LIKE VIETNAM’S FAMOUS high-octane coffee, Ho Chi Minh City is a jolt to the system. Between the chaotic dance of the motor scooters hurtling through the streets, the businessmen in bespoke suits downing bowls of pho, the old women shouldering pots of coconuts on balanced poles, and the ubiquitous vendors peddling an irresistible array of Vietnamese street food, the sheer energy of the place is intoxicating.
Though long a major port of call for the Mekong Delta’s rice trade, a recent warming of relations with the West has led Ho Chi Minh City out of its postwar doldrums into a blooming economic renaissance. Now the city (call it Saigon-most natives do) is transforming its skyline and streetscape with a puzzlework of new high-rises and luxe shops. An average day in modern Saigon might involve sipping artisanal beer at a Czech brewpub, haggling over the price of silk scarves at a market and white-knuckling it on a crosstown scooter-taxi ride en route to April 30 Park-all punctuated with regular doses of sweet iced coffee. You’ll need the kick to keep up with the pace of life in this frenetic city.