- Top Things To Do in Ho Chi Minh City
- 1. Foodie Venture: The Best Thing to Do in Ho Chi Minh
- 2. Lively Vietnamese Coffee Culture
- 3. A Nation Reunified at Independence Palace
- 4. A Moving Experience at War Remnants Museum
- 5. Shopping at Ben Thanh Market
- 6. Saigon Notre Dame: A Vatican Basilica
- 7. Architectural Delights at Central Post Office
- 8. Ho Chi Minh City Museum Insights
- 9. Cho Lon as Chinatown in Saigon
- 10. Cu Chi Tunnels: The Bloodlines of Vietnamese Wars
- 11. Ngoc Hoang: Jade Emperor Pagoda
- 12. Caodai Temples: Unique Religion of Vietnam
- 13. Giac Lam Pagoda: The Oldest Pagoda in Saigon
- 14. Vibrant Buddhist Culture at Vinh Nghiem Pagoda
- 15. Stroll Along Nguyen Hue Walking Street
- 16. Dinner Cruise Full of Romance
- 17. Pham Ngu Lao Street: A Go-To for Backpackers
- 18. Ho Thi Ky Market: Flowers and Cambodian Food
- 19. Little Tokyo in Saigon
- 20. International Delicacies in Thao Dien Ward
- 21. Hanh Thong Tay Night Market and Clothes for Cheap
- 22. Starlight Bridge Illumination
- 23. Mariamman Hindu Temple
- 24. Jamia Al Muslimin Mosque
- 25. Mekong Delta For a Southern Adventure
- Getting Around Ho Chi Minh City
- Travel Tips for Ho Chi Minh City
Come to Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnamese spelling: Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh) and you will experience the city that never sleeps. Locals and visitors alike say Saigon (Sài Gòn) lives during the night.
This vibrant city of 9 million, formerly known as Saigon before reunification, attracts people from all over Vietnam as well as a growing international community. This diversity is one of the key factors that makes for all the amazing things to do in Ho Chi Minh City.
Ho Chi Minh City provides access to the southern delta regions as well as the popular coastal city of Nha Trang and the hinterland of Dalat (Đà Lạt) city.
Top Things To Do in Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City is most loved for its delectable variety of local foods, many of which can be enjoyed at roadside stalls or casual sit-down eateries. You can also savor the best of international cuisine from Little Tokyo to Chinatown to Thao Dien Ward.
The architecture is a blend of traditional places of worship, old colonial structures, and towering modern shopping complexes. There are many exciting things to do in Ho Chi Minh City, and if you’re in for some wild fun, don’t miss out on the liveliest part of this city— it’s nightlife.
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1. Foodie Venture: The Best Thing to Do in Ho Chi Minh
Some of the best food in Saigon will be found along the streets. If you enjoy Vietnamese pho, broken rice, banh mi, then you will definitely not want to miss them in their birthplace.
District 1 is a good place to start your foodie venture. A nice place to sit down is the Ben Thanh Street Food Market which is open day and night. There are also great food tours, also for vegans, by foot or by scooter with local guides.
A lot of locals would say popular Vietnamese dishes are breakfast foods, but everybody eats them however and whenever they feel like it. Not to mention, Vietnam’s got a lot more to offer when it comes to food.
2. Lively Vietnamese Coffee Culture
Coffee was introduced to Vietnam during the French Colonial times in the 1880s. It’s now a distinctive and inseparable part of Vietnamese culture. Some of the best coffee you’ll ever taste comes from the tropical highlands of central Vietnam.
Nowadays, the coffee culture of Vietnam consists of 3 main aspects: traditional, themed, and specialty. Traditional Vietnamese coffee uses a tin drip cup, or a handheld net submerged in a kettle of boiling water.
Themed coffee shops exploit interior design and a specific architectural style to enhance your coffee experience. Specialty coffee haunts are all about skill in selecting and roasting coffee beans, as well as using different brewing and filtering methods.
3. A Nation Reunified at Independence Palace
Independence Palace (Dinh Độc Lập) has been a symbol of unification and independence in Vietnam since 1975. Nowadays, it’s a historical monument you can visit and also functions as a ground for national and international affairs.
A separate exhibit, that can be purchased on the same ticket, details the transition from the Norodom Palace, the original building, into the Independence Palace from 1868 to 1966.
