The Gia Dinh area (the historic name for what is now Ho Chi Minh city region) has a vast land area and a lot of food, so people like living in luxury and care little about saving. People come from different areas, and each family has its own practices. The land is near the sun and climate is hot, so people respect faithfulness. Saigon has a southern location, so there are many determined and courageous people who respect faithfulness and despise wealth. Saigon is both a metropolis and an international port with a tendency of openness. One of the factors in creating the Saigonese people is the geographical environment of Saigon. The natural environment of Saigon has strongly influenced the lifestyle and the character of a Saigonese. To some extent, Saigonese and Southerners are not very different in their character from people in other main centers. But a study of Saigonese shows that the natural, social and historical conditions of Saigon area have crafted people with distinctive characteristics.
HCMC lies 10.5 degree north of the equator, a mere 5-10 metres above sea level. It is 1730km south of Vietnam’s capital named Hanoi and 50km from the Eastern Sea. Saigon River is the largest river (106 km. long) Flowing through the city center and acting as an important route for commerce.
The city has two seasons: rain (May-November) and dry (December-April). It does not have winter.
Average temperature: 26-28 C- Monthly sunshine hours: 160-270- Rainfall: 1,979mm on average- Humidity: 80% averageArea: 2090 km2Administration: HCMC is Vietnam’s largest city with 24 urban and suburban districts.
Population: 8.2 million (estimated 2008)
Ho Chi Minh City – The historical milestones
In 1698 Sai Gon – Ho Chi Minh City today – was founded by the Nguyen dynasty in what was back then a desolate area, Gia Dinh, populated by a few ethnic minorities, mostly Khmer. The Kinh move in here from the center and north of Vietnam and tamed the wild land.
In 1859 The French captured Saigon. In 1961, they made it the capital of their colony, Cochinchina (Southern Vietnam), by which time it bears the honorific, the Pearl of the Far East. The French built some wide boulevards and buildings in Saigon in the image of Paris and other cities. A sizeable number of the locals were also converted to Catholicism.
1930- 1945: Inspired by the Communist Party of Vietnam, various strikes and demonstrations broke out, contributing to the success of the August Revolution and ultimately independence.
During 1954- 1975 American took the place of France in the South and estimated a puppet government headed by Ngo Dinh Diem who was aiming to vivisect Vietnam. Saigon became the capital of Southern Vietnam. But, together with the rest of the country, the Saigonese fought for freedom. The Americans were forced to sign the Paris Agreement which calls for a cease-fire and total withdrawal of US combat forces in Vietnam. Two years later, Saigon and the Southern provinces were liberated on 30 April 1975.
In 1976 Saigon became Ho Chi Minh City. When the government opened the door to foreign businesses, Saigon rapidly grew into an economic nerve center.
During French times, Saigon port grew rapidly. Therefore the city economy grew as well, only behind Singapore and Hong Kong. After the Americans came, Saigon turned capitalist with a vengeance though production activities were ignored. The appearance of US soldiers also caused havoc with traditional values. After the South was liberated, the city and its surrounding areas faced critical moments, for instance, the socio-economic crisis of 1980. But today, Ho Chi Minh City is an economic magnet for workers from outside, adding to both its population and culture. The dynamism of its people has turned the city into Vietnam’s economic tiger.
Major ethnic minorities: Kinh, Khmer, Hoa (ethnic Chinese), Cham, Indian… Religious beliefs: Ancestor worship is the most prevalent practice like in the rest of Vietnam. People also worship some deities whom believed to protect them from evil. Major religions: Buddhism, Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam, Cao Daism and the Hoa Hao sect.
115: Emergency Aid
116: Directory Enquiries
1080: Information Line
Available at hotels and internet cafes around the city for about VND6,000 per hour and VND1,000 per A4 sheet for printing. Besides, Wifi is available in most coffee shops for free.
Vietnam uses GSM network and has mobile phone networks like Vinaphone, Mobilephone, S-phone and Viettel. Prepaid cards worth VND10,000 – 20,000 – 50,000 - 100,000 – 200,000 – 300,000 and 500,000 are available in all bookshops, mobile phone shops, post offices, etc. Around the city, you can use phone card services with a VND100,000 card being valid for 30days; VND200,000 card for 70 days calling/receiving and 10 days receiving; VND300,000 card for 115 days calling/receiving and 10 days receiving; and VND500,000 card for 215 days. Calls cost around VND1400/block of 30 seconds and VND350/message. Vindaily or Mobidaily services are available at VND2000/day + VND500/message or VND50/block of 30 seconds.
In addition to normal IDD service, there are 171, 177 or 178 services. To use this service, simply dial one of these codes first, then dial the number you wish to call. This helps to save about $0.6 – 0.63 per minute to all countries. Public phones accept phone cards only; yellow or green cards for domestic and international calls can be purchased at the post office and bookshops.
English, French, Chinese, Japanese, German, Korean… are spoken in many hotels. Tourist guides in HCMC can speak these languages fluently. However, English is the most popular foreign language here.
The Vietnam currency is dong (VND). It is printed in denominations of 200, 500, 1000, 2000, 5000, 10.000, 20000, 50.000.
Traveler cheques can be exchanged only at foreign trade banks or foreign exchange counters at international airports. At least 2% commission fee is charges to exchange them into dollars. Vietcombank charges no fee for exchanging into VND.
