VietnamHo Chi MinhAn Introduction to Ho Chi Minh City

An Introduction to Ho Chi Minh City

Most tourists traveling to Vietnam always add Ho Chi Minh City (region code: 028) to their bucket list. Travelers’ impressions when they come to the 300-year-old city are the abundance of delicious street foods and the millions of motorbikes zooming around the city. Here are some facts as an introduction to Ho Chi Minh City.

Geography – Introduction to Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon) is located at 10°10′ – 10°38’N and 106°22′ – 106°54’E in the southeastern part of Vietnam. It is enclosed by Ba Ria – Vung Tau and Dong Nai Provinces to the east, Tay Ninh, Binh Duong Provinces to the north, Long An and Tien Giang Provinces to the west.

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The length of the city from northwest to southeast is 150 km, while from west to east is 75 km. The city center is about 1,730 km to the south of Hanoi, 50 km to the west of the Eastern Sea (meet with the sea at Can Gio District).

The total area is 2,061.4 square km; the urban area is only about 1/3 of that of the suburban. The average height compared to the sea surface in the center area is about 5 meters, and in the northern suburbs is about 16 meters.

Check our guide on Ho Chi Minh District Map and Ho Chi Minh City Layout.

On hydrography, Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam has a wide network of rivers and canals, the most important rivers flowing through and near the city are the Saigon River and Dong Nai River (the central freshwater).

With its central position in Southeast Asia, Ho Chi Minh City is an important transport hub for overland routes, water routes, and air routes. It connects the provinces in Southern Vietnam and is an international port.

Population – Introduction to Ho Chi Minh City

Vietnam has a population of over 96 million people as of 2017, according to an estimate from The World Factbook, making it the top 20 of the most populous country in the world. The biggest city in Vietnam is Ho Chi Minh City, with about 8.3 million individuals, according to the statistics in 2016. The total population of Ho Chi Minh City accounts for approximately 9% of all citizens of Vietnam.

Weather – Introduction to Ho Chi Minh City

Located in the tropical monsoon climate near the equator, Ho Chi Minh City is characterized by high, low temperatures throughout the year with rainy and dry seasons. While the rainy season lasts from late April to October, the dry season lasts from November until early April.

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On average, there are about 160 – 270 sunshine hours per month in Ho Chi Minh City with an average temperature of 27 degrees Celsius (80 Fahrenheit). The temperature may reach 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) around noon in late April, but it can go down to nearly 14 degrees Celsius (57 Fahrenheit) during the morning hours in late December.

The average number of rainy days in Ho Chi Minh City is around 159 days. The recorded volume of rainfall is exceptionally high from June to September, with almost daily scattered showers.

In general, although Ho Chi Minh City is located in less directly affected areas of gale-force winds and typhoons, there are usually severe thunderstorms on a small scale from May to August. Learn more about the best time to go to Ho Chi Minh City.

History – Introduction to Ho Chi Minh City

The records of Ho Chi Minh City formation began in the early 17th century when a marriage between a Vietnamese Princess and the King of Cambodia strengthened Cambodia and Vietnam’s relation. King Chey Chettha II agreed with the idea of establishing a tax collection station with Nguyen Lord, and allowed the Vietnamese refugees fleeing the civil war in Vietnam to settle in Prey Nokor – a small fishing village of Khmer then. However, four decades later, the rapid increase of Vietnamese refugees, along with the weakness of the Cambodian Kingdom in the war with Thailand, made Prey Nokor become the Gia Dinh Citadel of Vietnam.

With the French in 1874, Gia Dinh was renamed Saigon; then, it became an important center with multiple functions: economic, military, port, and harbor. Since the city was influenced heavily by French culture during the colonial era, it was called “Paris in the Orient” at that time. When you visit, you can still witness many old colonial buildings, landmarks, schools, hospitals, and villas. Saigon and Cholon, once divided into two regions in 1864, were combined into Saigon – Cholon again in 1931. However, this region soon became a single city called Saigon in 1957.