Learn how the design of Independence Palace incorporates the essence of Vietnamese values and chivalry into modern architecture.The palace is featured in many documentaries, and schools as well as educational institutes frequently schedule visits.
4. A Moving Experience at War Remnants Museum
War Remnants Museum (Bảo tàng Chứng tích Chiến tranh) is a confronting photographic story of the Vietnamese war. It’s consistently voted one of the top interesting museums on Tripadvisor.
Every day, ex-soldiers, reporters, and the younger generations come here to receive a reminder on the horrors of war. There are Vietnamese and English explanations as well as audio guides for the objects on display. The souvenir shop inside sells items made from recycled war material, postcards, and books published by the museum.
Established in 1975, the museum location has its own story to tell. The War Remnants Museum has taken over 45 years to collect and preserve more than 20 000 documents, artifacts, and photographs.
5. Shopping at Ben Thanh Market
Ben Thanh Market (chợ Bến Thành) is the iconic symbol of Ho Chi Minh City and a popular destination for many tours. It’s a great place to do some shopping and enjoy the best of Saigon food.
The Day Market is open from 7 AM to 7 PM with different sections selling souvenirs, clothes, and sweet or savory treats. In the evening from 7 PM to 4 AM, the outdoor Night Market opens and you can browse around or get something to eat.
Don’t be afraid to haggle down to half-price by equipping yourself with some simple Vietnamese phrases. A crowded market tends to appeal to pickpockets and snatchers, so be careful of your belongings.
6. Saigon Notre Dame: A Vatican Basilica
Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral (Nhà thờ Đức Bà) is a stronghold of Catholicism in Vietnam where mass is still held every day. In 1962, the Vatican named it Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of The Immaculate Conception (Vương cung thánh đường Chính tòa Đức Mẹ Vô nhiễm Nguyên tội).
The cathedral has a fascinating history, and most materials were imported from France including the red bricks, tiles, stained glass, and the six bells inside the two towers. The cathedral has one of the two oldest pipe organs in Vietnam, and the giant clock between the bell towers was imported from Sweden in 1887.
Currently, the cathedral is undergoing its 4th renovation which started in June 2017. During which time, activities like taking photos are not allowed. However, the mass inside the cathedral is still held every day.
7. Architectural Delights at Central Post Office
Out of all the old French colonial structures in Saigon, the Central Post Office (Bưu điện thành phố) is by far the most acclaimed. It was designed by Alfred Foulhoux, the chief architect of the time, and built between 1886 and 1891.
This French colonialist style combines a Renaissance exterior with a cavernous Gothic interior. Ornate fleur-de-lis decorate the pilastras outside, and a typical iconic clock adorns the entrance. Inside, you’ll find classic wood furnishings and painted wall maps.
The Saigon Central Post Office also has a shop where you can buy souvenirs, traditional toys, and nicely crafted accessories. For those who can still grasp the nostalgia, you can purchase some postcards and snail-mail a couple of travel diary entries.
8. Ho Chi Minh City Museum Insights
Ho Chi Minh City Museum (Bảo tàng Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh) is modest yet informative about the history and life of peoples in Saigon and also Vietnam. Formerly the Gia Long Palace (Dinh Gia Long), the museum has exhibitions dating back to the 1600s.
Exhibits include artifacts and maps of ancient Vietnamese empires. There are also displays on revolutions throughout the country’s history. Everything has English explanations.
During the 2020 pandemic, renovation of the two special exhibition rooms is ongoing. Other exhibits are still open and tickets are down to half-price. Spacious as it is, the museum lacks air-conditioning so you should bring some water.
9. Cho Lon as Chinatown in Saigon
Cholon (Chợ Lớn) or Chinatown (Khu phố Hoa) is home to many of Saigon’s ethnic Vietnamese – Chinese residents. The area dates back to the late 17th century when Cholon and Saigon used to be separate cities.
The word Chợ Lớn simply means Big Market but its place in the history of Saigon is much more. This area showcases a fascinating perspective into the ethnic diversity in Vietnam.
Chinatown spans across Districts 5,6, and 11 which are to the west of Ho Chi Minh City center. You can stroll streets with a unique mix of Vietnamese and Chinese architecture, visit pagodas, sample the best Chinese food in Saigon, and shop in its busy markets.
