring real estate costs. Land in the city centre now sells for around US$16,000 per square meter, so even a modest-sized restaurant sits on real estate worth more than US$1 million. Authentic local food at bargain prices is one of the glories of Vietnam, but it's getting harder to find in Saigon as the city becomes ever more upscale and cosmopolitan.

The local food shows influences from French colonial times - bakeries have fresh and excellent baguettes, which they will fill with cheese (typically of the "la vache qui rit" or "laughing cow" brand), potted meat, ham, and onions, or any combination thereof, cheaply. Beef is used in various dishes - whether in any of the many variations of pho, or in a regional specialty such as "bun bo hue" or Hue beef soup. Be sure to try, aside from pho, dishes such as the above-mentioned Hue beef soup, or "banh xeo" aka. Vietnamese omelettes, consisting of a delicious filling of your choice (various options included bamboo shoots and enoki mushrooms, along with meat, prawns, or both) in a crispy outer crepe-like casing.

Local food at bargain prices is very easy to find in Saigon. Banh Mi Thit (Pork sandwiches) can be had for 13,000-15,000 dong. Com tam, a plate of rice with grilled pork (customisable with different types of meat) and a bit of vegetables is 18,000 dong. (May 2011). If you want a wide variety of street food you need to try another district than Sài Gòn, district 5 is good or district 3 and up will get better and cheaper. As Hanoi, street food in Saigon becomes a culture cuisine of this city, you can go around by motos, see the local life and enjoy great street food.

Bag Snatching

It become common that people on a motorbike try to snatach your bag which is loose on your shoulder and drive away.

Dont take too much valuables with you and better put your money in your trouser pockets. If you carry along a camera, then be sure that it is tightly strapped to you at all times. Camera- and bag-snatching are particularly common in traffic: off the passengers of the cyclos

Scams

Be aware that scam artists, reminiscent of Nigerian email scams, are operating in the streets of Ho Chi Minh. A person will strike up a friendly conversation claiming they've either seen you at the airport or some other tourist place where they work. Usually they'll be with other family members who will join the conversation very naturally and once they find out where you're from they'll mention that another family member is moving to a city in your country. You will be invited over for food at their house to help console a worried grandmother or to give advise to their family member. Once you arrive at the house however the family member is not there, or the grandmother has suddenly fallen ill and had to go to the hospital. You'll be presented with various business opportunities, legal or not, or asked for financial support for the suddenly sick grandmother.

A common scam in Ho Chi Minh City is the so-called "Poker Scam". A well-dressed gentleman may approach you (seems to be of Filipino nationality) and strike up a conversation. He will make a connection with your home city by telling you his sister is studying there. Eventually he will try to get you back to his house for dinner where he'll try to involve you in a poker game that you will LOSE and be coerced into paying back. Many people have lost money this way. Be extremely careful about who you trust.

Get to know your notes. The 500'000 dong note ($25) is a similar color to the 20'000 dong note ($1). The 200'000 ($10) also looks similar to 10'000 ($0.50). For those unacquainted with these notes all of the zeros can be confusing. A trick that some people try to play on you is to quickly swap your 500 or 200K for a 20 or 10k note and then point to the number of zeros showing you that what you paid wasn't enough. They will then keep your original note as well as take additional money off of you. Don't let your money out of your sight when you pay, especially if you are new to the country and have been drinking (they can spot both things very quickly).

Taxis will notoriously try to overcharge you. A taxi ride from the Airport to District one backpacker area shouldn't be more than $7 - $10. After you come from the international terminal outside, go left to the taxi area. Only use Vinasun or Mai Linh. Always confirm they are using a meter. Keep your luggage next to you. You can buy a pre-paid taxi voucher to district 1 for $10 which is a bit more than the metered fare but helps you avoid confrontations. Don't over pay on taxis. if the meter says 45.00 it means 45'000 dong and not 450'000 dong. A 10 minute taxi ride is usually around 70'000 dong.

Hotel scams are very common, even in the mid-range price level US$~20-70. The hotel will remind you once that you should place your valuables in the room safe or the hotel safe. Be sure that hotel staff cleaning may steal it faster than you can think since they can get into your room any time, and they will use the chance. Lock up everything that is more or less valuable. Some robberies have been known to happen in the middle of the night, while guests are sleeping. It would be wise to do your research.

Keywords

, Travel, Tips, Ho, Chi, Minh, city, (Saigon),
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