Top 10 things to do in Ho Chi Minh City

Top 10 things to do in Ho Chi Minh City

Written by Rebecca

Topics: Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) is one of my favourite Asian cities. We visited in 2008 as part of a two week trip through Vietnam, and in December I went back there for work.

Like the rest of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City is booming – and you can get cheap tickets to the country. There are cranes everywhere, and, on street corners, stores like Gucci, Prada and Versace sit alongside family-run restaurants that spill onto the footpath.

I love the city because at any time of the day or night, it feels like something is happening. There are people about, motorbikes zipping through the street and an atmosphere of… I don’t know, activity. There is so much to see, great food to eat, and a plethora of fantastic accommodation optionsΒ in Ho Chi Minh.

Here are my favourite things to do in Saigon, in no particular order.

1. Ben Thanh Market

You can get anything you want at Ben Thanh Market. From freshly ground coffee to weird smelling foods to knock-off watches to t-shirts plastered with Uncle Ho’s face to Vietnamese souvenirs, Ben Thanh has it all. And bargaining is a must. Even if you’re not in the mood for shopping, it’s fun to wander through the narrow alleys (undercover – Ben Thanh is an indoor market) just looking as you’re bombarded with calls of “Pretty lady, where you from?”. Do be warned, the shop owners can be quite pushy and will grab your arm and hold on, preventing you from moving off. A polite but firm “no thanks” before moving off will get you out of trouble.

Location: Le Loi Street

Ben Thanh Market

2. Reunification Palace

The palace is set in beautiful, large grounds and is a pleasant way to spend an hour or two. It played an important part in the history of Vietnam: on 30 April 1975, communist tanks crashed through the gates, symbolically marking the end of the war.

Location: 133 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street

Opening hours: 7.30-4pm (closed from 11am to 1pm each day)

Reunification Palace

3. Eat

Vietnamese food is up there with some of my favourite. A must-eat is pho (pronounced fur), the breakfast staple of Vietnamese people – beef or chicken in a delicious broth with noodles, topped with lime and chillis. Also great for hangovers, but of course I’m not speaking from experience πŸ™‚

4. War Remnants Museum

Not for the faint-hearted, the War Remants Museum is quite confronting. There are several displays of weapons and equipment used by the United States, photos of protests around the world, newspaper clippings and, most horrible, photos of the victims of the use of chemicals (such as napalm) and torture. You won’t leave this place with any doubt that war is a horrible, terrible thing. This is a Vietnamese museum, so don’t be offended if you find it one-sided in its views about the war.

Location: Vo Van Tan

Tank at the War Remnants Museum

5. Rex Hotel

An iconic building, the Rex Hotel is famous for the Five O’Clock Follies, a daily press conference held during the war at the hotel, nicknamed such by journalists cynical about the war spin machine. The hotel has a great rooftop bar which serves a variety of local and Western food and great cocktails. You can get a view of the city here and escape the heat and traffic far below you.

Oh, and of course you can stay at the Rex Hotel too.

Location: Nguyen Hue Street

View from the Rex Hotel

6. Wander, wander, wander and people watch

One of my favourite things to do in cities is to simply wander and watch the locals as they go about their daily routines. In Saigon, you’ll see people cooking in small restaurants on the footpath, sleeping on motorbikes and chasing down tourists to convince them to catch a cyclo (the bicycle-type vehicle you’ll see around, pronounced sick-low).

Having a rest in the street

7. Get a new suit

While Hoi An is more famous for its tailors, Ho Chi Minh City offers plenty of competition. Wander around Le Loi or Dong Khoi Streets and you’ll stumble across many talented tailors ready to whip you up a suit or new dress in 24 hours.

Fabrics available at the tailor

8. Visit the Mekong

On a day trip, you can get out of Ho Chi Minh City and head for the bustle of the Mekong, one of Asia’s most important waterways. Here, you can get all Apocalypse Now as you’re rowed down small tributaries, the jungle closing in on each side. Most hostels and tour companies offer a variation of this tour.

