WHAT TO DO AND SEE IN HO CHI MINH CITY (SAIGON) IN VIETNAM?
In this ultimate guide, we listed all you need to know to prepare your visit of Ho Chi Minh City.
Ho Chi Minh City is an incredible city in South East Asia. A must-see if you are in Vietnam, very different to Hanoi, Vietnam’s Capital. Ho Chi Minh City is the economic powerhouse of Vietnam. This young and dynamic city has a lot to offer.
At first though, the 4 million motorcycles on the street might put you off. But this is part of the charm of the city.
Ho Chi Minh City, which everyone here continues to call Saigon (its name before 1975), has known 95 years of French influence, supported the Americans, & resisted the bureaucracy of the North. So there is a lot of history attached to Ho Chi Minh City.
Ho Chi Minh City was once known as Saigon, although this name was officially changed after the reunification of Vietnam. If you want to know more about Vietnam’s reunification period, you can visit monuments, museums and sites used during the Vietnam War, which we invite you to discover in this post.
Of course, another great thing about Ho Chi Minh City is the food! Well, like anywhere else in Vietnam, the food is absolutely delicious. We listed some of our favorite restaurants in this post, which you should totally check out during your visit of Ho Chi Minh City.
You can also immerse yourself in a bustling nightlife, one of the best in South East Asia! Rooftop bars, speak-easy, clubs, there are so many places to explore.
Some impressions of Ho Chi Minh City
So here is our list of the best things to do in Ho Chi Minh City:
1. Start by enjoying a Pho in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s most famous dish
You’ve probably heard of phở – Vietnam’s national dish. It is included in the list of the 100 best dishes in the world. If this is the first time traveling to Vietnam, you can’t leave Vietnam without trying a phở.
The soup is prepared from a broth to which the noodles are then added. You can choose from a variety of toppings to customize the dish. Most of the time, a Pho is served with Beef or Pork. But no worries, if you are vegetarian, they sometimes serve a version with veggies only. Phở is served in so many places around Ho Chi Minh City.
There are many places serving Pho, even from small stalls on the street, however here is our top 3 recommendations:
- Pho Hung: this is probably the most famous place in Ho Chi Minh City. Many tourists would travel to the city simply to eat their pho. It’s delicious, fresh, with plenty of herbs and the taste is out of this world. The interior is not something to write home about, in this place it’s all about the food and the food only (location)
- Pho Quynh: the competition for the best Pho is hard. Pho Quynh and Pho Hung are totally up there on top of the list. Hard to say which one is better, you just gotta try them both! hehe. (location)
- Pho Le: our last recommendation, which also makes it on the podium of the best Pho in Ho Chi Minh city. Another amazing noodle soup to make you feel amazing in Ho Chi Minh City (location)
2. Visit Giac Lam Pagoda
Giac Lam Pagoda, which dates back to 1744, is known to be the oldest pagoda in Ho Chi Minh City. the pagoda is located in a lovely garden and the name of the pagoda actually means “Forest Feeling Pagoda”.
At the entrance of the pagoda, you will find a graceful Bodhi tree, sacred in Buddhism, which was donated by a monk from Sri Lanka in 1953. You can walk through it and admire the picturesque architecture of the pagoda while enjoying its serene atmosphere.
3. Discover the War Remnants Museum
This is one of the most visited museum in Ho Chi Minh City and one of the best things to see in Ho Chi Minh City. Initially, it was called the “American War Crimes Museum”… Then its name was changed so as not to offend American tourists.
The visit begins in the courtyard, in the open air: deadly hardware used during the war, Bell UH-1 Huey helicopter, a Chinook helicopter (the largest), an M48 tank of 48 t, combat flights, including the F5A Jet Fighter, 175 mm artillery pieces, a 40 t D7 bulldozer, a flame thrower, as well as several types of bombs.
Inside the museum it’s much more informative with lots of photos and information about the Vietnam war. Be aware that the visit of this museum can be quite disturbing and emotional. It’s never nice to see memories of the war. However, it’s a must-see in Ho Chi Minh City to fully understand the history of Vietnam.
Opening hours: 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Entrance fee: 40,000 VND
4. Join a cruise on the Saigon River
If you want to admire the city from a different angle, we highly suggest a beautiful cruise at night on the Saigon River. A boat tour of Ho Chi Minh City on the Saigon River allows you to observe the different ways of life that surround this bustling metropolis. The Saigon River flows from Cambodia into southern Vietnam before emptying into the East Sea near the Mekong Delta.
