12 Things To Do in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam – A Complete Guide To the City
In case you’re planning a trip to Ho Chi Minh soon, I have two important things to say. First: I envy you, you’ll have SO much fun! And second: beware, as this city is so amazing, you’ll need quite some days in order to see everything. If you’re eager to create a bucket list for your trip, scroll down to find my ULTIMATE list of things to do in Ho Chi Minh, together with my accommodation recommendations, dishes to try and information about how to get around the city.
Ho Chi Minh is the biggest city in Vietnam and an amazing destination that caters to all types of tourists out there. The city was called Saigon in the past and it was the capital of South Vietnam. Only after the Vietnam War the city changed to Ho Chi Minh, but be prepared to hear both names during your trip – and in this article as well!
Ho Chi Minh city is known for its gastronomy (pho soup, anyone?), beautiful pagodas, numerous cultural spots and interesting buildings.
Are you convinced? Let’s find out about all the best things to do in Ho Chi Minh city!
12 Best things to do in Ho Chi Minh city, Vietnam
There are SO many unmissable things to do in Ho Chi Minh city, that it was a real struggle to keep my list at only 12 activities. Regardless of how hard it was, I made it! So here’s my complete list of Ho Chi Minh city attractions:
1 - Nguyen Hue Walking Street
This pedestrianised promenade is found at the centre of District 1, surrounded by 19th century French colonial architecture. At one end you can find the Saigon River and at the other the People’s Committee with a statue of Ho Chi Minh, the war hero who the city is named after. This street is where you’ll find a lot of restaurants, hotels, malls and the famous Coffee Apartments that we speak of later in this guide. Definitely one of the best spots for walking around in the city of Saigon!
2 - Coffee Apartments
RELATED READ: Ho Chi Minh: Coffee Apartments Guide
Now covered in shining, multicoloured neon lights, the old building at 42 Nguyen Hue has had a long life. Built in the 1950s, the old apartment block used to house the Government and US military. Now, you’ll find nine floors of independent cool coffee shops, tea parlours, fashion boutiques, hip bars and street food eateries. One of the best things to do in Ho Chi Minh for cool tourist pictures!
3 - Bitexco Financial Tower & Saigon Skydeck
Look up and you will see the Bitexco Financial Tower. Dominating the city’s skyline, this 68-floor skyscraper presents a distinctive sky deck and helipad which makes it easy for visitors to spot. By the way, in 2011, it was named the tallest building in Vietnam!
The building has an observation deck for tourists on the 50th floor (Saigon Skydeck) which costs 200.000 VND (a bit less than 9$) to enter. However, I would recommend visiting the EON Heli Bar on the 52nd floor instead. The price of a drink is less than the entry cost to the observation deck and you’ll get 360° views of the city. Go late afternoon to grab a good window table and stay for sunset over Saigon city!
TIP: The entrance to the EON Heli Bar can be tricky to find. Head to the building’s main entrance, go up one floor with the escalator and follow the signs for the 52 bar. You will be shown a lift that will take you directly up to the bar on the 52nd floor.
4 - Central Post Office
The iconic Saigon Central Post Office, built in the 19th century by no other than the architect of the Eiffel Tower (sounds pretty random, I know), is known for its stunning architecture! It’s a French colonial building with details from both Gothic and Renaissance eras, so a pretty unique thing to see in Ho Chi Minh. Outside, the entrance of this bright yellow building is marked with a large clock; inside, looping arches frame the high ceiling.
TIP: This is still a functioning post office with two wings branching out from the main office, so you can take the opportunity to send a postcard home.
5 - Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral
The Notre Dame Cathedral (no, not the one in Paris, but VERY close!) was built by the French colonies between 1863-1880. Before the re-construction, a competition was held to decide who the architect of the church would be. The winner, Jules Bourard, decided to build a smaller version of Paris’ original Notre Dame. Today, the cathedral is a place of worship for the catholic community in the city of Ho Chi Minh.
By the way, you can visit the Notre Dame Cathedral in Ho Chi Minh city free of charge!
