Phu My (Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam
Town Hall, Ho Chi Minh City
Phu My (pronounced Foo Me) is the port for Ho Chi Minh City which is an hour and a half away (80 miles) over a new expressway opened in 2014. HCMC was previously called Saigon and this name is still used by locals and also refers to the main district 1.
Citizens of most countries will be issued a visa on arrival and this will be charged to their shipboard account (approx $6-$50 USD/pp depending on the ship's processing fee). It is best to confirm with your cruise line the latest visa policy.
On 22 June 2015, the Embassy received the formal notification that the Government of Viet Nam decided to exempt visa for British, German, French, Spanish and Italian citizens travelling to Viet Nam (for all purposes) for a period of up to 15 days, and on the basis of meeting all conditions prescribed by Vietnamese laws. The visa exemption period will start from 1 July 2015 and end on 30 June 2016. http://vietnamembassy.org.uk/index.php?action=p&ct=Notice2
Where You're Docked
Phu My is a commercial port with nothing nearby. Cruise ships dock at container terminal piers at the port. A shuttle may be provided to the small town of Ba Ria approx 10 miles to the southeast where you can take a taxi to the beach resort city of Vung Tau. The best way to get to Ho Chi Minh City is either with the ship's or a private tour. Taxis may wait outside the port gates.
- Please do NOT take the hydrofoil/fast ferry to Saigon since it is old and unreliable.
- Be advised that the Vietnam tour guides require your passport details in advance to arrange port passes.
- The permit to pick tourists up at the port is compulsory to the company if tourists want to be safe and legal. Expecting to pay 25-30 USD/person for port fees though "unofficial" fees may be less. If not, you need to walk outside of the port.
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Smaller ships may sail up the river and dock at Lotus, Tien Sa or Navi Oil Ports much closer to the city center of Ho Chi Minh.
Vietnam's currency is the Vietnamese Dong (VND) but US dollars (no coins) are accepted almost everywhere. However, purchases in USD tend to be rounded up to the nearest dollar. Merchants also prefer new, crisp bills and may not accept old and worn out bills. Using Dong will save you a bit. This may not see like much but the cost of living is very low in Vietnam and goods and services are very inexpensive by western standards. ATM's can be found throughout HCMC and inside the supermarket in Ba Ria. If you want to change money in HCMC, a good currency exchange is at 4C Le Loi St, right in the town center. Otherwise banks and jewellry shops will do exchange as well as the post office (not the best rate).
Exchange rate 22,500 VND = 1 USD (Dec 2015)
Major banks in Saigon include ANZ Bank, 11 Me Linh Sq, District 1; Citibank, 115 Nguyen Hue St; HSBC, 235 Dong Khoi St, District 1; Standard Chartered: Saigon Trade Center (37 Ton Duc Thang St, District 1), Etown 1 Building (364 Cong Hoa street, ward 13, Tan Binh district); and Vietcombank, 29 Ben Chuong Duong, District 1. All offer international ATM services. Western Union is located at 104-106 Nguyen Hue St (across from the Rex Hotel).
Taxis are inexpensive but make sure they use the meter. Reputable companies include Vinasun +84 8 3827 2727 and Mai Linh Taxi +84 8 3823 2323. From Ba Ria, public buses run to Vung Tau from beside the market but it may be difficult to navigate unless you can speak Vietnamese.
On Your Own Tours from Phu My to HCMC may drop off at the Rex Hotel beside City Hall (entrance faces east towards the courtyard). There is a famous statue of chairman Mao here.
Search hotels in Ho Chi Minh City here
Search hotels in Vung Tau here
Must See Sights
Ho Chi Minh City
Be careful when planning to visit Ho Chi Minh City attractions since they typically close for a long lunch break.
