After more than two weeks in Vietnam, I arrived in Ho Chi Minh ready for a modern, frenetic Asian city. As much as I like lazy coastal towns and beautiful mountainscapes, I often prefer culture over views (one of those things you learn about yourself while traveling alone, blah blah). I can only lay around on a beach or read a book in a hammock for so long before I get bored. Such a hard life, I know.
As I traveled south through Vietnam, the weather got warmer and the people got friendlier. When I landed in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) from the lovely mountain town of Dalat, it was a chaotic scene: Motorbikes outnumbered cars as they weaved through the streets, some with four or five passengers. At first glance, HCMC, formerly known as Saigon, might seem like any other Asian metropolis: tall, gleaming skyscrapers; a hot, hazy atmosphere; and loads of traffic. But I pride myself on finding ways to escape the chaos, to see what’s behind it.
Channeling my inner—perhaps younger, hipper—Anthony Bourdain, I try and find the hidden gems, be it a vintage shop concealed by a row of rundown nail salons or an art deco apartment building sprinkled with boutique shops. (Shoutout to travel blogs that provide real tips rather than ramblings.) I was pleasantly surprised to find that unlike its counterparts of Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur, HCMC has an art scene. I stumbled upon coffee shops that cater to freelancers, coworking spaces, contemporary art galleries, and an “alternative art area” dedicated to street art.
In addition to its under-appreciated creative side, Saigon is known for its rich history during the Vietnam War, or as they call it, the American War, which can be explored at the War Remnants Museum and the Independence Palace. But to find out what HCMC is like today, escape the heat at one of many local coffee shops, watch parents line up on motorbikes to pick up their kids from school, or wander down an alley to peek into people’s daily lives—you never know what you might find.