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Business Travel Guide: Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam





In the mid-1990s, Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) enjoyed a heyday as an Asian Tiger. It hoped to become the next Singapore, as the abundance of skyscrapers built during that time can attest. Although it took a beating with the crash of 1997, it didn't completely collapse, and these days the city is back in action. Construction/project management is big business, ranging from hotels and resorts to planned residential communities and factories. Said factories (mostly textile), as well as agriculture and oil interests, bring in the majority of the country's business visitors, mainly from Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and Australia. The city nonetheless caters to a culturally diverse assortment of travelers with its small but strong dining scene, solid collection of luxury hotels and a very busy nightlife.

Facts to Know Before You Go

Currency: Dong
The Vietnamese dong is not traded outside the country, which means you have to exchange money upon arrival at Tan Son Nhat Airport. There is a small exchange counter that offers fair market rates. Remember to change any extra dong back before leaving the country.

Transportation: Cabs & Rental Cars
Cabs are the most common way to get around the city. They are convenient and reasonably priced. A cab ride from the airport to the center of downtown takes about 20 minutes and should cost approximately $7 USD. If you're in town for an extended period of time, you may consider renting a car and driver. This is also a fair-priced option and can be arranged through SaigonTourist (www.saigontourist.net) or Exotissimo Travel (www.exotissimo.com).

Information: The Vietnam Investment Review
This weekly (www.vir.com.vn) is the leading English-language news magazine in the country. It also features a pull-out guide for dining, entertainment and the arts. It can be purchased on street corners and at Xuan Thu bookshop on Dong Khoi Street across from the Continental Hotel.

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Where to Stay


The Caravelle
19 Lam Son Square, District 1
84 8 823 4999
www.caravellehotel.com

A notoriously shabby crash pad for journalists during the war, this hotel saw a revival with its major late '90s renovation and the addition of the Saigon Saigon bar, whose cool factor is enhanced by great views up Dong Khoi Street past the Opera House and historic Continental Hotel to the cathedral. There are conference, meeting and banquet spaces, a business center and tastefully decorated bedrooms equipped with international news channels and IDD phones. The location is as central as it gets.

Hotel Majestic
1 Dong Khoi St., District 1
84 8 829 5517
www.majesticsaigon.com.vn

This legendary property rivals the Continental for those who want historic atmosphere. The French colonial architecture dates back to 1925, and despite modernizations the ambience within is still old glamour, especially in the spacious suites with their hardwood floors and European style furnishings. The hotel is just a few minutes' walk past the shops and cafés of Dong Khoi Street to the main action, and its location on the river puts the floating seafood restaurants at your doorstep. Corporate facilities include a business center and meeting spaces. Drinks on the rooftop overlooking the river are a must.

Mövenpick Hotel Saigon
253 Nguyen Van Troi St., Phu Nhuan District
84 8 844 9222
www.moevenpick-hotels.com

Although midway between the airport and downtown, this hotel attracts a large number of business travelers. It caters to corporate types (particularly from Pacific Rim countries) conducting business in outlying areas such as Song Be. Accommodations have a subtle executive feel, and each room comes with a minibar, private safe and broadband Internet access. The Executive Floors offer top accommodations and include a private lounge, buffet breakfast, butler service, a club boardroom and more. The hotel boasts an outdoor swimming pool and a spa, as well as a number of restaurants, ranging from fine dining establishments to pub-style eateries.

Sheraton Saigon Hotel & Towers
88 Dong Khoi St., District 1
84 8 827 2828
www.sheraton.com/saigon

This 2003 arrival was a much anticipated addition to the local luxury hotel scene. It enjoys a prime location behind the Caravelle between the Opera House and the river. With rich wood paneling and ornate molded ceilings the public spaces pay homage to the days of French colonialism, but the bedrooms are more Zen than provincial. Executive Level accommodations feature a tri-level lounge with beautiful city views, and like many of the city's larger hotels, this one offers residential apartments. Meetings rooms can accommodate up to 1,200.

Sofitel Plaza Saigon
17 Le Duan Blvd., District 1
84 8 824 1555
www.accorhotels-asia.com/2077

Across the street from the site of the former U.S. embassy (a new, less controversial one was erected in its place), the Sofitel Plaza Saigon is central but just enough off the beaten track to feel out of the fray. The lobby is grand—on par with the New World Hotel Saigon—and soothingly adorned bedrooms are equipped with broadband high-speed Internet access, IDD phones and executive desks. The Sofitel Executive Club features all the niceties expected at club level. The rooftop pool provides a pleasant escape from the crush down in the streets.

Where to Dine

Camargue
16 Cao Ba Quat St., District 1
84 8 824 3148
Serving French and continental dishes—with a few Vietnamese influences—to loyal expats since 1994, this rooftop favorite has come of age. Its formerly solid wine selection has become quite notable (access to top wines is a relatively new experience in Ho Chi Minh City), and the downstairs area is home to Vasco's, a hip courtyard bar and open-walled, casual nightclub with local bands (expect to see Vietnamese and expats jamming side by side) on the weekends.

