Ho Chi Minh City is a massive and chaotic city in Southern Vietnam that has things to do, it is at the top of any traveler’s bucket list when visiting the country.
We’ve rounded up a list of our top things to do in Ho Chi Minh City from the must-see, popular tourist attractions, to off-the-beaten-track ideas that absolutely shouldn’t be missed!
You may know Ho Chi Minh City from its former name Saigon, but after the Vietnam War, it was changed to honor of the leader of the communist party with the same name. In recent years Ho Chi Minh has become one of the top places to visit in Southeast Asia.
Things to do in Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam
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With a population of over 8 million people, Ho Chi Minh City is Vietnam’s largest city and the most visited in the country. There are heaps of things to do in Ho Chi Minh City and it’s well worth spending a few days Saigon to take it all in.
Enjoy these Ho Chi Minh City top attractions and experiences.
1. Walk Down Bui Vien Street
Going for a walk down the iconic walking street at the heart of District 1 is an important part of visiting Ho Chi Minh City as a tourist.
During the day, this street is bustling with tourists looking for a place to eat, shop, or recover from their hangovers. By night, Bui Vien Street comes alive with drunk backpackers letting themselves go at the numerous bars along the street. If nightlife is your scene, then set aside at least one evening to explore the bars on this Street.
As iconic and exciting as Bui Vien Street is, it is far from an accurate representation of Ho Chi Minh City. It is designed for tourists, so to find the best restaurants and to fully experience the city, consider venturing further afield.
2. Explore the Notre Dame Cathedral
Image by chi’n nguy’n bá
Notre Dame Cathedral was designed with an impeccable French architectural style and its two bell towers reach 60 metres (196 feet) into the air. Built between 1863 and 1880, Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon was constructed for French colonialists to attend service. It is still used today.
Surrounded by utilitarian, Vietnamese apartment buildings and with thousands of mopeds buzzing past, this buildings strongly contrast everything going on all around them.
3. Visit the Saigon Central Post Office
Located beside the Notre Dame Basilica, the Saigon Central Post Office is a beautiful display of colonial architecture. The post office is fully functioning (we sent a package of clothes that we had tailor-made in Vietnam home from here) and the original phone booths are still there.
Built-in 1886, just a few years after Notre Dame was completed, this building is another fine example of French colonial design
These buildings are a reminder that there is more history in the country than the war and are well worth visiting.
4. Visit Independence Palace
One of the top Ho Chi Minh City Attractions is the Independence Palace. This was home to the president of South Vietnam during the American War. Ho Chi Minh City’s Reunification or Independence Palace symbolizes the reunification of North and South Vietnam.
It was here, in 1975, when a North Vietnamese tank crashed through the gate of the palace marking the end of the Vietnam War.
Aside from its historical significance, the architecture is magnificent and exemplifies its martial purpose during the war.
If you have the time, then purchasing tickets and exploring the grounds is an option. There isn’t a whole lot to see here, but it is still a place you must see when in Ho Chi Minh City.
5. Visit the War Remnants Museum
The Vietnam War ended less than 50 years ago, and to this day, impacts the lives of many Vietnamese people. The war is still considered recent history. And we found it interesting that the Vietnam War is called the American War by the Vietnamese.
When visiting Vietnam, it is important to take some time to learn about the war and to think about the effects it has had on its people.
The War Remnants Museum is one of the most important things to do in Ho Chi Minh City to pay respect to those who lost their lives during the Vietnam War. The exhibition is a stark display of the origins, causes, and effects of the war.
You will find powerful photos from war journalists and propaganda on display at the museum. Victims of Agent Orange often volunteer their time to raise funds and educate tourists at the museum. This may not be considered one of the most uplifting attractions in Ho Chi Minh City, but it will have the most impact on your visit.
6. Adventure in the Mekong Delta
Technically, the Mekong Delta is located just outside of Ho Chi Minh City, but most people visit for a couple of days during a stay in the big city.
It is one of the top Vietnam attractions and while in Ho Chi Minh Cith, book an overnight tour to experience its beauty.
In terms of getting to the Mekong Delta, the drive takes a few hours on a bus. The drive is a great way to see how big Ho Chi Minh City is. We found you could drive for two hours and still feel like you’re in a busy city.
