A city of staggering beauty, rich culture, and historic heritage, Ho Chi Minh is one of the most mesmerizing travel destinations in Vietnam. Whether you want to spend a relaxing laid-back day, explore the natural beauty of the region, indulge in local cuisines and exotic flavors, or enjoy the happening nightlife of the bustling city, Ho Chi Minh City has everything to offer!
Visiting this city is nothing less than a walk through history. Also referred to as its former Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City is known for the role it played in the Vietnam War, as well as being the country’s largest city. It’s situated in the southern part of Vietnam and is the former capital city of the country, which is now Hanoi.
Saigon’s best things to do
The city offers the right mix of culture, historic heritage, traditions, and modern amenities. It’s also full of reasonably priced accommodations, ranging from five-star luxury hotels to budget hostels and every vacation rental in between. To help see it best we’ve curated a list of the many fun things you can do in the city. Even traveling around the city is an experience on its own.
The most common method of getting around is a motorbike (xe máy). You can rent one for the day, or ride a xe om, which is a motorbike taxi, to get to your destination for cheap. Apart from that, rent a personal car, grab a taxi, or hop on the City Tour Bus. You can even use public buses as the transport system is incredibly developed in Saigon.
Transportation is relatively cheap too so you won’t have to worry about spending much getting from one place to another. This means that you can visit all the major attractions and enjoy your stay to the fullest. To start your day, head out early to Nguyen Hue Street, which is a pedestrian street in the center of the city’s District 1. Early enough you’ll see the locals exercising in the cooler morning temps. Next, get a bite to eat.
Here are top tourist activities in Saigon, Vietnam, in no particular order:
1. Try Pho
A visit to Ho Chi Minh City is incomplete without trying a bowl of pho. Pho is a traditional Vietnamese dish that mainly consists of soup noodles. However, it’s not an ordinary soup noodle dish. Pho has all the local flavors that you don’t want to miss out on, especially when you are in Ho Chi Minh City. Beef (pho bo) is the traditional ingredient, but you’ll also see chicken (pho ga) and some other meats.
2. Visit the War Remnants Museum
The history of this beautiful country is plagued with the atrocities of countless wars, most recently the Vietnam War, which lasted around 19 – 20 years. Visiting the War Remnant Museum in Ho Chi Minh City is a moving experience that visitors should experience to gain a better understanding of Vietnam’s struggle.
This eye-opening museum takes a stronger anti-American and graphic stance than perhaps the nearby Cu Chi Tunnels, which allows for a more interactive recreation of history.
Address: 28 Võ Văn Tần, Phường 6, Quận 3, Hồ Chí Minh City
3. Dinner Cruise on the Saigon River
Another way to explore the city is to take a cruise ride on the Saigon River. These exciting yet relaxing cruise rides offer you a view of the city from the vantage point few get. You can opt for a dinner cruise, which is a perfect getaway for couples. Enjoy local cuisines with your partner on a romantic cruise. There are a variety of boats to choose from, from simple to upscale.
4. Visit Landmark 81
Landmark 81 is the tallest building in Vietnam. The 81-story building is located on the western bank of the Saigon River and provides a captivating view of the city. From the observatory decks of the building, you can enjoy the famous sights of Ho Chi Minh City through a telescope.
Apart from that, you can also enjoy a top-class shopping experience at the shopping center, which is located at the base of the skyscraper and features some of the most high-end brands and finest retailers. The higher floors are mostly all apartments for rent or purchase.
Address: 208 Nguyễn Hữu Cảnh, Vinhomes Tân Cảng, Bình Thạnh, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
5. Experience the Nightlife at Bui Vien
Bui Vien is a famous walking street where you can experience the craziest Ho Chi Minh City nightlife till the wee hours of the morning. It is also referred to as the “backpacker’s area” of the city because you can find a variety of restaurants, bars, massage parlors, hostels, and souvenir shops.
If you’re looking for a cheap night out, head out to Bui Vein. It’s worth noting that it gets very busy on Friday and Saturday nights, so keep an eye on your pockets and belongings.
Address: Phạm Ngũ Lão, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
6. Explore Notre Dame Cathedral
This is one of the most unique tourist attractions of the city. Established in 1883 in District 1, the cathedral is truly one of a kind. It was built by French colonists and stands today as a reminder of the French colonial era. The Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon is a magnificent structure with two bell towers that are around 58 meters in height.
Currently, the cathedral is undergoing large-scale renovation, which is expected to last through the end of 2019. This is why visitors are not allowed inside. However, weekly masses are still held and you can also admire the beauty of the magnificent Notre Dame Cathedral from afar.
Address: 01 Công xã Paris, Bến Nghé, Quận 1, Quận 1 Hồ Chí Minh City
7. Explore the Central Post Office
The Ho Chi Minh City Post Office is one of the biggest tourist attractions of the city. Crazy, right? Well, this is mainly because the Gothic-style building is magnificent and was designed by Gustave Eiffel – the same man who designed the Eiffel Tower in France!