In Ho Chi Minh City, the river is also joined by the Dong Nai River and the Ben Cat River. Along the banks, there are villages, underground passages dating from the Vietnam War, skyscrapers and old houses.
The Saigon River is still very active and it is the only way to experience sights such as the Cu Chi Tunnels, Hidden Canals and the Mekong Delta. There are a number of tour operators offering cruises which can be booked as private charters or as part of a group trip.
Some offer dinner cruises on the Saigon River and fire dancing on board, private tour during sunset, others offer day trips to discover some of the historical and cultural highlights only accessible by boat on the Saigon River.
5. Visit the central post office
The post office is one of the most beautiful French colonial architecture in Saigon. It actually looks like a train station!
Built from 1886 to 1891, it is supported by a huge metal frame, the work of Gustave Eiffel. The colors of the walls, the space, everything inside is retro. It is one of the best things to see in Ho Chi Minh City.
Opening hours: Mon-Fri 7am-7pm, Sat 7am-6pm, Sun 8am-6pm.
6. Visit the Reunification Palace in Ho Chi Minh City
This historical monument entered history on April 30, 1975, at 10:45 a.m., when tanks 843 and 390 of the 203rd brigade of the North Vietnamese army broke through the heavy iron gates of the park. This world famous image marked the fall of Saigon, the end of South Vietnam and the end of 30 years of ruthless war.
A small green soldier then climbed the facade of the presidential palace, tore down the South Vietnamese flag and replaced it with the blue and red flag of the GRP (Provisional Revolutionary Government).
It was first called the Independence Palace and then the Presidential Palace. Presidents Diem and Thieu remained there. It occupies the site of the former residence of the Governor General of Indochina, a beautiful and large colonial building from 1868 which was bombed in February 1962 during an attempted coup.
Entrance fee: 40,000 VND
Opening hours: 7:30 a.m. – 11:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.
7. Enjoy a drink in Pham Ngu Lao street
If you are looking for nightlife in Ho Chi Minh City, you must go to Pham Ngu Lao Street.
There you will find plenty of bars, cafes, restaurants etc. It’s a great place to enjoy a drink after a full day of sightseeing!
8. Enjoy a cup of Vietnamese coffee at Tao Dan Park
You may not know it but Vietnam is one of the largest coffee producers in the world. Its cultivation dates back to the early 1800s, when French settlers brought the first coffee trees.
Today, most of the country produces robusta, a type of very strong coffee different from what we are used to in the west (arabica). So don’t be surprised by the difference in taste.
Vietnam’s signature coffee is known as “ca phe sua da”, an iced coffee made with a dark roast, mixed with condensed milk and served over ice.
One of the best places to taste it is Tao Dan Park. If you go there in the morning, you can walk around and buy a cup from a street stall.
9. Visit of Notre-Dame Cathedral
Notre-Dame Cathedral is located at the end of Dong Khoi Street (where the central post office is located).
The Cathedral is one of the most beautiful monuments in Saigon. The Cathedral was built from 1877 to 1880 in a neo-Romanesque style, topped with two square bell towers and spires 40 m high that can be seen from all the rooftops of the city.
The stone and red brick facade were brought from Toulouse & Marseille in France! The Cathedral is one of the best things to see in Ho Chi Minh City.
Opening hours: Mon-Sat 8am-11am, 3pm-4pm.
Masses: Mon-Sat at 5:30 a.m. and 5 p.m.; Sun at 5:30 a.m., 6:30 a.m., 7:30 a.m., 9:30 a.m. (in English), 4 p.m., 5:15 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.
10. Visit the History Museum of Ho Chi Minh City
The history museum is located in a beautiful botanical garden and dates from 1929. It was initially a French colonial villa which was transformed into a museum. You will find objects dating back 4,000 years.
Many pieces date from the Bronze Age, but there are also objects from the Cham and Khmer kingdoms.
These include collections of weapons, pieces of art and gifts said to have been given to Ho Chi Minh by visiting dignitaries.
Opening hours: Mon-Sat 8am-11:30am, 1pm-5pm. (closed on Monday)
Entrance fee: 30,000 VND
11. Explore the Mekong Delta
The Mekong Delta is made up of 39,000 square kilometers of waterways. This is one of the best things to see in Ho Chi Minh City.
