Ho Chi Minh, previously known as Saigon, is a city with a constant buzz, a loud, in-your-face type of buzz. For some it takes time, but once you learn to embrace the chaos, the city has so much to offer.
Its rich past for the history buffs, high end shopping streets for the fashion lovers, to the backpacker area for travellers looking to party, there is something for everyone.
After spending a few weeks in the city guided by resident expats, I experienced Saigon’s popular attractions, but also discovered the city’s hidden gems and lesser known areas. Here are the top 25 things to do in Ho Chi Minh.
1) Go to Backpackers Street / Bui Vien Street
Yes, we are starting off this list with the most ‘touristy’ of places in HCMC. However, this area is a great place for travellers on a budget or those searching for Saigon’s party scene. The main street, Bui Vien Walking Street, is lined with bars offering Vietnam’s famously cheap beer, restaurants showcasing local cuisine and all the tourist agencies you could possibly need for organising your cross country bus routes. If you want to be in the middle of the action, stay at the Bui Vien Hostel.
2) Get Your Hair Washed
Yes, you read that right. It is popular in Vietnam amongst the locals, expats and tourists, both male and female alike to visit the nearest salon for a ‘hair wash’. After experiencing it myself I have to admit that I wish this luxury existed everywhere in the world. The hair wash experience is similar to visiting a spa. You are taken to a dimly lit room and invited to lie down on a massage table and enjoy a wonderfully weird combination of a hair wash and a relaxing head, neck and shoulder massage. Once the actual wash is over, blow dry and styling is also included in the price. It is safe to say that during my visit I found it more convenient (and enjoyable) to get my hair washed every so often instead of trying to squeeze shampoo and conditioner bottles into my over?owing backpack. ! ! Price depending on salon 100,000 – 200,000 VND (€5 – €10)
3) See the City by Scooter
If you are brave enough, (I wasn’t), to hop on the back of a scooter on the unruly roads of HCMC, then seeing the city by scooter is highly recommended. You can either do it through a company who organise different scooter tours depending on your interests, or get local and ‘grab a Grab’ to to your destinations. There is no more authentic way to get a sense of Saigon’s vibe than travel like a local and battle the overcrowded highways and over?owing side streets while hanging on the back of a Honda scooter.
4) Explore the districts
Saigon is made up of multiple districts or ‘Quan.’ You can tell which district you are in by looking at the addresses on shop signs and spotting a Q with a number following it. Each district has their own speci?c purpose. District 1 and 3 are the central districts home to many tourist attractions such as the museums, Central Post Of?ce and so on. District 2 is known by locals as the expat district. In this area there are a lot of foreigners residents, international schools, quirky restaurants and boutique shops. District 4 is very much a authentic Vietnamese area, with local shops, restaurants
and homes, it is unlikely to see many tourists here. There are many more districts in this city that all have so much to offer.
5) Dong Koi Shopping Area
This area seems to be where HCMC wants the tourist to go. The streets are wide and clean, shop fronts bright and vibrant and of course, price tags are high. While there is still a general buzz of Saigon from the hundreds of scooters rushing past, this area is de?nitely more relaxed than others. High end designer stores line the main road and blooming ?owers are visible at every turn. This is the place to come if you want to drop some serious cash, or like me, just window shop.
6) See Saigon from the Sky
There’s something about looking out over a city skyline that every traveller seems to crave. Luckily, HCMC has a few options for you since roof top bars and cafes are quite popular. The most known spot for seeing Saigon from the sky is the Bitexco Financial building. On Floor 49, 178 metres in the sky, there is an observation deck, Saigon Skydeck. There is also a bar on ?oor 52, so I suggest grabbing a seat by the window and enjoying your cocktail while watching the sun go down (groundbreaking right?). You will get the best of both worlds; seeing the city in the sunlight, the stunning (although possibly a little smoggy) sunset, and the twinkling city lights after dusk.! ! Price for SkyDeck; 200,000 VND, €8
7) Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica
In the centre of HCMC, you will ?nd Notre-Dame Cathedral. The cathedral was constructed between 1863 and 1880 by French colonists. Every single brick, stone, and window used to build the cathedral was imported from France. Here you will witness many brides and grooms posing for photographers as this is a very popular romantic spot for locals.
8) Saigon Central Post Of?ce
The Central Post Of?ce is one of the main tourist attractions of HCMC, however it isn’t only an attraction – it is still operational. Famous for its French inspired architecture and the large painted maps on the interior walls, it is right next to Notre-Dame Cathedral. However amongst the crowds of tourists are local people just trying to post a letter.
9) Grab a coconut
As a visitor in Saigon, the streets are full of people trying to entice you to take photos with them, buy their goods or visit their shop. I never really indulged. However on this day, I saw a lady crouched on the pavement slicing the tops off of fresh coconuts. The combination of exhaustion, dehydration and the sweltering 40 degree heat, in the chaotic streets of Quan 3, indulgence was inevitable. I’ve never tasted coconut water so delicious as I did that day. I suggest you try it for yourself.
10) Visit Phu My Hung (District 7)
If the energy of the city is getting a little too much for you, take a day trip to district 7, Phu My Hung. From the centre of the city you cross 2 bridges to arrive to this part of town, although it seems as if you have crossed the country. The streets of Phu My Hung are wide and spacious, the pavements are lined with ?owers and there is no rubbish in sight. Everything seems modern, newly built and tranquil – a great contrast to the rest of HCMC. In this part of the city you’ll ?nd trendy craft
beer breweries, westernised shopping malls and restaurants, beautiful open spaces with rivers and parks for children to play.
