It is crowded and noisy yet exciting and historic! Buzzling & vibrant industrial hub yet rich in culture! Aromatic Coffee, tasty food, affordable shopping, relaxing spas, happy people and history for crunch – You have it all here and that makes this city a must on your travel list.
The city once called ‘Saigon’ gets its present name in 1975 when the country was unified however; natives prefer calling it ‘Saigon’. It is the biggest city in Vietnam and the one with pulsating energy.
Ho Chi Minh is not just the cultural capital of the country but also its economic capital, a perfect amalgamation of culture and development. Skyscrapers, shopping malls and premier hotels has emerged amidst the pagodas and historic buildings. Though developing into a modern city yet it retains Vietnamese traits in the roots.
Must do things in Saigon
Indulge in Coffee Therapy
You can see & smell coffee everywhere in this city. Vietnam has a strong coffee culture since its introduction by French colonists in the 19th century and Saigon’s coffee culture is one of the strongest in the country. Their coffee is usually from butter roasted strong & dark beans mixed with sweet condensed milk. Once may find it a bit too sweet at the beginning but it provides a fine balance to the thick dark coffee and soon you will get a hang of it. Numerous coffee houses are scattered throughout the city serving various interesting flavours and variations. Why not indulge in some coffee therapy, what better way to immerse in the city’s culture than relishing their drink of century old national obsession?
Visit Independent Palace / Reunification Palace
It was the base of the South Vietnam during the Vietnam War, one of the gruesome in world’s history and it was also the site where the war ended in 1975. You can still see the two North Vietnamese tanks that rammed through its gates that marked the Saigon’s fall and end of the war. This site is of at most historical importance in Saigon as it has been the center of all the political drama since colonial era, world war and Vietnam War. The place is still used to host important occasions in Ho Chi Minh.
Plan Your Visit:
- Allow yourself at least 45 mins to 1 hour for your visit
- Opening Hours: 30 AM to 11.30AM; 1.00PM to 5.00 PM – All 7 days
- Ticket Price: 20,000 VND
Step back into the War History at “War Remnants Museum”
This museum was built to expose war crimes of French during first IndoChina War and of Americans during Vietnam War mainly focusing the effects of Agent Orange, use of napalm and the struggle of victims. Museum was first named as Exhibition House for US and Puppet Crimes and has been changed to Exhibition House for Crimes of War & aggression in 1990 and finally gets its current name when its diplomatic relationship with US was normalized in 1995.
You can see the US tankers etc. Exhibits depicting war atrocities in there are horrifying and can be depressing however, it is educational and facts in the world history which unfortunately cannot be erased.
Plan Your Visit:
- Allow yourself at least 30 – 45 minutes for your visit.
- Opening Hours: 30 AM to 12.00PM; 1.30PM to 5.00 PM – All 7 days
- Ticket Price: 15,000 VND
Check their website to know about the concession/ ticket waivers
Tour the city on wheels
The first thing you notice the moment you stepped in to the city is motorbikes zoom by and it doesn’t take long to be awestruck by the sea of motorbikes that you see everywhere. What better way to see the city than experiencing the feel of this commute yourself? Though we hail from India where bikes are pretty common, this sight yet astonished us. It would be fun to ride in the chaos and it is an experience like none other.
Things to know:
- It is a herculean task to ride in these streets even though you are an experienced rider as this is a different ballgame altogether. You can rent a bike and explore the city yourself if you are brave enough for the game.
- You can take a bike tour instead enjoying the city hopping on the bike while the onus of riding & safety is on the experienced rider. There are numerous tours out there.
- We suggest you Xo tours as we had a very good experience with them. They took us through main neighborhoods of the city and excellent food places. They offer both food & sights tours. You can check their website for more details: https://xotours.vn/#our-tours
Visit the local Market – Ben Tanh in District 1
The market building is from colonial era and sure a place not to be missed. You see people selling fresh fruits, vegetables, clothes, handicrafts, local produce, spices, electronic goods, bamboo goods, souvenirs and many more things that are interesting. It is crowded, at times difficult to navigate; yet, I suggest you to visit this place as you get to see the typical Asian local market.
Things to know:
- I am sure you would definitely find some things to buy here; just do not forget to bargain.
- Opening Hours: 06:00 am – 12:00 am; Best place to visit is in the morning before the place gets all heated up & crowded.
- Do ensure you visit the market in the night as the shopkeepers open their stalls & live street food counters on the street. This is one of the best place to try Saigon’s local delights
- There are many stores on the streets surrounding the market where you can find the same things relatively cheap. We bought an art piece made of Rice and Coffee. Just the right combination, Bingo !!
