Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, is a city filled with fascinating culture, friendly locals, authentic local food, and richness of history. It is known for its beautiful French architectural buildings after their conquest and influence in 1859.
Brief History of Ho Chi Minh
Ho Chi Minh City was originally the capital of South Vietnam under the People’s Army of Vietnam. It was used as the base of the United States during Vietnam War or American War.
During the final attack by the Viet Cong on April 29, 1975, the troops under the Army of the Republic of Vietnam forces seized the city and took victory. In 1976, the city of Saigon and other provinces were combined to create Ho Chi Minh City to honor the late Communist leader, Hồ Chí Minh.
Tan Son Nhat International Airport (Airport Code: SGN) is the airport of Ho Chi Minh City and has two terminals used to serve domestic and international flights. The airport is well connected to Asia Pacific and Middle Eastern regions.
There are several ways to get into the city. Shuttle buses can be found in the international airport located outside at the right end of the arrival hall. The Yellow Bus #109 takes the fastest route with fewer stops and drop passengers at Pham Ngu Lao in District 1. The ride costs 20,000 VND one way and departs every 30 minutes from 5.30 am to 1.00 am daily.
You also can take a taxi direct to your accommodation but will be quite expensive. Operators like Vinasun are more reliable and safe. But the most important thing is to make sure they keep the meter running when boarding the taxi.
Ho Chi Ming City is rich in history and authentic Vietnamese food. It is fun to explore the surroundings, hidden gems, and exotic street food. Many tourist sites are concentrated in the city center and they are reachable on foot.
If you are traveling on a budget just like me, I will recommend taking public buses to travel further out of the popular District 1. They come very frequently and the ride costs 5,000-6,000 VND. What impressed me the most is the use of a real-time tracking system at the bus stops to inform passengers of the time of bus arrival. The buses are really punctual and arrive on the dot.
There are also Grab cars and motorcycles operated by Grab, an e-hailing riding service. But I won’t recommend using motorcycle rides because the way they drive seems scary and crazy. A city like Ho Chi Minh is packed with motorcycles on the road and many don’t follow the traffic lights.
Best Places to Visit for 3 days in Ho Chi Minh City
From street food, markets, French-influenced churches, and historic sites, Ho Chi Minh City is one of my favorite cities to visit. I recommended to spend 3 days and 4 nights here to experience the best of the city and make a day trip to Cu Chi Tunnels (Click here to read more). Here’s the list of interesting places you should put in your travel bucket list.
Wander around Bui Vien Street
Enjoy the nightlife in one of the famous streets at Pham Ngu Lao in District 1. This area will be packed with backpackers who come to socialize at the bars, nightclubs, and restaurants. Many restaurants and bars served Western and Italian food.
During day time, food vendors sell various types of Vietnamese food, such as fresh tiger prawn and vegetable paper rolls, pho, banh mi (Vietnamese baguette), broken rice, and bun cha on a motorcycle or coffee shop. They are one of the affordable food and usually eaten daily by Vietnamese people
Explore Ben Thanh Market
Start the day by having your breakfast in Ben Thanh Market (Cou Ben Thanh) with either pho, rice noodle, or other Vietnamese food. When you finish your meal, stroll around and test your bargaining skills at the inner market. You can find handmade handicrafts, artworks, souvenirs, clothes, bags, herbs, fresh fruits, and Vietnamese coffee.
There are also vendors selling Ao Dai (Vietnamese gourmet) and traditional wear in the outer part of the market, but the items are all fixed prices.
Travel tips: There are many buses leaving for Ben Thanh Market and get off at Ben Thanh Station. It only takes 5 minutes to walk to the market.
Opening hours: Daily from 6 am to 6 pm
Visit the War Remnants Museum
War Remnants Museum is a war museum with nine permanent exhibits displaying graphic photography and weapons used in an unjust war and its crimes. You can learn about the struggle inflicted on Vietnamese people by foreign forces and the first Indochina War during the French colonialist.
Military equipment and vehicles were displayed in the open-air exhibit including UH-1 “Huey” helicopter, F-5A fighter, and A-1 Skyraider attack bomber. You can also see the example of imprisonment system during Vietnam War next to the museum.
Address: 28 Vo Van Tan, in District 3.
