Sai Gon: pearl of the far east, is Vietnam’s financial and commercial hub, as well as south east Asia’s hidden gem. It’s also where I call home. I consider living in Ho Chi Minh City as an adventure.
After an unsettling past, Ho Chi Minh city has gradually become one of SEA’s most desirable cities, yet mention it to anyone west of India and you’ll likely receive a questioning response as to where it is (if they’ve heard of it at all). Sadly, the former French colony lacks any serious draw from outside the far east, especially for tourists, and can often be overlooked in favour of other cities in the area such as Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, and Vietnam’s capital: Ha Noi.
To the fresh faced, Sai Gon can appear to be a little overwhelming; its roads are an accident begging to happen, the food ranges from mouth watering cuisine to grub you wouldn’t even feed your dog, and the people will either take to you like a close relative, or treat you no better than a piece of s**t on the bottom of their flip-flops. Yes, it’s safe to say that in the first few days, the city really can be hard to gauge.
After a couple of weeks living in Ho Chi Minh City, and some persuading by a friend already living here, I decided to find a job and stay. This was a big step considering I’d been on the move for 10 months but, finding myself slightly burnt out and in need of money, I figured that HCMC was as good a place as any to ground myself for the forseeable future.
So, why stick around?
HCMC is, in many people’s opinion, second to Ha Noi. However, I beg to differ. Of course, the capital will always have more of a draw; its deeply rooted Vietnamese culture and extensive amount of untouched colonial buildings make it somewhat more romantic than its southern counterpart, but it doesn’t have the same international atmosphere. Sai Gon is growing at a rapid rate, both upwards and outwards- the yearly modification to the skyline is testament to how the city aspires to become a modern, up-to-date contender with its contemporaries; this is something that cannot be said for Ha Noi.
I find that Sai Gon, though hectic at times, is surprisingly laid back. The city is, as with most great cities, always awake; there’s the constant sound of horns to contend with, construction crews work through the night, a fresh faced band is playing live music into the wee hours, and you can usually find some sort of delicacy when you’re stumbling home at 3am. This modern feel, coupled with the more traditional aspects of a Vietnamese city, is what makes HCMC a great place to settle, for the time being at least.
Okay, I’m now planning on living in Ho Chi Minh City, but where?
Out of the 24 city districts, expats have a wide range of relatively central places to stay, from high rise apartments in districts 2 and 7, to studio apartments in districts 3 and 5, plus a choice of shared accommodation in the city’s commercial heart: district 1. So there’s plenty of choice when living in Ho Chi Minh City.
Each district has its own character and is often like stepping foot in a wholly different city, complete with a different atmosphere. For example, there’s an area of district 2 that is often seen as ‘foreign town’ because of its high population of expats and its rather considerable amount of western style bars and restaurants, whereas district 5 is referred to as Chinatown due to half of it being firmly settled in the old quarter of Cho Lon (which happens to be the largest ‘Chinatown’ in the world by area).
I’d decided that I didn’t want to live in the centre of the city, but at the same time I wanted to be close enough that I could perhaps walk into town and not miss out on any action; this narrowed my choices down to districts 3, 4, 5, and 10 and, after talking to another friend from the school I work in, I decided to have a go at district 5; it only takes me 15mins to walk to town, and is still central enough that I can get to work in most parts of the city in a short amount of time.
So, now that I’m settled (kind of) in Sai Gon, I can focus on saving money and having a good time. Whilst I’m here I’ll be absorbing the culture, way of life, and trying to understand a little bit of what makes a city like HCM work.
But, don’t worry! The blog won’t be stopping, I’ll still be churning out blog posts, but they will be taking on a more urban point of view as I explore the city and discover what expat life is like in such a great city. I’ll be covering where to live, where to eat, where to drink, and, as is usual with my blog, the lesser known parts of the city that maybe you won’t find in tour guides. It’s fair to say that living in Ho Chi Minh City will be an adventure…