Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, is a hot and steamy, vibrant mega-city in southern Vietnam. Also known as HCMC, it is the largest city in the country and a place that blends together the old and the new.
Travelers will find both elegant shopping malls and old-fashioned crowded markets; upscale restaurants and tasty street food; and modern skyscrapers alongside ancient temples.
The city is also known for its historical sites such as the Cu Chi tunnels, War Remnants Museum, and Independence Palace, which are must-do activities.
Things to do in Ho Chi Minh
1. War Remnants Museum
The War Remnants Museum is a fascinating museum that provides a unique and eye-opening look at the Vietnam War. The different sections explain the context of the Vietnam War history and the devastating impact on the Vietnamese people.
The most moving parts are the testimonies of Vietnamese affected by the chemical Agent Orange and the heartbreaking photos and war stories of journalists killed during the conflict.
There is an impressive display of vehicles and weapons used during the war in the outside areas.
This museum is an essential visit for anyone visiting Ho Chi Minh City.
- War Remnants Museum Opening Hours: Daily from 7:30 am – 5:30 pm
- Entrance Fee: 40,000 VND per person ($1.70)
2. Independence Palace
Independence Palace (also known as Reunification Palace) is a landmark government building of 1960s architecture ordered by President Ngo Dinh Diệm. The site is strongly associated with the Fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975 when the communist tanks bulldozed through the gates, marking the end of the Vietnam War.
The palace includes large meeting rooms with impressive furniture on the lower floor and on the second floor a set of grand reception rooms that were used to welcome foreign dignitaries.
Most interestingly the palace has a commemoration where it was struck by bombs in 1975. Most striking is arguably the basement, which includes a communications center, war room, and warren of tunnels.
- Independence Palace Opening Hours: Daily from 7:30 am – 3:30 pm
- Entrance Fee: 40,000 VND per person ($1.70)
3. Enjoy a Delicious Southern Vietnamese Style Pho
Pho is the most-known Vietnamese dish in the world. Indeed, you can find this national dish on every corner of any Vietnamese town, city, or village. The best Pho restaurants have served the same closely guarded family recipes for decades.
However, there is a major difference between the North and the South recipes. In the north, the broth is light with earthy flavors and transparent thin noodles. In the South, the both is rich and cloudy with complex flavors, thick noodles, and many toppings.
We much preferred the Phos in Saigon as they are more diverse and richer in flavor. Some good pho spots we found:
- Pho Quynh
- Anan Saigon
- The Joi Factory Café (delicious vegan pho)
- Phở 2000
- Phở Hòa Pasteur
4. Saigon Central Post office
The Saigon Central Post Office is one of the city’s most iconic landmarks from the French Colonial period. The French-inspired Gothic and Renaissance facade stands near the Cathedrale Notre Dame.
Once inside, you will notice the grand arches, tiled floor, and two authentic painted maps from Saigon and South Vietnam on the wall from the late 1880s.
5. Notre Dame de Saigon
Built in the late 1800s, Notre Dame Cathedral stands in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City. The red-brick catholic cathedral has two distinctive twin bell towers and lovely stained-glass windows. All the materials used to build the cathedral were imported from France.
Notre Dame de Saigon has been under renovation since 2017. Unfortunately, there are currently many scaffholding in front of the facade. The project has been delayed due to Covid and is now expected to be finished in 2027. All the materials are imported from France to keep the original style.
6. Day Trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels
The Cu Chi Tunnels are a must-see for anyone visiting Ho Chi Minh City. The Viet Cong soldiers built 75 miles of connecting tunnels to hide, sometimes for days, during combat in the Vietnam War. They also served as supply routes for food, and weapons. The tunnel systems were of great importance in the Viet Cong’s resistance to American forces.
Although packed with tourists, the tunnels have been turned into a museum that provides a fascinating glimpse of life during the war.
There are two sites you can visit:
- Ben Dinh: most visited site as closer to Saigon. Tunnels have been partly reconstructed to accommodate tourists.
- Ben Duoc: less visited as further out from Saigon but more authentic. It contains part of the original tunnel system.
You can visit the Cu Chi tunnels by yourself, but it is convenient to do a tour as pick-up and transport are included. Depending on the size of your tour group, it costs between $10 to $20 and lasts 4 hours. We recommened a smaller group – the larger groups can be very touristy.
7. Ben Thanh market
Ben Thanh Market is Ho Chi Minh City’s most famous market. The day market sells many products like handicraft souvenirs, dried fruits, and coffee while the night market offers street food mainly!
Although very touristy, this market is a great spot to buy souvenirs or gifts. Prices are always negotiable in Vietnam so try to bargain with the vendors.
- Market Opening Hours: every day 6 am to 6 pm for the day market. Until 10 pm night market.
8. Drinks at Bui Vien Street
Bui Vien is the main party street in District 1 liked by the backpackers. The beer street is packed with bars playing loud music, small craft beer places, and restaurants. It comes to life every day around 6 pm when the bars offer the best happy hours!
Later at night, you can go to one of the nightclubs or a fun live music bar!
9. Stroll in Tao Dan Park
Tao Dan Park is the perfect green escape in the middle of the buzzing Ho Chi Minh City. This peaceful park is popular with locals practicing dance, martial arts and badminton games.
Home to a Buddhist temple and amazing bonsai trees, there is plenty of shade to relax during a hot day!
10. Maison Marou Chocolaterie
Stop for an indulgent treat at Maison Marou. Founded by two French friends in 2011, they’re the first to create chocolate using only Vietnamese cacao beans! All their chocolate products use 100% local ingredients crafted in their Saigon factory!
The flagship store in Ho Chi Minh City offers tables to savor the delicious hot chocolate and French-inspired patisseries.