After the Vietnamese took back their independence from the French thanks to the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954, Saigon was the capital of Southern Vietnam’s government for 20 years. On 30 April 1975, the war between the North and South of Vietnam formally ended (“Liberation of Saigon”). Upon establishing the unified Communist Socialist Republic of Vietnam, Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City in 1976, under the governance of the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee.

Culture – Introduction to Ho Chi Minh City

The Vietnamese community has 54 different ethnic groups. There are 50 out of 54 ethnic groups living in Ho Chi Minh City. The Kinh (also known as Viet) accounts for 89.9% of the total population. The second largest group is the Chinese, with approximately 9.8%. Apart from Vietnam’s ethnic-minority population, a minor number of Thai and Hmong people live in the mountainous regions, and under 0.1% of them contribute to Ho Chi Minh City’s population.

The religious practice in Ho Chi Minh City is quite diverse, including Mahayana, Theravada, folk religion, Catholicism, and a small percentage of Islam, Caodaism, Hoahaoism, and other faiths. Ancestor worship is a popular form of spirituality practiced by most of the population. Most residents are strongly influenced by either one of these traditional beliefs.

Food in Ho Chi Minh City

If you are a food lover, we promise you will not be disappointed when you set foot in Ho Chi Minh City. In addition to the world-famous Pho noodle soup and Goi Cuon, you must try these specialties listed below.

1. Com Tam (Broken Rice)

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Broken Rice is made from fractured rice grains and is usually served with grilled pork, fried egg, bi (shredded pork skin), and leafy greens. Some famous restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City serve this food, such as Ba Nghien (84 Dang Van Ngu, Phu Nhuan District) and Thuan Kieu Broken Rice, which has many branches all over the city.

2. Banh Xeo (Vietnamese Pancake)

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Banh Xeo is a savory pancake made of rice flour, turmeric powder, water, served with mustard leaves and lettuce leaves. The fragrant aroma of the cake shell interspersed with shrimps, quality meat, bean sprouts, and fatty green beans strongly attracts those who crave culinary culture in Ho Chi Minh City.

3. Banh Mi

Banh Mi is a quintessential Vietnamese dish you should try when traveling in Ho Chi Minh City. This dish includes the baguette sandwich and various stuff like bate, butter, cold cuts, heo quay (roasted pork belly), fried egg, xa xiu (Chinese barbecued pork or char siu), vegetables, and others.

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4. Banh Cuon (Steamed Rice Roll)

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Banh cuon is available almost everywhere in Ho Chi Minh City. The filling contains a mix of cooked ground pork, minced wood ear mushroom, and minced shallots rolled up in a thin and wide sheet of steamed rice batter.

5. Banh Trang Nuong

Banh trang nuong is a dish from Da Lat but is very popular in Ho Chi Minh City. It is rice paper topped with beaten egg, scallion, minced pork, and shrimp powder and grilled over charcoal. If you go around Turtle Lake (Ho Con Rua) in District 3 at night, you will find many rice paper snacks, including this Banh Trang Nuong.

Attractions – Introduction to Ho Chi Minh City

There are numerous attractions in Ho Chi Minh City, from historical and cultural to natural sites that represent different sides of Ho Chi Minh City.

1. The Museum of Vietnamese History

On the list of 11 museums, Ho Chi Minh City is first in the number of museums in Vietnam. The largest and oldest museum in the city is the Museum of Vietnamese History, which owns over 30,000 artifacts.

Address: 2 Nguyen Binh Khiem, Ben Nghe Ward, District 1
Opening hours: 8 AM – 11:30 AM and 1:30 PM -5 PM

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Vietnam History Museum in Ho Chi Minh City

2. Can Gio Forest

The Can Gio Biosphere Reserve in Can Gio District is a community of plant and animal species formed on the large delta areas of rivers, including Dong Nai River, Saigon, Vam Co Dong, and Vam Co Tay. UNESCO recognized this place as a biosphere reserve worldwide, with unique fauna and flora systems in the mangrove forest. Furthermore, the government has acknowledged this forest as a national tourist destination in Vietnam.

