Gigantic Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). The South Vietnamese city that is always buzzing. Where scooters use everything as a driving lane or a parking spot, also the sidewalk you’re walking on. It is also quite a modern city. More modern than Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital. Skyscrapers, huge shopping malls, and wide boulevards give the place a more luxurious appearance. Ho Chi Minh City has become a standard stop on almost every Vietnam itinerary. You either start or end your trip here. In this blog post, I am sharing 8 great things to do in Ho Chi Minh City.
8 awesome things to do in Ho Chi Minh City
1. do a tour of Paris Square
Vietnam’s French colonial period resulted in a great deal of classical architecture. Head over to Paris Square to check out the photogenic Saigon Central Post Office (Bưu Điện Trung tâm Sài Gòn). Located in a big pastel yellow building with on the inside a stunning dome ceiling that takes all eyes to the portrait of ‘Uncle Ho’, the former revolution leader whom the city was named after. Today the place looks more like a souvenir & gift shop, but surprisingly it is still a functioning post office.
Paris Square also has its very own Notre Dame: the Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica. Built at the end of the 19th century with materials from France. It is still one of the most important churches for the 7 million Vietnamese Catholics. I also recommend taking a walk on the book street on Đường Nguyễn Văn Bình, just around the corner of the post office. It has nothing to do with France, but it is just a great place for browsing.
2. Have a coffee at an apartment cafe
Vietnam is known for its (very) strong coffee, and a great place for having a cup of coffee in Ho Chi Minh City is an ‘apartment cafe’. These are old apartment buildings that are used today to house all sorts of cafes and shops. You can find several of these buildings in Ho Chi Minh City. The most famous one is located on Nguyen Hue Street 42, the city’s central boulevard. I also visited other apartment cafes on Tôn Thất Đạm 14 and Pasteur 95.
3. Relax at Nguyen Hue Walking Street
Nguyen Hue, the central meeting spot in town. It is a broad avenue with in the middle a big pedestrian zone. The boulevard starts at the People’s Committee building (in French colonial style) and ends at the Sông Sài Gòn, the city’s river. It is a good place to escape being part of the constant traffic. Tip: get a veg banh mi at Bánh Mì Ba Lắc (next to Palace hotel), find a bench, and relax.
Nguyen Hue Street is also the place of the Bitexco Tower, until 2017 the highest building of Vietnam. On the 49th floor, there is a sky deck that gives a good view of this gigantic city. Good to know: the elevator is so fast that your ears will pop.
Entrance fee Sky deck Bitexco Tower: 200,000 VND.
4. Grab a bite at Ben Thanh Street Food Market
When I think about Asia, my mind goes straight to delicious street food. Personally, I don’t mind sitting on child-size plastic chairs and eating spicy, steaming food using chopsticks only. However, Ho Chi Minh City also introduced a more modern street food concept. This is Ben Thanh Street Food Market, a market hall with more than 20 stands and lots of picnic tables. Admittedly, it really is a tourist place, but at the same time offers the opportunity to try different things.
Want to eat street food where the locals eat it? Go to the older Ben Thanh Market next door or let a local show you the best food with this street food tour.
Entrance: both markets are free.
5. Learn about vietnam’s tragic side at the War Remnants Museum
War and travel might not sound like a fun combination, but it is an important part of Vietnam’s history. If you ask me, the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City is a must-visit. Its exhibition contains lots of photos and posters which can be quite intense sometimes. There is a whole room dedicated to the effects of Agent Orange, the toxic gas that was released in Central Vietnam to destroy crops. It did do that, but it also cause major health problems and terrible birth defects.
Entrance: 40,000 VND.
6. Admire the city’s Pink Church, Tan Dinh Church
Let’s switch to a lighter topic: a pink church. How often do you see that? The Tan Dinh Church looks like a princess building. The pink is implemented in every detail, from the outside walls to the bows and pillars inside. Why all this pink? I couldn’t find a specific reason for it. but it is impressive to see. Tip: go to the Cong Caphe (a cafe chain across Vietnam) on the other side of the road and have an iced coffee with a view of the church.
7. Visit the Jade Emperor Pagoda
Tan Dinh church is not the only pink building in town. The front of the Jade Emperor Pagoda also has a lovely pink color. At least, that was my expectation according to the photos I saw, but when I got there it was white. They were probably renovating. Just like every temple in Vietnam, also this pagoda has a big pond with baby turtles. They are most likely brought to the temple by locals, as they are a symbol for children. People donate the turtles in the hope that they will have a baby soon.
Want to learn more about cultural HCMC? Check out this photography tour focusing on Khmer and Chinese heritage.
8. Get out of the city: Buu Long Pagoda
Visiting the Buu Long Pagoda can be time-consuming (located 20 km outside the city center), but in my opinion, it is worth it. The ambiance is super calm and tranquil and the temple’s exterior is breathtaking. It feels like you’ve crossed over to Thailand for a bit. The temple also has its own vegetarian cafe, which is good because there is nothing else in the area.
Most people visit the temple by taxi, but it is also possible to get there by bus. We used the app Moovit to plan our bus journey. If you are staying in district 1, you can take bus 56 and change in district 9 (at Co-Op Mart) to bus 61-1. This is the only bus that passes the temple (get out at Chùa Bửu Long).
More daytrips from Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City is a great base for day trips. Below are the most popular tours.
- Cu Chi Tunnels: didn’t see this myself, but a lot of tourists have this on the top of their lists. The tunnels show how the guerilla army lived and moved from one place to another during the war.
- Cao Dai temple: a quite extraordinary temple belonging to the followers of Caodaism, a mixture of elements from various religions. It is on my list for next time, because I heard good stories about it.
- Mekong Delta: opportunity to take a boat ride and see the famous floating markets and Vietnam’s village life.
Want to know how you can book these day trips? Click here to check out an overview of tour operators.
Where to eat for VEGETarians & VEGANs
Thanks to the influence of Buddhism in Vietnam, the country is super easy for vegetarians and vegans. I never had a problem finding places that were either fully vegan or offered options for vegetarians and vegans. From my own experience I can recommend these places in HCMC:
- Banh Mi Chay Sala (Quán Chay Sala): great banh mi.
- Veggie Saigon: extensive menu.
- Phúc Quang Chay: my favorite. Loved the noodle soup!
- Street food recommendation: get a chuoi nuong: fried banana in thick coconut sauce. Delicious!
Tip: remember the word ‘chay’. If you see this in the name of the restaurant or on the menu, it means that it is meat-free.
Where to stay in Ho Chi Minh City?
It is recommended to pick a hotel in district 1 or 3. This means that you’re close to everything. Check out Little Saigon Boutique Hotel. It has charming rooms, good breakfast and is centrally located. For a modern hotel with a swimming pool, La Memoria Hotel might be a good fit. Both hotels are located in district 1. I stayed at this charming eco-themed private room with a rooftop communal kitchen. Highly recommended!
Click here for more accommodations in Ho Chi Minh City.
And that is it, a list of things to do and tips for Ho Chi Minh City. Would you visit this city?
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