This post was last updated on February 21st, 2020 at 08:26 am
Welcome to Ho Chi Minh City, still known as Saigon to many locals and travelers. You have arrived in one of Vietnam’s largest cities. Life in the city is going fast and there seems to be no end to the relentless flow of scooters that determine the street scene of the city.
The city came into the hands of the French in 1859 and during a walk through the city you can still see many influences of that time, especially in the architecture. For a long time Saigon was the capital of Vietnam until it came into the hands of the North Vietnamese in 1975 who changed its name to Ho Chi Minh City.
Ho Chi Minh City is developing at lightning speed and the contrasts in the city are great. One moment you are drinking cocktails in one of the luxury sky bars and the other moment you are sitting on a small plastic stool eating a bowl of soup.
In addition to a number of interesting sights and a few excursions outside the city, this city is all about the street life and nightlife. Ho Chi Minh City has the best nightlife and restaurants in Vietnam and you can enjoy yourself here all day just eating and drinking.
The Best Time to Visit
The city can be visited all year round, but the best time to visit Ho Chi Minh City is from December to March. The temperature is very pleasant, which makes a long city walk extremely enjoyable.
The rainy season runs roughly from June to November and is also a pleasant time to visit the city. On cloudy days it doesn’t feel that hot. The rain usually comes in short but heavy bursts at the end of the afternoon.
Ho Chi Minh City is located in the south of Vietnam, 1800 kilometers south of the capital Hanoi. For many travelers, this is the start or end destination of their journey. Tan Son Nhat International Airport is 6 kilometers north of the city center (designated as District 1) and is easily accessible by bus or taxi.
15 Best Things to Do in Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City has quite a few sights. It is worthwhile to stay here for a few days to explore the atmospheric neighborhoods, markets, and alleys. The city doesn’t only have “old” cultural attractions, but also contemporary ones such as museums, shopping malls, and trendy bars with impressive views. These are the 10 best things to do!
1. Visit the War Museum
If you are in Ho Chi Minh City you should not miss this museum. The War Remnants Museum is an icon in this city and a great day out if you want to know more about the bizarre war that was going on in Vietnam. You will find pictures, stories of victims, and old army vehicles from both the Vietnamese army and the American army.
Outside the museum, you can see American weapons and vehicles such as tanks, a UH-1 Huey helicopter, and unexploded weapons. The story about the war is fairly one-sided, which is understandable from a Vietnamese point of view. Make no mistake, the pictures in the museum don’t lie and can even be experienced as shocking. Yet it is an impressive visit.
TIP – Entrance fee is 15,000 Dong per person, around $0.60.
2. Go to the Jade Emperor Pagoda
This temple was built in 1909 and it is one of the best-known temples in the city. It is full of statues of heroes from ancient times. In the temple, you will also find 2 large statues of two generals who, according to legends, have defeated a green dragon and a white tiger. You will find many locals here who pray at this temple.
This Pagoda, also known as Tortoise Pagoda, is one of the five most important shrines in Ho Chi Minh City. Amidst the burning incense, you will feel like you are miles away from the energetic city.
TIP – Entrance is free.
3. Visit the Cao Dai Temple
The Cao Dai temple is the center of the Cao Dai faith, a mix of Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Taoism, and Confucianism. Tourists are welcome to visit the temple and to learn more about this faith practiced by a few dedicated followers.
Every Cao Dai practitioner wears a white robe with an extra sash to indicate their religion. The temple itself is particularly colorful with dragons and other drawings on walls and ceilings.
TIP – Entrance is free. The temple is about 50 kilometers outside of Ho Chi Minh City.
4. Go Shopping at the Binh Tay Market in Chinatown
Cholon is the Chinatown of Ho Chi Minh City. It is one of the nicest and most atmospheric neighborhoods in the city. Although it is less Chinese than it once was, you can still find Chinese influences in restaurants, market, and temples. There is a lot to see in Cholon.
