Ho Chi Minh City is located in the centre of the well-off are of the North Vietnam. The north of the city borders on Binh Duong Province; its north-western meets Tay Ninh Province; the east and north-eastern are contiguous to Dong Nai Province; the south-eastern stays next to Ba Ria - Vung Tau Province; and the west and south-western are surrounded by two provinces Long An and Tien Giang.
Ho Chi Minh City has pleasant climate with two seasons: dry season and rainy season. At here, rain is quick to cease and sunshine is not too hot. Because of the geographic position and its convenient climate, the city is also the converging place of many ethnic groups. Each ethnic group has its own religion and distinct culture and they all have contributed in making a multicultural environment. The special trait of this land is the harmonious combination between the national tradition and cultural features of the North (China) and the Western countries. That has created the lifestyle and characteristics of Sai Gon people. They are faithful, straightforward, broad-minded and energetic and have skills and strong-willed spirit.
Nowadays, Ho Chi Minh City is an enormous tourism centre of the whole country. Coming to the country, tourists can visit ancient architectures such as the Central post office of the city, Large Opera -House, People's Committee of the city, and Ben Thanh Market or they may go to have a look at the system of the old-age churches like The Church of Madonna, Huyen Sy Church, Thong Tay Hoi Church, etc. Besides, Sai Gon River circling around the central area connects with other branches of rivers and entangled canals. This great river is very convenient for waterway traffic and tourism. Bach Dang (Bạch Đằng) Wharf and Nha Rong (Nha Rong) Wharf are close-knit to harbours which are always wind-swept and crowded with yachts.
The centre of this city also contains many streets like Dong Khoi, Nguyen Hue or Le Loi that are all famous for Western architectural styles, hotels, restaurants, coffee shops, bars, fine art shops, antique stores, galleries with paintings and statues, "ao dai" fashion of Vietnam, and so on.
Sai Gon - Ho Chi Minh City is a sparkling pearl which is resplendent along the side of East Sea and is an ideal destination for excursionists from the four corners of the earth.
Saigon is an extremely safe place to visit and for the most part it's up to the individual to keep out of trouble. For example, frequenting late night bars in Pham Ngu Lao is likely to attract the company of sex workers, who may not be as friendly as they seem. A common ruse is to be plied with alcohol and then pick-pocketed, with the missing money and phone not noticed until morning. Pickpockets are known to operate at Ben Thanh market as well, so keep unnecessary valuables in the safe at the guesthouse.
When travelling by motorcycle keep bags secured or at least make them ungrabbable. Although rare, motorbike drive-by thefts are not unusual -- especially if you're advertising the fact you have a digital camera and probably a load of other goodies.
The police emergency number is 113, but expect a different service from what you're used to. On Pham Ngu Lao St, just near the junction with De Tham on the park side of the road, there is a small 'tourist security' office. If you're taken seriously then the boss may be called. The tourist hotline number is T: (08) 925 0000. Tourist security officers are becoming a more common sight around Saigon, helping tourists cross the street and standing by outside tourist attractions.
For a medical emergency, District One has several privately-owned and Western-run medical centres. Try SOS International (65 Nguyen Du St, T: (08) 829 8424) or Family Medical Practice (Diamond Plaza, 34 Le Duan Street, T: (08) 822 7848). Better get that travel insurance as it's not cheap -- even an appointment with the GP costs US$60. FV, or Franco-Vietnamese Hospital, (6 Nguyen Luong Bang St, District 7) may be needed for more complicated problems. Their emergency number is (08) 411 3500. FV also have a small clinic in the city, a good option for routine checkups (45 Vo Thi Sau District 1, T: (08) 290 6167). Cho Ray hospital (201B Nguyen Chi Thanh St, District 5, T: (08) 855 4137) has a trauma unit.
Most travel agents can get a visa extension for you. Typically a 30-day extension sets you back US$25 and takes one week, while an express two-day service costs around US$40. Three- and six-month extensions are also available for tourist visas. Chi's Cafe (40/27 Bui Vien St, District 1, T: (08) 920 4874) provides as good a service as any.
Saigon's immigration office is open Mon-Fri, closed for lunch 11:00 - 13:00. Save yourself the hassle of waiting in lines and dealing with bureaucrats by using a visa extension service through a travel agent instead. To process the visa by yourself, the first step is to pick up the correct form from the office. 254 Nguyen Trai St, District 1, T: (08) 839 2221
International ATMs are now dotted all over District One and aren't hard to find. If staying in Pham Ngu Lao make use of the 24-hour ATM at Sacombank (211 Nguyen Thai Hoc St). In the city centre, the HSBC sits next to Notre Dame (235 Dong Khoi St) and ANZ is down by the river (11 Me Linh Square). Public ATMs are in the Tax Shopping Centre on the corner of Nguyen Hue St and Le Loi St, and at the Caravelle Hotel directly opposite the city Opera House.
ATMs have a withdrawal transaction limit of 2 million VND (roughly US$120). You can withdraw this amount as many times as you want up to your limit back home -- but be aware your own bank will charge for each transaction). Reliable counters for changing your bucks can be found at 82 Mac Thi Buoi St (Dong Khoi area), and De Tham St (Pham Ngu Lao area). Places such as this have no commission, but charge a US$2 bank fee for travellers cheques and a US$3 fee for credit card advance. Inside a bank, the charge on your travellers cheque will be between 1.5 and 2.0%.
Saigon's main post office (Cong Xa Paris Square, District 1) doubles as a tourist attraction due to its architecture and the large portrait of Uncle Ho overseeing proceedings. Next to Notre Dame Cathedral this post office along with all others opens 06:00 - 22:00 daily. Smaller offices are all over the city -- look for the 'Buu Dien' sign.
Fahasa is the largest and only real chain of bookshops in the city, with three District 1 locations. Try 40 Nguyen Hue St and 185 Dong Khoi St, good places to buy the all-important city map, though the English-language selection is limited. Another option is to sit in a Pham Ngu Lao cafe and wait for the sellers with their book stacks and catalogues of available titles. These are not original books -- they've been photocopied so be prepared for the occasional missing or wonky page. Prices are around 80-120,000 VND ($5-$8) depending on your bartering skills.