11) Get a Tattoo
You might as well, right? So many travellers come home with new ink, some telling stories of their awesome adventures, others of a regretful drunken misunderstanding between self and the local tattoo artist. Rest assured, on backpacker street, talented tattoo artists are there to provide you with unique and edgy designs. I visited The Alchemist tattoo parlour so I can personally recommend it. The decor, vibe and artists that work there are the textbook de?nition of ‘cool.’ Don’t let the entrance to the place deter you – (through the back of a restaurant and up 2 ?ights of questionable stairs) – this place is legit.
12) People Watch in Quan 1!
Travelling to new places is always interesting, mostly thanks to the people you encounter. If you ?nd yourself wandering past the parks of District 1, spend time watching the locals take part in numerous outdoor activities and games. Badminton, ?ves and football seem to be the most popular games to play and the locals are happy to include you if you fancied a quick kick around. Playing football together could be the easiest way to make new local friends and acquire some travel advice.
13) Cuchi Tunnels
The Cuchi Tunnels are another main tourist attraction close to HCMC. While it can seem like a ‘toursity’ place to go, it is worth it. It is interesting to see the not so distant history of the area, experience the hardships of the Vietnamese people, and appreciate the struggles the country has endured – making you more grateful to be able to experience your trip in a beautiful and now peaceful land. ! Entrance Fee; 90 000 VND (€4)”
14) Roof Top Bars in District 1
Almost all of the hotels in HCMC have rooftop bars and any one of them is a perfect spot for a sundowner overlooking District 1. The bars are normally on open roof terraces and are a great place to escape the summer heat while sipping your cocktail.
15) Eat Pho
Vietnam is famous for it’s most well known dish, Pho or ‘noodle soup.’ This meal is made in a variety of different ways, depending on location. Grab yourself a bowl of Pho Gha (Chicken noodle soup) on just about any street at a local restaurant in Saigon. While the name ‘Pho’ (pronounced ‘fuh’) may not sound very inviting to foreigners, the dish is delicious, ?lling and not to mention… cheap!
16) Mekong Delta Day trip
If you want to visit the ?oating markets of the Mekong Delta, it is very accessible from Ho Chi Minh City. You can organise a complete day tour or trip to the Mekong Delta or even an overnight stay.
17) Ben Tanh Market
This market in the centre of chaotic Saigon is a tourists dream spot. It is over?owing with souvenirs, freshly made juices and meals and all the imitation goods you could imagine. There is also fresh seafood, meat and vegetables for sale. On the outskirts of the market there is an abundance of ?ower stalls with an array or striking ?oral arrangements for an unbelievably cheap price.
18) Soul Burger
If you are an expat living in Saigon, or a visitor who needs a break from the local cuisine, Soul Burger is a perfect spot for you to grab a bite to eat. Right opposite Ben Tanh Market, it makes for the perfect post shopping snack stop. The restaurant’s music, decor and menu all scream quirky cool. Locating this restaurant is a little bit of a challenge as you have to navigate through the entrance of another local restaurant, walk through a very dim corridor and up a questionable staircase to get there. However, the burgers are exceptional and are de?nitely worth ?nding this hidden gem.
19) Rock Climbing
Push Rock Climbing is an exciting spot in Saigon District 2. Employees and visitors are both locals and expats and this place is great for solo travellers, couples, groups of friends and families! The space also hosts events, live entertainment and a bar serving cold beer. It is de?nitely a place to check out if you want to get active and spike your adrenaline! ! ! The cost is 200,000 VND, just under €8
20) War Remnants Museum
While this is de?nitely a tourist hot spot, checking out the war museum will open your eyes to the gruesome historic realities of the country and city. Be prepared to become emotional, see some uncomfortable images and walk away so much more knowledgeable.
21) Drink Coffee
In HCMC, there is a coffee shop or cafe on literally every corner. It is no surprise coffee is in such abundance as Vietnam is the second biggest coffee producer and exporter in the world. When you visit a cafe, try the local coffee delicacies; yoghurt coffee and egg coffee.
22) Watch a Photo Shoot
During your time in Saigon, you will encounter a lot of betrothed couples posing for elaborate photo shoots. It is very common in Vietnam to see couples taking engagement or wedding photos out in public and busy areas. You might see them in parks, the city centre, by the opera house or Notre Dame Cathedral. Seeing the ornate out?ts, extravagant make up and professional set up amongst the bustling crowds and speeding scooters is quite an unique experience.
23) Golden Dragon Water Puppet Show
Visit the Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre to see one of their many shows. It is the most popular venue in Saigon to see the show, which depicts Vietnamese culture and traditions by
puppets acting on a stage of water. There is live music played on traditional Vietnamese instruments and although the show is performed completely in Vietnamese it is one of the most popular attractions for tourists.
24) Pizza 4 Ps
Pizza 4 Ps is a restaurant with a few different locations in the city. It is known to be on the pricier side but with delectable meals and outstanding service, its popularity with visitors and locals alike is understandable.
25) Catch a Night Bus
When your time in HCMC is over, catch a night bus from any tourist agency in backpacker street to your next destination. The night buses are surprisingly spacious and comfortable, many of them come equipped with your own pillow, blanket, nightlight and even wi?. The chairs themselves are ?at so you can stretch out your legs and recline your seat-back to have an (almost) horizontal slumber. If you’re up for the budget friendly (less than €10) adventure, a 13 hour night bus journey is de?nitely an experience you won’t forget any time soon. Good Bye Saigon! !