The Mekong Delta is the most important agricultural and fishing region in Vietnam. It is also one of the most popular destination for tourists in Vietnam. Here you can cruise on a boats, try fishing, visit fishing market, taste tropical food and see the daily activities of people living in this remote part of Vietnam.
Visiting the Mekong Delta during a trip to Ho Chi Minh City is simply a must. In full honesty, this is one of the best things we did while visiting Vietnam. There are many tour which propose day trips including lunch and other great activities. >CHECK IT OUT HERE<
12. Discover the Cu Chi tunnels
Ho Chi Minh City’s main attraction is the Cu Chi Tunnels! Those tunnels have been used by the Vietcong guerrillas at the time of the Tet Offensive in 1968. The tunnels are made up of a series of underground chambers that extend 30 kilometers outside the city. It is a vast maze of underground tunnels that stretch all the way to the Cambodian border.
You can now visit sections of the tunnels and crawl through the small spaces to experience the living conditions of the Vietcong during the Vietnam War.
If you want to better understand the history of Vietnam, visiting the Cu Chi Tunnels is a must. This is one of the best things to see in Ho Chi Minh City.
To visit the Cu Chi Tunnels, you need to join a tour group or a private tour. >CHECK IT OUT HERE<
13. Admire Cao Dai Temple
There are a number of Cao Dai temples in Vietnam, but the one in Ho Chi Minh is considered the finest of its kind.
The construction of the temple took 20 years and was completed in 1956. Inside you will find carved and ornate dragons, but the real attraction is the mix of religious statues.
They include effigies of Christ, Brahman and Buddha, which reflect a range of beliefs in one building.
The temple is located 96 km northwest of Ho Chi Minh City, in the city of Tay Ninh. Caodaism is a new religion invented by a Cochin Chinese official. in the 1920s, as an attempt at a synthesis between the great religious philosophies of the West and the Far East.
This extraordinary assemblage of such different spiritualities and doctrines is perfectly illustrated by this temple.
14. Check out Binh Tay and Cho Lon market
Binh Tay Market is located in the Cholon district of Ho Chi Minh City. You will find a large clock tower and a central courtyard.
The market was built in the 1880s, during the colonial period. It is nice to walk around and try different food. Here you will find local dishes like noodle soups or you can simply stop for a coffee. If possible, try to come early in the morning to enjoy the lively atmosphere.
In the past, there were dark places known for opium dens, brothels, gambling dens of all kinds, shady and smoky shops, so many places controlled by the Chinese.
It is only nice to visit the market in the morning. Afterwards the area becomes very empty, without much interest…
15. Visit one of the tallest tower in Ho Chi Minh City and its skydeck
At the bottom of Nguyen Hue Avenue, on the right before arriving at the river, the small Ngo Duc Ke street leads to the Bitexco tower, one of the tallest tower in Vietnam.
You can go up to the Sky Deck, located on the 49th floor, to admire the 360 degree view of the city. However we recommend to go to Eon café instead which is free where, for a little less than the right of access to the Sky Deck, you will be entitled to a drink!
16. Admire the Phuoc An Hoi Quan Pagoda
One of the prettiest templs in Ho Chi Minh City is the Phuoc An Hoi Quan Pagoda, which is very colourful with an explosion of red, gold and yellow.
The pagoda dates from 1902 and is covered with ritual brass ornaments as well as ancient weapons.
Don’t forget to take a look at the intricate wooden carvings around the altars, walls and columns, as well as the large aromatic incense coils.
You will also find colorful hanging lanterns here and the walls are lined with ceramic tiles that tell the stories of local legends.
17. Visit Ben Thanh Market, the oldest market in Ho Chi Minh City
Ben Thanh Market is one of the best things to see in Ho Chi Minh City. The market is located on a large square formed by the intersection of Le Loi Boulevard, Ham Nghi Boulevard, Le Lai Street and Tran Hung Dao Boulevard. It is open daily from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. After 6pm, stalls are installed on the main square for a night market.
This is the oldest, largest, liveliest market in Ho Chi Minh City. Built in 1914, when the French knew this place as the Central Halls. It is topped with a framed roof and the main entrance stands out thanks to its belfry. Inside, you can find everything: meat, fish, vegetables, spices, dried fruits, flowers, clothes, fabrics, hardware…
The market is a great place to buy souvenir. Also there are many small counters where you can eat and drink at a very cheap price, in an authentic Saigon atmosphere.
18. Visit Ho Chi Minh Museum
The Ho Chi Minh Museum was built in 1885, although at that time it was known as the Gia Long Palace and then the Museum of the Revolution.