Check out the French Architecture in District 3
Vietnam remained a French colony for almost a century until 1955. Many buildings in the city reflect the western classical architecture. Notable among them are:
Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral:
It was built during French colonial era in the late 1880. It is also known as ‘Cathedral Basilica of our lady the immaculate conception’. The two bell towers of the cathedral and the red color of the brick attracts locals and tourists alike. All the building materials were imported from France and the statue of ‘Our Lady of Peace’ is made of granite and is from Rome. This statue was reported to have shed tears in 2005, which had led to thousands of people flock this place for days.
Plan Your Visit
- Allow yourself at least 20 minutes for the visit
- Opening Hours: 08:00 am – 05:00 pm – All 7 days though the cathedral can restrict your entrance if there is some special prayers/ choir going on.
- It is free to enter. Cathedral is still in use; please maintain silence & preserve the sanctity of the place
Saigon Central Post Office:
It is Gustave Eiffel, a French architect, the person who built the world-renowned Eiffel Tower in Paris, builds this post office in 1800s. It is a fine architecture with looping arches, antiquated telephone boxes and intricate marble floorings. Don’t miss to take a look at the maps painted on both sides of the wall; One showing the telegraph lines that connects Vietnam and Cambodia and the other display the map of Saigon in 1892, the year when the post office started its operations. Though it seems like a glimpse into the history, the experience is not just a visit to a tourist attraction as it is still a functioning post office. Why not send a post card to your loved ones from here commemorating your visit to Saigon? You can buy handmade & print post cards in the post office.
Plan Your Visit
- Allow yourself at least 20 – 30 minutes for the visit
- Opening Hours: 07:00 am – 07:00 pm – All 7 days
- It is free to visit; please maintain silence as it is a functioning post office
- Two wings branching out from the post office sells souvenirs; you can take a look at them however, products sold here can be found elsewhere for cheaper price.
Watch traditional vieatnamese art
Water puppetry is Vietnam’s take on the popular puppetry. It is a traditional art that depicts culture, traditions and Vietnamese folklore by act of puppets on the stage of water accompanied by the live traditional music. Originating in the villages of Red River Delta in North Vietnam in 11th century is a unique variation of ancient Asian puppetry and attracts locals and tourists alike.
It is fun to watch and definitely nostalgic if your country has a puppet tradition; regardless, you would enjoy the show and if you are with kids, it is a must do
Things to Know:
- You can catch this show at one of these 2 theatres; Golden Dragon Water Puppetry Theatre & Ngon Restaurant Villa Song Saigon. Both are award-winning shows & have good reviews however, the former offers more shows and you would have a great chance to get a ticket. Do book the tickets in advance to avoid disappointment.
- We had been to Golden Dragon Water Puppetry theatre in 2015 and we enjoyed the show completely. The show is for 45 minutes and depits 10 acts during the course. I would recommend this one
You can check the show times and book here: https://ticketbox.vn/event/ho-chi-minh-city-golden-dragon-water-puppet-theater-65087/40751
- Ticket Prices: 230.000 VND
8. Enjoy a show at Saigon’s Opera House with locals
This is one place where we saw richness and grandeur in otherwise modest city. You cannot compare this to a huge opera house in Australia or Europe; yet it is an impressive building from French colonial era built in late 1890’s. Interior of the building would definitely be a surprise as you wouldn’t expect such rich interiors looking at the exterior.
Things to know:
- There are shows/ events happening all year round. Check their website for the schedule and buy tickets in advance as they fill up quite fast. https://www.luneproduction.com/#!
- We would strongly recommend AO Show as we enjoyed the show completely. The show runs for an hour and it includes live music, dance, humour, cirque depicting the contrast of Vietnamese rural and city life.
9. Stroll the backpackers Streets
This is the hipster area of Ho Chi Minh. There are lot of small shops, boutiques, and shops selling souvenirs, bars, cafes, eateries selling various cuisines – Thai, Indian, Chinese and of course Vietnamese. It is crowded with tourists, locals and expats and is full of energy.
Things to Know:
- Be very cautious about your belongings as pick-pockets are very common in this place
- Chances of you bumping into a local or expats in a café or restaurant are high however, do turn on your scam radar and avoiding being a victim of a scam.
10. Check out the only walking street of Ho Chi Minh – Ngyuen Hue
How about walking around peacefully escaping from the sea of motorbikes that gulp the streets of Saigon? Since its opening in 2015, Ngyuen Hue is popular among locals and they come to walk, socialize, sing, dance and ride hover boards.
Interesting cafes and restaurants line the street. You can also check out the neighboring Dong Khoi street. There are small souvenir shops and spas, which are cheaper and less touristy than the backpacker’s street and are worth checking out.
Treat yourself with a relaxing foot message or kick off the tiredness in refreshing aroma of coffee scrub after wandering through the hustle bustle of the city. You can find both award winning spas in the premium hotels and the stand-alone wellness centers, which are equally impressive. Services are relatively cheap but a word of caution, many spas charge in USD instead of VND.