I’m not a War Remnants museum visitor or Cu Chi Tunnels kind of gal. Aside from eating, you can people watch, learn some history, buy books, shop for oddball food souvenirs and get some art under your belt at these spots:
Saigon Botanical Garden and Zoo
2B Nguyen Binh Khiem, District 1. Escape from fast-paced Saigon by strolling through the lovely grounds and exploring the tropical flora. I love seeing all the romantic couples during the weekends.
135 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, District 1. One of the cityâ€™s most fascinating sights for those interested in history, politics, architecture and art. Itâ€™s the history 1966 building that the North Vietnamese tanks rolled into on April 30, 1975. Mid-century architecture and interior design. Check out the basement kitchen.
Fine Arts Museum
97A Pho Ãuc Chinh, District 1. The collection is so-so but the colonial building is great to linger in. Nice little galleries in that area to wander through and purchase from.
Binh Tay Market-Cholon
ÄÆ°á»ng ThÃ¡p MÆ°á»i, District 6. Much better than Ben Thanh Market in District 1. Donâ€™t miss a chance to wander this maze of dry goods and fresh food. This is the central market in the Cholon Chinese district and is mainly wholesale. However, you can purchase hard-to-find ingredients such as reddish-black peppercorns from Phu Quoc Island. If you go to Ben Thanh Market, youâ€™ll find it to be touristy and sterile. Head across the street to the Old Market (Cho Cu) north of Ham Nghi between Ton That Dam and Ho Tung Mau. Youâ€™ll see the permanent stalls on the street. Nice little market.
185 Dong Khoi and 40 Nguyen Hue. Best bookstore for English, French and Vietnamese books. It is government run but thatâ€™s fine. They control the content anyway, no? I go to every one of the stores to rummage through the cookbook collection, which is mostly in Vietnamese. Great for maps and dictionaries too!
Bong Sen Hotel
117-123 Dong Khoi, District 1. www.hotelbongsen.com
Moderately priced accommodations in main shopping and entertainment district. Comfortable, budget rooms are available at Bong Sen Hotel Annex (61 – 63 Hai Ba Trung Street). I usually stay at the annex when money is tight.
Sommerset Chancellor Court
No 21-23 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, District 1. www2.somerset.com/
Moderately-priced executive service apartments conveniently located near the tourist hub but not in the busy, noisy heart of it. The marginal looking pho joint (says Pho Bac) a few doors down is actually quite good. Donâ€™t mind the young people watching TV.
Side Trips from Saigon
Go into the Mekong Delta and if you can, visit Can Tho if you want to stick to the city. Trek out to Chau Doc for a crazy border town scene or fly to Phu Quoc island to sample the finest fish sauce in Vietnam! Flights from Saigon are inexpensive and easy to book.