For a business traveller with a couple of nights to spare in Ho Chi Minh (formerly known as Saigon), the city offers a great deal of sights, sounds and smells.
The central business district of Vietnam’s largest city packs in a Central Post Office, Notre Dame Cathedral and the Opera House. For those who like to walk to explore, smells of hot bowls of soup known as pho, and the cloyingly sweet dried jackfruit make for tantalising treats.
Places to eat: There are some restaurants that offer halal food, such as Halal@Saigon opposite the mosque, which was built in 1935. For more upscale places head to Temple Club, known for its fish and shrimp dishes in coconut milk. Pho, or the Vietnamese noodle soup, coconut milk and strong, Vietnamese drip coffee (hot or cold) are the core of culinary travels. For a taste of France, which ruled what was then known as South Vietnam for about 100 years, Augustin is a decent place. Main courses there start around 100,000 Vietnamese dongs. Dh1 = 6,500 dong (approx.)
Off hours: For a cultural night out, try to pack in an evening of hour-long A O Show, a blend of circus and theatre, at the Municipal Theatre or the opera house. The water puppet theatre, close to the Reunification Palace, make for a more rustic spectacle. The art form has been around in Vietnam since the 11th century, and now the urban versions are performed over a water tank on stage. The play is more of a collection of snippets of rural life than one structured around a beginning, middle and end. It is performed in Vietnamese but nonetheless an enjoyable affair with its music and sing-song dialect.
Getting there: Etihad Airways started daily service to Ho Chi Minh this month. Emirates Airlines also flies to the city daily non-stop.
Where are some of the places to stay?
InterContinental Hotel Asiana Saigon is located right in the middle of the central district and is close to several attractions. Rooms are available from US$184. One of the popular leisure and business hotels is Rex Hotel, which was built in the 1920s. Like many of the local architecture, it preserves the French colonial influence in its facade. Rooms here are available from $104. It was a major spot for US military and war correspondents to converge during the Vietnam War.
What about the business meetings infrastructure?
Home to export-processing zones and industrial parks catering to sectors such as mining, seafood processing, construction and software, the hotels in the city have long been attractive to business travellers. Space for conferences and exhibitions are mostly confined to hotel ballrooms besides Saigon Exhibition and Convention Center.
Any museums for a rundown of the country’s history?
The War Remnants Museum, formerly known as Exhibition House for Crimes of War and Aggression, gets top billing on day tours. Concentrating on the US war in Vietnam, the museum houses photographs from both sides, weapons and even fetuses deformed by the 76 million litres of Agent Orange used by US forces for 10 years on the Vietnamese people during the war. The Museum of Vietnamese History preserves artefacts dating back to the Metal Age up until the fall of Nguyen Dynasty in 1945.