Chao Thai
16 Thai Van Lung St., District 1
84 8 824 1457
Thai food in Vietnam? When it comes to Chao Thai, the answer is yes. Run by Simon and Cherry Millard, this place is all about atmosphere and excellent food. Cherry, who is from Thailand, manages the ultra-spicy menu (you can request tamer versions of dishes) and along with her husband provides congenial hospitality. This is an expat favorite for business lunches and leisurely Sunday dinners.

Ngon
138 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia St., District 1
84 8 825 7179
For those diners who prefer to sidestep the market and street stalls of Saigon—no matter how tempting that dumpling or bowl of soup looks—all is not lost. This restaurant brings street food to sit-down dining. From humble to extreme, all types of dishes are served here. Incorporating its sidewalk and rooftop, the restaurant (which blends French colonial and ancient Vietnamese styles) is surrounded by leafy banana trees and consists of a variety of indoor and outdoor spaces, making it one of the most unique and memorable dining venues in town.

Temple Club
29-31 Ton That Thiep St., District 1
84 8 829 9244
With its laid back bar area and stylish Vietnamese restaurant, this old Chinese temple is a favorite of cosmopolitan locals and expats. The interior is reached by an atmospheric narrow passageway lit with oil lamps. And once inside, you'll find a satisfying selection of dishes from around the country, as well as eclectic dishes such as vegetarian curry—there are also a few western items. One of the more unique aspects of this restaurant is that reservations are recommended. Reservations in Ho Chi Minh City? You've come a long way, baby.

Thi Sach Street
Two blocks behind the Opera House, District 1
While not the place you'd necessarily go to impress a VIP, Thi Sach Street is certainly one of the most colorful venues in town, as well as being a place where diehard expat business types cut many a deal. This street of seafood restaurants is packed with Vietnamese government officials on Friday nights—payday. The food is cheap, excellent and authentic. Despite being decidedly “local” Thi Sach is not at all off the beaten path, and you can walk to numerous bars and nightclubs from here. These restaurants also offer the opportunity to try a few other institutions such as bia hoi (home brewed beer) and snake wine—if you can bear the smell, you can drink it.

Off the Clock

Phan Thiet

If you have a spare day or two on your hands, and don't want to fly all the way to the beaches of Nha Trang, Phan Thiet is a nice alternative. This seaside retreat, less than four hours by car from Ho Chi Minh City, has made a lot of headway since the mid-1990s, when its only offerings were stretches of palm-shaded sand, outstanding seafood and a few dilapidated guesthouses. The sand and seafood remain, but there is now also a Novotel resort and 18-hole championship golf course. Beware: you'll have to vie for fairway time with weekending expats.

Q Bar
7 Cong Truong Lam Son St., District 1

Q Bar was the nightspot in Ho Chi Minh City during the economic boom of the '90s. It was urbane, classy and filled with the prettiest people the city had to offer. Then, one day, it just disappeared—all sorts of drama-filled rumors surrounded the closure. Fortunately, it's back in the same enviable location tucked into the ground floor at the back of the Opera House. The clientele is still as cool as ever, as is the outdoor terrace.

Roof of the Rex Hotel
141 Nguyen Hue St., District 1
84 8 829 2185
www.rexhotelvietnam.com

Once home to the infamous Five O'Clock Follies (the daily military briefing to journalists during the war), the Rex Hotel doesn't feel as if it's changed much since the mid-1970s. This is part of its charm, though. And its bizarre rooftop bar, adorned with fairy lights and ceramic elephants, is oddly enough one of the more relaxing places in town. It's high enough to catch the breeze, and it's much quieter than Saigon Saigon in the Caravelle Hotel. This is definitely the place to enjoy a quiet gin & tonic on an early Friday evening or on a Sunday afternoon with a copy of the International Herald Tribune.

Number 5 Bar
5 Ly Tu Trong St., District 1
84 8 825 6300

Extremely popular with put-down-roots-and-stay-awhile expats, Number 5 doesn't often show up in guidebooks. It's been around forever (or at least feels like it) and is a true hangout, with its pool table and darts tournaments. It's owned by the same genial Heinz of Sapa fame and offers a decent, hearty dinner menu. With its open-front façade and casual atmosphere, it's a good place to relax and network with a variety of expatriate businessmen and women.

Song Be Golf Resort
77 Binh Duong Boulevard, Lai Thieu
Thuan An, Binh Duong Province
84 650 3756 660 / 1
songbegolf.com

Vietnam's first championship, 18-hole golf course (it opened in 1994), Song Be Golf Resort is set on the outskirts of the city. The par-72 course takes advantage of the natural landscape, incorporating coconut palms, fruit orchards and numerous lakes. Membership consists mainly of Japanese, Taiwanese and South Koreans. Limited tee times are available for visitors; fortunately, there's a Ho Chi Minh City office (12 Mac Dinh Chi St., District 1; 84-8-823-1223) where you can make arrangements. The resort also includes a driving range and putting green.

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(Updated: 08/21/13 RD)

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