We chatted to Singapore-based Aqua Expeditions CEO, Francesco Galli Zugaro about business travel in Ho Chi Minh City.
How often do you travel to Ho Chi Minh City, and who do you fly with?
I used to travel to Ho Chi Minh City from Singapore once a week when we were in the building stages of our cruise ship, Aqua Mekong. Since its launch last year, I now visit every six to eight weeks, either alone or with my family. I love going as the city has the same chaos and buzz that I miss from my time in South America.
What’s one thing everyone ought to know about the place?
HCMC is a truly vibrant city and has its own unique personality and atmosphere. The people are really friendly and although there is a lot of modern beauty within the city, there is an unmistakable blend of the nation’s war-torn history for visitors to explore.
How quickly can you get a visa? Online, embassy or visa on arrival?
It was announced late last year that Vietnam now offers free visas for five European countries: Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain.
Nationals outside these countries can pick up a visa on arrival at Tan Son Nhat International Airport, but will need to apply online in advance for a visa approval letter. This involves filling out an online application form; the pre-approval letter then normally takes around two to three working days to receive. A passport photo and $45 fee are required.
If you’re planning to travel to Vietnam via land or boat then you must visit a Vietnamese embassy prior to arrival to obtain a visa.
Fastest way into and around the city?
By far the quickest way to get around the city is by motorbike taxi or xe om (“say ohm”). These are a lot quicker than car taxis as they can weave through the city traffic. The accepted rate is 20,000 dong (90 US cents) for short rides, or you can charter one for around US$3 an hour or $15 a day.
When are the good and bad times to visit?
There is never a bad time to visit Ho Chi Minh City!
Which hotels do you recommend?
What’s the dress code for meetings?
Business casual. The weather is not too dissimilar to Singapore, so linen is great. You can get a custom made to measure linen shirt for US$65 in just three days.
Any cultural or business etiquette to be aware of?
Like most Asian cultures, when presenting your business card you should always offer it with both hands. It is also respectful to read the business card before you put it away.
If you’re taking a client to lunch or dinner, where do you go?
For lunch and dinner there are a few great spots. El Gaucho or Pizza 4P’s (world-renowned Japanese pizza maker) are good for meetings and The Deck in District 2 is also nice and the restaurant will arrange a private speedboat to transport you over.
Casual bars to go for a drink with clients where you won’t get hassled?
The rooftop areas at The Caravelle and The Racha Room are great, also 2 Lam Son, the martini bar at the Park Hyatt for cocktails. For a breathtaking view of the city, I’d take clients to Chill Skybar.
Any unsafe areas to avoid?
You should always be careful when travelling but generally HCMC is a safe city to visit if you take care of yourself and your belongings.
If you’ve got some spare time, what’s the must-see?
If you only have time to visit one thing in HCMC, immerse yourself in some of the city’s culture and history and visit the war museum and the Cu Chi Tunnels. It gives you a real sense of what HCMC went through and how much it has changed.
Gifts to take home for family and friends?
The city is full of shops that specialise in handmade local crafts such as silk scarfs and trinkets. Popular gifts include Vietnamese chopsticks that are made from special wood, along with conical hats and lacquer ware. Try Ben Thanh market.
Best local street food or dish?
It has to be Vietnamese pho cooked by the local vendors.
At the end of a trip, how long do you really need to get to the airport and get checked in?
Tan Son Nhat International Airport is only actually 6km away from District 1, so it should take about 20 minutes to get to the airport. Having said that, I would suggest giving yourself plenty of time as HCMC traffic is unpredictable!
Any other insider’s tips you can give us for HCMC?