If you’re stuck at home due to Covid-19, the outside world can feel a very long way away. Why not take the time to get acquainted with one of Vietnam’s most vibrant, fascinating cities from the comfort of your couch?
While your trip to Vietnam is on hold, maybe it’s time to refine your itinerary? There are plenty of ways to get a taste of Ho Chi Minh City from your living room. So, let’s get out there (in a manner of speaking) and start getting a sense of how the city’s residents sleep, work, play and eat.
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Take a meditative journey through the city
From the crack of dawn to late at night, this atmospheric tour of Ho Chi Minh City serves up a wealth of Vietnamese street scenes. From elderly couples practising salsa and ballroom dancing to school children doing callisthenics en masse, experience the early-morning activity at Lê Thị Riêng Park.
Explore some of the city’s most beautiful temples, including the shrine of the Buddhist sea goddess Mazu, whose effigy is paraded through Chinatown on the 23rd day of the third month of the lunar calendar. When the sun goes down, glide through the evening traffic and watch as street-food vendors grill langoustine and Vietnamese crawfish over charcoal fires. Wander among the city’s residents and tourists in the backpacker district, as people make the most of the warm, dry evening air.
This tour also features intriguing facts about the places it visits, as well as the city as a whole. The cinematography is beautiful, and the overall impression of a hectic and lively city is remarkably peaceful and introspective. It’s the best first stop on your virtual adventure.
Explore a locals’ market in District 7
District 1 and the famous Bến Thành Market are mainstays of the Ho Chi Minh City backpacker experience, and worth your time. However, if you want to get a feel for how the locals shop, head outside the city centre. In District 7, life seems to slow down a little – except for the incessant traffic. Its streets are lined with small cafes, produce stalls being run out of people’s living rooms and dogs lounging about in the shade.
In the heart of the district is the Tân Mỹ Market, a genuine slice of old-school Saigon. Take a virtual tour (which, unfortunately, doesn’t come with an accompanying smell track) through a place where most people shop from the back of a motorbike.
The Vietnamese have a fascinating, honest and rich relationship with their produce. In the Tân Mỹ Market, the relationship between the chicken and the drumstick is sometimes as close as a few feet, as the people hunt out the freshest possible products. Markets are the lifeblood of Vietnam, and visiting one (even digitally) is a must if you want to start to understand the country, as well as get an idea for some fantastic street food to try cooking at home.
Glide above the streets for a unique view of the city
The arrival of cheap, widely available drones, bristling with 4K HD cameras, has changed the way we approach photography and filmmaking forever. Today, even the most low-budget action movie can track a car (or, in the case of the 2019 Vietnamese love letter to Taken (2008), Furie, scooter and sampan) chase from the air.
What this means is that visitors to Ho Chi Minh City now have access to a pretty unique perspective on the city: the bird’s-eye view.
This virtual tour soars above the streets, rivers and fields that make up and surround the city. It’s an eye-opening insight into the speed at which the place has modernised over the past decades. Rising above towering luxury hotels, you can see them sit in stark contrast to corrugated iron shacks and slums just a hundred metres away.
Ho Chi Minh City can be a confusing, disorienting place at ground level; getting your bearings can feel like an impossibility. Taking to the skies is a great way to gain perspective and see the city in a way that, up until several years ago, only those who could afford to charter a helicopter would ever see. Also, the backing music is kind of a jam.
Eat 10 different types of street food
The way to a country’s heart is through its collective stomach. Food tells you everything you need to know about a place: its climate, its history, its politics and social customs. Vietnam is home to hundreds of exquisite dishes that trace the history of the country, all the way from the ancient Champa empire, through Mongol invasions, Imperial Chinese occupation and French colonialism.
Take a tour around the heart of Ho Chi Minh City, as the irrepressibly enthusiastic Sonny from the Best Ever Food Review Show and his guide try out 10 mouth-watering dishes from street-food vendors. It’s a fantastic snapshot of some of the absolute classics in the Vietnamese quick bites line-up, such as spring rolls, and some more modern (maybe challenging is the right word here) dishes, including cubed mango with fish sauce and an ungodly amount of chilli oil.
If all of this amazing food footage has you wanting to try some Vietnamese cuisine at home, then check out this video of Vietnamese chef and food writer Andrea Nguyen, who will teach you how to make bánh mì at home and give some fascinating insight into the history of the dish.
Take a drive in a rainstorm (without getting wet)
Humidity is a fact of Vietnamese daily life. During the rainy season, everyone has a poncho or an umbrella somewhere on their person, as once the rain gets started, sometimes it doesn’t let up for days.
This isn’t to suggest you shouldn’t visit Vietnam during the rainy season; there are plenty of advantages if you don’t mind a little rain. There are fewer tourists, hotels are usually cheaper and Ho Chi Minh City, in particular, has an atmospheric, almost haunting beauty to it, as though the whole place is being swallowed up by some sort of spell.
This little scooter tour of the city’s streets during a rainstorm is intense, loud and magical. And if you’re not keen on getting wet, the filmmaker has done it so that you don’t have to.
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