If you’re thinking of going to Vietnam, you might want to start with a visit to the country’s largest and most popular city, Ho Chi Minh City. Known by many other names throughout the centuries, it was last renamed in the 1970s to honor the country’s most important revolutionary figure.
As a traveler, however, there are other facts you should know that can definitely add some flavor and dimension to your engagement with this city. Some of them may even help you better enjoy your stay. Here are just five of the most important facts about Ho Chi Minh City that you should definitely know today.
The City is Still Sometimes Called Saigon
Over its long and rich history, the city has also gone by names such as Baigaur, Prey Nokor, and Gia Dinh. But one that it can’t seem to fully escape is its former name as the capital of the south: Saigon. Indeed, this name is still even used by some locals despite the city officially being known today as Ho Chi Minh City. This is especially true in places like District 1, which is the city’s downtown area or central urban district.
It Was a Strategic City During the War
As the capital of the now-defunct Republic of Vietnam (more commonly known simply as South Vietnam), the city formerly known as Saigon was a highly strategic base of operations during the Vietnam War. This means that the city has been a major population center even before the reunification. Functionally for you as a modern tourist, this means that searching for a place to stay is easy. Indeed, getting great accommodations is simply a quick online search away. To get good deals, however, try searching for hotels near Phan Xich Long Street—or as locals would search for it, “Khách Sạn Phan Xích Long.”
The City Still Shows Signs of French Influence
As the old capital of French Cochinchina, there has been a lot of French influence imparted throughout the city’s overall look and vibe. You can easily see this in the façade of many buildings, both old and new. In fact, some buildings used by the government are those from the colonial area. As just one example, the city’s Central Post Office was even designed by the renowned French architect Gustave Eiffel. Meanwhile, other structures that have some marked French design elements are the Independence Palace, the Municipal Theater, and even the City Hall.
It’s Highly Diverse—Especially When It Comes to Food
As with any former colony, the entirety of Vietnam is culturally eclectic. And as the former capital of the southern half of the country, Ho Chi Minh City’s unique culture shows up in more ways than just the people and the architecture. Indeed, there is no shortage of delicious street food that’s been inspired by its rich past. Some of the most important examples include the Vietnamese take on the French baguette sandwich, locally named the banh mi. Another good example would be the cao lau, a pork noodle dish which is similar to China’s Shanghai noodles. But if you’re up for something that is more distinctly Vietnamese, then go for some pho, a famous quintessential local dish composed of meat, broth, rice noodles, and herbs.
Ho Chi Minh City Runs on Cash
Once you’re already set on going to Ho Chi Minh City, one of the most important things you should know is that the city—and Vietnam by extension—runs primarily on cash. This means that your trusty credit card or NFC-enabled device may not be as convenient for payments. If you’re frequently going to head out to sample the city’s delicacies, make sure to have a lot of cash on you. In fact, it might be best to get your cash exchanged to the Vietnamese Dong as soon as possible.
With all of these pieces of information, you can now consider yourself better-prepared to take on one of Asia’s busiest cities. Knowing about Ho Chi Minh City’s rich history does more than make for great conversation fodder. It’ll also provide added context to help you further enjoy your vacation in one of Vietnam’s most popular tourist destinations.