The first of the two most important sights here is the Binh Tay Market, where you can buy everything. The Binh Tay Market, built by the French in the 1880s, is also known as Cholon Chinatown Market. The building is on Thap Moui Street. Here, you can find an assortment of handicrafts, lacquerware, and textile. It is a nice place to experience the local lifestyle and dishes.
The second important sight here is the Phuoc An Hoi Quan Pagoda, an impressive Chinese temple.
TIP – The market is open every day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
5. Visit the Reunification Palace
The Reunification Palace is a special building in the middle of the city. Different from all other buildings, but also impressive. Surrounded by palm trees, this government building (built in 1960) is an almost frightening spectacle in the otherwise atmospheric Ho Chi Minh City.
A walk through the deserted corridors gives this palace something spooky. The building is related to the fall of the city in 1975, but it is the kitsch details and the remarkable architecture that stands out the most.
TIP – The entrance fee is 30,000 Dong (US$1.30).
6. Shopping at the Ben Thanh Market
The Ben Thanh Market, located in District 1, is perhaps one of the best-known markets in Ho Chi Minh and also the most popular. It is an amazing mix of stalls selling food, clothing, souvenirs, and everything to do with Vietnam.
This market is popular with both tourists and locals and you can easily spend hours there.
The prices are quite high, so don’t be afraid to bargain. The Ben Thanh market is also a popular night market, with many food vendors setting up stalls where you can try some typical dishes such as Cơm tấm.
TIP – There have been reports pickpockets here so keep your valuable possessions close to you!
7. Rooftop Bars
If there is one city in Southeast Asia, besides Bangkok, where you can have a drink with a spectacular view, it is Ho Chi Minh. The city has a number of gigantic buildings that all have a breathtaking view of the city.
You need something for it (appropriate clothing and be prepared to pay a lot for your drinks), but it is more than worth every penny. It is a nice experience to look out in the evening over a city that is fully illuminated by scooters and neon lights.
Keep in mind that not all bars are always open, or allow tourists. So you can’t just walk into a tall building and expect them to let you in. Always ask locals for advice.
TIP – Some famous bars are; Saigon Saigon, Shri, M Bar, Alto Heli bar, Level 23 Nightspot, and Rooftop Garden Bar.
8. Notre Dame Cathedral
This cathedral is not to be confused with the one in Paris, although it is just as impressive. The cathedral in Ho Chi Minh City was built between 1877 and 1883 in the center of the city. The 2 towers of 60 meters high standout high above the street scene. It is an impressive church and also a bit strange in a Buddhist country.
Aside from being one of Ho Chi Minh City’s most important attractions, the Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral still serves as a religious institution for the locals. The best time to visit is during the Sunday Mass at 9:30 a.m.
TIP – There is an English tour from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. every Monday to Saturday which is well worth the effort. Admission is free.
9. Dong Khoi Street
Dong Khoi Street extends from Notre Dame Cathedral to the Saigon River. This street is full of shops and cozy bars and is home to many boutique and designer stores. If you’re looking for more market stores while you’re in Ho Chi Minh, Dong Khoi is the place to be.
If not, this street is still worth a walk to admire the colonial buildings and the contrast between old and new. On this street, you can also find the Continental Hotel, the Opera House, the Caravelle Hotel, the central post office, and the Hotel de Ville, all beautiful colonial buildings.
10. Enjoy the Coffee and Street Food!
Vietnam is one of the largest coffee exporters in the world, together with the Cocora Valley in Colombia. Vietnamese coffee is tasty, cheap, and available almost everywhere. Everywhere on the street, you will find coffee shops where you can get tasty coffee.
Prices range from US$0.40 at street vendors to $3 or more at the prime locations.
Vietnam’s reputation as one of the world’s tastiest street food didn’t come out of the blue. You have a lot of expensive restaurants here (hence the name Paris of Asia), but it is much more fun to try the local dishes on the street. That is even better for your budget too.
TIP – A meal on the street only costs around US$3.
