Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
Situated on the banks of the far-reaching Mekong River, Ho Chi Minh is a bustling metropolis full of traditional Vietnamese culture, busy streets pulsing with traffic, flickering neon signs and remnants of the historic Vietnam War.
Ho Chi Minh has a long and colourful history. Originally a small fishing village called Prey Nokor, a Vietnamese noble took control of the area in 1698 order to establish more government rule. The town, now called Gia Dinh, was conquered by France and Spain in 1859 and renamed Saigon. The name stuck after Vietnam secured its independence in 1945, but was changed again after the Vietnam War in 1975 to Ho Chi Minh City in honour of the late Communist leader.
This varied history has left Ho Chi Minh with an intriguing mix of the old and the modern. The grand colonial buildings built by the French still stand proud but, since the industrialisation of the town in the 1980s and 1990s, many now neighbor towering skyscrapers, luxurious hotels and vast shopping malls.
Cruise travellers access Ho Chi Minh via the port at Phu My, 70 kilometres to the south-east of the major city.
Phu My (pronounced ‘foo me’) is a small but busy industrial town. It’s not a major tourist destination but is vital for the local economy, with a major deepwater port, steel production plant, fertiliser factory and major electricity generators. Many cruise terminals dock here but their guests continue on to Ho Chi Minh, which is a 1.5 hour drive away. The town is also a gateway to the resort town of Vung Tau, where the local beaches are very popular with tourists.
Phu My Port was primarily built for cargo ships and other industrial vessels. Many cruise ships dock at the port; however, there are limited facilities in the immediate vicinity. Travellers will find a waiting area, toilets and a meeting point for charter and shuttle buses, but not much more in the way of luxuries.
How To Get Around
Tourists docking at Phu My Port are advised to book a shuttle, charter bus or private car for their transfer to Ho Chi Minh. Tourism operators must organise their vehicle access to the port in advance, so bookings before arrival are advisable. Taxis are not allowed onsite, but may be found a short walk outside of the port facility.
Travel times from the port:
By car/shuttle bus/taxi:
- It is a 1 hour and 23 minute journey to Ho Chi Minh
- It is a 31 minute journey to Vung Tau
- It is a 1 hour and 13 minute journey to Tan Son Nhat International Airport.
Travel becomes significantly easier once in Ho Chi Minh. There is an extensive public transport network, thousands of taxis, car and motorcycle hire options and the ever popular cyclos, pedal-powered rickshaws for one.
- Currency - The local currency in Ho Chi Minh is the Vietnamese Dong (₫). Notes are available in 100₫, 200₫, 500₫, 1,000₫, 2,000₫, 5,000₫, 10,000₫, 20,000₫, 50,000₫, 100,000₫, 200,000₫ and 500,000₫ denominations. Please note that Dong coins are no longer in use in Vietnam.
- Time Zone - Ho Chi Minh uses the Indochina Time Zone, which is seven hours ahead of Coordinated Universal Time (UTC).
- Weather – Ho Chi Minh has a tropical climate with distinct wet and dry seasons. Occurring between December and April, the dry season is hot and moderately humid with temperatures ranging from 16 degrees Celsius to 39 degrees Celsius. The very wet, very humid monsoon season occurs between May and November, with temperatures ranging from 24 degrees Celsius to 34 degrees Celsius and significant rain falling on about two of every three days.
- Reunification Palace - Behind a striking water fountain and expertly manicured lawns sits the Reunification Palace, an opulent building that has served as home to both the Cambodian King and Governor General of French Indochina. Although nearly 140 years old, the interior has a decidedly 1960s vibe, largely inspired by the Americans influence during the Vietnam War. The palace played a crucial role in during the war and many relics can be viewed in the concrete war rooms built under the palace.
- Ben Thanh Market - With thousands of stalls and locals spruiking everything from dried fruit and spices to watches and tailored suits, Ben Thanh Market is certainly one of the liveliest areas in central Ho Chi Minh. The market is held in one of the few surviving structures from old Saigon, a large French provincial style pavilion with a striking clock tower. There are so many aisles to explore and there are a number of excellent street food vendors nestled amongst the souvenir and clothing stalls.
- Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre - Originating in the soggy rice paddies of old, water puppet theatre is a traditional cultural experience that must be experienced. The performers at Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre stand in chest deep water and use semi-submerged wooden puppets to deliver stories of Vietnam’s ancient origins set to live traditional music. Performances are delivered entirely in Vietnamese so it can be hard for tourists to follow the storyline; however, this does little to reduce the enjoyment of the experience.
Picture: Hai Nv