Why you must visit Ho Chi Minh to understand Vietnamese culture

The magnificent Ho Chi Minh cityscape at sunset

The magnificent Ho Chi Minh cityscape at sunset

If you are thinking of exploring the enchanting country of Vietnam, you’ll no doubt be torn between visiting Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh. Both cities are exceedingly different in terms of their pace of life and culture. However, this article is designed to show you just why Ho Chi Minh City edges out Hanoi as the best place to understand Vietnamese culture.

6.3 million other people would agree with us too. That’s how many visitors Ho Chi Minh City had in 2017, making it the most visited city in Vietnam that year. So, what makes Ho Chi Minh City such a fascinating and enriching place to explore? In truth, it’s a combination of the city’s history and the here and now.


An integral part of the French colonial and Republic of Vietnam era

Ho Chi Minh City was formerly known as Saigon. Saigon was the capital of French Indochina during the country’s French colonial era. It would later be named the capital of South Vietnam before the fall of the Vietnam War in April 1975. The city was returned to the control of the Vietnamese People’s Army, and was rightly named after its late Communist leader, Ho Chi Minh. Everywhere you walk, you can get a sense of what this country has experienced in the last century.

It’s the food capital of Vietnam

It is fair to say there is some great food in Hanoi, particularly the national dish of Pho, but Ho Chi Minh City trumps it for the way it embraces both old and new cuisines. Its street food scene eclipses Hanoi’s, and the city has a vibrant café culture that dates back to its French colonial roots. If you’re fanatical about food and exploring a broad spectrum of Vietnamese flavours, you will find everything you need in Ho Chi Minh City.

Explore the world-famous Ben Thanh Market

You haven’t experienced Vietnamese life without a visit to Ho Chi Minh’s Ben Thanh Market. The market has two identities in the day and night. By day, it’s a vibrant marketplace and an ideal place to procure local handicrafts and Vietnamese artwork. By night, its streets become lined with visitors seeking hawker-style Vietnamese street food that rivals Thailand for flavour. The barbecued meats and seafood on offer here are just about as authentically Vietnamese as it gets.

Get a feel for what Vietnam can become in the years ahead

Exploring Ho Chi Minh City, you also get a sense that this is a country that is very much on the up. The Ho Chi Minh Stock Exchange is the country’s largest exchange, and its financial centre is now home to many global banks and conglomerates. There is a lot of money and investment into Ho Chi Minh City. The city has become one of the biggest poker hubs in Asia, with the World Poker Tour (WPT) – one of the biggest global tours for professional poker pros – heading to Ho Chi Minh in March.

All of this is available to explore at a fraction of the cost of a holiday in the western world. Even in Ho Chi Minh City’s most popular local restaurants, you can eat like a king on a budget. It truly is a city with immense travel potential that’s just waiting to be unlocked.