With over 10 million people and seven million bikes, Ho Chi Minh – Vietnam’s largest city – formerly called Saigon – is one of the craziest places in the world. It’s always hot, noisy and chaotic. Despite all of these, it’s one of Asia’s most visited destinations mainly because of its chequered past and vibrant present. There is a lot to experience in Ho Chi Minh. So to get you started, here are the top 15 things to do to in Ho Chi Minh City.
One thing to keep in mind is if you’re planning to visit Hanoi, don’t skip Ho Chi Minh City as the two Vietnamese cities are quite different. Although there are a number of things to do in Hanoi that might sound similar to Ho Chi Minh’s attractions, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City have distinctly different vibes. So, when visiting Vietnam, put these Ho Chi Minh City attractions on your list.
- Ho Chi Minh City
- 15 Things to do in Ho Chi Minh
- 1- Admire fine French Architecture
- 2- Drink coffee and eat croissants in a French Cafe
- 3- Visit the War Remnants Museum
- 4- Tour of the Reunification Hall
- 5- Visit the Ho Chi Minh Museum
- 6- Explore the Jade Emperor Pagoda
- 7- Discover the Sri Mariamman Hindu Temple
- 8- Go shopping in Ho Chi Minh
- 9- Explore Ben Thanh Market
- 10- Eat Vietnamese street food
- 11- Cruise the Saigon River
- 12- See the view from Saigon Skydeck
- 13- Experience Ho Chi Minh City Nightlife
- 14- Cross a busy street
- 15- Go on a scooter tour
- 16- Explore Cao Dai Temple
- 17- Stroll Along Nguyen Hue Boulevard
- 18- Relax In A City Park
- 19- Visit the Cu Chi Tunnels
- 20- Explore the Museum of Vietnamese History
- How to get to Ho Chi Minh City
- Where to stay in Ho Chi Minh City
- Ho Chi Minh City Tours
- 15 Things to do in Ho Chi Minh
Ho Chi Minh City
15 Things to do in Ho Chi Minh
1- Admire fine French Architecture
The French occupied Ho Chi Minh City for almost a century starting from 1861.
They urbanised the earlier Khmer settlement into a thriving metropolis that emerged as the capital of the French Protectorate of Cochinchina, later known as South Vietnam.
The French beautified the cityscape with wide boulevards and parks, pastel-hued buildings that housed offices and homes for the European occupiers.
Many of these buildings still exist today and are well-preserved reminders of the city’s heyday.
Don Khoi and Lam Son Square areas in District 1 is the best place to see French architecture.
An eye-catching building is the former Hotel de Ville or the City Hall building, which now houses the office of the powerful People’s Committee.
Others that draw attention are the Notre Dame Cathedral, Central Post Office and the Opera House.
Many hotels that opened their doors during the French era – Caravelle, Rex and Majestic – still stand grandly as part of the city’s heritage.
They fill parts of Ho Chi Minh City with old-world charm.
Another city in Vietnam with a strong French influence is Vung Tau.
2- Drink coffee and eat croissants in a French Cafe
In addition to bricks and mortar, the French legacy in Ho Chi Minh City can still be felt in the city’s cafes and bakeries.
Ho Chi Minh City has plenty of places where locals love socialising over a cup of coffee and a pastry or a baguette.
3- Visit the War Remnants Museum
Vietnam’s history is influenced by many wars and the War Remnants Museum is the best place to learn about the atrocities of war.
The most significant war to Vietnam, and perhaps to the entire world, has been the war between North Vietnam and USA-supported South Vietnam which ended in 1975.
A visit to the War Remnants Museum is a sobering reminder of the horrors of the war which lasted for more than a decade and killed over three million people.
The courtyard is packed with US military hardware, such as tanks, bombers and other artillery.
Inside the museum are rooms displaying numerous photographs and documents that provide a graphic account of the brutal episode in Vietnam’s history.
Many of the images are disturbing, particularly the ones of the Ma Lai Massacre, which was a horrific atrocity committed against 500 unarmed civilians of Ma Lai village, all women, children and old men.
Other chilling items are a French guillotine, last used in 1960 to execute a prisoner, and models of the infamous tiger cage used to torture the captives.
4- Tour of the Reunification Hall
Walk through the compounds of the former French Governor’s residence, which later became the South Vietnam President’s Palace before it was renamed Reunification Hall.
