Ho Chi Minh City
Now home to some 10 million people, Ho Chi Minh City has had a short, action-packed history. In a few hundred years, the city – once the pride of French Indochina – has undergone multiple reinventions and several name changes (the Vietnamese originally called it Gia Dinh). But from pre-colonial times to the present day, Ho Chi Minh City (still known to locals as Saigon in conversation) has always been an outward-looking trading town that has continually absorbed external influences. The more you look, the more you will note – through the architecture, the food and the people – how multicultural and multilayered this metropolis really is. Yet in spite of its dizzying growth and freewheeling entrepreneurial spirit, the Saigonese remain a fun-loving, laid-back and charming bunch who love seeing visitors embrace the local lifestyle – whether that means sitting on the pavement, chowing down delicious street food, or enjoying a night out in town.
When to go:
The dry season begins in December and ends in April, during which you can expect scorching afternoons but mild evenings. While downpours can disrupt exploration plans, the rainy season has its charms, too (just don’t lose your hotel umbrella). The sweet spot is early December, when temperatures and humidity are at their lowest.
How to get around:
Forget public transport and hail a taxi (VinaSun or Mai Linh are the most reliable) or a “moto-taxi” for half the price (they’ll give you a helmet but it’s likely to be low-quality). Grab also offer two- and four-wheeled hailing services. A caveat: drivers may not speak English, so it’s helpful to have a map open on your smartphone or a written address in hand. When walking around the city centre, pedestrians do need to mind their step on cluttered pavements.