11. Visit Cholon, Ho Chi Minh City’s Chinatown
Cholon is the old Chinese district in district 5. The district is ideal for a walk and has a number of very beautiful pagodas, markets and old Chinese houses. The Binh Tay market, for example, is a very interesting market to visit. In terms of building style, this is very similar to the more touristy Ben Tanh market, but here you will not be bothered by aggressive sellers.
The sellers sell in bulk here and are the supplier for many stores in the city. The food court in the rear part of the market is a great stop for a lunch where you can choose from a large number of delicious dishes.
12. Dam Sen water park
If you have had enough of the heat in the city or are traveling with children, a day at the Dam Sen water park is a welcome change. The park has a large number of slides and a swimming pool. A short taxi ride will take you to the park.
13. Ho Chi Minh People’s Committee
Designed by the French architect Gardes, this building at the head of Nguyen Hue Street is a real landmark in Ho Chi Minh City. Because the building is still being used by the government, it is not possible to take a look inside.
14. Nguyen Hue Walking Street
The walking street on Nguyen Hue is a welcome addition to the city. Finally there is a place which is not overrun by scooters. The street is popular with tourists and locals and is a great place for an evening stroll. The street is flanked on both sides with a range of coffee shops and ice cream joints.
15. The Central Post Office
This typically French colonial post office is one of the oldest buildings in Ho Chi Minh City and has long been the busiest post office in Vietnam. The exterior and interior of the office are beautiful and the ceiling looks amazing.
The large portrait of Ho Chi Minh has also been given a prominent place in the building. Although the office is now primarily a tourist attraction, you can still send packages and cards here. A good opportunity to send a card home when you are there.
Activities for Children
At first glance, the hectic streets of Ho Chi Minh City may not seem very child-friendly, but there is the Saigon Skydeck at Bitexco Financial Tower, water parks, swimming pools, water puppet shows, many green parks, family-friendly cafes and ice cream shops.
Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon
The city is named after Hồ Chí Minh, a Vietnamese communist revolutionary leader. Ho Chi Minh was president of Vietnam (North Vietnam) between 1945 and 1969. He was of great importance in the foundation of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in 1945, and in that of the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) and the Vietcong during the Vietnam War.
The city of Ho Chi Minh was taken over by the French in 1859. After a long series of incidents and clashes between South and North Vietnam, the French were defeated in 1954 by the Viet Minh, founded by Ho Chi Minh. The Viet Minh was a group that was against the French and Japanese and for an independent Vietnam.
Ho Chi Minh was president of Vietnam (North Vietnam) between 1945 and 1969.
Saigon fell on April 30, 1975, and the Saigon regime surrendered to the Communists. Part of the population saw this as the fall of Saigon. Another section regarded it as the liberation of the corrupt South Vietnamese government in Saigon.
The name of Saigon was officially changed in 1976 to Ho Chi Minh City. This is a reference to Ho Chi Minh, the first president of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Although the city is now called Ho Chi Minh City, many Vietnamese continue to call it Saigon.
Many travelers start their journey in Ho Chi Minh City and travel further north into the country from here. The infrastructure is, by Vietnamese standards, also pretty good here. There are a number of famous places in the region that you can visit from Ho Chi Minh with an organized day trip (or several days). These are the most important.
1. Vung Tau
Vung Tau is a popular weekend trip from Ho Chi Minh City. Locals, expats, and travelers all travel to this coastal town. It is not very special, certainly not if you compare it with other beach resorts in Vietnam, but it is a nice trip if you are tired of the city.
TIP – Come here during the week, during the weekend it gets very crowded and prices rise!
2. The Cu Chi Tunnels
The Cu Chi tunnel complex is one of the most famous sights in Vietnam. Not only is it a special location, but it is also a location with an extraordinary story. The Cu Chi tunnels are the well-known network of underground tunnels in the Cu Chi region.
These tunnels are only part of a gigantic tunnel system that runs through the entire country. The tunnels were used by the Vietnamese soldiers during the Vietnam War.