- Post Office and Notre Dame Church - These are beside each other about two blocks away from City Hall. The post office is famous for being designed and constructed by Gustav Eiffel. The interior has hardly been touched since it was built and is dominated by a huge portrait of Ho Chi Minh. The twin towers of Notre Dame Cathedral have been a familiar landmark in Ho Chi Minh City since the 1880s. In front of the cathedral in a small garden is a delicate statue of the Virgin Mary. The interior of the cathedral is rather plain, unlike most French cathedrals, with no stained glass but it is a cool escape from the heat outside.
- Reunification Palace - This is the former presidential palace where tanks crashed through the gate ending the Vietnam War. The tanks are displayed outside. Be sure to visit the basement to see the war rooms. 30,000 vnd entry, closed 11am-1pm for lunch.
- War Remnants Museum - This museum has artifacts from the Vietnam war. Try to have an open mind to see the war from the Vietnamese perspective. 15,000 vnd entry, local currency only, closed 12-1:30pm for lunch. A block north of Reunification Palace on Le Quy Don and Vo Van Tan.
- Cholon (China Town) and Thien Hau Pagoda - Cholon is in District 5 and is a maze of narrow streets, bustling with people. Most of Vietnam's ethnic Chinese live here and they are the largest single ethnic minority group in the country. Merchants began to settle in Cholon in the 1770s, although many ethnic Chinese fled the country in 1975. You may not have time to visit if you only have a couple of hours in the city.
- Water Puppet Show - Water puppetry is performed in a chest-deep pool of water, with the water's surface as a stage. The puppeteers stand behind a curtained backdrop. First performed a thousand years ago on the surface of ponds and paddy fields in Vietnam's Red River Delta, water puppetry (roi nuoc in Vietnamese) is the lively creation of farmers who spent their days in flooded rice fields. Available at several locations but again, you may not have enough time.
- Cu Chi Tunnels - An immense network of connecting underground tunnels used during the war. They are part of a much larger network of tunnels of around 200Km long that is well known nationwide and worldwide. The underground network provided meeting rooms, sleeping quarters, commanding rooms, hospitals, and other social rooms. There are two main sites located a fair distance from HCMC so you may need to visit on a return trip.
- If you were hoping to visit the old US Embassy, the building was demolished in 1998 and the site turned into a park for the US consulate.
Beware of bag snatchers on scooters and pickpockets in crowded areas like the market.
Though Vung Tau is a popular getaway for city dwellers from Ho Chi Minh city, the beaches are not considered great by western standards. It may be better to head for a resort in the area. Either Long Hai Resort or Anoasis Resort are recommended though you may need to pay a very small fee if not a guest. Other attractions in the area include -
- Buddha Shrine - It is located 20 km from the center of Vung Tu and sits on the north face of Ni Lớn mountain. Thch Ca Phật is made famous by its large and serene environment and its statue of Buddha, 6.2 m tall and in the meditation pose , perching on a pedestal 4m high shaped like a lotus.
- French-built Lighthouse - The 1910 lighthouse boasts a spectacular 360-degree view of Vung Tau. From Cau Da Pier on Ha Long, take a sharp right on the alley north of the Hai Au Hotel, then roll on up the hill.
- Giant Jesus - The unique Statue of Jesus Christ is situated on the top of Small Mountain. This is second world's largest Jesus statue. You can climb up by stairs that starts from the cape between Back Beach and Banana Beach. Open from 7 am till 5 pm. Free entrance.
- Maria Statue - Big Statue of St. Maria with a child and big Catholic complex is situated opposite Mulberry Beach under the Big Mountain. Open from 7 am till 6 pm. Free entrance.
- Minh Dam Caves - Caves used by the Viet Cong during the war but with views overlooking the area.
How To Cross The Street
Crossing the street is not a normal experience since there are few crossing lights and hundreds of scooters. The trick is to wait for a small gap and walk across the street in a steady and predictable pace keeping your eye on traffic. Do not stop suddenly since it will be harder for scooter drivers to dodge you. If you are scared, cross with a local.
