Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam Travel Guide: Top Things to Do and See in Ho Chi Minh
Ho Chi Minh City (also known as Saigon) is full of beautiful French architecture, skyscrapers and pagodas/temples. In this city you can easily find a rooftop bar to enjoy a mix of french, chinese and vietnamese cuisine. It’s a city that will make you fall in love with its rich history and charming coffee shops.
WHAT TO DO: TOURIST VERSION
For the ones that don’t have much time in the city and want to just see the big attractions.
Ben Thanh: Ho Chi Minh’s biggest market Ben Thanh is great for souvenir shopping, you can find pretty much anything at this market, from spices, fish and fruit to chopsticks, Vietnamese hats, lanterns and much more. This market is open 24/7 and is the best market in town.
Saigon Skydeck: If you want to see a 360-degree view of the city from 230m high then you need to visit the Saigon Skydeck or also known as Bitexco Financial Tower. Located in District 1 this building has a bar on the 50th floor where you can enjoy a cocktail for the same price as the entry for the skydeck. You can choose to just go up to the skydeck or to have a drink with the same view.
Golden Dragon Water puppet Theatre: My personal recommendation. This is a traditional Vietnamese show where wooden water puppets are accompanied by the narration of folkloric tales.
Botanical Gardens and Saigon Zoo: If you are missing a bit of green scenery (since HCMC isn’t the greenest city) you can spend the day at the Botanical Gardens and Saigon Zoo. With one entrance ticket you can access both of them. You can take some snacks with you, and enjoy a picnic under the sun the same way locals do.
Interested in History? Then The War Remnants Museum is a place to visit. They have planes and other war machines in perfect condition, and many photographs and exhibits with written documentation of the 30 year long war between Vietnam and America.
Cu Chi Tunnels are a tourist attraction. Here you will experience what it must have been for soldiers to move around in tiny underground tunnels without being detected by their enemies.
The Notre Dame Cathedral is also a must on this list. It was build in the 1880s by the French during colonization. There is a statue of the virgin Mary outside which locals claim to have seen crying in 2005. This has been debated for years but it still attracts visitors with hopes to see a miracle.
WhAT TO DO: LOCALS DO IT BETTER
For the people who like a bit more of a local experience or for the ones that have more time.
Binh Tay Market is where the locals buy their fruits, vegetable, poultry and meat. This market has a wide selection on ingredients collected from different regions of Vietnam.
Cao Dai Temple is where people of the Cao Dai faith come to pray. This religion takes parts of Buddhism, Islam, Taoism, Christianity and Confucianism. This temple is open for tourist but don’t get surprised when you see everybody dressed in white. Practitioners of this religion wear white robes to enter the temple. It is located 100 Km from HCMC so keep that in mind if you want to go.
One of the most visited temples in HCMC is the Jade emperor Pagoda. This Pagoda was originally meant for Taoists but now also embraces Buddhists. You will find stones and statues as well as a fine architecture and incense smoke filling the areas
Mariamman Hindu Temple is the only active Hindu temple in HCMC. You will see here vibrant statues with Hindu gods and get a taste of the Hindu community that lives there.
WHAT TO EAT AND DRINK:
Prepare your taste buds because HCMC has some mouth watering options for you to try out! Let’s start with the classics:
Pho bo: Classis Vietnamese noodle soup. It mostly comes with beef (bo) but can sometimes also come with pork. It’s a bit spicy but you can’t leave Vietnam without trying it. One of the best ones is located here: 7 Nguyễn Thái Bình, Phường Nguyễn Thái Bìn, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
Banh mi: A small French baguette filles with pork, chicken, paté and veggies. This are a bit different in every shop but the best one I found was here:
37 Nguyễn Trãi, Phường Phạm Ngũ Lão, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
Bia hoi: Do you want to experience the typical Vietnamese beer? At any Bia Hoi they’ll sell a daily brewed beer. This is a light beer worth trying. They don’t sell food but you can buy food at vendors nearby or bring your own snacks. A popular Bia hoi is located: Bùi Viện, Phạm Ngũ Lão area, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Egg coffee: This tastes much better than it sounds. This coffee is creamy and sweet. It’s made with egg yolks and condensed milk. Find it here: 3/165 Bùi Viện, Phường Phạm Ngũ Lão, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
Drip coffee: The most popular coffee in Vietnam. This coffee is strong and if ordered with milk you’ll get condensed milk instead. It is server in a cup with a filter on top where slowly the coffee gets filtered. You can find there pretty much anywhere but here is my top pick: 27 Ngô Đức Kế, Bến Nghé, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam.
Extra tip: If you love yogurt check if the local coffee shop sells yogurt coffee. It’s worth trying out.
What to buy?
In HCMC you can find a wide variety of clothes and shoes to buy for a very cheap price. Remember that most of these products are fakes (even if they don’t look like it). If you are not buying in a mass chain store like H&M, Quicksilver or Zara there is a 99% of probability that what you are buying is fake. That being said if you still want to buy them remember to bargain. Don’t be shy and lower the price half way down and start the bargaining battle. If it is still too expensive walk away and ask in the stall next to them. Ho Chi Minh City has specific streets for every item you are looking for so you will have to go to different locations depending on what you’d like to buy.
Clothes: Nguyen Trai Street shopping
Shoes: Ly Chinh Thang
Luggage: Le Lai street
Watches: Ben Thanh Market
Also worth visiting Saigon Square 1, 2 and 3 but check before going there since sometimes these can be under construction. And if you like a good mall you should visit Vincom and Diamond Plaza
If you go to a temple or pagoda please wear something appropriate. That means covering your shoulders and having something covering your legs down to the knees. Some temples might require you to take off your shoes to enter or to enter certain areas.
Crossing the streets in big cities in Vietnam is always a challenge. Just find an intersections and walk slowly. You can look at the locals so you can use their technique. Motorbikes are used to people crossing so they will get out of your way if you walk slowly.
ONLY DRINK BOTTLED WATER. This is very important if you don’t want to get sick. If you can, carry some activated charcoal tablets so that if you do feel sick you can take them. Follow the instruction on the package you bought.
Don’t get scared if people stop you on the street and ask you to have a chat with them. Most of them genuinely want to practice their English. Sometimes you’ll even see students with their teachers.
Avoid shoe-shiners. They will most likely try to charge you way too much to polish your shoes.
Try to have an idea of how much money you want to spend in one day and carry only that. The vietnamese Dong is a currency that will make you a millionaire in seconds. One coffee can easily costs between 10,000 - 80,000 VND so it’s easy to get confused. Carry only the necessary amount so you don’t over-spend or so that you realise if you are getting ripped off.
If you are up for a challenge you can hire a motorbike and explore the city like that. WARNING: this might not be the best idea for the faint of heart since there will be a lot of honking included.