Visa, Master card, American Express, JCB and Diners Club International cards are all accepted at top range restaurants, shopping centers, hotels, travel agents and taxi… Some places (especially travel agents) charge up to 4% commission fee on credit cards. Vietcombank and Sacombank pay cash against credit cards for 3% commission fee.
Vietcombank, Sacombank, ACB Bank, HSBC, ANZ… automatic teller machines are easily found in front of those banks, in supermarkets, shopping centers, and big hotels.
US$1= VND21,500 or more. All foreign currencies can be exchanged into dong at the banks. Banks opening hour is from 07:30 to 11:30 and 13:00 – 16:30 from Monday to Friday (except holidays). All private banks also operate on Saturday from 7:30 to 11:30am. Alternatively, you can also exchange money at jewelry shops and hotels in the city. However, the rates they offer could be 5% lower than that of the banks.
HCMC, like the rest of Vietnam, is a pretty dated place to travel. However, you can never be too safe anywhere; here are some safety tips:
Contagious tropical diseases like engue fever, malaria, hepatitis, diarrhea… rear their heads occasionally in HCMC. Be careful with street foods water is the ice. Drinking bottle water is the best way to protect yourself. There are many pretigious international hospitals in HCMC. Out of those, FV Hospital, 6 Nguyen Luong Bang, Dist.7, tel: (08) 5411-3333 and Columbian Asia International Healthcare at Saigon Clinic, 8 Alexandre de Rhodes, Dist. 1, tel: (08) 3823-8888 and Gia Dinh Clinic, 1 No Trang Long, Binh Thanh Dist., tel: (08) 3803-0678 are the best. Some good pharmacies are Ngoc Chau Drug Cente, Pharmacy No.10, 197-199 Dong Khoi, district 1.
When to go
HCMC offers countless attractions which can be visited all year-round. The best time to visit weather-wise is the dry season between December and April, when the humidity is more manageable. The crowds start getting heavy around November and stay through March. The Tet Festival in late January or early February in late January or early February is an exciting, if extremely hectic, time to visit. Visiting HCMC during cornucopia of festivals and ceremonies in the city and surrounding villages.
Children travellers: HCMC is a relatively good city for kids with a number of appealing recreations like theme parks, water parks, water puppet, land puppet, dragon dance and other shows. The Vietnamese are generally hospitable and love children; and it is no longer difficult to find baby-sisters who speak English.
Senior travellers: HCMC, despite of its busy traffic, is still a good choice on its outskirts that retain their natural beauty and tranquility. Moreover, Vietnamese are highly respectful towards elders.
You can either walk or rent a bike and wander around District 1, the city center, which has many famous historical and other sites.
If you have two days or more in HCMC, you could visit the Cu chi tunnels or floating markets on Cuu Long (Mekong) river. Once on the river, you could go to the fruit orchards on either bank to enjoy delicious tropical specialties.
Business Time: Office working hours are from 07:30/08:00 to 16:30/17:00. Closed on Saturdays and Sundays. Museums and some historical and cultural sites are closed on Mondays.
Public holidays: New Year, 1 January. Lunar New Year, 1,2,3 of first lunar month. Liberation
Day, 30 April. Labor Day, 1 May. National Day, 2 September.
Closing hours: Almost all restaurants, bars, shops and other recreation places closed by 24:00.
Consulates in HCMC
Australia 5B Ton Duc Thang, D1, tel: 3829-6035
Belgium 115 Nguyen Hue, D1, tel: 3821-9354
Cambodia 41 Phung Khac Khoan, D1, tel: 3829-2751
Canada 235 Dong Khoi, D1, tel: 3824-5052
China 39 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, D1, tel: 3829-2457
Czech Republic 28 Mac Dinh Chi, D1, tel: 3829-0585
Cuba 45 Phung Khac Khoan, D1, tel: 3822-8289
France 27 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, D1, tel: 3829-7231
Germany 126 Nguyen Dinh Chieu, D3, tel: 3822-4385
Great Britain 25 Le Duan, D1, tel: 3829-8433
Hungary 22 Phung Khac Khoan, D1, tel: 3829-0130
India 49 Tran Quoc Thao, D3, tel: 3822-4387
Indonesia 18 Phung Khac Khoan, D1, tel: 3825-1888
Italy 17 Le Duan, D1, tel: 3829-8721
Japan 13-17 Nguyen Hue, D1, tel: 3822-5314
Laos 93 Pasteur, D1, tel: 3829-7667
Malaysia 2 Ngo Duc Ke, D1, tel: 3829-3132
Netherlands 29 Le Duan, D1, tel: 3823-5932
New Zealand 234 Dong Khoi, D1, tel: 3822-6906
Panama 7A Le Thanh Ton, D1, tel: 3825-0334
Poland 65 Le Loi, D1, tel: 3914-2883
Philippines 29 Le Duan, D1, tel: 3823-3157
Russia 40 Ba Huyen Thanh Quan, D3, tel: 3930-3936
Singapore 65 Le Loi, D1, tel: 3914-2937
Republic of Korea 107 Nguyen Du, D1, tel: 3823-0251
Spain 25 Phung Khac Khoan, D1, tel: 3825-0173
Sweden 8A/11 D1 Thai Van Lung, D1, tel: 3825-6800
Switzerland 270A Bach Dang, Binh Thanh District, tel: 3825-8780
Thailand 77 Tran Quoc Thao, D3, tel: 3932-7638
Ukraine 213 Nguyen Van Thu, D1, tel: 3822-2490
United States 4 Le Duan, D1, tel: 3822-9433