FUN FACT: The Cathedral is located in Paris Square and it has a red brick facade brought all the way from Marseille.
6 - Cu Chi Tunnels
RELATED READ: Cu Chi Tunnels in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam – Tours VS Visiting By Yourself
This network of tunnels, located in the Cu Chi District, played a huge part in the Viet Cong surviving (and eventually overcoming) the American War. The tunnels, dug deep and running across a large part of the country, were the main war bases for the Viet Cong. Not only were they used as hiding spots during combat, they also contained entire living spaces – kitchens, supply routes, communications, medical aid rooms and storage for food and weapon supplies.
TIP: I recommend visiting this place with a professional guide in order to fully understand the importance and rich history of this place. For example, on this half-day trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels you can learn interesting facts of how the Viet Congo resisted against the US Army, how they lived in the tunnels, and much more. Alternatively, you can combine Cu Chi Tunnels with the Mekong Delta (more info about it below) and take this VIP tour instead.
7 - War Remnants Museum
Speaking of the war… the War Remnants Museum is devoted to telling the history of the Vietnam War. After passing through the ticket offices, you encounter a courtyard filled with aircrafts used by the United States Army. The inside of the museum is split into areas which showcase different aspects of the war; the worldwide fight for peace, the photographers and press that helped share the reality, horrific stories of war crimes, and much, much more.
Warning to the wary, this is an emotionally heavy experience, but also incredibly interesting and important.
War Remnants Museum entrance fee: 40,000 VND (1.70$)
TIP: If you’re passionate about this subject, I recommend booking this War Remnants Museum and Cu Chi Tunnels full-day tour; you’ll learn tons of precious information from your guide!
8 - Tân Đinh Church
The Tan Dinh Church, famous to tourists for its cotton candy pink colour, may be the most photogenic site in town! It features details of Gothic and Renaissance architecture and it’s also the second biggest church in Ho Chi Minh, after Notre Dame Cathedral!
FUN FACT: In 1887, Sisters of Saint-Paul de Chartres were invited to set up a boarding school and an orphanage by the church, giving home to over 300 children within three years. Afterwards, a publishing house was added, where disadvantaged children were taken in and educated.
9 - Independence Palace
The Independence Palace, also known as the Reunification Palace, is famous worldwide because of the events of 1975 – a tank led by the Northern Vietnamese Army crashed through its front gates to date the end to the Vietnam War. The building now functions as a museum and the most interesting feature of the Independence Palace is its basement, where you’ll find the war rooms and tunnels, telecommunications rooms, and other equipment used to spread war propaganda.
10 - Ben Thanh Market
One of the top things to do in Ho Chi Minh city for foodies! From local handicrafts to knock-offs of branded goods, Ben Thanh Market is the place to shop for ALLLL kinds of things and it’s located in District 1. From Rolex replicas to Nike sneakers, tailor-made suits, designer handbags, porcelain tea sets and painted fans – this market provides a mish mash of bits and bobs to fill your suitcase with. And let’s not forget about the street food stalls at Ben Thanh Market as well! Alternatively, you can also visit Binh Tay Market.
TIP #1: Remember to always, always bargain! Their first price will be a “tourist price” that will have you paying way too high.
TIP #2: I recommend visiting the market in the morning, as vendors will offer smaller prices because they want to make their first sale quickly. Why? Good question. They say this will bring them good luck for the day!
11 - Binh Quoi Village
RELATED READ: Complete Bin Quoi Village Guide
Located only a short car ride from Ho Chi Minh City, the Binh Quoi Tourist Village is a real-life replica of a traditional Vietnamese village. It has been created amazingly well and has a real sense of authenticity! My personal highlights were the lakes and ponds with large lily pads, traditional fisherman boats and bamboo bridges.
By the way, Binh Quoi is a great place to visit if you love photography, as there are so many hidden, picturesque corners to explore!
TIP: Make sure you stay for lunch, as they prepare an amazing buffet where you can feast on some incredible Vietnamese food. The price is higher than local restaurants in Saigon, but you’ll be able to try everything!
