Ho Chi Minh, formerly known as Saigon, is the largest city in Vietnam with about seven million people. While Hanoi is Vietnam’s center of government, Ho Chi Minh is the country’s economic center. The city is crowded, noisy and alive with the sounds of motorbikes, street vendors, students, and other Vietnamese and foreigners going about their daily lives. Our programs are a unique opportunity to live and work in one of the large, bustling cities of southeast Asia.
Vietnamese is the official language. English is not widely spoken but its reach is increasing. You will also hear French, Chinese, and Khmer.
Volunteers stay at guest houses, hostels, or hotels and are responsible for all of their meals. There is a range of accommodations, from $3/night backpacker hostels to mid-range $10/night hotels, to higher-end hotels from $50+/night. We can definitely assist you with choosing your accommodations before you arrive in Vietnam. For meals, volunteers can find Vietnamese restaurants everywhere serving cheap and delicious and cheap – a lunch can cost $1. There are also fast-food places and western pubs in our volunteer areas. Depending on your accommodations, you can also self-cater.
Mobile phones are widely available in Vietnam, including Ho Chi Minh. You can buy and activate a mobile phone for 75-100 USD from one of the many shops in the city. For Internet access, there are many shops in Ho Chi Minh and surrounding neighborhoods where you can use the Internet and make international phone calls.
Most of our participants arrive in Vietnam at Ho Chi Minh’s Tan Son Nhut Airport. Our local Vietnam Coordinator will accompany you by private car or taxi from the airport in Ho Chi Minh to your accommodations. After your full-day introduction to Ho Chi Minh, our Coordinators will accompany you to the organization where you will volunteer and introduce you to the staff. On a daily basis, you can either walk from your accommodations to the organization or take a public bus, car taxi or motorbike taxi.
Health & Safety
Ho Chi Minh is a safe place for visitors. However you will need to apply the same rules as at home for personal safety, like don’t walk alone late at night or flash cash or jewelry. For personal health, staying hydrated in the humid climate is important. Otherwise, volunteers occasionally experience just an upset stomach as their bodies adjust to the local food and water. There are several large hospitals in Ho Chi Minh for serious illnesses, as well as numerous smaller clinics for everyday ailments.
Ho Chi Minh has a tropical climate and is very hot and humid year-round with an average temperature of 80 F (27 C). There are basically two seasons, a hot and rainy season from May to October and a cold season from November to April. The extreme humidity can take some adjusting to, so it’s best to take it easy when you first arrive and stay hydrated.
Sightseeing & Activities
One of the most popular local tourist attractions is the War Remnants Museum, which presents the “American War” from the Vietnam perspective. There are Pulitzer-prize winning photos, captured US weapons like bombs and tanks, and life-sized replicas of concentration camp cells.
The other major attraction related to the War is the Cu Chi Tunnels (270 km in length) which were used by Vietcong to infiltrate US military camps.
On the lighter side, some of the more popular non-war attractions include Notre Dame Cathedral, Ben Thanh Market, Temples, Chinatown, and the Mekong Delta. There also large parks throughout the city where you can go to exercise and spend quiet time along with locals.