TIP – Read more about the living conditions in the Cu Chi Tunnels.
3. Cao Dai Temple
Many tours combine a visit to the Cu Chi Tunnels with a visit to the Cao Dai temple in Tay Ninh. Caodaism is a relatively new religion that originated in 1926 in the city of Tay Ninh. Here you will also find the largest Cao Dai Temple in Vietnam.
4. The Mekong Delta
The Mekong Delta feels like a kind of fairy tale where life takes place on and around the mighty Mekong. It is a miracle of Mother Nature that you end up in. Sailing in a boat you can see everything passing by.
Floating houses, market, and schools are very normal here. Visiting the Mekong Delta will be one of the highlights of your trip through Vietnam. It is one of the best-known attractions in Vietnam.
A visit to the Mekong Delta is an escape from the dizzying bustle of the city. Here, it seems like life only passes half as fast. Water buffalos relax in the rice fields, boats full of coconuts, fruit, or rice pass by at a leisurely pace and through the narrow, brown rivers you can discover local life as a kind of fata morgana.
TIP – Read more about the Mekong Delta area.
Fly to Vietnam’s Most Beautiful Islands
Ho Chi Minh City is the perfect base to visit the paradise islands.
Within an hour you can fly from Ho Chi Minh City airport to the beautiful Phu Quoc island or the idyllic Con Dao. On these islands you will find the best beaches in Vietnam. An absolute must, but first you should read about the best time to travel to South Vietnam, because the rainy season can haunt the islands.
Food and Drinks
From street food to fine dining. Ho Chi Minh City has it all and it is here where you will find the best restaurants in Vietnam. We will give you some great locations for food and drinks. Also have a look at Saigoneer. Here, you can find all information about dates of events and what the latest hotspots are.
Saigon Street Food Market
If, like many tourists, you are a little wary of the hygiene of all the street food, this is the place to go. Opened in 2015, this market houses a variety of stalls selling all the traditional Vietnamese street food dishes. The market is clean and perfect for tourists who want to try different dishes.
After you have ordered, you can take a seat at one of the long tables at the back of the market. Its central location just behind the Ben Thanh market makes it a must-visit.
Address: 19 Thu Khoa Huan.
Vietnamese Food on Pasteur street
At 160 Pasteur you will find the famous Vietnamese restaurant Nha Hang Ngon. The restaurant is housed in a beautiful colonial building and all Vietnamese classics are served. In the alley to the right of this restaurant at number 158 you will find an absolute gem in the restaurant scene of Saigon; the Secret Garden restaurant, located on a roof.
You will find the entrance in the alley after which you have to climb a number of stairs. The restaurant serves dishes that can be described as “Vietnamese home cooking style”. The atmosphere in the restaurant is fantastic and because you are sitting on a roof, a breeze provides cooler air. Reservations are required at the weekend.
Some other great restaurants for Vietnamese and Western food can be found in central Saigon. Cholon has a number of excellent Chinese restaurants. Those who want a simple bite to eat can go to food stalls along the side of the street. These sell tasty Vietnamese dishes at extremely low prices.
In the morning they mainly have pho, a delicious soup with noodles, bean sprouts and meat. Food stalls can be found in the vicinity of the Ben Thanh Market.
Bui Vien Street (Backpackers Area)
If you want to experience the Ho Chi Minh City nightlife, you have to visit the street drinking scene on Bui Vien Street in District 1. It is the backpacker’s center of the city and welcomes a mix of foreigners and local Vietnamese. You can chat all night long while drinking cheap beers on small plastic bar stools along the street.
There are also many cheap restaurants and different night clubs if you want to show off your dancing moves later in the evening. Bui Vien street is where it happens in the evening.
Cocktails at a Rooftop Bar
Ho Chi Minh City has one of the most impressive collections of rooftop bars in the world. The best known and most popular are Saigon Saigon, Chill Skybar, Rex Rooftop Garden and Glow Skybar Saigon.