It was here on 30 April 1975 the triumphant North Vietnamese forces crashed through its wrought iron gates to capture Saigon and reunite two parts of Vietnam.
The well-maintained building stands today as it was left in 1975.
Guided tours are available for visitors through its rooms, chambers, secret hideouts and wartime tunnels, most still fitted with original furniture and settings.
The grandeur of the building is worthy of a head of state, particularly when you see the presidential living quarters.
It appears the former South Vietnamese president had time for entertainment as evident from the card room, bar and the home cinema on the third floor.
The huge dance floor and casino on the fourth floor is impressive.
The basement tour is a portal into another world, with an extensive network of tunnels, war rooms, communication centre, huge kitchen and even a bedroom for the president to catch some sleep during wartime.
5- Visit the Ho Chi Minh Museum
Any visit to Vietnam wouldn’t be complete without learning more about the father of the nation, the man who led the reunification is none other than legendary Ho Chi Minh.
In Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh enjoys a similar status to Gandhi in India and Mandela in South Africa.
His colourful life is of great interest to many and one of the best places to find out more about him is the Ho Chi Minh Museum.
Two floors of a former French building displays photographs, document, artefacts and Ho Chi Minh’s personal items.
The impressive displays provide an in-depth window into his life journey and the people who influenced him (like Nehru, the first Prime Minister of independent India).
6- Explore the Jade Emperor Pagoda
Most people think that as Vietnam is a communist nation, religion is not important.
On the contrary, many different religions were worshipped throughout Vietnam’s history.
Besides many Buddhist pagodas, Taoist shrines and a couple of Hindu temples, the city also has quite a few mosques and Catholic churches like the Norte Dame Cathedral.
Vietnamese people are fairly religious and tolerant of all faiths.
You probably won’t have time to visit all of them but one not to miss is the Jade Emperor Pagoda, which is certainly the city’s most captivating place of worship.
7- Discover the Sri Mariamman Hindu Temple
The Sri Mariamman Hindu Temple has a richly decorated and colourful tower built to worship the Hindu goddess Mariamman.
Admire the exquisite statues of Mariamman and other Hindu gods and goddesses throughout the temple.
The temple is regularly frequented by visitors.
8- Go shopping in Ho Chi Minh
Any Ho Chi Minh City visit is incomplete without some retail therapy.
Fortunately for shopaholics, Ho Chi Minh City shopping offers plenty of options from large shopping malls and trendy designer shops to explore.
Most of them, are located close to tourist hubs and sell almost everything that you would expect to see in Oxford Street London but at a much lower price.
Some of the top ones are Crescent Mall, Takashimaya Saigon Centre, Saigon Square, Vincom Centre, Diamond Plaza and Parkson Plaza.
9- Explore Ben Thanh Market
For a more local shopping experience visit a traditional market like the French-built Ben Thanh Market.
Its distinctive clock tower at the main entrance gate is one of the icons of Ho Chi Minh City.
Covering a spread of over 10000 square metres, nearly 2000 stalls sells almost everything from fish, meat, vegetables, fruits, flowers and groceries to clothes, shoes, luggage and handicraft.
Haggling with the stall owners is the fun part of shopping in these kinds of markets.
Another market to check out is the Tan Dinh Market.
10- Eat Vietnamese street food
Vietnam is a paradise for foodies and the city brags of many fine-dining restaurants like Vietnamese House, owned by celebrated Australian- Vietnamese chef Luke Ngyuen.
But locals say the tastiest food is often savoured at the street stalls while sitting on plastic chairs at knee-high tables.
These shacks dish up quick and simple dishes.
The most common dish is ‘pho’ which is a bowl of steaming noodle soup mixed with vegetables and beef or chicken.
It’s healthy and nourishing, gulped by the locals at breakfast, lunch or even dinner.
Other items available from street stalls are sticky rice with chicken (xoi ga), fish balls on a stick (ca vien) and pork rolls (banh mi), a French-Vietnamese snack where a crusty baguette is filled with pork, sour pickled daikon, carrot, crisp cilantro, spicy chillies and cucumber.
Tip: There are some good eating outlets inside the Ho Chi Minh City markets.
11- Cruise the Saigon River
Ho Chi Minh City sits on the banks of the Saigon River, which flows from Cambodia through South Vietnam before merging into the South China Sea close to the Mekong Delta.