Boating down a tributary of the Mekong River

9. Visit the Cu Chi Tunnels

As you force yourself to push through the tunnels, your mind will boggle as you consider that thousands of Viet Cong spent weeks at a time down in these tunnels, mostly in the dark, sharing the narrow walkways with rats and other creepy-crawlies. The VC used these tunnels to catch US troops unaware, and the tunnels criss-crossed the countryside for hundreds of kilometres. At the end of the tour, you can take your pick of weapon and shoot at targets ($US1 a bullet at the time I visited in 2008). Check with your hostel or any of the tour operators for tour options.

Entrance to one of the tunnels

10. Avoid being run over by motorbikes

Ho Chi Minh City is filled with millions of motorbikes and it’ll take a bit of practice and courage to get you to step off that kerb for the first time. Never fear, you will get used to it – just step out, keep eye contact and don’t stop moving. Good luck.

Bikes, bikes, bikes

Where to stay:
The Pham Ngu Lao area has heaps of backpacker and budget options – you only need to wander down the street to find a room.

Getting around: Ho Chi Minh is very easy to navigate, particularly District 1, which is where most tourists spend their time, and where most of the attractions are. Street names are clearly marked and mostly run in a grid-like manner. Cyclos, taxis and motorbikes are all available modes of transport – just negotiate and confirm the rate before you get in.

Have you been to Ho Chi Minh City? What are your favourite things to do there?

This post was made possible by the generosity of HotelClub, a world leading global accommodation website offering hotel and accommodation bookings. HotelClub provides consumers with over 69,000 accommodation choices in over 7,300 cities worldwide throughout 138 countries.




80 Comments Comments For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

  1. This large Vietnamese city is loaded wuth a refreshing cuulture and history
    whee there are many activities and places to visit.
    I asked an arsa what she kept investigating and was inrormed she wanted his husband.
    It is possible to organise home stays iin some from the ethnic villages
    for intrepid travellers hunting for a more authentic Vietnam travel experience, or dayy trips will also be
    possible on the long-houses from the Rhade
    and M’nong groups, that have been recommended as some inn the most impressive
    in the region.

  2. Rae says:

    Great article! Thanks Rebecca! Sometimes articles such as tripadvisor and other variations of such can be too much to filter through, and you are often not sure if the reviews are of genuine intent or not!

    I’m planning a 3 days 2 night trip and I’ll be loosely basing it off your article. It’s been really helpful. Don’t stop writing your travel guides!


  3. Colm says:

    Great post Rebecca, just arrived yesterday so gonna hit some of these off my list today!

  4. Holidays says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts about saigon.

  5. Pretty nice post. I simply stumbled upon your weblog and wished to say that I have truly loved browsing your weblog posts. In any case I’ll be subscribing for your feed and I am hoping you write again very soon!

  6. Love all your stuff Rebecca! Keep enjoying your journeys and thanks for the share with us xx

  7. Minh says:

    Hello Rebecca!! thanks for sharing all you wonderful experiences! I’m going to Vietnam next week and I am so excited! πŸ™‚

    What I was wondering… do you know any specific suit tailors around the Le Loi/Dong Khoi area that you can recommend? I’m not looking for something too fancy and pricy. But most importantly the tailor should be quite fast since I don’t have a lot of time in HCMC.

    Thanks Rebecca!

    • Rebecca says:

      There are SO many! I would ask your hotel for their advice. I got clothes made at a place called Tricia and Verona. Sorry I can’t find their card! But you’ll have no trouble finding somewhere. Depending on what kind of clothes you want, most will be able to turn it around in only a few days. Enjoy!

    • Hi Minh, are you going to Hoian on this trip? If yes, its best to get the suit tailors there. They do very quick and very good price.

  8. John says:

    People watching and Avoiding getting hit by a motor bike are not exactly things to do really are they?

    • Rebecca says:

      Depends on what you like to do! I sometimes get sick of visiting museums and find some of the most interesting things when I’m simply sitting and watching. Each to their own.

  9. John O. says:

    Hi Rebecca…great website. My wife and I are planning to go to HCMC for the 1st time since I was adopted (I was 2 yrs old, and now turning 40). The main reason for the trip is to visit the Hoi Duc Anh orphange which apparently still exists. Ironically the orphanage is no longer operating as an orphanage, but is now a school for the blind. This is the definition of fate because I am an optometrist in the US. Now the problem I have encountered is that the only address I have for the orphanage/school is the names of the cross streets that are according to the “old” map of HCMC. My question to you is where would I go once we are there to find an old to new map of the city???. Needless to say this will be a trip of a lifetime…in fact I have jokingly said this could be a Lifetime movie. Here’s to a storybook ending.