10. Cu Chi Tunnels: The Bloodlines of Vietnamese Wars
If you are interested in experiencing the extremes of Vietnamese life during times of war, then head to Cu Chi Tunnels (Địa đạo Củ Chi). These tunnels were first dug from 1946 to 1948 during the First Indochina War to gain a strategic defensive foothold.
They started out as small individual tunnels to communicate between villages and evade scouting French soldiers. The tunnels were then expanded into a network that covered over 250km during the American Vietnam War. They incorporated living areas, kitchens, storerooms, armory, and even schools, hospitals, and command centers.
There are 2 sets of the Cu Chi Tunnels. Ben Dinh (Bến Đình) is closer to HCMC and best if you’re limited for time. However, Ben Duoc (Bến Dược) is the more authentic experience.
11. Ngoc Hoang: Jade Emperor Pagoda
Phuoc Hai Pagoda (Chùa Phước Hải) is known as Jade Emperor Pagoda (Chùa Ngọc Hoàng) by locals. It was built around the beginning of the 20th century by Chinese traders and is a fusion of Taoist and Buddhist beliefs.
The Pagoda exemplifies feng shui design, and inside are ornate wood panelings, statues with incredible detail, and unique paper mache figurines. In 2016, former US president Obama visited this place on his tour of Vietnamese culture.
People usually come here to pray for success in business, fruitful partnerships, or for children at the shrine of the fertility goddess. You can easily participate in the worship by purchasing oil for the lamps or lighting candles.
12. Caodai Temples: Unique Religion of Vietnam
Caodaism (đạo Cao Đài) is a uniquely Vietnamese religion established in Tay Ninh Province (tỉnh Tây Ninh) in 1926. It has played a special role in Vietnamese history and has millions of followers worldwide.
Go to a Caodai temple and you will see worshipable figures from all over the world. From religious figures like Jesus, Moses, Buddha, Lao Tzu, and Confucius, to historical ones like Victor Hugo, Louis Pasteur, Joan of Arc, and Shakespeare— all gathered under one roof.
Tours to the Cu Chi Tunnels often include the most popular Caodai temple in Vietnam— Tay Ninh Holy See (Thánh thất Tây Ninh). The main temple is the best representation of Caodai architecture with English explanations for the sacred objects.
13. Giac Lam Pagoda: The Oldest Pagoda in Saigon
Giac Lam Pagoda (Chùa Giác Lâm) is the oldest pagoda in Ho Chi Minh City dating back to 1744 during the reign of the Nguyen Lords. It is located about 7km away from the city center in Tan Binh District (quận Tân Bình).
While most pagodas in Vietnam have typical Chinese architecture, Giac Lam’s architecture is uniquely that of Southern Vietnam. In 1988, it became a National Heritage Site.
After passing through the main gate, you’ll see a statue of Buddha under the bodhi tree and the seven-story stupa. The main building is long and rectangular consisting of 98 ornately carved pillars and over 100 historic statues.
The Pagoda got its current name in 1772 and since then has gone through many periods of renovation and construction of which records are displayed in the main hall.
14. Vibrant Buddhist Culture at Vinh Nghiem Pagoda
Vinh Nghiem Pagoda (Chùa Vĩnh Nghiêm) is one of the biggest and most modern pagodas in Ho Chi Minh City. Located about 3.5 km from the city center, its architecture is mainly of Northern Vietnam with a mix of Japanese Buddhism.
Visitors usually come early in the morning to experience the peaceful atmosphere. Crowds gather here during Lunar New Year, the 15th of every month, and other special occasions when religious activities take place.
The main structures consist of the Grand Entrance, the Main Hall along with the Grand Bell gifted by the Japanese Buddhist Association in 1975. The rest are auxiliary halls and the towers.
The Pagoda was built between 1964 to 1971 based on the design of Nguyễn Bá Lăng. There’s a vegetarian restaurant in this temple and a gift shop. If you walk down or across the road there are numerous shops selling Buddhist artifacts.
15. Stroll Along Nguyen Hue Walking Street
Nguyen Hue Walking Street (Phố đi bộ Nguyễn Huệ) has become a favorite hang-out spot as it offers many things to do, especially for the younger generations. Nguyen Hue is an excellent spot for an afternoon stroll with drinks and snacks.
On one end of the Street is a giant bronze statue of Ho Chi Minh and the other is the Saigon River. In between are shopping malls, buildings, restaurants, and street vendors.
