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 the 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.
- Where is Ho Chi Minh City
- Best time to visit Ho Chi Minh City
- Ho Chi Minh City Airport
- Do you need a Visa for Vietnam?
- Ho Chi Minh City Tours
- Places to visit in Ho Chi Minh City – District 1
- Ho Chi Minh City Shopping
- Ho Chi Minh City Restaurants and Bars
- Day Trips from Ho Chi Minh City
- Hotels in Ho Chi Minh City
- Longer stays in Ho Chi Minh City – District 2
- Do you need travel insurance?
- Last Words on things to do in Ho Chi Minh City
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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 in 1976. While visiting Ho Chi Minh City’s places of interest you will find that many businesses and locals still refer to it 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 the 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. The 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 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 application will need to be made paperwork will need to be downloaded, filled out and photos attached before you arrive in Vietnam.
Do you need a Visa for Vietnam?
Most visitors to Vietnam will require a Visa. There are various options available depending on your length of stay and nationality. Our preferred visa company for is iVisa. They are a well respected company and can easily arrange all your visa requirements worldwide. Our article on Australians visa for Vietnam is an in-depth guide including screen shots of how to ensure you get the right visa for your visit.
Click here or fill in the form below to find if you need a visa for Vietnam and the cost.
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 main town 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 in Ho Chi Minh City are the Ho Chi Minh City motorbike tours or maybe explore Ho Chi Minh City points of interest in a 1967 Ford Mustang.
Places to visit in Ho Chi Minh City – District 1
District 1 is the heart of city and home to many of the tourist attractions. There is an assortment of places to visit in District 1, from exquisite French Colonial architecture such as the 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 this modern day 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.
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 Independence Palace or Reunification 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.
The 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 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.
Bitexco Financial Tower
Looking up you can’t help but be impressed by the stunning architectural masterpiece that is the Bitexco Financial Tower. The tower’s gentle curves and overhanging helipad create a unique design which only adds to its ultra-modern air. A contrast to the ornate French colonial architecture of the nearby National Treasury building.
Although the Bitexco Financial Tower has been surpassed by Landmark 81 as the city’s tallest building, it is still one of the most visited attractions in Ho Chi Minh City.
The Bitexco Financial Tower also offers 360 degree views overlooking the city, including views of Landmark 81. The Saigon Skydeck is located on the 49th floor of the tower and includes a display of Ao Dai, the traditional Vietnamese costume.
You can combine your Saigon Skydeck ticket with a tour of the World of Heineken, an interactive beer brewing tour which is also located on the Saigon Skydeck.
Tickets can be purchased online before you go, or you can buy your ticket on the day from the Saigon Skydeck ticket office. Just be aware that tickets may sell out during high season and peak times of the day.
For memorable views while relaxing with a coffee or cocktail head up to floors 50 to 52 to the Café Eon and Eon Heli Bar. Eon 51 restaurant and lounge is perfect for a night of fine dining while enjoying the bright lights of the city.
Wanting to stretch your travel dollar further? You can see almost the same views as the Saigon Skydeck from the Eon Heli Bar and Café Eon. Entry into Café Eon and Eon Heli Bar is free. Menu prices are expensive by Vietnam standards, but you will find a few items on the menu that are cheaper than the Saigon Skydeck entrance fee.
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 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. It has a 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 a few of our favourites.
Dinner Cruise in Ho Chi Minh City
What better way to discover a city, its culture and cuisine than to take a dinner cruise? We took a Viator Dinner Cruise and it was so much fun. If you are planning a trip to Ho Chi Minh City and considering a dinner cruise tour here is a glimpse of what your night could be like.
Our tour guide picked us up and we were whisked through the streets of Saigon. Along the way we passed busy markets and the vibrant bars and eateries of the Bui Vien Walking Street. Ho Chi Minh City by night has a magical air, the bright lights sparkle and illuminate a city teeming with life.
Pretty soon we were boarding the Indochina Queen for our cruise along the Saigon River. Out on deck we watched boats make their way down river and admired the colourfully lit buildings that line the riverbank. In the distance the spire of Landmark 81 shone bright white against the evening sky.