Chill Skybar is the most famous sky bar of Ho Chi Minh City and is close to the backpackers area of Pham Ngu Lao. From this building you have a beautiful view over the busy streets of district 1. We recommend arriving here around sunset.
Saigon Opera House
In the Saigon Opera House, culturally minded people are able to see the best of the visual arts that Vietnam has to offer. The range of performing arts include ballet, music concerts, traditional Vietnamese dance and live theater, with the AO show being the best-known.
Ben Thanh Night Market
Although it’s the busiest during the day, the night brings many street food vendors to the streets with a wide variety of fish dishes, as well as many clothing and souvenir stalls.
How to Get to Ho Chi Minh City
The airport of Ho Chi Minh City was one of the largest in the world some 50 years ago and today there is still a lot of flying going on. Of course, there are good connections with all cities in Vietnam, but you can also easily fly to Vietnam from the rest of Asia and Europe.
You can take the bus from all over the region to Ho Chi Minh City. The bus from Da Lat takes seven hours, from Mui Ne it takes more than four hours, the ride from Nha Trang takes nine hours and from the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh it takes about seven hours.
Ho Chi Minh City can be reached by train from all over Vietnam. If you come directly from Hanoi it will take no less than 36 hours, from Da Nang it is about half; 17 hours.
From the Airport to Your Hotel
After arriving at the airport it is all pretty clear. After customs and collecting your luggage, the taxis are already waiting for you. A trip to district 1 should not cost more than 200,000 VND (US$8.60).
Airport Bus 152 or 109
Cheap and easy. The airport bus number 152 and 109 will take you to the Ben Thanh bus station, in the heart of the city, in about 30 minutes.
The price for bus 152 is around 6,000 Dong ($US0.25) depending on how much luggage you have. You can find the bus by walking to the right after arrival.
Recently there is also the option to take the slightly more comfortable bus 109 for around 20,000 Dong (US$0.85) to the center. The yellow buses have a striking appearance and they take you from the airport to district 1 in a short time.
Best Hotels by District
Ho Chi Minh City is divided into 24 districts. It is important to first find out in which district you will be looking for a hotel.
The Best Districts to Stay in
The best district to choose, if you want to be close to the center, is district 1. District 1 is closest to the city sights, restaurants and nightlife scene. Most day trips starting in Ho Chi Minh City will offer a pickup in district 1; not always the case with other districts.
District 1 (Center)
- Close to many sights worth seeing.
- Busy nightlife scene.
- Wide range of restaurants.
- Hotels, restaurants and bars offer different budget levels.
- The area can get very busy.
- 10-20 minutes to the center.
- Many expats.
- Calmer atmosphere.
- Lack of historical sights and attractions.
- Not many options in terms of accommodations.
District 5 (Chinatown)
- Many budget and middle class hotels.
- A wide range of street food and affordable restaurants.
- Not many bars and pubs in the area.
- Not many options in terms of accommodation.
Hotels, Hostels & Homestays in District 1
- Nest Hotel – US$16 a night
- Baoanh Hostel – US$16 a night
- Coucou Homestead – US$25 a night
- Little Saigon Homestay – US$35 a night
- Ben Thanh Retreats Hotel – US$40 a night
- Christina’s Saigon – The Mothership – US$55 a night
Hotels in District 2
- Gem Apartment – US$22 a night
- Karta Riverview Apartment – US$30 a night
- Greenwood Villa Saigon – US$35 a night
- Sen Boutique House – US$35 a night
- La Maison de Pierre – Lakeview – US$45 a night
- La Casita Saigon – US$125 a night
Hotels in District 5
- Natural House Hostel – US$8 a night
- SPOT ON 710 Sakura Hostel Cholon – US$10 a night
- The Common Room Project – US$18 a night
- Golda Hotel – US$30 a night
- Hotel Equatorial Ho Chi Minh City – US$80 a night
- Windsor Plaza Hotel – US$90 a night