Eventually, you will make it outside of the city where things quieten down and become significantly less hectic.
You can also book an organized tour like we did our first visit to Vietnam. This is an excellent way to see the best of the Mekong Delta with a guide and in comfort.
About the Mekong Delta
The Mekong Delta itself is great for experiencing the authentic, local life of the Vietnamese people. Whether you go with a tour or by yourself, you will get the opportunity to take a boat down the interconnecting canals of the Mekong river.
Along the way, you will find floating markets selling everything from fruit and vegetables to conical hats and fake clothing – not unlike the markets in Ho Chi Minh City.
Spending a night here is a good idea to make the most of the long drive.
You won’t find any luxury hotels here, so consider it as an opportunity to stay with the locals in a homestay.
- Book a full day Mekong Delta Tour including a trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels with Get Your Guide.
- Free cancelation for a full refund within 24 hours of activity.
7. Explore the Cu Chi Tunnels
The Cu Chi Tunnels are definitely the most popular day trip from Ho Chi Minh City.
The North Vietnamese communists (Viet Cong) used an extensive network of tunnels covering most of the country to hide and protect themselves from the French, American, and South Vietnamese soldiers during the 20th century.
A specific section of the Cu Chi Tunnels has been preserved and converted in the Cu Chi district of Ho Chi Minh City where tourists can see what life was like during the Vietnam war.
Cu Chi Tunnels Experience
When you arrive at the Cu Chi tunnels, you will have the opportunity to walk around and picture what it was like to be a Vietnamese (or even American) soldier during the Vietnam War.
There is a particularly interesting display of the traps invented by the Vietnamese. These were designed to kill or mortally wound American soldiers.
You can also attempt to crawl through some real-life tunnels to experience just how claustrophobic the tunnels are. This was one of the best experiences at the tunnel, so make sure you do it!
Book a day tour of the Cu Chi Tunnels from Ho Chi Minh.
8. Jade Emperor Pagoda
The Jade Emperor Pagoda was built in 1909 by the Chinese Community in Ho Chi Minh City. It is not to be missed because the Emperor Pagoda is one of the most important temples in the city dedicated to the supreme Taoist God.
It makes for a quiet sanctuary in the city and is one of the best places in Ho Chi Minh City to escape the crowds.
There are many halls filled with elaborate carvings, woodwork and burning incense. Don’t miss seeing the Hall of 10 Hells, depicting the ten layers of hell.
9. Explore the Cafe Apartment
Built during the Vietnam war this apartment complex was used as a headquarters for American military officers, it now houses a collection of eclectic shops, cafes and eateries. It is certainly one of the most unique things to do in Ho Chi Minh City and we highly recommend it.
Aptly named the Cafe Apartment, each floor houses a row of shops including a lot of cafes. It has real abandoned building vibes, but despite this, it is packed with interesting places to visit.
You can enter the building via a small alleyway (the best places in Ho Chi Minh City always seem to be down alleyways for some reason). Here you will find some staircases, a lift and a person guarding the elevator.
For 3,000 VND, you can use the elevator, which is certainly reasonable, but if your fitness levels are fine we’d recommend the stairs. This way you can explore every level efficiently. Or take the lift up and then walk down.
The building wasn’t designed as a shopping mall. It is essentially an apartment complex, but behind each door is a different shop. It’s easy to spend a few hours exploring each of the stores.
The view from the top is amazing, so consider picking one of the cafes at the top for a cold drink on the balcony.
10. Try Vietnamese Coffee and Egg Coffee
Vietnam is the second-largest producer of coffee beans in the entire world – second only to Brazil, and comfortably beating out Colombia, Indonesia and Ethiopia. Despite this, people don’t really think of Vietnam for its coffee.
This is because Vietnam produces what is considered a ‘lower-quality’ bean, called Robusta. These beans are significantly cheaper and quicker to grow than the more favoured Arabica beans.
Robusta beans are inherently bitter and have an earthy taste, compared to the sweet, sour and fruity notes found in Arabica beans.
The Vietnamese quickly learned to make the most of what they had.