Nguyen Hue comes to life as night falls when the fountain show starts, and crowds gather around street performances. You can dine out at many trendy restaurants above the street and enjoy the scenes below.
16. Dinner Cruise Full of Romance
Admiring the city lights at night while cruising along the Saigon River (sông Sài Gòn) is a great way to unwind after a busy day. There are many cruise ships that offer this service at the Saigon Harbor near the Dragon Harbor Museum, about 3km from the city center.
Dinner by the candlelight is always a romantic choice for couples, but you can also view the marvels of the towering Landmark 81, or Bitexco Financial Tower while enjoying live music performances.
The service may include hotel pick-ups, a full-course dinner or buffet, traditional live music, and ballroom dancing. Some cruise ships also provide bookings for events like seminars, parties, fashion shows, and ceremonies.
17. Pham Ngu Lao Street: A Go-To for Backpackers
Pham Ngu Lao street (đường Phạm Ngũ Lão), also known as Foreigners’ Street, is filled with bars, clubs, and places to go grab food and beer on the cheap. If you’re all about exciting nightlife, then this corner of Saigon is for you.
You can always find something that fits your wallet here, from BBQ skewers, and sandwich vendors to fruit smoothies. There are also Indian and Thai restaurants, or you can splash out at a more fancy place.
If you’re transiting Ho Chi Minh City for less than a day, this street has excellent things to do from hanging out at a bar, eating some good food, to hunting around for souvenirs.
18. Ho Thi Ky Market: Flowers and Cambodian Food
Ho Thi Ky Flower Market (chợ hoa Hồ Thị Kỷ) is located 3km away from the city center in District 10. It opens 24/7 and gets busiest around 3 AM to 6 AM. It’s when the flowers get transported, distributed, and early buyers come to handpick the best blooms.
However, if you’re not shopping for flowers, you can explore this market for mind-blowingly cheap Cambodian street food. For less than 5 USD, you can fill yourself with all kinds of grilled meat skewers, noodle dishes, and sweet treats.
Established in 1987, Ho Thi Ky is one of the biggest flower markets in Ho Chi Minh City. There are also shops selling gardening tools, vases, and baskets. They may overcharge tourists, so remember to bargain in a calm and respectful manner.
19. Little Tokyo in Saigon
If Chinatown is to explore during the day, then Japantown (khu phố Nhật) awaits after sunset. Starting from 15A and 15B Le Thanh Ton (Lê Thánh Tôn) street to Thai Van Lung (Thái Văn Lung), you can stroll down the road for 2 km and through the alleyways.
When you’re tired, grab a bowl of hot ramen, some sushi, sashimi, gyoza, or yakiniku. And if you feel like having a drink afterward, head to the Japanese-style bars or lounges.
Little Tokyo was one of the first expat neighborhoods in Ho Chi Minh and mostly settled by Japanese company workers. Gradually Japanese establishments grew to cater to their needs, and it became a popular tourist area.
In recent times, many original restaurants and bars have relocated to the quieter Japantown along and around Pham Viet Chanh (Phạm Viết Chánh) street in nearby Binh Thanh (Bình Thạnh) District.
20. International Delicacies in Thao Dien Ward
Thao Dien Ward (Thảo Điền), District 2, is about 9km from the city center on the other side of the Saigon River. In its narrow side streets and broader leafy avenues, you’ll find some of the most authentic European restaurants, delis, bakeries, and craft beer breweries in Saigon.
There are also classic American burger joints, bagel shops, diners, and a scattering of good Japanese, Korean, and Indian restaurants, too. One of its riverside bars has achieved international fame and listing.
It’s an area favored by many expat Europeans with international schools, luxury residences, tower blocks, and gated estates mixed in with the quirkiness of a Vietnamese village atmosphere.
21. Hanh Thong Tay Night Market and Clothes for Cheap
Hanh Thong Tay Night Market (chợ đêm Hạnh Thông Tây) is the go-to for locals when it comes to buying casual clothing for cheap. Located 11km away from the city center, Hanh Thong Tay is like every other local market during day time, but at night it gets extra lively and crowded.
The reason why the clothes here are cheap is they are mostly factory rejects from local export manufacturers. Even though the clothes may be a little out of fashion, they still look as good as new.
Protip: Find parking outside the market area to avoid getting packed in. Take time to check out different stalls for the best deals, and bargain in a calm and respectful manner.