Soon we were on the move and it was time for the entertainment to begin. Women dressed in traditional Ao Dai costume danced to the rhythmic twang of Vietnamese music, a happy song sung by a female vocalist which set the mood for the evening.
The next act was a group of musicians playing exotic bamboo instruments. The performance was fascinating to watch as the range of sounds coming from these strange instruments was astonishing. It made me realise that music has a universal appeal and can be made from the simplest of materials.
Spring Rolls with Seafood
Fried Pasted Fish with Bread
Seafood Soup with Enoki and Quail Egg
Fried Shrimp with Black Pepper
Steamed Dieu Hong Fish Teochew Style
Roasted Chicken Legs and Fried Sticky Rice
Sautéed Noodle with Mixed Vegetable & Mushroom
Crepe with Lemon Sugar
While watching the show we ate a delicious range of dishes which were served at intervals throughout the show. Between courses we watched the bright lights of the city recede and soon we were dwarfed by large cargo ships. We watched in awe as massive cranes effortlessly unloaded the hefty shipping containers onto the dock.
The meals were generous, standout dishes were the Steamed Dieu Hon Fish which was perfectly cooked and expertly deboned by our waitress. The Seafood Soup with Enoki and Quail Egg had an unusually thick texture but was full of flavour and the Crepe with Lemon Sugar took me straight back to my childhood.
Next, we were entertained by a band and that’s when the real fun began. With a selection of rock classics, we danced the rest of the night away to the likes of ABBA, Eagles and John Denver, with a rendition of Y.M.C.A. bringing the house down.
Soon we were surrounded by city lights, a myriad of colour that reflected across the river and welcomed us back to dock. Reluctantly we disembarked, our faces full of smiles and memories of an unforgettable night.
Chanh Bistro Rooftop LLT
The Chanh Bistro Rooftop LLT is located on the top floor at 215 Ly Tu Tong in District 1. The bistro has a relaxed atmosphere with views overlooking a stunning French colonial building and the busy street below.
Chanh Bistro Rooftop LLT has a great selection of international and vegetarian options. Alan tried the salmon which was beautifully cooked, and I tried beef stroganoff which was creamy with a rich beef flavour. The meal and atmosphere were so good we made sure to return before leaving.
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.
Bui Vien Walking Street
For the night owl no trip to Saigon would be complete without a visit to Bui Vien Walking Street. This vibrant area is jam packed with restaurants and bars, the perfect place to sit back and watch the world go by or party the night away in a club, the choice is yours.
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 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, 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.
The Grand Hotel Saigon
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.
Cap Town Hotel
For a clean, comfortable and reasonably priced hotel in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 1 you can’t go past the Cap Town Hotel.
We have stayed at this hotel twice and although an older hotel, the rooms are fresh, clean and the staff are always helpful and ready with a smile. Breakfast has an ample selection of Asian and Western cuisines that are filling.
The hotel is in a fantastic location, walking distance to the War Remnants Museum, Independence Palace, Ben Thanh Market, Ho Chi Minh City Town Hall, the Rex Hotel, and Bitexco Financial Tower.
Longer stays 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.
Ho Chi Minh City is separated into districts and during our visit 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.
We stayed in an 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. This is a perfect option for anyone wanting to have an extended stay.
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 Vietnamese 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.
Do you need travel insurance?
We always ensure we are adequately covered when travelling abroad. We like to think nothing will go wrong, but you just never know. We experienced disruptions to our travel plans when we were delayed as a result of a Hurricane which you can read here.
We are so glad we choose World Nomads insurance cover as our claim was processed quickly and efficiently and they are our preferred travel insurance company.
Check here or fill in the form below for a travel insurance quote from World Nomads.
Last Words on things to do in Ho Chi Minh City
There is so much to see and do in Ho Chi Minh City and it is a shame that many people only use Ho Chi Minh City as a stepping stone to Vietnam travel. It is a top tourist destination and we hope this article has inspired you to stay longer in this dynamic city.
Have you been to Ho Chi Minh City? What do you love about this vibrant city? Feel free to leave a comment.
You may also be interested in our other Vietnam guides
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