It sits right across the street from the Norte Dame Cathedral, so you can plan your visit to both these renowned landmarks in one day! Stop by a mail a postcard home from the colossal and historic Saigon Central Post Office.
Address: 2 Công xã Paris, Bến Nghé, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh
8. Experience the Cu Chi Tunnels
If you want an underground experience make sure to check out the Cu Chi Tunnels. Used by Vietcong guerillas during the Vietnam War, they offer a special chance for visitors to interact with history. It’s one of the top tourist attractions, located about an hour and a half by bus, to the north of HCMC.
It’s best though, and a true boss move, to take a boat to reach Cu Chi, which reduces the time to 45 minutes to the attraction from downtown Saigon, beating the bus tourists, while providing a river tour too.
Only a small section of a few hundred kilometers is accessible for the public. Crawling through these underground tunnels is a reminiscence of the Vietnam War, though they have been expanded for larger bodies. Keep in mind that this is not the place for you if you are claustrophobic as the tunnels are pretty narrow at some points.
Address: TL15, Phú Hiệp, Củ Chi, Hồ Chí Minh 733814 | Phone: +84 28 3794 8830
9. Tour the Reunification Palace
The Reunification Palace is a cultural and historical hub of Ho Chi Minh City. It’s the former resident of the President of South Vietnam before and during the Vietnam War. Also known as the Independence Palace, it has now been converted into a museum.
You can visit the palace to take a free guided tour. See and roam around different areas including the dining rooms, meeting rooms, and magnificent lounges. It’s still used for conferences and official government meetings.
Address: 135 Nam Kỳ Khởi Nghĩa, Phường Bến Thành, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh
10. Visit the Local Markets
A visit to Ho Chi Minh City is incomplete without exploring the local markets. Make sure you explore either the Binh Tay Market and Ben Thanh Market. These are the two largest markets in the city. While Ben Thanh Market is more famous, Binh Tay is cheaper and offers, more or less, the same experience.
If you love shopping and want to buy souvenirs for friends and family back home, then these are the places to visit. From clothes to street food fare, you can find everything here! Expect to do a bit of negotiation when buying goods at markets in Vietnam, in order to get the best deal and not be taken advantage of.
11. Explore Phuoc An Hoi Quan Pagoda
One of the most beautiful pagodas in Vietnam, Phuoc An Hoi Quan dates back to 1902. If you want to discover the Vietnamese culture, this is the place for you. Filled with colors and intricate wood carvings, the shrine is dedicated to Quan Cong, who was a famous Chinese General.
The pagoda stands amidst lush greenery and despite being almost a century old, the colors of the pagoda are still bright and striking.
Address: 184 Hùng Vương, Phường 12, Quận 5, Hồ Chí Minh City
12. Admire the Bitexco Financial Tower
Bitexco Financial Tower is the second tallest building in the city and the fifth tallest in Vietnam. Shaped like a Lotus bulb, the skyscraper will leave you mesmerized before you step foot inside. It has 68 floors above the ground and 3 basements. Owing to its contemporary design, standing amidst the city, the building looks quite distinctive.
On the ground floor, you can find a few cafes and a small shopping center. While the rest of the building is mainly occupied by offices, you can visit the Saigon Skydeck, which is an observation deck on the 49th floor of the building. There are also some places to eat near the top, with killer views of the surrounding city.
It’s easy to reach, located only a block away from the main pedestrian Nguyen Hue Street.
Address: Bitexco Financial Tower, 7, 2 Hải Triều, Bến Nghé, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh 700000
13. Hit the Spa
After spending a day in the city, who wouldn’t like to hit the spa to unwind? Luckily, you can do that in Ho Chi Minh City without breaking the bank. The city has countless spas where you can enjoy relaxing body massages and even a manicure and pedicure. You can easily find these spas in the city as most of them are located near the local markets.
14. Enjoy Traditional Vietnamese Dance at the Opera House
The Saigon Opera House is an impressive building that represents French Colonial architecture at its best. Built in 1897, today it’s used as the renowned Municipal Theatre of Ho Chi Minh City. It hosts various shows, including the traditional Vietnamese dance. If you’re bored of visiting the museums, checking out an opera show, held several nights a week.
Lune Production puts on several rotating performances each week, such as A O Show, Teh Dar, and The Mist. It’s an excellent opportunity to learn more about Vietnamese culture in a fun (and romantic) way. The same company also puts on shows at Hoi An Lune Center, Hanoi Opera House, and the Hanoi Vietnam Tuong Theatre, so you can catch another live performance in either Hoi An or Hanoi.
Address: 07 Công Trường Lam Sơn, Bến Nghé, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh
Thanks for checking out some of the best things to do in Saigon! Now that you know all about Ho Chi Minh city, hopefully, you can make the most of your visit.