Top 30 things to do in Ho Chi Minh City: The ultimate guide to Saigon
Ho Chi Minh city or Saigon always impresses travelers by its bustling, which sometimes makes you easily get lost in the Pearl of the Orient as the French colonialists had said. However, Saigon doesn’t only have the modern beauty but also has the historical and natural ones. You have to walk like a local, eat like a local… and explore Saigon as a Saigonese to see through all of its traits. Below are 30 things to do in Ho Chi Minh city for your journey in Vietnam’s southern capital.
Top 30 things to do in Ho Chi Minh City: The ultimate guide to Saigon
Walking through the city
Nevertheless, traffic congestion in peak hours might raise some difficulties so cars is not a must-try vehicles. For ride-sharing apps’ users, you should book the rides of motorbike to move easily. It’s also safer than self-driving vehicles when you still don’t get used of Vietnamese traffic.
- Notre Dame Cathedral – The one remaining stronghold of Catholicism
Notre-Dame Cathedral Saigon, also known as Duc Ba Cathedral, is the one of the famous architectural landmarks and features of Vietnam tourism. Its architecture was based on Notre-Dame de Paris. With the height of 57.6 meters, its bell towers is the highest one in Vietnam. Only on Christmas Eve will all the bells ring together, you can even hear the bells from 10km away.
- Ho Chi Minh Central Post Office – The beautifully preserved remnant of French colonial times
The French built Ho Chi Minh Central Post Office from 1886 to 1891 under the design of the architect Villedieu with an assistant named Foulhoux. They combined European style with Asian decor for the building. In particular, the building has large circular arches at the entrance, along the ceiling. There are some tables of French well-known man such as Laplace, Voltaire, Arage, Gay-Lvssac… at the front of the post office
- Turtle Lake – An artificial lake famous for its architecture
Ho Con Tortoise is a folk name for an artificial fountain located between the intersection of three streets: Vo Van Tan, Pham Ngoc Thach and Tran Cao Van. Its official name is International Square, one of the most active eating places from morning to night, with many coffee shops and restaurants around.
- Ben Thanh market – The symbol of Ho Chi Minh City
People often consider it as the unofficial symbol of Saigon. You can find almost anything here including souvenirs, trinkets, clothes, hats, coffee, coffee filters, tea, shoes, purses, snacks, fresh fruit, art, dodgy electronics, toys, jewelry, nodding cats figures and then some. So if you want to buy something, it’s very important that you know how to haggle.
- Bui Vien Street – The path for youth
Bui Vien Street usually has a mix of both locals and tourists grabbing a drink on the side. Travelers can take advantage of many services from hotel, from transportation to massage, tattoo, cafe, dining and street food.
- War remnants museum – The best exhibit of Vietnam War
War Remnants Museum featured American atrocities, highlighting the horrors of war. Graphics and confronting as it can be, the museum provides visitors with the truest picture of the pain war victims have to suffer until today.
- Independence Palace: The former home of South Vietnam President
It is located on an area of 12 hectares in the center of Ho Chi Minh city. Along with its historical meaning, Independence Place remains the harmonious combination between modern Western and classical Eastern architecture.
Far from the center
Focus on things to do in Ho Chi Minh is a must but don’t forget about the suburban districts and the near provinces.
- Cao Dai Temple – Explore the most mysterious religion in Vietnam
The religion Caodaist is headquartered in Hoa Thanh district of Tay Ninh province, about 90 kilometers Northwest of Ho Chi Minh City and approximately 55 kilometers of the Cu Chi tunnels. Cao Dai Temple or Cao Dai Holy See was constructed in 1933 in a unique architectural style that reflects its blended traditions.
- Cu Chi Tunnels – The true face of warfare
Cu Chi, one of war remnants museums, is located about 70km from the from Ho Chi Minh city. It is famously known as an underground network built by Viet Cong soldier to serve secret operations against American army. Visiting Cu Chi Tunnels should be in your things to do in Ho Chi Minh city.
- Mekong Delta – The ‘rice bowl’ of Vietnam
People usually address The Mekong Delta as Cuu Long – Nine Dragons thanks to the nine tributaries marking the end of the great Mekong River. Mekong Delta constitutes a mere 13% of the overall area of Vietnam, is astoundingly responsible for more than half the annual rice produced. Taking a trip along the Mekong Delta is an unforgettable experience that will show you a snapshot of the Mekong people’s lives.
Conquer your food tour
One of the best ways to get a real taste of Vietnam is going to some authentic restaurants in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City.
- Secret Garden Restaurant at 158 Bis/40-41 Pasteur, Ben Nghe Ward, District 1
Secret Garden Restaurant is on an apartment rooftop, serving you various traditionally rural dishes. The atmosphere is really homely thanks to the Vietnam old-style decoration. The highest recommended dishes are fried salted pork, fried catfish, and spring roll. The drinks here are contained in vintage looking glass bottles, served with a cup of ice. Customers need to pay 10,000 VND for cooked rice and can eat it as much as they want.
- Ngon Restaurant at 160 Pasteur, Ben Nghe Ward, District 1
Ngon Restaurant is housed in a vintage French village. It is not air-conditioned but is always ventilated thanks to the fans creating a gentle breeze. In terms of local dishes, the menu is full of Vietnam’s signature foods of all regions such as Pho, spring rolls, Khot cake, Hue beef noodle and so on. These dishes are accompanied with a plate of several kinds of vegetables, including different herbs and leaves that the Vietnamese usually have in their meals.
