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Many people visit Vietnam to learn more about the Vietnam War. Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City as it now known featured heavily during this conflict and you will find many historical places in Ho Chi Minh City that will give you an insight into these tragic events.
Although the Vietnam War played a part in Ho Chi Minh City’s past, the city of today is vibrant and modern, where French colonial buildings stand side by side sleek futuristic skyscrapers, a city that looks firmly to the future.
We enjoyed our time exploring Ho Chi Minh City and were impressed with the nightlife, shopping, attractions and day to day life of this exciting city. Here are the best things to do in Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam.
- 1 Where is Ho Chi Minh City
- 2 Best time to visit Ho Chi Minh City
- 3 Ho Chi Minh City Airport
- 4 Ho Chi Minh City Tours
- 5 Places to visit in Ho Chi Minh City – District 1
- 6 Ho Chi Minh City Shopping
- 7 Ho Chi Minh City Restaurants and Bars
- 8 Day Trips from Ho Chi Minh City
- 9 Hotels in Ho Chi Minh City
- 10 Living in Ho Chi Minh City – District 2
- 11 Things to do in Ho Chi Minh City Summary
Where is Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Min City is the largest city and commercial hub of Vietnam. Ho Chi Min City sits on the banks of the busy Saigon River in Southern Vietnam.
Formally Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City was named in honour of the late President Ho Chi Minh in 1976. While visiting Ho Chi Minh City’s places of interest you will find that many businesses and locals still refer to Ho Chi Minh City as Saigon. Both Ho Chi Minh City and Saigon are accepted as the city’s name.
Best time to visit Ho Chi Minh City
So, when is the best time to visit Vietnam? There are a few things you should keep in mind while planning a Vietnam trip.
Like many South East Asian countries, Vietnam’s weather is divided into two seasons, wet and dry, to get the most out of Ho Chi Minh City sightseeing it’s advisable to come in the dry season.
The wet season (monsoon season) is from May to November, while tropical storms and high humidity make Ho Chi Minh City less comfortable, for the budget conscious Ho Chi Minh City hotels and Ho Chi Minh City tourist attractions offer great deals during this time. Ho Chi Minh city also has late afternoon tropical storms so a good quality umbrella is essential to keep dry.
The dry season is between December and April and is generally cooler than other months of the year making it the most popular time to visit. During this period Ho Chi Minh City tourism is at its peak and Ho Chi Minh City attractions and Ho Chi Min City hotels are jam-packed so booking is essential.
Ho Chi Minh City Airport
Ho Chi Minh City Airport has facilities for Visas on arrival. If you choose to get a Visa on arrival the paperwork will need to be downloaded, filled out and photos attached before you arrive in Vietnam.
Things to do in Ho Chi Minh Airport
Sim Cards and Taxis are readily available, there are booths inside the airport selling prepaid taxi vouchers to the Ho Chi Minh City area. Taxis are cheap and trusted taxi companies include Vinasun and Mai Linh Taxi both use the meter.
Ho Chi Minh City Tours
For first timers, discovering where to go in Ho Chi Minh City can be daunting. For those unsure of what to see in Ho Chi Minh City the choice couldn’t be easier as there are an impressive range of Ho Chi Minh City sightseeing tours on offer.
To get the most out of your time in this vibrant city, you can choose anything from Ho Chi Minh City walking tours to a selection of Ho Chi Minh City day tours that will take you further afield.
Closer to home, some of the best tours to do in Ho Chi Minh City are the Ho Chi Minh City “food by night” motorbike tour or maybe explore Ho Chi Minh City points of interest in a 1967 Ford Mustang.Private Tour: Ho Chi Minh City by Ford Mustang
Places to visit in Ho Chi Minh City – District 1
District 1 is the heart of city and home to many of Ho Chi Minh City’s tourist attractions.
There is an assortment of places to visit in Ho Chi Minh District 1, from exquisite French Colonial architecture such as Ho Chi Minh City Hall, a building that pays tribute to Saigon’s past to ultramodern skyscrapers like the Bitexco Financial Tower that soars high against city’s skyline.
For shoppers the contrast continues as you browse for trinkets in traditional Vietnamese covered markets or look for bargains in modern malls selling the latest designer brands. Foodies will enjoy the vast array of cuisines from street food to top class restaurants.
Here are just a few of our favourite things to see in Ho Chi Minh City.
War Remnants Museum
When walking the streets of modern day Ho Chi Minh City, it’s easy to forget that this city was once a battleground.
The fall of Saigon was a victory for the Vietnamese people and the Vietnam War is very much part of the city’s history. For those interested in learning more about the Vietnam War one of the top things to see in Ho Chi Minh City is the War Remnants Museum.
Told from a Vietnamese point of view, the War Remnants Museum is a legacy to all those whose lives were affected by this conflict. The museum has an array of aircraft, helicopters and tanks on display as well as photographs that tell the story of the horrors of war.