    • Rebecca says:

      John, what an AMAZING story! I’m not sure where you could find an old map…hoping someone else on here can help you. I’d love to hear what happens when you go back, please let me know!

    • Hi John, it is easy to get a HCMC tourist map (New version) at the airport when you arrive or at any of the travel agencies.

      From what we know, Hoi Duc Anh orphange was at 185 Cong Quynh Street, District 1, HCMC. You may find more information if you go there on week days.

      Hope this helps and have a great time!


      • John O says:

        Thxs so much Chapi! We will be sure to take your suggestion. How might u know about the orphanage? And do u have any contacts there? Just curious.

        Again, thxs.

        • You are welcome John. We know about the orphanage, because, we have been assisting to several orphanage centres and children adopted procedures all over of Vietnam. We have associated with Amazin Le Thi Foundation in the US to assist orphanage people.

          That’s how we know. What is best to suggest to you is to contact the official of the Committee of Labor and Welfare HCMC at 159 Pasteur, Dist 3. Tel: (84-08) 3829 1302, Fax: (84-08) 3829 4032 or To make appointment and then you can find out all about the history of orphanages in the past.

          Let us know if there anything we can help and good luck!



  10. Marcus says:

    Great tips, thanks Rebecca.

  11. Alex Burdett says:

    My favorite thing to do in Ho Chi Minh (and something I do almost everyday because it’s FREE!)… there’s a big park in district 1 right by Bui Vien St. & it’s always full of college students who want to practice english. I make new friends every day πŸ™‚

  12. Daniel says:

    Great posts. My sisters traveled to Saigon last month and had a blast. Saigon has many things you can do during the day or night. I have a cousin who drives a taxi around in Saigon. If you need a lift to or from airport, he can help.

    • Rebecca says:

      Such a cool city – glad they had a good time πŸ™‚

    • Jacklynn says:

      Hi Daniel. I am going to Saigon in about 10 days (arriving on March 20th). I am staying in district 8 but am flying in HCMC airport with several bags as I am relocating to Saigon to teach English for at least 6 months. Could you put me in contact with your cousin? I will definitely need a taxi. Thank you!

  13. Chirag says:

    Hey thank you for putting this together! I am in Hanoi now and I know what you mean when you say don’t get run over by a motorbike! hahaha. Great to have this reference list. Will be going over to HCM in a few weeks. This list should be handy. Thanks!

    • Chirag says:

      Btw, I forgot to ask, Ill be there for 2 days and I am also a vegetarian. So if you were me, how would you cut down the list provided? I know Cu Chi tunnels is a must.

      • Rebecca says:

        You’ll need a day for the Cu Chi tunnels, but most of the other stuff can be done in a day if you only have two days in HCMC. You can easily see the museum, market and palace in a day, and still have time to eat a lot! πŸ™‚

    • Rebecca says:

      Glad it will be helpful! Have a great trip πŸ™‚ Be careful with those motorbikes!

  14. Maurice Clark says:

    Hey Rebecca.
    Loved your piece on Vietnam. I’m so excited as i’m going there in 3 days for a week. Just a quick question – is it best to use dong on us dollar while there? I’ve read so many times that they accept both but thought i’d ask your opinion.
    Thanks again.

    • Rebecca says:

      You’re going to love it! We used mostly dong, but i guess it wouldn’t hurt to have some US dollars though as well. Most things you’ll buy on the street we paid for in dong. However, vendors will accept either – just make sure you know the correct exchange rate. Have fun!

  15. Andre says:

    Hi Rebecca. Very helpful choices… Any suggestion whether we should visit Hanoi. I only have 10 days then to Thailand…

    • Rebecca says:

      10 days in Vietnam in total? If so, then I think you’ll have plenty of time to visit both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, as well as Hue or one of the towns/cities in between. Enjoy!