In Ho Chi Minh City, this river meets the Dong Nai River and the Ben Cat River.
Along the riverbanks are city skyscrapers, old houses, semi-rural settlements and underground passages that were built during the war.
Offered by many tour operators, a boat trip on these waterways is an opportunity to soak up the diversity of lifestyles in this busy metropolis.
A great option is to go for an evening dinner cruise.
Besides presenting a lavish spread of Vietnamese and international dishes, a dinner cruise of Ho Chi Minh City also showcases how spectacularly this city dazzles at night.
Tip: A Vietnam river cruise is a fantastic way to discover rural areas, villages and meet locals.
12- See the view from Saigon Skydeck
See the cityscape from the sky.
There are many options to enjoy the spectacular city vista from high in the sky.
The most popular is from the Saigon Skydeck on the 49th floor of the 262m tall Bitexco Financial Tower, one of the nation’s iconic landmark building.
It’s open until 2130 hours, so it’s possible from here to see the stunning 360-degree panorama of the city under lights.
It’s a sight to behold.
13- Experience Ho Chi Minh City Nightlife
Ho Chi Minh City nightlife is vibrant and exciting.
Start by enjoying sky-high vistas from one of the city’s many rooftop bars. You’ll find these in luxury hotels such as Hotel Caravelle, Rex, Majestic and Sheraton.
It’s a delight to watch the sun setting over the city with a cold beer or a chilled Chardonnay in hand.
Afterwards, get in the groove of Ho Chi Minh City’s high-octane nightlife with amazing cocktails, tasty food and foot-tapping music.
14- Cross a busy street
No, I’m not joking! It is an amazing experience to cross a busy thoroughfare in Ho Chi Minh City packed with cars, buses, trucks, motorbikes, scooters and bicycles.
There are traffic lights at some intersections for pedestrians to get from one side to the other but most locals don’t wait for the lights.
They jump into the melee and confidently wade through the merging traffic fearlessly!
Many visitors love to get a feel of this hair raising experience.
Pick the right moment and make bold strides forward at a steady pace while raising your hand to confidently demand drivers to slow down and give way.
Believe me, it works but only in Vietnam!
15- Go on a scooter tour
A fun way to explore the city and get a feel for the size of the Ho Chi Minh City population is to join one of the Ho Chi Minh motorbike tours riding on the back of a Vespa.
A local motorcycle guide can take you to see popular Ho Chi Minh tourist spots as well as cafes, restaurants, bars and street food stalls.
Riding through a swirling swarm of motorbikes in the city is an exhilarating experience that will have you at the edge of your seat! Fortunately, helmets are compulsory in Vietnam.
Take a look at these motorbike tours in Ho Chi Minh City.
16- Explore Cao Dai Temple
Cao Dai Temple is the principal place of worship for followers of Caodaism, a religion originating in Vietnam with 6 million members (most of which are affiliated to this specific temple).
It’s a great place to visit, just an hour or two away from the city centre, and can be combined with the Cu Chi Tunnels for a brilliant day trip.
From the outside the temple is magnificent: the body is a beautiful, pastel shade of yellow with pinkish-red rooftops and sky blue balcony details that pop.
But the main event has to be the interior.
Inside the main hall in which Caodaists pray are intricately detailed statues of dragons entwined around peach pillars, and stunning ornate white decorations on the jade green ceiling.
Respectful observation of prayers is permitted for tourists.
Visit during one of the day’s four chanting ceremonies for a spiritual experience.
Worshippers tend to wear white robes while men of rank wear either bright yellow, red or blue robes according to their specific faith.
Tourists visiting the temple should cover their knees and remove their shoes before entering the building.
17- Stroll Along Nguyen Hue Boulevard
Located centrally, a mere five-minute walk away from the Reunification Palace and Notre Dame Cathedral, Nguyen Hue Boulevard is the perfect place to take a stroll in the city.
A broad avenue flanked by French colonial buildings, the boulevard looks more like something you would find in Paris than the busy, sometimes cramped streets in the rest of the city.
It’s the perfect place for a bit of breathing space!
In the day, the avenue can be a great place to go shopping or grab a bit to eat.
There are also plenty of park benches dotted around that make great spots for some people watching.