12 - Mekong Delta
The Mekong Delta is the Southeastern region of Vietnam. The river and its subsidiaries are now home to a whole river-world where you can find villages and its pagodas, markets, houses, and so much more – a great place to taste some authentic Vietnamese life! The Mekong Delta can be visited on day trips, where you will paddle in between villages, eat at delicious riverside restaurants and explore the life of the river communities.
BONUS: Extra things to do in Ho Chi Minh city if you have more time
The 12 attractions in Ho Chi Minh above are totally unmissable, but if you have some more time for exploration or this is not your first time visiting Saigon, then you might be eager to find out about some extra things to do. No worries, here’s my list of bonus places to visit in Ho Chi Minh city:
- Drink a cocktail on a rooftop bar – yep, rooftop bars are a real thing in Ho Chi Minh city and AIR Saigon is one of the best places to enjoy a drink with a view and some live music;
- Jade Emperor Pagoda – actually, you can add this to your list of top things to do! The Jade Emperor Pagoda is one of the most famous and beautiful in the city;
- Cao Dai Temple – one of the most beautiful temples in the city, if you ask me!
- Giam Lam Pagoda – colourful and impressive, it is said that this is the oldest temple in the city;
- Pham Ngu Lao Street and Bui Vien Street – if you’re interested in experiencing the nightlife of Saigon. By the way, Bui Vien Street is also known as the “Backpacker Street” because there are many affordable hostels there;
- Tao Dan Park – a nice place for a walk, plus one of the best spots to try the famous phe sua da (iced coffee with condensed milk);
- The History Museum – if you’re a Vietnamese history lover, I recommend going to this museum;
- Fine Arts Museum – another cool museum if you’re interested in Vietnamese art;
- Giac Vien Pagoda – if you want to see an authentic pagoda that wasn’t restored over time;
- Saigon Opera House – if you want to see some theatre shows.
Best tours of Ho Chi Minh city by type of traveller
I know, the list of things to see in Ho Chi Minh city is huge and super interesting, but if you don’t want to deal with all the hassle of organising your entire itinerary by yourself, an excellent solution would be to book some already organised guided tours. Below I have chosen some of the best ones I could find in the city:
- Private tour of the city by motorbike – for travellers that want to see all the highlights of the city stress-free, with a private guide;
- Private Street Food Evening Walking Tour – for foodies that want to taste the local gastronomy during a complete food tour;
- Ben Thanh Market Tour and Cooking Class – if you want to learn how to actually make some Vietnamese food by yourself;
- War Remnants Museum & Ben Thanh Market – if you want the best of both worlds: Vietnamese history and gastronomy;
- Bitexco Tower and Dinner Cruise – for a more luxurious experience.
BONUS: Organised day trips from Ho Chi Minh
If you have some more time on your hands and you’re up for a day trip from Ho Chi Minh, here are your best options:
- Mekong Delta rowing boat tour
- Cu Chi Tunnels: Morning or Afternoon Guided Tour
- Cu Chi Tunnels & VIP Speedboat Tour – a more VIP version of the tour above;
- Mekong Delta and Cu Chi Tunnels combined – if you simply don’t want to choose!
- Cao Dai Temple & Black Lady Mountain Tour
- Vam Sat Mangrove Forest
- Vung Tau Beach
Where to stay in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Ho Chi Minh city is no short on accommodation options. You can choose from anything from hostels and budget places to more luxurious hotels that offer everything you can wish for. District 1 is the BEST place for tourists visiting Saigon, especially if you want to be close to all the main attractions. Here’s my top recommended accommodation for travellers visiting Saigon for the very first time:
LUXURY: Liberty Central Saigon Citypoint
MID-RANGE: Lotus Central Hotel
BUDGET: The Akoya Ben Thanh Hotel
HOSTEL: The Common Room Project
ENTIRE APARTMENT: Somerset Ho Chi Minh City
RELATED READ: If you want to find out more information about where to stay in Ho Chi Minh city, including hand-picked recommendations for accommodation and advice about which part of the city to choose, you can read this article: Where to stay in Ho Chi Minh.
