In this sprawling city of over 8 million people, there’s no lack of things to do in Ho Chi Minh City. Also known as Saigon, it’s a destination that’s rich in history, tasty treats and a unique mixture of eastern and western cultures.
Want ideas on where to stay? Stick around to the bottom of the post.
1. Sip a Cocktail and Enjoy the View at Saigon Skydeck
It’s hard to get a true appreciation for the scale of HCMC without seeing it from up above. You could just pay to go up to the tourist deck, or… you could skip that cost and get a free trip up to the Skydeck Bar. Take your time, sip a cocktail and watch the sunset.
2. Take a Free Walking Tour
One of my favourite ways to acclimate to new cities is to do a walking tour, preferably a free one! Trails and Tales or Saigon Free Walking Tours will teach you a little something about HCMC while meeting locals.
3. Cu Chi Tunnels
A visit to the Cu Chi Tunnels is one of those things that every tourist typically does. While I’m glad I saw it, I can’t say it was enjoyable. Educational, yes, but I find war tourism very difficult to stomach. David, on the other hand, was fascinated. If you’re claustrophobic, perhaps only do the small section of the tunnels. Even then, the tunnels have been widened for tourists, so you can only imagine how tight it was back in the day. Visit any travel agent in Saigon and you’ll find a day tour easily.
4. Shop the Markets, Shop the Malls
If you’re itching to bring home a souvenir, you won’t be at a loss for shopping in Saigon. Ben Thanh Market is famous for its many stalls and traditional goods, or if you’re wanting an air-conditioned option, the Vincom Center will provide you with some slightly higher budget options.
5. Fast and Furious Foodie Tour
By far our favourite thing we did in HCMC was the XO Foodie Tour. We visited multiple districts and ate many foods that were new to us, but part of the thrill was zipping through Saigon traffic thanks to our experienced drivers.
Read More: Speed, Spice and Sass. A Foodie Tour of HCMC
6. Jade Emperor Pagoda
This small Taoist pagoda was built in the early 1900s by the Chinese community in HCMC. It
7. Send a Postcard at the Central Post Office
Many people, ourselves included, are under the impression that the Central Post Office was designed by Gustave Eiffel, but it turns out it was only based on an Eiffel design. With its old fashioned telephone booths and soaring ceiling, this is a stunning building. If you do plan to send some mail, be prepared that there are no orderly lines. Pretend you’re at a busy nightclub bar and get ready to assert your position at the counter. If you don’t… you could be there all day!
8. Get Custom Made Clothes
A top to-do item for many visitors is to have custom clothes made before they leave. Phan’s Custom Tailor is a very popular destination for suits and other items of clothing. Make sure you do this at the start of your visit, leaving a few days for the clothes to be sewn. You’ll have quite the story to tell when someone asks, “where did you get that suit?”
9. Learn About Traditional Medicine
A visit to the FITO museum is quite the experience. In this ornate house, you’ll be guided floor by floor and learn all about the traditional methods used to treat illnesses in Vietnam. There are over 3,000 artifacts to the trade and a shop at the end for you to try the natural remedies out for yourself.
10. War Remnants Museum
Again, war tourism is not my thing, but the War Remnants Museum was fascinating. Unlike other sites where I found there was a pride at loss of life, the War Remnants Museum was much more neutral and educational. The section on Agent Orange can be hard to stomach, but it is an eye-opener that gave me much more appreciation for the atrocities of the Vietnam War, all which occurred before I was born.
11. Try Not To Get Hit By a Scooter – No Joke!
Crossing the streets in HCMC is seriously no joke and is an experience in and of itself. Just look up “crossing the street in Vietnam” on YouTube and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Hence why I consider it a unique thing to do – also unavoidable – in HCMC.
12. Take a Cooking Class
I’m a big believer that one of the best souvenirs you can take home from your travels is a new skill. Being able to cook some of your favourite dishes when you get home will bring back fond memories, and the classes themselves are always fun. Just make sure you arrive hungry! Saigon Cooking Class
13. Reunification Palace
Also known as the Independence Palace, this building marks, for many, the end of the Vietnam War. Free tours with an English-speaking guide can be arranged in the lobby.
14. Mekong Delta by Vespa!
When most people hear Vespa, they think about Italy. Not in Saigon! Vespa Adventures can take you out on tour to the lush Mekong Delta, or if you’d rather stay in the city, they offer thrilling tours of Saigon by Night, or cooking school combo tours.
Read More: Rain, Fire and a Weapon! Cooking in Vietnam.
15. Notre Dame Basilica
With its French inspiration, all building materials for the Notre Dame Basilica were even brought over from France. Whether you simply view it from the exterior or take a trip inside, it’s quite the sight. Many brides will come and have their photos taken outside the church, whether or not they were married there! The surrounding parks are extremely popular with locals, so pack a snack and take a rest on the grass.
16. Indulge in the Street Food
Trying to figure out what to eat from street vendors in Vietnam can be extremely overwhelming, but thanks to the Legal Nomad’s Guide to Saigon Street Food you can explore and taste with confidence!
17. Sip on a Vietnamese Coffee
Hot or iced, who doesn’t love the mixture of bold coffee and thick condensed milk. Sigh – wishing I was back in HCMC right now.
18. Explore Vietnamese History BEYOND the War
Vietnam is and should be known for more than the terrible war, which is where the Museum of Vietnamese History comes in. See gorgeous artefacts from the many regions of the country and learn what makes this nation so unique.
19. Barbecue Your Own Dinner
The barbecue garden provides a unique take on dinner – cook it yourself! Escape the chaotic streets in the lush garden restaurant, order your preferred dishes and cook them to your liking. Sure to be a memorable experience.
20. Explore Tao Dan Park
Tao Dan Park is a true oasis nestled in the hustle and bustle of Saigon. This is where parents bring children to play, where couples stroll on dates and where workers enjoy their lunch. The gardens are absolutely stunning and worth a visit.
Where to Stay in Ho Chi Minh?
We stayed here during our time in HCMC and it was all that we needed. Not quite as central as other hotels, perhaps, but it was definitely walking distance to all the sites and around the corner from the Vesper Adventures office (look for the yellow awning) who also offer great iced coffees and breakfast.
Ma Maison comes with spectacular reviews (Lonely Planet approved!), has a relaxed French country feel, breakfast included and is a 15-minute walk from the railway station.
What we would pay for a hotel of this calibre in North America or Europe versus what it costs in HCMC is unbelievable. My husband and I passed the Pullman Hotel every day while in HCMC and were dying to stay there. For around $100USD a night (depending on the room), you get a five-star hotel with great views, one that is kid-friendly, free wi-fi and so many other amenities. And dare I say the words… rooftop pool. Just sayin’
Have you ever been to Ho Chi Minh City? What things did you like to do? Places to eat?
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