Better known by its former name of Saigon, Ho Chi Minh or HCMC as it’s abbreviated to, is a sprawling metropolis that is in constant motion, the streets filled with colorful chaos and an unmistakable buzz. First time visitors are often overwhelmed with the noise, crowds, and pollution but if this initial culture shock can be overcome, a city full of possibilities and opportunities is waiting to be explored.
Over the last 10 years, Ho Chi Minh has changed drastically as it seeks to become a progressive Asian city to rival that of Bangkok. Whilst the impressive skyscrapers go up and the metro system is being developed underground, regular street life goes on with locals gossiping around the street food vendor, old ladies doing their washing outside in the narrow back alleyways, and scooters hurtling at you from every direction carrying an impressive number of people and items!
The dynamic energy draws in entrepreneurs like moths to a flame, Ho Chi Minh being the start-up capital of Southeast Asia and one of the fastest growing cities in the world. Digital nomads are drawn to the city for its affordability, fast-pace of life, fast internet, co-working spaces, and networking opportunities. The city is thriving with expats working for some of the top corporations whether that’s in finance or artificial intelligence. Alternatively, you’ll also find plenty of foreigners teaching English and/or bootstrapping their own businesses.
In a city that works hard and apparently never sleeps, karaoke is the go-to form of entertainment but some respite can be found in the Botanical Gardens, Tao Dan Park, and by walking the tree-lined streets with colonial buildings in District 3. The coffee culture and street food scene are huge in Ho Chi Minh, just wait until you try the Vietnamese drip coffee or sip a freshly made juice! The food is cheap, flavourful, healthy, and totally delicious, consisting mostly of fresh vegetables with grilled meat or fish. There’s a great international food scene as well thanks to all of the expats so you can enjoy everything from sushi to sauerkraut.
Best Time to Visti Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh has a tropical climate with two main seasons, the wet monsoon season lasting from May-November and the dry season from December-April. The best time to visit is during the dry season for two reasons. First, though average temperatures don’t differ greatly between wet or dry season, the city feels somewhat cooler due to lower humidity and a nighttime breeze ensuring a less sticky stay. Secondly, the number of festivals that take place! Vietnam uses the Lunar Calendar and as well as observing their own special days has also adopted Western and Chinese traditions due to the number of expats.
Dry Season, December-April: December sees the lowest temperature of the year with occasional rain and chilly evenings. These low temperatures are by Vietnamese standards - To Westerners, the temperature is still positively mild! February is the driest month of all and also has the most daylight hours - Possibly the ultimate time to visit for visitors seeking to escape Winter in the west! Temperatures rise over the following months, peaking in March and April, April being the hottest but also experiencing a lot of rain.
Expats celebrate Christmas and New Year with the locals joining in too but these are not national holidays as Vietnam follows the lunar calendar. Vietnamese New Year called Tet is a time of many festivities which take place either at the end of January or up until Mid February depending on the moon phase. The streets are decorated and families gather together, a firework display taking place at midnight. The Spring Flower Festival (Nha Trang-Khanh Hoa ) also takes place in January/February, the streets come alive with flowers and artwork and sculptures are unveiled. The Chinese community in District 5 make a big celebration of The Lantern Festival in January/February with parades, drums, and traditional decorative lanterns.
Wet Season, May-November: May is an unpredictable month with cooler temperatures and occasional light rain with the real wet weather taking hold from June until the start of September. During this time humidity is at its highest, even as the rain falls and the storms take place. In November the heat subdues slightly as the humidity and rain finally come to an end.
On May 1st official ceremonies and parades take place to celebrate International Workers’ Day. The Southern Fruit Festival starts in June with a big parade, art and craft stalls, traditional games, music and general merriment! The Mid Autumn Festival aka Full Moon Festival is celebrated in September or October with folk singing, dragon dancing and lanterns being released into the night sky.