11. Seafood Street food at Vinh Khanh Street
Vinh Khanh Street is one of the most popular places for street food in Ho Chi Minh City The so-called “Seafood Street” is full of restaurants serving fresh crab, snail dishes, hot pots, barbecued squid, or clams.
The atmosphere is electric around the long strip where local Vietnamese come to share large seafood dishes and beers sitting on tiny plastic chairs.
Vinh Kanh Street is located in District 4 so the best way to get there is to take a quick Grab.
12. Ho Chi Minh’s Chinatown (Cho Lon)
Cho Lon, the Chinatown of Ho Chi Minh, is a vibrant and culturally rich district with a unique identity blending Chinese and Vietnamese influences. Established in the 18th century, Cho Lon has a rich history as a thriving trading center led by Chinese immigrants. Home to several temples with a stunning architecture and a bustling local market, Chinatown is worth a visit.
Cho Lon main temples
- Ba Thien Hau Temple: 18th century temple dedicated to Mazu, the Chinese goddess of the sea, and boasts intricate carvings and a lively atmosphere during festivals.
- Quan Am Pagoda: colorful pagoda honoring Guanyin, the goddess of mercy, with peaceful courtyards and delicate artwork. This pagoda is special for both Vietnamese and Chinese Buddhists.
- Nghia An Hoi Quan Pagoda: reflecting a blend of Chinese and Vietnamese styles , this pagoda is adorned with vibrant colors and intricate woodwork.
- Nhi Phu Temple: also known as Ong Bon Temple is one of the oldest Chinese-style temple in Saigon dedicated to Ong Bon, the guardian of happiness and wealth.
Binh Tay Market
The central hub of Chinatown is one of the biggest and oldest markets in Ho Chi Minh. Binh Tay Market provides an authentic and bustling local shopping experience, offering a diverse range of goods including Chinese food, textiles, and handicrafts. Unlike Ben Thanh Market, this market is mostly visited by locals!
- How to get to Chinatown: located in the district 5 and 6, the best way is to take a Grab or a taxi from district 1.
- Binh Tay Market opening hours: 5 am to 7 pm everyday
13. Visit the Mekong Delta
One of the most fertile regions in the world, the Mekong Delta is a fascinating place that produces half of Vietnam’s rice. A day trip to discover the Mekong Delta is the most touristy excursion you can do from Ho Chi Minh city.
Standard tours include a boat ride on the Mekong, a visit to a honey factory, a coconut candy shop, and a local fruit tasting. Honestly, this is not the most authentic experience you will do in Vietnam but having a guide can be interesting to understand the Delta’s importance in Vietnam and learn about the farmer’s recent challenges.
Avoid the tours offering an early morning tour to visit Cai Be floating market as it no longer exists.
Best restaurants & bars
Ho Chi Minh is world famous for its cuisine and street food! Bit more text, great for international options — best in Vietnam, particularly world class sushi.
- Bep Mẹ Ỉn – Le Thanh Ton – trendy restaurant serving modern vietnamese dishes
- Pizza 4P’s – best pizza in south-east asia!!
- Sushi Hokaido – excellent sushi restaurant (several locations in district 1)
- Pho Quynh – popular pho in district 1
- Anan Saigon – fancy Vietnamese food (One Michelin Star)
- Baba’s Kitchen Restaurant – delicious indian restaurant
- The Joi Factory Café – Vegan café with delicious pho, sandwiches and juices
- Vietnam House Restaurant – upscale dining serving authentic vietnamese food
- Phở 2000 – one of the best phos in Saigon
- Phở Hòa Pasteur – another great pho restaurant
Where to stay in Ho Chi Minh
Ho Chi Minh is a the largest city in Vietnam with more than 9 million people. Therefore, it can be quite difficult to define in which area to stay for your first time in this immense metropolis.
The best area to stay for first time travelers is District 1, Saigon downtown, which is the main economic and tourist hub. You will be close to all the must see attractions in Saigon!
If you prefer a less busy, less polluted and cleaner area, District 2 just across the river is a popular option. This area is where expats, digital nomads, and wealthy families live.
District 3 in the north of Ho Chi Minh is an authentic neighborhood close to all the main attractions in the city center. It is less crowded and is filled with local people.
Finally, those who want to stay off the beaten track and stay in a budget area, District 5 is the perfect place to discover the largest Chinatown in Vietnam.
How to Travel to Ho Chi Minh
Ho Chi Minh has an international airport located 15km in the north of Saigon. You can also fly from Danang or Hanoi too.
From the airport, there are many direct buses (152, 109) to District 1, which takes between 30 min to 1 hour and costs 5,000 VND ($0.20).
Alternatively, you can take a bus from Phnom Phnen (Cambodia), Mui Ne or Dalat in Vietnam.
Ho Chi Minh is a massive city with diverse districts, mouth-watering restaurants and amazing buildings.
You can walk around District 1 to explore the iconic French colonial buildings and old architecture. Be careful with the crazy traffic when crossing the streets but it’s manageable.
We strongly recommend against renting a scooter in Ho Chi Minh as the traffic is crazy! We have witnessed a few crashes between scooters and cars.
To visit the Chi Chi Tunnels, booking a tour with a local agency is the easiest and cheapest way.
Best time to visit Ho Chi Minh
The best months to visit Ho Chi Minh are from November to April during the dry season. The rest of the year is very wet, humid and stormy.
How many days do you need
Ho Chi Minh is a large and impressive city that is very different from the authentic northern region in Vietnam.
If you love gigantic cities with amazing culture, restaurants and a lively atmosphere, you could spend up to a week discovering the less touristy parts of Saigon and the surroundings (Mekong Delta, Chi Chi tunnels).
If you are not a fan of big cities, spend two full days to see the iconic attractions – especially the War Remnant Museums which is a must-see.