The centre of the boulevard is home to a statue honouring the namesake of the former Saigon, Ho Chi Minh.
There are sometimes art exhibitions along the boulevard.
It’s in the evening that the boulevard comes to life though, especially on a Saturday or Sunday night.
There is an incredibly colourful fountain show that is not to be missed as well as street performers dancing and singing.
The atmosphere is electric: an evening spent on Nguyen Hue Boulevard is not to be missed.
18- Relax In A City Park
Another great place to escape from the busyness of Vietnam’s most populated city is into one of the many green spaces and parks.
Tao Dan Park is probably the most popular such oasis – especially with older locals who use the green space as the perfect spot for some morning tai chi and exercises.
Tao Dan spans an impressive ten hectares and offers a sanctuary from the outside traffic.
The famous Bird Café is a particular draw for local bird-enthusiasts, who bring their birds in cages and admire those brought by other people over a traditional Vietnamese coffee.
September 23 Park, named for the date on which the Vietnamese rebelled against French rule in Ho Chi Minh City, is a less green but no less peaceful area of the city.
There is plenty of shade for hot days (of which there are many in South Vietnam) and a playground for children.
19- Visit the Cu Chi Tunnels
A popular day trip away from the hustle and bustle of Ho Chi Minh City is the Cu Chi Tunnels experience.
Many companies offer organised tours (often with hotel pick-ups included) to visit some of the preserved war tunnels used by the Viet Cong during the American War.
The journey from the city centre to the tunnels can take between one and two hours – traffic can be a problem in such a populated city!
Upon arrival, you will be shown a map of the area and your guide will explain how the tunnels worked and a little bit about life in the Viet Cong in the 60s and 70s.
You will be given the opportunity yourself to get into the tunnels and tunnel entrances.
Many are too small for taller visitors and they have been widened since the war for tourist access – which shows just how small members of the Viet Cong had to be! Most American soldiers were too big to fit into the tunnels themselves.
It is possible to avoid going into the tunnels themselves on the tour for any claustrophobic visitors.
As well as the tunnels, this open-air museum is a great place to see replicas of the infamous booby traps the Viet Cong used to ensnare American soldiers.
As well as sharpened bamboo sticks in pits, you’ll get to see traps that were built into villagers’ doors and bear-trap like traps that closed up onto soldiers’ legs.
It’s a tour that is not for the faint of heart!
Most visits end with a sampling of a food staple of the Viet Cong: tapioca.
This starchy root vegetable is incredibly bland and was all the Viet Cong had to eat.
There is also an onsite restaurant selling more palatable food and, for the adventurous visitor, a shooting range replete with AK47s (the bullets cost extra)!
20- Explore the Museum of Vietnamese History
Ho Chi Minh City is brimming with history and has many wonderful museums on offer beyond the War Remnants Museum (though you should make time for that too!).
The Ho Chi Minh City Museum and the Fine Arts Museum are well worth visiting but the Museum of Vietnamese History is particularly impressive.
The building is worth a look in its own right, with its beautiful French colonial architecture with a lush garden in its courtyard, it is handily located right next to the city’s botanical gardens.
Inside are exhibits on the history of Vietnam from the pre-historic era right through the Khmer period to the Nguyen Dynasty, which ended in 1945.
Displays have English as well as Vietnamese explanations, so it’s an excellent place for tourists to learn more about this fascinating country and its people.
Particularly notable exhibitions include a mummified 19th-century Vietnamese woman, stones from the Champa era and Cambodian artefacts taken from Angkor Wat itself.
How to get to Ho Chi Minh City
Vietnam Airlines is the country’s national airline, which flies from capital cities around the world to Ho Chi Minh City.
Where to stay in Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City has 24 districts. But most visitors will choose to stay in District 1, as it’s centrally located to most of the main attractions in Ho Chi Minh, restaurants and bars.
There are plenty of choices of hotels in Ho Chi Minh’s downtown, including historic hotels, five-star international hotels and luxurious local hotels.
Here are some options:
Ho Chi Minh City Tours
Most of the sites mentioned above can be managed by walking, alternatively, taxis are easily available.
Local Tour Operator Vietravel offers excellent professional services. The good thing about Vietnam is that costs are low and most tours are reasonably priced.
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Written by Sandip Hor (1 to 15) and Cassie Gibbons (16 to 20)