Andrea Ross (37), British
Managing Director at Robert Walters Singapore, Vietnam and Malaysia
How often do you travel to Ho Chi Minh City and who do you fly with?
I travel there once a month and stay for at least two to three nights during the week. I always choose Singapore Airlines, as the timings are more convenient. They have good up-to-date movies but since it’s a short flight, you’ll only have time to watch half of the movie so you have to remember to watch the other half on the way back. Vietnam Airlines is OK but there are no TVs onboard and you have to take a bus from where the plane lands to go to the airport terminal, so it can take longer to get to your hotel. The Tan Son Nhat International Airport has far more buzz than most in the region; it’s got a village mentality, so when you arrive, it’s a bit like everybody’s turned out to welcome to you.
One thing everyone ought to know about Ho Chi Minh:
The people in Ho Chi Minh are really friendly. Plus it’s very easy to get around the city.
How quickly can you get a visa?
You do need to get this sorted out early; even an emergency visa takes a few days.
Fastest way to get into the city:
Generally, the hotels will send a car to come and pick you up from the airport. If yours doesn’t, cabs are the safest mode of transport into the city – cab drivers usually understand simple English. The two reliable taxi operators are Mai Linh and Vinasun. Taxis are super cheap and aplenty on the streets too, though don’t forget when you see 106 on the meter it means 106,000. So get your dong before you go. Don’t rent a car if you’re there for a short while; it’s not worth it and mopeds are only for the brave.
When is a bad time to visit Ho Chi Minh?
Never visit during the Vietnamese Lunar New Year, also known as Tet in Vietnam, as the city comes to a standstill. That’s usually around January or February, depending on the Lunar calendar.
Any good hotels to recommend?
My favourite is the Park Hyatt Saigon (+848 3824 1234). I usually stay at the InterContinental Asiana Saigon (+848 3520 9999) but it gets booked up quickly, so if it’s not available I opt for the Hotel Sofitel Saigon Plaza (+848 3824 1555). I like the fact that the Sofitel is a bit of a walk to the office because I get to experience a bit more of the city. The service is really good at both but the breakfast is better at the InterContinental.
What’s the dress code for meetings?
The weather is similar to Singapore – hot and sticky throughout the year – so people tend to dress semi-formally. Office wear in Singapore will work in Ho Chi Minh. There’s no need to wear a jacket or tie for the first meeting.
Any cultural or business etiquette to be aware of?
The Vietnamese are not necessarily going to tell you if they’re not happy. Disagreeing can be uncomfortable, so be sensitive, have more one-on-ones and ask open-ended questions about how they feel. They’re keen to learn and they enjoy having people they can learn from but you have to be careful not to have a steamroller effect, so take your time.
You are taking a client to lunch or dinner, where do you go?
French bistro The Refinery (+848 3823 0509) is a classy place to go to if you’re into French cuisine. Another place is Jaspa’s (+848 3822 9926) – it’s a stylish modern fusion restaurant so you can’t really go wrong. The Deck Saigon in District 2 (+848 3744 6632) is another fusion restaurant that overlooks the water and is pretty at night. My favourite is a cool place called Xu Restaurant (+848 3824 8468); their modern Vietnamese food is to die for. The desserts are fantastic and the service is out of the world – the manager is attentive, fun and really knows his wine. In the evening, the chairs get moved away in the bar downstairs and it goes into full-on dance mode with
a DJ playing.
Check out celebrity chef Bobby Chinn’s new resturant next to the InterContinetal on Hai Ba Trung. It’s pricey for Vietnam but worth every dong, the food is incredible and it has an excellent cocktail menu. Chinn’s is good for business meetings, client schmoozing and dates.
Must tries: The pisctachio and yoghurt-covered grapes and the gin and tonic with a surprise pick-me-up.
Casual bars to go for a drink with clients where you won’t get hassled?
Spanish café and bar Pacharan (+848 825 6024) is a lovely place to go. Jazz music lovers should head to Purple Jade (+848 3520 9999). Or you can try Alibi (+848 3625 6257).
Any unsafe areas to avoid?
Ho Chi Minh is generally a safe city but, if possible, try not to go to Pham Ngu Lao late at night. It’s more of a backpacker area.
You’ve got some spare time, what’s the must-see?
Head to the Mui Ne beach, a long stretch of coast where locals fish and foreigners kitesurf. It’s a four-hour drive from the city. For the adventurous, the least explored places would be Thanh Da, Districts 2 and 7.
Gifts to take home for family and friends?
I particularly like a lacquerware store called Minh Phuong Art (+848 3823 1166) in District 1. To be honest, it’s a bit of a tourist trap, but it sells beautiful gifts at reasonable prices. Also, Ben Thanh Market is the one-stop-shop for everything. Skip the fancy restaurants and try the local food in the market!
How long before your flight do you really need to be at Tan Son Nhat International Airport?
I would say an hour and half just to be on the safe side. The airport is fairly efficient and customs queues are usually fairly short.
I like a small café that doesn’t have a name but is located outside Gates 15 and 16. I tend to raid the English magazine rack located nearby that’s stocked mostly with interior design magazines.