- Chi Hoa Vietnamese Cuisine
Chi Hoa opens the kitchen to allow people to see the preparation of the food. The menu of Chi Hoa collects numerous common dish recipes from all regions of Vietnam. Most favorited dessert is Che Chi Hoa (Chi Hoa sweet soup), which includes three types of che in one plate, lotus seed sweet gruel, taro pudding with coconut gruel and mixed fruits.
Do not miss Saigon street food, your stomach will be easily satisfied with the hidden gems of locals.
- Bánh tráng trộn (Rice paper salad)
This affordable dish is made from a few simple ingredients, including sliced rice paper, dried shrimp, sliced mango, quail eggs, peanuts and herbs all stirred together. The combination of ingredients in the rice paper salad brings your pallet a wonderful mix of sour, salty and spicy flavours, resulting in an explosive taste in your mouth.
- Súp cua (Crab soup)
With about 10,000 – 20,000VND, you can buy a tasty bowl of crab soup. People cook crab soup with crab, chicken, quail eggs, mushroom, sweetcorn, herbs, adding some soy sauce and chili to spice up the flavour. Try it on a cool, windy or rainy afternoon, you will find crab soup more delicious.
- Bắp xào (Stir-fried corn)
A stir-fried corn usually has lots of corn stir-fried with butter, with some dried shrimp and shrimp paste to spice it up, topped with chili sauce and green onion. This infusion of different ingredients takes your tongue on a journey from sweet, to spicy and salty. Enjoy the dish as the snack for late afternoon, you won’t deny trying it as the first things to do in Ho Chi Minh city.
- Hủ tiếu gõ (Knocking noodle)
A typical bowl of knocking noodle will have white noodle, thin sliced lean pork, fried onion, bean sprouts, chives and crackling. This dish is not sold in the morning, but from afternoon till midnight and a highlight of Saigon cuisine since it’s delicious yet the price is very affordable, a very popular dish among the working class and students.
You can also learn about Saigon’s unique culture through the city’s small cafes. Try a delicious cup of Saigon coffee is one of the best things to do in Ho Chi Minh city.
- Apartment Cafe
Saigonese youth call Ly Tu Trong – Dong Khoi Apartment as the “Vintage Mall”. It has cafes, bars, pubs, restaurants, fashion boutiques…
- “Sitting-Plump” Cafe
“Sitting-Plump” Cafe is an iconic coffee shop in Saigon. You can see students, workers, and even foreigners with a plastic cup of this cafe’s coffee in their hands along April 30th Park near the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon. The price of each cup is incredibly affordable, with one delicious brew costing around 10,000 VND. Their menu has various drinks for customers to choose including coffee and lemon tea.
- Alley Cafe
One of the most Instagram-worthy of alley cafes in Saigon is VietGangz Brotherhood with enough unique decor. VietGangz Brotherhood is at 2/45 Cao Thang, District 3.
- Saigon Retro Concept Cafe
Saigon has a number of cafes that channel the 1990s for their cool retro feel. Ut Lanh Cafe sits inside a 90s-style home, located at 283/37 Pham Ngu Lao, District 1. To fit with its vintage concept, the coffee shop doesn’t offer wifi. Those who go as far as to not use their cell phones even get a 5,000 VND discount, as well.
Say “cheer” in the best rooftop bars
One of the things to do in Ho Chi Minh city visits a rooftop bar to enjoy the nightlife.
- The Social Club & Pool Rooftop Bar on level 24 of building 76 on Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street
The highlight of The Social Club is its pool which runs vertically, a mini version of the infamous SkyPark swimming in Singapore, so you will have the feeling of swimming in the air.
- Shri Restaurant and Lounge on Level 23 of Centec Tower, 72-74 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street
Established in 2009, Shri once is a check in place to show off young people status thanks to its luxury, unique design and premium pricing. The cozy vibe is also ideal for a date night or firework gaze during the New Year celebrations.
- Chill Sky Bar on level 26 and 27 of AB tower (Le Lai street)
They always serve highly customized cocktails to your preference. The slots at Chill Sky Bar quickly sell out during weekends and special occasions.
Shopping like a local
Travelers usually list Ben Thanh market at the first destinations for their shopping needs. But for shopaholics, we have plenty of others recommendations. One of the first things to do in Ho Chi Minh city is choosing where to buy the gifts.
- Binh Tay market
Binh Tay market is one of the largest in Ho Chi Minh City and is over 17,000 square meters in size. It is also home to more than 2,300 vendors selling a number of different products including fresh food, ingredients, fruits, textiles, home appliances, handicrafts and more. Because the market is a wholesale one, visitors will find that the products here are much more affordable than they would normally be.
- Tan Dinh market
Like many other markets, Tan Dinh market sells fresh ingredients, apparel, fruits and household products. Locals consider Tan Dinh as the most prominent textile marketplace in the city with affordable price. Banh xeo, bun mam, crab soup, crab noodles, mixed fruits, chicken sticky rice dishes are all ones you should try.
- An Dong market
An Dong market is famous for its fashion products as commercial vendors provide goods to countless fashion boutiques in the city. Several vendors sell authentic products by well-known brands, including Vera, Wacoal and more.
- Sai Gon Square
Sai Gon Square is a heaven for shoppers with plenty of clothing, footwear, fashion accessories, tech gadgets and more. In addition to selling a plethora of items for affordable prices, the market is renowned for its international brands. Sai Gon Square is often referred to as an outlet where visitors can find the trendiest items that are somehow not found in stores.
- Weekend flea markets
Weekend flea markets have only recently grown in popularity, and they have slowly become a favourite shopping destination amongst locals. Hundreds of vendors set up shop at these cool markets. The top flea markets you should not miss out on visiting are Roobik Zoo, The New District, Saigon flea market…
The to-try list is on your hand! Now, take your backpack, find a local friend to explore of Ho Chi Minh city!