  16. Ruffys says:

    Great post. Thanks Rebecca

  17. suraj says:

    Read comments of some people. Because of historical interest i am dragging my whole familly to visit Ho chi minh city this December,as from 22nd. to 30th. I am abit scared of what we have heard and specially we are not used to bargaining prices. It is not seen as good manners in our country.My family would be with me,so we are daring to proceed.
    we will have 2 more challenges:
    1/ we are vegetarian.
    2/ May be we the first Mauritian family to visit the country.

    • Rebecca says:

      You’ll be fine! It’s a great country, plenty of food options (vegetarians I’m sure would have no problems). Don’t be scared – enjoy the bargaining! πŸ™‚

  18. Neville says:

    Hanoi Elegance Ruby hotel was a very good boutique Hotel in Hanoi.

  19. Neville says:

    I stayed at the Hotel Catina Jan 2012. Right in the middle of Saigon. Reasonable prices. Good Restaurant food, breakfast. Service good. No real complaints. Request a room with a window.

  20. Andy says:

    Hey Rebecca,
    Do you also can reccomand a Boutique Hotel in Hanoi?

    • Rebecca says:

      Hi Andy, sorry I can’t think of any – I was actually quite sick in Hanoi and can’t even remember where we stayed! There are plenty of options there though, you won’t have trouble finding somewhere lovely to stay.

  21. Jade says:

    I have this concern that if I were to travel to a place for the first time, I better not to stay for too long or at least not more than 3nights. Because due to the reason that it is my first time, I may not be familiar with the place, locals, food, where to to go, those lead to not knowing what to do for such a long period of time say more than 3 days. My question is, what is your advice or what do you think of this type of concern or thinking of mine? oh secondly, is there any place near to or in HCMC that is not very busy-crowded type of city place? Probably a place that is reachable with land transportation, and not too far from the city that is highland or cool and breezy, calm for example?

    • Jacqui says:

      Hi, in Ho Chi Minh right now… Must say there are NO calm or quiet areas we have discovered yet after 3 days. To stay outside of the centre would pose a transportation issue as taxis can be a rip off and buses, too hard to work out…so to see the most in a short space of time I suggest staying in the centre of town where you can walk to most places in under 15 minutes. There’s so much to see and do on the way from A to B so the time passes very quickly. I recommend The Duxton Hotel, great location and amenities. Enjoy!

  22. Stephen says:

    Thanks Rebecca and all responders for the helpful tips, I am off to Ho Chi Minh on 12th September and will sure to look up a few of these suggestions….

  23. kim says:

    im using this for homework πŸ™‚ lol

  24. michelle says:

    hi rebecca! this review was GREAT! definitely useful for planning my itinerary for my trip to vietnam at the end of the year. What I do want to ask though, is did you do seperate day trips to mekong delta and the cu chi tunnels from HCMC? Or would you recommend staying somewhere there overnight, get those two highlights out of the way and then head back to HCMC to explore the area there?

    • Rebecca says:

      HI Michelle! Thanks for stopping by and glad this was useful! πŸ™‚ I did one day trip that covered the Mekong Delta and the Cu Chi tunnels. It’s really easy to do this in one day from HCMC – there are TONNES of travel agencies offering various tours. I know that some people spend longer on the Mekong, but I didn’t do that, although I think that would be a great way to see that area. You’ll be able to book it once you get to HCMC, often through your hotel/hostel or any of the agencies in the tourist areas. Have fun and enjoy your trip!

  25. Jenny says:

    Hi Kelly,

    I thought id reply as i have been here in hcmc already and have been travelling around vietnam for the last month. Highlights in hcmc for me have been the “reunification palace”, a one day food tour with, they were GREAT and cant recommend them highly enough. They are all girls in orange dress who will take you round and try the street food. Foor was fantastic. Not only that, they will give you some great tips on what to see and do in and around HCMC. Do look them up, its a great way to familiarise yourself with the city. I went to Benh thanh market and the girl guide helped me get an ao dai (traditional dress) for 30 dollars. Bargain! The traditonal medicine museum is great too, it has the feel of a musty old museum that harks back to the turn of the century, something really other-worldly. Have fun reacquainting yourself with the city.

