Headed for Ho Chi Minh City? Then hold on to your hat: you are heading into a fast-paced cornucopia of commerce, culture …and crazy drivers. Formerly known as Saigon, this ancient fishing village-turned-Khmer-trading-port in Vietnam was later claimed by the French only to be wrestled back by the North in 1975, after 20 years of intense conflict. The city’s battle scars are still evident today, in the city’s churches, temples and GI hotels. Its residents’ resilience is evident in the capital’s aspiring skyline. The sleek modern edifices of Ho Chi Minh City’s (HCMC) business district now tower over the city’s timeless alleys, teetering temples and bustling street markets. Despite their embattled recent past, HCMC’s savvy locals are refreshingly witty, welcoming and extremely sociable; it won’t be long before you are sharing a meal (and a drink) with them. Expats arriving here will find that, rather than being herded into an expat enclave, the city is well integrated, with no dominant expat residential area.
The housing options here are many and varied. Single professionals can pick from a range of apartment styles and families will have no problem finding a decent-sized house with a garden and pool. Excellent schools are abundant, both local and international, and the health care system (for expats) is first-rate. In HCMC, like many other Asian cities, you will be subjected to torrential rain, extreme heat, humidity and pollution. Fortunately, the thrill of this vibrant city, coupled with the pristine rainforests and awe-inspiring beaches that lie beyond its borders, more than compensate.
What is special or unique about your city?
Formerly known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City is Vietnam's largest city. Its vibrancy and timeless charm, combined with a young, educated, enthusiastic work force have moved it back into position as a business leader in Asia.
What are a newcomer's first impressions of your city?
Most newcomers are surprised at the amount of traffic and the sheer numbers of motorbikes in the city. Initially, it can feel like a challenge just to cross the street, but soon enough, one does get used to the traffic.
Are these impressions likely to change?
The city changes from year to year, as it gets more publicity for tourism and more foreign direct investment. The global influence of television and the Internet will add a more "foreign flair" to Ho Chi Minh City in years to come.
What is the local language?
How easily could I live in this city without knowing this language?
English is spoken everywhere. Taxi drivers can speak a little English, and all foreign restaurants have English-speaking staff. Street signs and shop signs are in Vietnamese, but they use the same alphabet as English so they can be read (but often mispronounced) by expats.
Learning at least a little Vietnamese will make your life easier. Your efforts to do so will also be appreciated by the locals.
What are good things to remember in order to avoid offending the other residents of this city?
Always be polite, and remember you are a visitor in Vietnam.
How might the local weather affect my daily life?
There are six months of rain and heat, plus six months of just heat.
Is there anything else I should know about the overall character of your city or its people?
Ho Chi Minh City is a fast-paced city with very friendly people.