Shopping & Restaurants
Ho Chi Minh City
- Dong Khoi Street - HCMC's main shopping street with Vincom Center Mall and Parkson Department Store
- Diamond Plaza Mall - An upscale mall located behind Notre Dame Church
- Ben Thanh Market - This is the city's main central market and a popular tourist attraction. You will need to bargain and US dollars are typically accepted. Besides the shopping, it's also a great spot to try local street food. In the back area of the market several vendors occupy stalls selling cheap and tasty Vietnamese food and drinks. Stalls sell popular street cuisine including pho (rice noodles in soup, pronounced fuh), banh mi (baguette sandwiches) and bun thit nuong (grilled pork with vermicelli). Prices, considering the location inside a popular tourist attraction, are cheap and English menus are generally available. Beware of pickpockets inside.
- Saigon Square - A modern indoor market/shopping mall with good deals on clothing or purses if you know how to haggle and lots of fakes. Air-conditioned and a block northeast of Ben Thanh Market on Le Loi. There is also a second branch at Tôn Đức Thắng, close to the river.
- Recommended pho places include Pho 2000 (several locations, one beside Ben Thanh Market) which is famous because Bill Clinton ate there, the chain Pho 24 (various locations), and Pho Hao (260c Pasteur St).
- Other recommended restaurants include Wrap and Roll (62 Ha Bai Trung, District 1) - specialty is the fresh Vietnamese spring roll. Clean and friendly place. Signature dishes come with your choice of meat or seafood along with a big plate of assorted toppings like basil, mint, and lettuce, and a small pile of vermicelli noodles. Roll it all up in a rice paper wrapper and dip it in the bowl of fish sauce, and it's a perfect sampling of a Vietnamese classic. Co Ba Vung Tau (59B Cao Thang, District 3) - Popular for their banh khot, small, deep-fried rice pancakes topped with various ingredients, but most commonly a seafood combination of shrimp and scallops. This dish originates from the beach city of Vung Tau, hence the restaurant's name. Banh Xeo An La Ghien (74 Suong Nguyet Anh Street, District 1) - Vietnamese style crepe with whole shrimp, thinly sliced pork and bean sprouts.
- For Bahn Mi (Vietnamese sandwiches made with french bread), Banh Mi Huynh Hoa and Banh Mi 37 Nguyen Trai are recommended. http://migrationology.com/2014/12/best-banh-mi-saigon-ho-chi-minh-city/
- Goc Vu Sua (14 Nguyen Truong To, 6am - midnight) - An ideal place to enjoy your breakfast is at Bahn Khot-- Vung Tau specialty food. The restaurant is always crowded on weekends.
- Hoang Van (19 Hoang Hoa Tham St) - This is the best place for cheap and good seafood in the City. Cheapest crab soup 10,000 vnd and fresh oyster with wasabi 12,000 vnd for one. Rice soup with mussels and fried crab with special sauce is also perfect there.
- Bay Giai (36 Hoang Hoa Tham) - The most popular place for fish head soup lovers in the city. When come there order: "Lau dau ca nau hanh, ca song mu tat" what means "fish head soup and fresh fish with wasabi".
- Nine (96-9 Truong Vinh Ky) - This is one of the oldest and the most popular French restaurants in the City managed by French owner. Classic French and European cuisine, modern interior and careful service. Large selection of wine from wine cellar and always fresh buns and rolls from their own bakery. Try baked fish in salt, pasta carbonara or Carpaccio, it's incredibly delicious there.
- The shuttle drops off at a large Co-op supermarket. US dollars are accepted though not at the best rate and your total will get rounded up. There is an ATM and a few restaurants inside including a KFC. There is both an indoor and food market a couple of blocks away across the street from the gate.
A small market is usually setup on the pier for last minute shopping.
In Ba Ria, KFC has free wifi for customers. There is an internet cafe in town. Exiting the Coop Mart, turn right and walk a couple blocks to the roundabout and turn right. The cafe should be a block down on your right. Charges are 4,000 Dong/hr. Note that Facebook is blocked in Vietnam.
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