    If you happen to have more time in Vietnam, do go to Hoi an, its my favourite place in Vietnam and sooo beautiful. August is still a good time, but it does get flooded around october-dec time.

  26. just remember, when you visit Ben Thanh Market, be aware of price, you should bargain to get a more affordable price πŸ™‚

  27. kelly says:

    Thanks Rebecca your post is very helpful. I am returning “home” this August after 37 years since I left on April 30th 1975 with my 16 year old child. What are the MUST sees and Must DOS beside the ones you already posted. I would like to educated her of her heritage and experience “life” in Viet Nam i.e.: daily trips for food, mkts, street vendors and SHOPPING IS the TOP of our list. Please Suggest where we MUST shop for brand names or knock offs in Ho Chi Minh City. We will be staying at the Renaissance on the River i believe its near of the the big mkt. We will be in ho chi minh city for 7 days. I kinda have an idea what to do and where to go. Top of our list is historical sites, my old neighborhood, SHOPPING and Tailors Please refer to where and who to have our viet names dress made in ho chi minh city. I would appreciate it if you know of someone. Thank you. Kelly

  28. Nifty says:

    Cocktails in the open air bar on the 23rd floor of the Sheraton Hotel at night with a view over Saigon was a highlight. Walk through the Botanical Gardens including zoological exhibits.
    Local hotels are 1/3 price of international. Service is incredible & for a fraction of the price of western countries.

  29. TaraRC says:

    Hi Rebecca…HCMC looks great from the photos. will be going there in about 6 wks with my husband and 3 year old and can’t wait!! Not sure where the best place is to stay to be right in the middle of things….maybe near the river? Is there a particular District? Will only be there for only 3 nights and then heading down to Mui Ne for some relaxing……… πŸ™‚

    • Rebecca says:

      Hope you had a great trip! Where did you end up staying? Sorry, I just noticed that I hadn’t responded to this…

  30. Micah says:

    Thanks for the great list! Heading to Saigon for the first time in a few days and scrambling to put together a quick itinerary. Very helpful.

  31. Joe Peck says:

    What are the places use VN Dongs & US$? If I have $500 US$, how much Dongs should I change?

  32. Joe Peck says:

    Thanks for this website. Great information needed as I will be going to Ho Chi Minh with 1 friend next month.

  33. Gizelle says:

    Thanks for your post, Rebecca! I’ll be traveling there in June 2011 with my kids and husband. Looking forward to it. Where do you recommend shopping for Vietnamese beauty products?

    • Rebecca says:

      Enjoy! Such a great city. I’m not sure about beauty products, but in the city there are tonnes of beauty parlours (think pedicures and massages for ridiculously cheap prices!) so the girls there should be able to help!

  34. Senyorita says:

    I’m planning to go to Vietnam this year πŸ˜€

  35. Tran says:

    Loved the fruit stalls in Ben Thanh Market….

  36. Great article Rebecca. I’ve been to Hanoi, but never to Ho Chi Minh, some things look pretty similar but I’m sure there are many differences too. Great tips and I look forward to visiting sometime!

  37. bethany says:

    Very cool post. I def. have this one my must travel list. Also love the seventies style processing on some of the pics – very cool!

  38. nateniale says:

    Saigon is an amazing city. Don’t forget the amazing Vietnamese coffee! It is great sitting in a cafe to take a break from the hustle and bustle of the city.

    • Rebecca says:

      Oh yes, how could I forget! I don’t drink coffee ever, but I actually enjoyed Vietnamese coffee – the iced version with condensed milk, not too bad at all!

  39. Erica says:

    As a person who is trying to get over their claustrophobia, Cu Chi is NOT a place I would like to visit at the moment. My skin crawls just thinking about it to be honest.

    • Rebecca says:

      Yes, it is certainly claustrophobia-inducing, I felt it myself! But isn’t the best way to get over a fear to confront it? It’s an interesting place to visit for historical reasons – and you DON’T have to go down the tunnels if you don’t want to! πŸ™‚

  40. Never been to Ho Chi Minh, but I’ve heard a lot about the tunnels. We’d love to visit Vietnam soon (one of our friends has relatives there that had offered us a place to stay, yay).

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Top 10 things to do in Ho Chi Minh City

by Rebecca time to read: 26 min