It is generally said to be the tallest historical building in the city. Here you can learn all about the culture and history of Ho Chi Minh City.
Among the collections on display are ceramics, old maps of the city and wedding costumes belonging to the different ethnic groups of Vietnam.
As you might expect, there are also galleries devoted to the history of the Vietnam War.
Opening hours: 8AM – 5PM every day
Admission fee: 30,000 VND
19. Eat a delicious Banh Mi in Ho Chi Minh City
Banh Mi is probably the most famous of all Vietnamese food besides Pho. A Banh Mi is made from a crispy baguette which is then covered in pâté and garnished with chili peppers and cilantro.
However, many restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City offers many variations of the Banh Mi with vegetarian options as well. There are 2 awesome Banh Mi restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City:
- My Banh Mi: this is our favorite one. They have so many great choices and also offers amazing fresh juices. (location)
- Bánh Mì Huynh Hoa: expect a long line before you get your hands on one of the best Banh Mi in town. This place is very famous and recommended by most guide books. Indeed, their Banh Mi is absolutely delicious (location)
20. Admire the Cha Tam Church
Cha Tam Church. also called St. Francis Xavier Church, was built in the 19th century and is painted a beautiful caramel color on the outside.
If you venture into the church itself, you’ll find a plaque that marks the spot where President Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu were seized in 1963 as they tried to flee the presidential palace.
In this context, the church is an integral part of Vietnam’s history and worth visiting if you are in the area.
21. Visit the Fine Arts Museum in Ho Chi Minh City
Housed in a remarkable colonial building, the former home of a wealthy Chinese merchant (the very one who built the great market of Cholon), the museum exhibits beautiful sculptures, paintings and various traditional Vietnamese objects.
The 1st and 2nd floors are dedicated to contemporary paintings and pictorial works. The main theme being the Vietnamese struggle against the invaders in diverse art forms: paintings, drawings, etchings, woodcuts, watercolours, various posters, some of which reveal real talents and beautiful pencil strokes! Some sculptures too, old pottery and engraved lacquers.
The 3rd floor presents several remarkable fine arts such as stone sculptures from the Champa kingdom, Buddhist and Hindu sculptures from the Mekong Delta, Oc Eo and post-Oc Eo art. Then, continuing through a dozen rooms, Vietnamese ceramics dating from the 14th to the 20th century, statues dedicated to popular worship, Khmer statues from South Vietnam, objects decorative wooden furniture, including a magnificent chest of drawers adorned with floral motifs.
Admission fee: 30,000 VND
22. Walk around Nguyen Hue Avenue
The “Champs-Élysées” of Saigon! This is the main avenue in the city and worth visiting!
In the upper part, around the town hall and the intersection with boulevard Le Loi, there the new Union Square shopping center. There are many bars and restaurants along the avenue too. Make sure to check it out when you are in Ho Chi Minh City.
23. Have a drink on one of the many rooftops
In any city in Vietnam you will find amazing rooftops. For the best view of the city, make sure to check at least one during your trip.
Here is our recommendations of the best rooftops in Ho Chi Minh City:
24. Ho Chi Minh City Opera House
The Ho Chi Minh City Opera House is located on Lam Son Street, at the intersection of Dong Khoi Street and Le Loi Boulevard. This is one of the best things to see in Ho Chi Minh City.
It was inaugurated in 1900, with an architecture similar to the Petit Palais in Paris. The Ho Chi Minh City Opera House is stunning, especially at when its illuminated at night! It served as an Opera until 1955 and then housed the National Assembly until 1975. Today it has regained its original vocation as an Opera.
25. Walk around Dong Khoi Street
In colonial times this road was called rue Catinat, the name of the flagship of the French fleet which docked there in the 19th century (the boat had been baptized after Catinat, the name of a marshal of Louis XIV).
At that time It was already an upscale street, lined with beautiful boutiques, hotels and cafés with terraces such as La Rotonde and La Taverne Alsacienne (on the site of the Majestic Hotel).
After the partition between the north and the south of the country, in 1954 it became rue Tu Do, “rue de la Liberté”. Then it was the Vietnam War and the American presence which was embodied in a series of bars such as California, Mimi’s Bar, Uncle Sam, Play Boy…
After the fall of Saigon in April 1975, it was renamed Đường Đồng Khởi, meaning “General Uprising Street”. Today, the artery is lined with many chic souvenir shops (lacquers, silks). Going up from the river, there are some well-preserved vestiges of the “time of the French”: the Majestic hotel, at no. 1, the Opera, the Caravelle hotel and the InterContinental hotel, three venerable buildings gathered around the crossroads formed by Dong Khoi Street and Le Loi Boulevard.