Vietnamese coffee is prepared with Robusta beans which are drip-brewed through a filter on top of a layer of condensed milk. The condensed milk counteracts the bitterness, creating a delicious coffee that can be consumed both hot (ca phe sua) and cold (ca phe sua da).
Another alternative, and a must-try, is egg coffee. In this case, the coffee is prepared with an egg yolk. This produces an unbelievably creamy and sweet coffee – don’t worry, it doesn’t really taste like egg.
When in Ho Chi Minh City, make sure to look out for a Vietnamese coffee. Drink it with ice for a refreshing drink during the middle of the day.
11. Bitexco Financial Tower
For one of the best views of Ho Chi Minh City, go up to the 49th floor of the Bitexco Financial Tower. Here you’ll enjoy the Saigon Skydeck offering 360 degree views of the city.
The Bitexco Financial Tower is one of the tallest buildings in Vietnam and one of the most modern examples of architecture in the city.
12. Take a River Cruise
One of the best things to do in Ho Chi Minh City is to take a river cruise. We love seeing cities from the water. Located on the Mekong River, this is not only scenic, it is historic.
13. Watch Sunset from a Rooftop Bar
Ho Chi Minh City has a lot of rooftop bars and one of the best things to do is to grab a cocktail on a rooftop patio. Make sure to go just before the sun sets but stay afterward to take in the lights of the city.
Some of the top rooftop bars in Vietnam are:
- Saigon Saigon Rooftop Bar
- Chill Skybar Saigon
- Level 23 Wine Bar at the Sheraton Sigon Hotel
- Eon Helibar at Bitexco Financial Tower
14. Take a Walking Tour
One of the best ways to get around cities is usually to walk. This is not the case in Ho Chi Minh as walking around can be daunting. It is a busy and bustling city, but if you book a walking tour when you arrive, you’ll get your bearings and become acquainted with Saigon and you may even learn how to cross the street!
Book this Half Day Ho Chi Minh City Walking Tour –
16. Vietnamese History Museum
Most of us know about Vietnamese history because of the Vietnam War, but there was life in the country before the 1960s. A visit to the Vietnamese History Museum showcases a Vietnam before its war history.
17. Saigon Opera House
Looking for something unique to do in Ho Chi Minh City at night? Take in a show at the Saigon Opera House. The French Colonial architecture is a throw back to when the French occupied Vietnam.
Dating back to the 19th century, the Opera House was restored in 1995 and now hosts many cultural performances.
18. Explore Chinatown
Ho Chi Minh City has one of the largest Chinatowns in the world. It has a distinct Chinese feel with red lanterns hanging outside the front of the shops.
Known as Cholon, Ho Chi Min’s Chinatown is filled with Pagodas, and street stalls. Get lost wandering around the streets going pagoda hopping or trying the food.
It’s also a great place to do some shopping.
19. Binh Tay Market
While in Chinatown, visit the Binh Tay Market. Built in the 19th century by the French, this market is the best place in Ho Chi Minh City to have an authentic market experience. It is a great place to look for affordable souvenirs.
20. Feast on Vietnamese Cuisine
One of the best things about visiting Vietnam is its delicious cuisine. Ho Chi Minh City is filled with countless food stalls and places to eat Vietnamese food.
A fusion of both European and Asian cuisine blends together influences from the French colonisation and immigration from neighbouring countries. This makes Ho Chi Minh City a fantastic destination for foodies.
You will find some of the best variations of Vietnamese classics.
Vietnamese food to try in Ho Chi Minh:
- Pho (Traditional Vietnamese noodle soup)
- Banh mi (baguette sandwich)
- Banh Xeo (filled pancake crepe)
- Summer Rolls (Goi Cuon)
- Thit Nuong (Grilled Pork)
- Chicken Sticky Rice (Xoi Ga)
A banh mi will cost you just 15 – 25,000 VND from some of the best spots in the city. This is a sandwich made from a freshly baked, French baguette, filled with pate, meat and vegetables.
Banh Mi Huynh Hoa is a great sandwich spot in District 1, otherwise, you can find them all over the place.
Bun Cha 145 in Bui Vien Street is another delicious option that is a bit less known than some of the other dishes mentioned above.
