Ho Chi Minh City – formally known as Saigon – is one of the best places to visit in Vietnam. From delicious food to beautiful French architecture to an up-and-coming craft beer scene, you’ll find no lack of things to do in Ho Chi Minh City.
Too often this booming metropolis is just a quick stopping point on many people’s Vietnam itinerary before heading to the north to Hoi An, Hanoi, and Halong Bay. But we think it’s a shame not to spend at least a few days in this big, bustling city. You can learn about the Vietnamese-American war at the War Remnants Museum, sip coffee at endless cute coffee shops, and party at posh rooftop nightclubs.
After traveling all over Vietnam, we actually made the decision to live in Saigon. And having explored all of the incredible things that this city has to offer, we have compiled our list of the best things to do in Saigon. Enjoy!
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Ho Chi Minh City Travel Tips
- The currency in Vietnam is the Vietnamese Dong (VND).
- Make sure you pick up a local Vietnamese SIM card. Internet is incredibly cheap and you’ll find it’s quite handy to have for using Google Maps and Grab to get around town. We recommend buying one at the airport as soon as you land.
- Instead of taking taxis, download Grab – it’s the Uber of SE Asia! You can just type your address into the app rather than having to explain it to the driver and you don’t need to negotiate the price before getting in.
- Saigon is organized into “Districts”, or neighborhoods. The “ex-pat community” is in District 2 and the “backpacker area” is in District 1. We live in District 4 because it is centrally located, but less expensive than District 1. Each District has its own unique offerings – for more info on the different districts, you can check out our ex-pat guide to Saigon!
- For more Vietnam travel tips, read our list of 15 things to know before visiting Vietnam!
Where to Stay in Ho Chi Minh City
The Cochin Zen Hotel is a truly lavish hotel in District 1, situated halfway between Ben Thanh market and Reunification Palace. You’ll love enjoying a refreshing cocktail on the rooftop pool with a view as well as working out in the well-equipped fitness center. Rooms are modern with every amenity you could wish for!
The 15 Best Things To Do in Ho Chi Minh City
1. Visit the Independence Palace
The Independence Palace (also known as the Reunification Palace) was originally called Norodom Palace. It was the base for Vietnamese General Ngo Dinh Diem until his death in 1963. Diem was incredibly unpopular and the palace was bombed by his own air force in 1962 in an attempt to assassinate him. So he decided to build a new residence there, but one that included a bomb shelter in the basement in case it happened again. His fears were realized when he was murdered by his own troops.
The new residence, the Reunification Palace became the home to the President of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War (or American War as it is called here). It is an incredible example of 1960s architecture. It is open-air, with classic 60s-style furniture and decor. Meeting rooms dominate the lower floor, with an impressive bar on the second floor, and a bomb shelter and communication hub in the basement.
This was also the site that ended the Vietnam War when a North Vietnamese army tanker crashed through the main gate in 1975. These days, a visit to Reunification Palace is on every visitor’s Ho Chi Minh City bucket list. It is also depicted on the 200,000 VND note.
Opening Hours: Daily from 8:00am – 3:30pm
Entrance Fee: 65,000 VND for adults, 15,000 VND for children
2. See the War Remnants Museum
The War Remnants Museum is an incredibly moving experience, one that will change the way you think about the casualties of the Vietnam War. As US citizens, most of us have been sheltered from the atrocities that our country inflicted on Vietnam. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll leave this museum feeling shocked and emotional.
The outside area contains a display of various vehicles and weapons that were used during the war. And the ground floor has a display of anti-war posters and memorabilia. As you climb up the stairs, the museum gets more interesting as well as more difficult to see.
Photos of the aftereffects of the chemical Agent Orange that was dropped all over Vietnam are incredibly sad and overwhelming. Disabilities that have resulted due to exposure to the chemical have passed down several generations. The Requiem exhibition of photos of journalists who were killed during the conflict is also heartbreaking.
A visit to the War Remnants Museum is sure to be an eye-opening and emotionally draining experience. It may not be a fun afternoon, but it is still one of the best things to do in Ho Chi Minh City.
3. Send a letter at the Post Office
Another one of the best things to do in Ho Chi Minh City is to send a letter from the central post office!
The Ho Chi Minh City Post Office was constructed in the late 1800s with Gothic architectural influences. It is by far the most impressive piece of French architecture in the city.