A visit to this museum is an emotional and thought-provoking journey one that shouldn’t be missed when visiting Ho Chi Minh City.Book War Remnants Museum Tour
Taxi Scam at War Remnants Museum
Beware of taxi scammers outside the War Remnants Museum, especially the guy in the silver “taxi “ with Vinasun logo and light. Real Vinasun taxis are white with green and red logo and light. Mai Linh Taxis are green with white logo and light. Both Vinasun and Mai Linh taxis have meters.
A short walk from the War Remnants Museum is the Reunification Palace or Independence Palace as it is sometimes known. The Reunification Palace was built in the 1960’s and was the residence of the South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu until the 30th of April 1975 when Communist tanks crashed through the gates, signifying the fall of Saigon.
The Reunification Palace is a unique time capsule to this period and a tribute to 1960’s architecture and 1970’s style. The basement is a bunker that is set up as a war room complete with radio transmitters and gives insight into the intelligence and communication during Vietnamese War. The Reunification Palace should be on everyone’s list of places to visit in Ho Chi Minh District 1.
Ho Chi Minh City Hall (Saigon City Hall)
Standing out with its salmon coloured exterior, red roof, classical columns and statues, lace work and clock tower, Ho Chi Minh City Hall is a prime example of French Colonial architecture.
Ho Chi Minh City Hall is also known as the Peoples Committee Building. This ornate building looks down Nguyen Hue a long walking avenue decorated with flowers and statue honouring President Ho Chi Minh. The avenue is boarded by The Rex Hotel, shopping malls, restaurants and bars.
The Rex Hotel
The Rex Hotel is a famous Ho Chi Minh City landmark that has stood the test of time while keeping its glamorous Art Deco façade.
During the Vietnam War, the Rex Hotel was home to the American Military Command. The Rex Hotels Rooftop Bar was host to the “5 o’clock follies”, a name given by journalists to the war briefings that were held there.
Today the Rooftop Garden Bar is still a popular meeting place and one not to be missed when visiting Ho Chi Minh City.Check Availability & Read Reviews Here
Bitexco Financial Tower
Looking up at the Bitexco Financial Tower you can’t help but be impressed by this stunning architectural masterpiece that comes complete with helipad. The Bitexco Financial Tower also offers some of the finest views overlooking Ho Chi Minh City.
The Saigon Skydeck is on the 49th floor of the tower and takes in 360-degree views of the city. For a memorable evening relaxing with a coffee or cocktail or a night of dining and dancing, head to floors 50 to 52 for spectacular views at Café Eon, Eon Fine Dining or Eon Heli Bar. A must for anyone visiting Ho Chi Minh City.Bitexco Financial Tower: Saigon Sky Deck - Fast Track Ticket
Ho Chi Minh City Shopping
Shopping in Ho Chi Minh City is a dream, small boutiques and curios shops can be found all over District 1, hidden gems just waiting to be explored. There are shopping malls and markets selling a range of merchandise to suit every budget.
Here are some of the places we discovered while visiting Ho Chi Minh City.
Ben Thanh Market
Ben Thanh Market is huge and sells a wide range of items including “antique” porcelain, “designer bags”, clothing, sumptuous textiles, luggage, souvenirs and much much more.
There is also a street food section, the place to try cheap but delicious local Vietnamese cuisine. Ben Thanh Market is lively and a fun place to soak up a little local colour. A visit to Ben Thanh Market is one of the top things to do in Ho Chi Minh City.
The Vincom Center and Parkson Saigon Tourist Plaza
The Vincom Center is a short walk from Ho Chi Minh City Hall. The Vincom Center is a massive mall featuring a large range of designer brand clothing, boutiques, coffee shops and restaurants.
Across the road from the Vincom Center is Parkson Plaza a smaller department store and great place to grab a bargain. Parkson Plaza sells a good selection of perfumes, cosmetics, clothing and jewellery. There is food court on the upper levels for a quick bite on the run.
Ho Chi Minh City Restaurants and Bars
Ho Chi Minh city is a world class dining capital and District 1 is the place to come to sample fine dining at its best. Ho Chi Minh City’s massive selection of restaurants include the city’s signature Vietnamese and French cuisines plus international cuisines of the World. Ho Chi Minh City is a delight for any food lover.
Here is just one of our favourites.
Noir. Dining in the Dark is a very different dining experience. This novel restaurant explores sensory deprivation and its impact on your dining pleasure.
Noir. Dining in the Dark has a choice of menus, From the East, From the West and Vegetarian, a fun night out that will have you questioning the taste, smell and textures of these delicious dishes.
Street Food Carts
For the budget conscious there are street food carts selling delicious Vietnamese favourites such as Pho, a noodle soup with a selection of meats, Banh Mi, a baguette with fillings that are a fusion of Vietnamese and French ingredients and Banh Xeo a crispy Vietnamese crepe filled your choice of ingredients.
Nightlife in Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City’s District 1 is famous for its nightlife and the choice of bars and nightclubs are endless. Here is one of the bars we sampled during our stay.
Malt is a friendly pub located in the heart of District 1. Serving a range of refreshing local craft beers and ciders including Saigon Chilli Cider a delicious concoction that packs a powerful punch.
Malt has a relaxed friendly atmosphere that makes you feel instantly welcome and the place to learn the finer points of Shuffleboard, a fun night for all.