What to eat in Ho Chi Minh City + Best restaurants in the city
When it comes to gastronomy, Vietnam is a very special place and Ho Chi Minh city is one of the top destinations if you want to get a taste of real, authentic food! If you’re heading to Saigon and want to make sure you don’t miss anything important when it comes to street food and restaurants, make sure to get a taste of each of the following dishes:
An absolute must while you’re in Ho Chi Minh! This is an authentic Vietnamese noodle soup with different types of meats. Because it’s so popular among locals and tourists alike, you’ll find this dish everywhere in the city, but one of the best places to go is Pho 24.
Banh Mi is one of those unmissable dishes to try while you’re in Vietnam. It’s basically a baguette sandwich with pickled vegetables, pork (usually), cilantro and some chili. It may sound simple, but it’s bursting with flavours! You can try one of the best banh mi sandwiches at Banh Mi Huynh Hoa.
This is a crispy pancake made of rice flour, stuffed with various fillings. It is traditionally eaten using your hands, so get ready to get messy eating a banh xeo like a real Vietnamese! You can find the best one at Banh Xeo 46A.
If you’re feeling adventurous, then you should try Oc – a platter full of shellfish (clams, shimp, snails, crabs) cooked in sauce, steamed or grilled. There are various options for this dish, depending on what shellfish and cooking methods you prefer. I recommend going to Oc Dao in Saigon for some of the best culinary experiences when it comes to oc.
CA KHO TO
If you love fish, this is an absolute must-try. Picture this: caramelised, braised catfish soaked in a rich gravy made of soy sauce, fish sauce, garlic and more spices. All served in a clay pot, alongside a bowl of steaming rice. Yummy! One of the best versions in Saigon is found at Dong Hoa Xuan.
Getting around Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
When it comes to Ho Chi Minh, getting from point A to point B might be a bit of a challenge because of traffic, which is similar to everywhere in Vietnam. But if you’re fully informed about the public transportation system of HCMC, everything will be a breeze! Here’s what you need to know:
WALKING. If you’re staying in the city centre (read: District 1), the easiest and most convenient way to get around the city is by foot. The central area of Ho Chi Minh is not that big and if you’re only planning on visiting the main attractions in the center, you’ll be fine just by walking.
TAXI. The best way to get from point A to point B while you’re here is to take a taxi: Mai Linh or VinaSun are two reliable, scam-free options. Alternatively, you can use the Grab taxi app, which is only available in the big cities of Vietnam.
MOTORCYCLE TAXI / XE ÔM. These are like taxis, only they’re… motorcycles, of course. This means they’re faster and way more convenient than a car or bus when you travel during high traffic. Perfect for short distances! And don’t forget to wear a helmet, please (should be provided by the driver).
BUS. Although they’re cheaper, they are way slower than a taxi or a motorbike. Still, buses can be convenient ways of getting around the city if you’re on a super tight budget, as the usual fare is 0,50$.
HOW TO GET TO THE CITY FROM THE AIRPORT. The most popular option is to take a shuttle bus from the airport to the center of the city (45 minutes, no more than 2$). Or, alternatively, if money is not a problem and comfort is a priority, I recommend you to take a private transfer for stress-free transportation.
When it comes to Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh is truly a remarkable destination. This wonderful city caters for all types of travellers, from backpackers eager to explore some of the most beautiful pagodas as food markets (such as Ben Thanh or Binh Tay Market) to luxurious travellers that are coming to Saigon to spend their days sipping on a cocktail on a rooftop bar. Regardless of what your travel style is, Ho Chi Minh won’t disappoint!
In my complete Ho Chi Minh travel guide above I’ve told you everything you need to know about the best things to do in Saigon – from the Insta-famous Coffee Apartments to Cu Chi Tunnels and some day trips as well. I’ve also offered you LOTS of precious information regarding accommodation in the city, must-try dishes and public transportation. I hope this travel guide was useful!
Although Ho Chi Minh is pretty much amazing, it’s not the only destination in Vietnam worthy of a plane ride. If you want to read more about other cities and my complete adventures in Vietnam, I recommend clicking here.