SCMP Wednesday, May 9, 2001

The Cool Guide to Ho Chi Minh City


Cool places to stay: For a taste of the old Saigon, The Continental, and The Rex which has a cool rooftop garden bar. The Caravelle hotel is in the central district of the city which also has a nice open-air bar.
The Bong Sen on Dong Khoi Street provides good rooms at mid-range prices. District One has bundles to choose from across the price spectrum.
The cool things to do: Take a cyclo ride around the city; it will get the hundreds of cyclo drivers offering to take you off your back. Visit the Army Museum, formerly the American War Crimes Museum.
Rent a motorcycle (bring a helmet - the traffic is definitely uncool) and head off to the Mekong Delta.
Otherwise, take a bus to Can Tho in the Delta and take a boat trip down the river to the Tra Su wetlands, or even across to Phnom Penh.
Take a hydrofoil from the city centre to Vung Tau, a beach resort just a few hours away.
The cool places to eat: District One is overflowing with excellent eateries - local, Indian, Thai, French and Italian restaurants. It's hard to find a disappointment in Ho Chi Minh City.
The cool places to drink and dance: Again, Ho Chi Minh City is a good-time town and District One is full of bars and discos. Head to Dong Khoi Street where you'll find the Underground, among others; Saigon-Saigon at the Caravelle hotel, and the rooftop at The Rex. Later, Ho Chi Minh City's Apocalypse Now, or the Saxophone Bar at the New World Hotel.
The cool places to shop (and what to buy): Again, District One where Vietnam War-era Zippo lighters - both genuine and good copies - are in abundance. Old timepieces and antique cameras (prices for modern cameras are also pretty good). Silverware and silk from Cambodia and the Delta. The Dan Sinh military market is good if you're into camouflage, but most of the American War surplus has now been replaced with recently manufactured gear from Cambodia and Thailand. You can still pick up Vietnamese medals and bits and pieces of war-related bric-a-brac.
The cool places to be seen: Catwalk at the New World Hotel, Modestos nightclub and the VIP Club on Nguyen Thi Dieu Street.
The coolest people in town: Ho Chi Minh City is a cool town, with plenty of hip, worldly young people who speak an amazing array of foreign languages. The older folk have amazing tales to tell in both English and French, and the city is now home to many overseas Vietnamese who have returned.
What to be seen wearing: Sunglasses, cotton shirts, shorts and sandals. Warm and wet most of the year, an umbrella is essential.
What was cool five minutes ago (and should be avoided like the plague): Korean fashion - the fads created by a plethora of Korean TV soaps are over.