22. Starlight Bridge Illumination
As the city lights up at night, so does Starlight Bridge (cầu Ánh Sao) and the surrounding park. Known as one of the top spots for couples, Starlight Bridge is 170m long, 8.3 meters wide, and studded with solar-powered LEDs.
The white LEDs on the surface give you a feeling of walking the Milky Way and look like a colorful waterfall from afar. On the ends of the bridge are two squares with steps, one representing the Sun and the other representing the half-full Moon.
Protip: Starlight Bridge is located 9km away from the city center in District 7, where there are many restaurants serving international cuisine.
23. Mariamman Hindu Temple
Mariamman Temple (Chùa Bà Ấn Độ) was originally built by Indian traders from Tamil Naidoo in 1885 and is in the typical colorful South Indian style. The inner sanctum is for worshipping the Hindu Goddess Mariamman who bestows wealth, good health, and gives protection to those traveling abroad.
Nowadays, both religious and non-religious visitors can come and experience the sacred atmosphere, worship the deities, and give offerings. One ritual visitors usually perform is to gently press their face and palms against the stone walls beneath the deities, then whisper their prayers and their inner thoughts.
24. Jamia Al Muslimin Mosque
There are about 12 mosques in Ho Chi Minh city and the Jamia Al Musulman Mosque (Nhà thờ Hồi Giáo Musulman) is the biggest. Built in 1935, this is one of the places of worship for Islam practitioners residing in and visiting the city.
Otherwise known as Central Mosque, non-Muslim visitors can also come and experience aspects of Muslim culture, especially Halal food from inside the Mosque and surrounding diners.
Even though Islam entered Vietnam as early as the 10th century, less than 0.1% of the Vietnamese population practice this religion. However, that doesn’t mean Islam in Vietnam is inactive.
25. Mekong Delta For a Southern Adventure
The Mekong Delta in Vietnam (Đồng bằng sông Cửu Long) includes many provinces in the southern region of the country. Tours to the Mekong Delta from Ho Chi Minh City include a wide variety of destinations and activities along the way.
Key things to do may include: riding a boat to local specialty shops, enjoying the cuisine and traditional music, visiting temples, exploring farms, canoeing, and Cai Be floating market (chợ nổi Cái Bè) to shop for fruits, sweet treats, and dried goods.
Tours may last half a day, one day, overnight, or even over two to four nights. Some Mekong Delta tours also include Cu Chi Tunnels.
Getting Around Ho Chi Minh City
On Foot: Walking short distances, exploring your hotel locale, or in the downtown is generally fine. It can get hot walking long distances, and sidewalks in many locations are often narrow or taken over by motorbikes.
Grab: This is the equivalent of Uber in Vietnam. Using Grab Car is cheaper than taxi, and it’s even cheaper for a single person bike ride. All you need is an Internet connection and a phone number to receive SMS. You can browse their English language homepage for more information.
Bus: Using Google Maps, it’s fairly easier to go places by bus. Just choose the Public Transportation tab, then enter your location and destination. Each bus has a number representing its course, and Google Maps will show you which bus to take, where to get off, and the extra distance to walk. One-stop tickets usually cost around 7 000 VND.
Taxi: Taxis are easy to stop along the street or you can call one from your hotel front desk. Alternatively, major taxi companies also have English language smart apps for your phone, so you can book a taxi from wherever you are. Search your app store for Vinasun or Mai Linh taxi companies.
Private Motorbike Tour: This form of tour has become popular among visitors for all the right reasons. For a reasonable price, you’ll have a personal tour guide who can also take you to friendly local places.
Motorbike Rental Services: You can find many of these services online. They will require you to bring your passport along with your international and national driving license. You may also choose to purchase insurance.
Travel Tips for Ho Chi Minh City
Best Time to Visit: January to March when it’s quite cool and doesn’t have a lot of rain.
Accommodation: Visitors staying for more than a couple of days can save money by picking hotels around District 10 and Phu Nhuan District. They are only about 10-20 minutes away from the city center in District 1 and rates are usually half.
Food: Street food vendors and local diners are places you can get cheaper and more authentic Vietnamese food.
Commute: You can walk from place to place within a district, otherwise, Grab Bike or Car, a taxi, or local buses are convenient choices.
Culture: Important buildings, especially religious structures and museums, require visitors to wear clothes covering knees and shoulders.