3. Cu Chi Tunnels

Another destination that attracts many tourists is Cu Chi Tunnels, one of the national historical monuments in Vietnam. The tunnels are an underground defense system in Cu Chi District, about 60 km northwest of Ho Chi Minh City. The tunnels reached 10 meters below ground and stretched more than 250 kilometers.

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Explore the secret tunnels
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Or have fun at the shooting range

4. Ben Thanh Market

Ben Thanh Market is a famous local market to both Vietnamese and international tourists. This lively market is a commercial place in Ho Chi Minh City and a landmark milestone in Vietnamese history.

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5. Notre Dame Cathedral

Notre Dame Cathedral is one of the famous French landmarks in Ho Chi Minh City. When you are here, do not miss the Saigon Central Post Office just across and Ho Chi Minh Book Street on Nguyen Van Binh.

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Notre Dame Cathedral
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Adjacent to Notre Dame Cathedral is the Central Post Office
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You can also stop by the Independence Palace for a quick visit

Check out more exciting things to do in Ho Chi Minh City:

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Transportation System in Ho Chi Minh City

Motorbikes are the most used vehicles in the city. However, like most tourists, you will find yourself choosing a taxi, walking, or using hired transportation to get around, as public transport is not entirely straightforward to navigate on your own like in other developed countries. When traveling around Ho Chi Minh City, you don’t need to worry about not finding a ride because there are many options, from public to private transport. Please exchange the currency into Vietnamese Dong and have a SIM card for booking a ride through an app.

1. Taxi

Taxis are likely the first choice when traveling anywhere. The reliable brands are Vinasun (the white ones), Mai Linh (the green ones), and Xanh SM (the blue ones)

2. Bus

Buses are the cheapest public transport in Ho Chi Minh City, costing VND 5,000 – 10,000 for a one-way trip. Please read our guide on the bus system in Ho Chi Minh City and how to take shuttle buses from Tan Son Nhat Airport to the city center.

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The bus system in Ho Chi Minh

3. Motorbike and Bicycle

There are two main types of motorbikes in Ho Chi Minh City, the motorbike taxi and self-drive motorbike for rent (note that local laws require a valid license or an internationally recognized permit).

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Ho Chi Minh City’s streets are packed with motorbikes

Another choice is to go on professional guided motorbike tours in Ho Chi Minh City, this way you don’t have to worry about driving, getting a license or zooming through traffic. When participating in any motorbike tour, you must be able to sit behind the driver comfortably.

Bicycles are available all over Vietnam, but we don’t recommend riding bicycles in Ho Chi Minh City due to traffic congestion.

4. Rickshaw

Many visitors do not think of this transportation when traveling to Ho Chi Minh City. The rickshaw (locally known as Xich lo) is a great way to enjoy the busy scenes of Ho Chi Minh City. As a precaution, read up on our scams in Ho Chi Minh City before you travel.

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5. Walk on foot

If your favorite way to travel around a city is by walking on foot, the experience in Ho Chi Minh City may be a little different. You must know that many motorbike riders won’t stop for you but instead keep going and make a big turn at your front or back to avoid you. To cross the streets in this heavy-traffic city, you will need skills to cross the streets and synchronize movements with the vehicles.

Is Ho Chi Minh City Safe?

The good news is, Yes!

Millions of visitors have always adored Ho Chi Minh for its enchanting sights and sounds, the hospitable people, and the ultimate safety for tourists. But one can never be too careful. Watch out for the common scams and annoyances in Ho Chi Minh.

Summary of An Introduction to Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City is one of the best places in Vietnam for tourists to experience a busy lifestyle as well as discover historical war stories.

When in Ho Chi Minh City, do not forget to enjoy the street foods and try out a motorbike guided tour, which is one of the MUST-DOs!

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