BEST RESTAURANTS IN HO CHI MINH CITY/ WHERE TO EAT IN SAIGON?
- Ngon Restaurant (Quan An Ngon in Vietnamese): This restaurant is located in one of the best locations in Saigon, right next to the Reunification Palace. But it is above all its wealth of Vietnamese recipes and original ways of presenting dishes that attract many customers: fresh spring rolls, noodles from Hue, crabs with black peppers…
- The Deck Saigon restaurant: located by the riverside of Saigon, a 15-minute walk from the city center, this restaurant is a must try in Ho Chi Minh City. The food is outstanding and the view to the river exceptional.
- Vietnam House Restaurant Well located and highly recommended, this restaurant offers authentic Vietnamese menus. During your dinner you will be accompanied by traditional music played by Vietnamese musicians.
- Bun Chả 145: here you will be served exclusively bun cha (fresh noodles with rolls stuffed with seafood). This is one of our favorite dish in Vietnam. Here the most authentic and exotic Vietnamese atmosphere await you.
Best hotels in Ho Chi Minh city? Where to stay in Saigon?
The best hotels in Ho Chi Minh City can be found mainly in the city center, surrounded by cultural sites and popular attractions. The unique blend of French colonial architecture and the more oriental style of Vietnam has resulted in some truly magnificent buildings to stay in.
Here is a list of our recommended hotels in Ho Chi Minh City.
Hôtel des Arts Saigon – MGallery – $$$$
This is our favorite hotel in Ho Chi Minh City. We love the overall design and vibe of the hotel. The rooms are super comfortable and the food for breakfast delicious. Combining Indochina French Style with the 21st century comforts and French-style luxury, this hotel is superb!
On top of that the hotel has its own rooftop with an unbeatable view of the city!
Hotel Caravelle – $$$$
Hotel Caravelle is in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City, with an exceptional restaurant, shopping, nightlife and attractions within walking distance (Saigon Opera House is just opposite the hotel). Opened in 1959 and combining French and Vietnamese architecture, as well as colonial and modern style, Hotel Caravelle is the first five-star hotel in Saigon.
The Bloom Pham Viet Chanh – $$
For an affordable hotel downtown Ho Chi Minh City and one of the best value for money in the area, we recommend The Bloom Hotel. The location is great, the rooms are really spacious, breakfast absolutely delicious. This is one of the best hotels in Ho Chi Minh City for this price range!
How to get to Ho Chi Minh City/ How to get around the city?
If you are travelling from Da Nang or from Hanoi, then we highly recommend flying to Ho Chi Minh City. From Da Nang you also have the option of taking a bus or train, however the journey is 16 to 18h, whereas with a flight the journey lasts 1.5h. Besides flight prices are really affordable, you can compare the best prices here.
To get around in Ho Chi Minh City, you can simply take a taxi (or GRAB). Also if you stay in the City Center, most sights can be visited on foot.
How long to stay in Ho Chi Minh City?
3 full days including a day trip to the Mekong Delta and Cu Chi Tunnels would be the ideal time to visit Ho Chi Minh City. If you do not include any day trips then Ho Chi Minh City can be visited in 2 days.
When is the best time to visit Ho Chi Minh City? Is there a rainy season in Ho Chi Minh City?
December to early May are the best months to visit Ho Chi Minh City as the chances of rain are very low. It is also high season, so hotel prices are higher.
The rainy season in Ho Chi Minh City is from August to November. During the Monsoon period the rain can be quite intense!
In conclusion about the best things to see in Ho Chi Minh City
With its modern buildings, department stores, bustling rooftops and upscale cuisine, Ho Chi Minh City is far from the typical Southeast Asian metropolis you’d expect.
The “capital” of southern Vietnam, formerly called Saigon, is a good starting point to get a first glimpse of Vietnamese culture. We visited Ho Chi Minh City many times over the years and we are always amazed by the energy of this young and dynamic city. However, if you are visiting Ho Chi Minh City as part of a trip to Vietnam, then count 2-3 days to visit the main sights.
However, Ho Chi Minh City is a great place to visit in Southeast Asia.
For more posts about Vietnam, click here.
Enjoy your time in this wonderful place and this wonderful country!
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