I’ll admit it. In choosing to tackle this subject here in the Ho Chi Minh City category, I’ve got a far simpler task than some of my fellow Local Experts in other, pricier cities.
Whereas in Tokyo, London or Rome, you’d be lucky to get more than a couple of derisory meals and perhaps a bunk in a dorm for $50 a day, here in Saigon you can pretty much run riot.
Of course, 50 bucks isn’t going to get you a room in the Park Hyatt and you could easily blow the lot in one go at some of the city’s more prestigious cocktail bars and restaurants. However, with a degree of judiciousness, what may seem a measly sum in other countries can be transformed into a veritable wad.
One of Saigon’s main assets, of course, is its fantastically cheap array of local food. And it is here where you should start the day in the Saigonese way with either a steaming bowl of noodle soup – pho (beef with thin rice noodles), bun bo (beef with thicker rice noodles), mi hoanh thanh (pork and wontons with thin egg noodles) or hu tieu (pork with noodles in a slightly sweet broth) are all righteous choices – or a banh mi (Vietnamese baguette) stuffed with anything from eggs to roasted pork. Wash it down with a glass of ca phe den (black coffee) or ca phe sua da (coffee with condensed milk and ice) and you are good to go with just over $48 still in your hipper.
Now comes the only tricky part of the day. Whereas other cities have a host of attractions, free, cheap and otherwise, where you can while away the morning, Saigon offers very little in the way of thrilling tourist sights. There are options however. The War Remnants Museum is a must for those who haven’t seen it before while a jaunt up to the viewing deck of the city’s highest building, the Bitexco Tower, is worth it for a tremendous vista of Saigon. You could probably afford to blow some more of that cash on some souveniers at Ben Thanh Market or reinvigorate your wardrobe with some cheap fashion at Saigon Square shopping centre where T-shirts, shirts, tops and dresses can be had for around $5 a pop.
Whatever you decide to do, chances are you’ll still have at least $35 left to spend. For a pleasant lunch, head to Quan An Ngon where Vietnamese street-food is served up in palatial surrounds. Dishes cost around $3 each and two will prove satisfactory.
Walk off your lunch with a stroll up to the Reunification Palace and a look around before heading back to your digs (lots of options in Pham Ngu Lao for around $10) for a well-earned rest.
You can’t afford to go too crazy at dinner, but for VND200,000 ($10) per head you can get a cracking feed at Mumtaz or Barbeque Garden. With around $10 left for the evening all that’s left to decide is whether to head to a pavement café and down $1 bottles of ice-cold beer or up the refinement stakes in a live music venue such as Yoko or Acoustic where the entertainment is free but drinks come in at around $2.50.