Consider venturing out from these popular dishes. Ho Chi Minh has some amazing street food. The locals eat street food so you know it is fresh and authentic. Go with an open mind and be willing to try anything that looks or sounds nice.
Fortunately, the dishes are typically so affordable that you can afford to try something else if you don’t like what you get (this has never happened to us by the way).
For all of our favourite places to eat, take a look at our Ho Chi Minh City restaurant guide.
- Book a food tour of Ho Chi Minh to experience authentic Vietnamese cuisine and to try some of the popular street food and food stalls.
21. Shop at the Local Markets
For a lot of tourists, the local markets in Ho Chi Minh City can be daunting. They are often crowded with enthusiastic vendors hassling you around every corner – they will even physically pull you into their stalls.
Regardless, visiting the local markets in Ho Chi Minh City is a crucial part of experiencing the culture of the city. Not only are markets a great way to pick up souvenirs and gifts to take back home, but they are also where the locals go to find products and food to take back home. ‘
You can certainly find cheap, fake clothes here, but it is so much more than this. Take the time to interact with the locals and learn how to barter with the vendors.
A great tip is to find a popular and clean looking food vendor and ask them to make you their favourite dish.
You’ll experience the food of Vietnam better than you could at any food tour or touristy restaurant (including the ones Bill Clinton purportedly visited 20 years ago).
Consider buying locally-made products rather than mass-produced, fake Gucci handbags.
- Check out this list of the best things to buy in Vietnam before your trip.
Ben Thanh Market
Image by Ngo Minh Tuan
Located in District 1 of Ho Chi Minh City, Ben Thanh Market is a must-visit. If you want to try street food in Ho Chi Minh, this is a great place to do it. Street food stalls line the streets offering all the top eats.
It’s tailored for the tourist crowd so the prices and products reflect this but it is a great introduction to the street stalls of Vietnam. It’s great for a first taste of the markets in Ho Chi Minh City, or if you have limited time.
Tan Dinh Market
We would recommend checking out Tan Dinh market a bit further away for a more authentic experience. If you are looking for more authentic street stalls and shopping, this is a great place.
The vendors here have far more ‘broken’ English, assuming they speak any at all – unlike Ben Thanh market where they all speak English surprisingly well.
It’s far more challenging with the language barrier, but you will find the experience significantly more rewarding.
22. Museum of Ho Chi Minh City
The Ho Chi Minh City Museum is another display of lovely architecture in Saigon. It leads people through the history of Ho Chi Minh including the two wars between France and America.
Other Ho Chi Minh Museums to Visit
- Southern Women’s Museum – Celebrating the history of women in the defense and development of Vietnam.
- Ao Dai Museum – Displaying the evolution of clothing in Vietnam
Where to Stay in Ho Chi Minh City
As mentioned above, you will most likely be staying near or in District 1 as it is in the heart of the action. This is the best area to stay in Ho Chi Minh City for first-time visitors.
Search For Hotels on Booking.com
PHAM NGU LAO
Pham Ngu Lao is a popular area for backpackers to stay. There are guesthouses and mini-hotels that you can find at affordable prices.
Attractions in this district include: You can also easily visit the Reunification Palace, Bitexco Tower, and the Jade Emperor Pagoda from here.
DONG KHOI STREET
Upscale options can be found in Dong Khoi. The commercial hub of Ho Chi Minh. Colonial buildings are mixed with highrises and historic landmarks including Hotel de Ville, Central Post Office and the Saigon River.
Check for hotels on TripAdvisor
Getting Around Ho Chi Minh City
Most attractions in Ho Chi Minh City are located within walking distance of one another. But be prepared, walking in Ho Chi Minh is an adventure. We looked at crossing the road in Ho Chi Minh City as a game of Frogger. Just keep on walking and motorcycles will go around you.
If you have skills and experience, renting a scooter is a good way to get around the city. Locals get around by motorbike, but tourists are taking their lives into their hands by driving one if they don’t have experience.
If you don’t have riding experience, you can hire a motorcycle taxi at reasonable prices. But this is also not for the faint of heart as weaving through traffic on a motorcycle is hair raising. Take a taxi instead to be safe.
Final Thoughts – Things to do in Ho Chi Minch City
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