Top 5 Things That Surprised Me About Living in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Moving to the hectic city of Ho Chi Minh can be a somewhat overwhelming experience. The size of the city, the weather, and the traffic can all be a culture shock, but with this expat guide to Ho Chi Minh City, your move to Saigon can be free of any unwanted surprises.

1. Organised Chaos

You don’t have to live in Ho Chi Minh City to notice the sheer chaos on every road. However, although on a holiday to Ho Chi Minh you may be quite content with using buses and other forms of public transport, when you’re living in Saigon you will likely eventually crave a little more independence. Be assured that, once you take the leap to hiring or purchasing your very own bike, you will never look back. While the roads may appear to be entirely chaotic, after a short time navigating the roads for yourself, you’ll soon discover there is in fact some method to the madness. The best way to work out the unspoken rules of the road is to get on a bike and try it for yourself.

2. Rain or Shine...Or Both In The Space Of 10 Minutes

Sunny Saigon unfortunately is not always sunny. While Ho Chi Minh City has sunny and warm characteristics of the Southern climate, there is also a rainy season. Most of the year you can get away with light clothing (though be sure to protect your skin while out and about). Come May to October the weather is somewhat less predictable. One minute you can be heading to work in glorious sunshine, then the next minute a torrential downpour. Be sure to always keep an emergency raincoat or umbrella with you for those sudden downpours.

3. Think Big

If you have ever visited Ho Chi Minh City, you likely will have stayed in a pocket of the city, where the attractions you wanted to explore were, and the city may well have seemed relatively small. Spend a little more time exploring the city however, and you will be surprised quite how vast it is. In total there are 24 different districts throughout Saigon, with Districts 1, 2, 3, 4 and 7 being the popular spots for expats. Take time to explore – Saigon is full of surprises.

4. Ever-Changing Saigon

Like many other cities throughout Asia, Ho Chi Minh City is dynamic and ever-changing. Of course there are plenty of staple establishments throughout Saigon, but after a while of living here you may find yourself hesitant to get too attached to any particular shops or restaurants as you never quite know if they’ll be closed down the next time you go there, or suddenly appear as an entirely different shop or restaurant. While this is the case for the more modern buildings of Ho Chi Minh City, as for the historical architecture here, it generally remains untouched and is certainly worth forming an attachment to.

5. Carry Cash

If you are moving from a European country, you will likely be used to carrying nothing but your phone and bank card when you’re out and about. In Ho Chi Minh City though, don’t bank (pun intended) on being able to use your card while shopping or eating out. Generally speaking, only the fanciest of places take credit card. Vietnam as a whole thrives on a cash economy, so you’ll have to get used to carrying cash while out and about. Once you’ve moved to Saigon, be sure to register for a card that allows you to withdraw from ATMs with low or no fee, to avoid any unexpected additional charges.