Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

My Town

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Marina Tran-Vu in Ho Chi Minh City. Behind her is Cau Ba Son, a bridge spanning the Saigon River, which offers the best view of the city according to Marina. Photo courtesy of Marina.

Marina Tran-Vu (BCom’10) is the founder and CEO of EQUO, a company that produces sustainable food and beverage supplies. She has been living in Ho Chi Minh City for the past four years.

What three words best describe Ho Chi Minh City?

Alive. Carefree. Busy.

How did you come to live in Ho Chi Minh City?

Someone in my family got sick and I moved to Ho Chi Minh City to help out. I was only supposed to be here for one year but have stayed longer than planned, partly due to COVID, but mostly because I fell in love with the city. It was also during this time that I was inspired with the idea for EQUO, which gave me a big reason to stay and explore Ho Chi Minh City.

What do you like most about living there?

I love the weather, how hot and sunny it is nearly all the time. I also love how people enjoy their lives and seem to be happy, no matter how much money they have, and how anything feels possible here — Vietnamese people have a “can-do” attitude. The food is also amazing — tasty yet healthy, with lots of vegetables and herbs incorporated.

Describe your favourite neighbourhood.

My favourite neighbourhood is the Thu Duc area just across from Cau Ba Son, a new bridge in the city. Thu Duc is a newly developed area, built less for condos and businesses and more for people to enjoy. The Saigon Riverside Park is located here, complete with food and games stands. There are also other parks along the waterfront, including one featuring sunflowers, and even a new mall in the area. You can see people flying kites every evening in Thu Duc as well. I love it!

Left: A park featuring sunflowers in Thu Duc. Right: Cau Ba Son on a sunny day. Click on each image to learn more.

If you could change one thing about Ho Chi Minh City, what would it be?

I would change the practice of parking and driving motorbikes on the sidewalk. It makes it difficult for the city to be walkable when there are so many bikes on the sidewalk (though it is part of the culture).

What might surprise a visitor about Ho Chi Minh City?

How developed and modern it is. People can find the entire spectrum here, from vintage, homey, and casual to modern, developed, and luxurious. However, I think some people perceive Vietnam to be a “Third World” country that is dirty and unsafe. In reality, I’ve found Ho Chi Minh City to be safer and more modern than many cities in Europe, Canada, and the United States — I don’t need to carry cash, everything can be paid online, and I feel absolutely safe walking around at 2 am. 

What are your favourite hidden gems or activities that only locals know about?

Kite flying in Thu Duc, walking across Cau Ba Son, and visiting the many great cafés and eateries in the city, such as:

  • Quan Bui for homey and traditional Vietnamese food
  • Cason and Bosgaurus Coffee, both for great Vietnamese coffee
  • Com Tam Nguyen Van Cu for amazing “broken rice” (a culturally significant dish made with broken grains of rice paired with other ingredients, especially grilled pork and fish sauce)
  • Banh Mi Huynh Hoa for really good Vietnamese sandwiches

What’s the most over-rated tourist hotspot?

Bui Vien — the “Backpacker District.” It’s known for its hostels, cheap eats, and night life. However, it’s just a big stereotype of Vietnam and not really a reflection of the modern country it is today. 

How easy is it to meet new people?

It’s really easy. There are lots of groups on Facebook you can join and opportunities to meet people at business events, social events, sports clubs, etc. As long as you put yourself out there, it is super easy to meet people.

What issues are particularly important to the people of Ho Chi Minh City?

Tourism and the state of the economy are important, especially for those running businesses. What is also important is enjoying life.

What is one local custom that every visitor should know about?

Saying “Hi (Chào)” and “Bye (Tạm biệt),” “Thank you (Cám ơn)” and “No, thank you (Không, cám ơn).” Just generally being kind and acknowledging people, whoever they are.

From riverside views to tasty eats to bustling nightlife, Ho Chi Minh City offers a vibrant mix of experiences. According to Marina, you can find the "entire spectrum" of city life here — "from vintage, homey, and casual to modern, developed, and luxurious." Click on each image to learn more.

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