Day Trips from Ho Chi Minh City
There are many day tours from Ho Chi Minh City to choose from. Popular sightseeing tours from Ho Chi Minh City include the Cu Chi Tunnels tour and the Mekong Delta tour.
We chose to take a Mekong Delta Tour and thoroughly enjoyed it.
Mekong Delta Tour
We were picked up and driven around 1 ½ hours from Ho Chi Minh City to the Mekong Delta where we boarded the motorboat to the villages of My Tho and Ben Tre.
Once there we had a jam-packed day hanging out with some friendly bees and sampling honey at a honey farm. Learning the process of coconut candy making and taste testing exotic Vietnamese fruits. We were entertained with traditional Vietnamese music and I got up close and personal with Frank the python.
The highlight of our day was the sampan ride. Our sampan was paddled by women wearing the traditional Ao Dai, long tunic and slacks and Non La, conical bamboo hats. We quietly made our way down the shady canals, passing village houses, catching glimpses of day to day life as we passed.
After our sampan ride we took a faster ride in a motorboat to a freshwater floating fish farm. The fish are kept in pens within the waters of the delta. Thousands thrashed and squirmed as we fed them their fish food rations.
We stopped off for a five-course lunch and sampled local delicacies, after lunch we walked around the gardens and got to meet some friendly porcupine and alligators.
On our way back to Ho Chi Minh City we visit the tranquil gardens of the Vinh Trang Pagoda Buddhist temple complex. The Vinh Trang Pagoda is stunning and surrounded by effigies of Buddha, our favourite was the seated “Happy” Buddha.
We really enjoyed our day on the Mekong Delta. There are a few different variations to the tours that visit this area, some include a visit to the market and cooking demonstration, just pick one that suits you.
For those with more time in this region there are longer Mekong River cruises between Ho Chi Minh City and Siem Reap in Cambodia, some take in the splendour of Ankor Wat, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Hotels in Ho Chi Minh City
If you are looking for outstanding hotels in District 1 of Ho Chi Minh City, we can highly recommend The Grand Hotel Saigon. Built in the 1930’s the Grand Hotel Saigon is divided into modern and original wings, we chose the original wing and were charmed by its old world style.
We chose an executive room which gave us access to the executive lounge privileges such as free Happy Hour drinks and finger food.
The Grand Hotel is within easy walking distance to many Ho Chi Minh City attractions District 1.
For a more in depth review of the Grand Hotel Saigon click here.Read more reviews and see the latest prices
Living in Ho Chi Minh City – District 2
If you have read our blog before you will know that we spend a large part of the year living in the beautiful city of Chiang Mai in Thailand. Living in Thailand gives us the opportunity to explore our Asian neighbours and discover other destinations for retirement and international living.
Ho Chi Minh City is separated into districts and during our visit to Ho Chi Minh City we had the pleasure of living like a local in District 2. Ho Chi Minh City’s District 2 is located across the river from District 1 and can take around 20-30 minutes to get to District 1 depending on traffic.
We were staying in the Thao Dien ward of District 2, a popular area for expats, many of whom work at the International schools in the area. District 2 also has a vibrant restaurant and bar scene which includes ‘La Villa’ a Michelin Star French restaurant. La Villa is set in a glamorous French inspired villa and the place to come for fine dining.
Our hotel was a gorgeous ultra-modern two-bedroom apartment in a high-rise apartment building with sweeping views overlooking the Saigon River. The apartment buildings facilities included a small grocery store, coffee shop and spa.
The building had rooftop entertainment areas, pool and gym and full-time security staff on the premises. We were impressed and surprised when we found that the apartment would cost around $900 to rent per month.
Our neighbourhood was Vietnamese, the streets were full of colour, each morning groups of men enjoyed their morning coffee at the small Vietnamese coffee shops. Women sold the freshest fruit and vegetables from small stalls along the street. The area was full of carts and shops selling Vientnamese street food where a massive bowl of Pho cost as little as $1.40 and Banh Mi even cheaper at 68 cents.
The locals were friendly and I enjoyed a smile and laugh with the lady from my favourite Pho shop, I couldn’t speak Vietnamese and she couldn’t speak English but we muddled through and in the end, she taught me some basic Vietnamese words. A wonderful experience!
A short taxi ride from our apartment was the Vincom Mega Mall Thao Dien, a modern shopping mall with a huge supermarket in the basement that catered to local and western needs. Nearby are many new high-rise apartments which are closer to the restaurant and bar scene of the area.
We used taxis a lot and found them to be cheap, costing approximately $5 to get from District 1 to District 2. We enjoyed our time here and would definitely consider living in Ho Chi Minh City to get more of a feel for this wonderful city.
Things to do in Ho Chi Minh City Summary
There is so much to see and do in Ho Chi Minh City and we only scratched the surface of this dynamic city.
Ho Chi Minh is not only a top tourist destination, it’s a city to be considered when looking for place to live in South East Asia. We were impressed with this city and would happily spend more time here.
Have you been to Ho Chi Minh City? What do you love about this vibrant city? Feel free to leave a comment.
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