While the building is impressive from the outside, the interior really steals the show. Marvel at the grand arches inside, the beautiful marble floors, and the row of old wooden telephone booths on the left-hand side.
Ho Chi Minh City’s Central Post Office is actually still in use and on most days you’ll find it buzzing with activity. One activity that visitors to Vietnam love is buying a few postcards from one of the souvenir stands and sending them to friends and family back home.
The post office is right near the Notre Dame Basilica, the city’s cathedral, which is also worth a visit.
4. Shop Til You Drop!
The most popular place for tourists to shop in Ho Chi Minh City is Binh Than Market. Note that we said it is the most popular place – not the best. We find it to be crowded, overpriced, and full of generic trinkets. Prepare to get hassled by the overzealous ladies at each booth. And if you do decide to buy something at Binh Than Market, be sure to negotiate prices. You should pay 50-75% of their initial offering price.
For a more authentic market experience, you should check out Binh Tay Market in District 5. We also like the following markets:
- Central Market (Address: 4 Phạm Ngũ Lão)
- Saigon Square 1 (Address: 81 Nam Kỳ Khởi Nghĩa)
- Russian Market (Address: 328 Võ Văn Kiệt)
If you want something a bit more unique, we would recommend that you try out The New Playground (Address: 26 Lý Tự Trọng) for all of the latest fashion from hip Vietnamese clothing brands. It’s located just across the street from Vincom Center Mall. We also love the Hello Weekend Market which changes location every few weeks – check out their Facebook page for more details.
We actually wrote a whole guide about shopping in Ho Chi Minh City that you should check out if you want to do some serious shopping while you’re in town.
5. Embrace Saigon’s Coffee Culture
Vietnamese people are quite passionate about their coffee. And you’ll find cute coffee shops on virtually every corner of the city.
If you want to get some work done, check out The Workshop in District 1. They have coffee-snob-worthy brews, reliable Wi-Fi, and plenty of seating for everyone. If you’re looking for an Instagram-worthy coffee shot, Padma de Fleur is a florist turned coffee shop where your beverage comes served with a tiny bouquet. And L’Usine is an upscale coffee shop with some delectable American breakfast classics.
There are also several reliable coffee shop chains around town if you just want to get a quick coffee fix on the go. Phuc Long Coffee (pronounced “phoop lawm“) is our favorite classic Vietnamese coffee and Cong Caphe serves up some of the best coconut coffee in the country.
Also, while egg coffee may have originated in Hanoi, you’ll still find plenty of cafes serving up amazing egg coffee in Saigon. Try the amazingly cute Goc Ha Nội coffee shop tucked down a little alleyway off of Bui Vien Street or the hip Okkio Cafe near Ben Thanh market.
For more recommendations, read our post about the best coffee shops and cafes in Ho Chi Minh City.
6. See the Skyline from the Bitexco Tower
At 860 feet in height, the Bitexco Financial Tower is the tallest tower in Saigon to date. It provides absolutely spectacular views of the city below and is a must-visit when the skies are clear! The Saigon Skydeck is the observation deck on the 49th floor. Adults must pay 200,000 VND to catch the view from the observation deck and children 4-12, seniors, and people with disabilities will pay 130,000. Combine with the World of Heineken for 50,000 VND more (includes two drinks).
If that cost seems steep just for a view, consider checking out the EON Heli Bar on the 52nd floor. It doesn’t give you 360° views like the sky deck, but it’s free to enter. Cocktails are rather expensive by Vietnam standards but it’s a small price to pay for the amazing view.
7. Sample Saigon’s Craft Beer
Ho Chi Minh City has an amazing up-and-coming craft beer scene. Brewers from beer capitals around the world are moving here to try new and interesting flavor combinations. Tasting rooms are trendy and lively, and most also offer yummy snacks to complement their brews.
We loved the craft beer in Saigon so much that we wrote an entire post about it – The Best Microbreweries in Saigon!
8. Eat Seafood on Vinh Khanh Street
Have you been dreaming about slurping snails out of their shells while sitting on a tiny plastic stool on a busy street in Saigon? Well, you’re in luck because Vinh Khanh Street is lined with restaurants serving all types of fresh, tasty seafood. Figuring out how and what to order can be tricky so check out our complete guide to eating snails in Vietnam!
9. Stroll along the Pedestrian Mall
Nguyen Hue Street is a wide pedestrian-only area that runs directly in front of the People’s Committee, all the way to the river. It is off-limits to vendors and motorbikes so it is one of the only places in the city where you can walk without being concerned about getting hit or hassled.
There is a large, picturesque statue of Ho Chi Minh and a fountain that puts on a show in the evenings. Not only is it a lovely place to have a stroll, but the street is also lined with quaint coffee shops, delicious restaurants, and shops. Be sure to stop into Apartment 42 (sometimes called the “Cafe Apartments”) – an old apartment building that now contains trendy shops and eateries! If you’re facing the People’s Committee, it’s on the right-hand side, you can’t miss it.
10. Party on Bui Vien Street
Bui Vien is the backpacker street of Saigon. It’s similar to Khao San Road, but not quite as crazy. Filled with bars playing dance music, small beer shops with plastic tables spilling into the street, restaurants, coffee shops, and boutiques – you can see why backpackers love it.
Bui Vien is labeled as a “walking street” but that is most certainly not true. The sidewalks are filled with parked motorbikes and restaurant tables so you’ll be forced to walk in the street most of the time. And cars and motorbikes frequently drive on Bui Vien so they’ll be whizzing by you while you make your way down the crowded street.
Start your evening at a bar with outdoor seating so you can watch the madness unfolding around you. And later you can wander into whatever bar seems the liveliest! No doubt you’ll be partying here until the wee hours of the morning.
11. Check out the Ho Chi Minh City Museum
If you want to learn more about the history, culture, and tradition of Ho Chi Minh City, this museum is the perfect place to spend an afternoon. Not only is the building itself quite beautiful, but it also has a variety of interesting exhibitions housing archaeological artifacts, currencies, and old ceramic remnants. The museum extensively covers Vietnam’s fight for independence as well.
Outside you’ll find several war machines, including the jet that was used by a South Vietnamese soldier to bomb the Reunification Palace.
12. Listen to Live Music
There are quite a few live music venues in Ho Chi Minh City where up-and-coming locals sing American hits. One of our favorites is at the Ben Thanh Street Food Market, directly across the street from the souvenir market that bears the same name. Every Tuesday and Saturday night from 7:30 – 9:30 pm they have young artists performing your favorite hits. Plus they have a bunch of food and drink vendors for you to choose from!
Yoko Cafe is another great music venue in town. They have a wide variety of acts from blues to pop to acoustic. The space is small so be sure to arrive early if you want a table. Check their Facebook page to see what shows are coming up. Regardless of the artist, you’re sure to have a great time!
13. Dine on Dumplings in Chinatown
Chinatown is located in District 5 and is a great dining option if you are sick and tired of Vietnamese food. The dumplings here rival those that you’ll find at the best dim sum restaurants in Hong Kong, and for a fraction of the price!
We loved Sủi Cảo Đại Nương (address: 125 Duong Chau Van Liem, Phuong 14, Quan 5) but ordering was a bit confusing. You can order your dumplings fried, steamed, or in soup (or order all three as we did).
14. Take a Trip to the Mekong Delta
Visiting the Mekong river delta is probably the most touristy thing you can do around Ho Chi Minh City, but worth it if you’d like to see a bit of the countryside. It’s also easy to get off the beaten path if you plan your own Mekong Delta trip.
If you do decide to go with a tour group, there are two standard tour options. The shorter tour takes you to a small village where you’ll see a small honey factory and a candy shop. You’ll get to enjoy music by the locals and take a short boat ride on the Mekong. You’ll be encouraged to buy honey and candy and you’ll be asked for tips at the show and on your boat. It’s a bit off-putting but you can give a small amount or nothing at all if you prefer.
The longer tour takes you to a floating market in the Mekong river delta town of Can Tho. Or you can do a multi-day tour. No matter which tour you choose, expect a bit of a show but know that your tourism dollars are helping these communities.
15. Climb Through the Cu Chi Tunnels
The Cu Chi Tunnels are 75 miles of interconnecting tunnels that were used by the Vietnamese military during the Vietnamese War (or American War as they call it). They served as hiding spots and as routes for communication and supplies.
Many soldiers even lived in these tunnels for periods although living conditions were bleak. Of course, air and water were not readily available, but they also had to deal with the creatures living underground. Many soldiers became ill while living in the tunnels and malaria was not uncommon.
Today, tourists are invited to crawl around in the safer parts of the tunnels to experience what life was like for the soldiers during the war. If you have breathing difficulty or experience claustrophobia, this tour probably isn’t for you.