Opening hours: Daily from 7 am to 6 pm
Entrance fee: 40,000 VND
Visit Independence Palace
Step into the Independence Palace (Reunification Palace) which belonged to the home and workplace of the President of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. It is now used for official functions, events, and meetings for Vietnamese government.
There is also an underground tunnel that leads to the chambers used by the president and government officials during emergency lockdown in Vietnam War.
During the Fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975, a North Vietnamese army tank crashed through its gates. Later, one of the lieutenants got to the top of the complex to raise the flag of the Provisional Revolutionary Government from the flagpole, the first to take the flag of the newly dissolved Republic of Vietnam.
Travel tips: There is an exhibit about Norodom Palace and Independence Palace inside the compound that opens between 7.30 am to 5.30 pm with an entrance fee of 20,000 VND.
Opening hours: Daily from 7.30 am to 12 pm and 1 pm to 5 pm
Entrance fee: 40,000 VND
Admire Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica
This Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica was built by French colonists in 1861, measuring almost 60 meters in height. It features an all-red brick facade, stained glass windows, two bell towers containing six bronze bells, and a small garden with the statue of Virgin Mary.
(Notre Dame Cathedral is currently under renovation and visitors can still view it from outside)
Visit Central Post Office
Central Post Office was constructed between 1886 and 1891 with arched windows and wooden shutters. Once enter the building, you will see the looping arches, detailed marble floors and telephone booths all serve as a reminder of the importance of this post office before emails and mobile phones were invented.
At the top corners of the walls painted the map of the telegraph lines that crisscross Vietnam and Cambodia and another displaying a map of Saigon region in 1892.
Opening hours: Daily from 7 am to 7 pm.
Take a glimpse of Saigon Opera House
This French-built Saigon Opera House dates back to 1897 when the building started to host many performances including opera, ballet, musical concerts, Vietnamese traditional dance, and plays. It may looks small from outside, but can be seated up to 800 guests.
People’s Committee Building
The People’s Committee Building is one of the well-preserved French colonial architecture with a beautiful garden landscape. It was originally built as a hotel in 1898 before converted into a city hall. The best time to visit is in the evening or night when the building is lighted up with LED lights.
Ben Thanh Night Market
Watch the streets of Ben Thanh in action after 7 pm once Ben Thanh Market closes. The market will be surrounded by food stalls and street stores. Items sold here are the same as inside the market and can be bargain with. You will also be spoil with food choices around and opposite the market.
Opening hours: Daily from 7 pm to 12 am
Binh Tay Market
Binh Tay Market (Chợ Bình Tây) is a large complex located in District 6 and is less touristy than Ben Thanh Market, Many locals and tourists called it ‘Chinatown’ although it wasn’t its real name due to high population of Chinese community and traders in this district.
This two-story market is divided into several sections where stores are categorized according to their products sold. Food sellers and vendors sell fresh meats, seafood, fresh fruits, dried fruits, vegetables, spices and flowers at the outer part of the market.
It is more peaceful and quiet when you walk inside the complex. There is a small garden in the center of the complex. You can find high quality textiles, clothing, shoes, kitchen appliance, and coffee products.
On the first floor, vendors sell cosmetic items, make up accessories, kids clothing, medicines, and electronic items. You won’t find much souvenirs here because this is a local market that cater for local community.
Travel tips: Take a bus from District 1 to Bến xe Chợ Lớn bus stop or Cho Lon Coach Station. It is about 15 minutes walk to the market.
Opening hours: Daily from 6 am to 7 pm
Visit St Francis Xavier Perish Church
St Francis Xavier Perish Church or Cha Tam Church (Nhà thờ Phanxicô Xaviê) is a catholic church that was established since 1900 to serve the Chinese Catholic community. Its unique architecture was designed with Gothic style and some characteristic of Chinese culture.
It was also used as a place of refuge by President Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu on 2 November 1963. Both of them later surrendered unconditionally, but were assassinated before taken into custody.
Address: 25 Học Lạc St, District 5
Opening hours: Daily from 7 am to 12 pm and 2pm to 6 pm
Entrance fee: Free
Quan Am Pagoda
An old Chinese-style Buddhist pagoda built in the 19th century to dedicate to Guanyin, the Chinese goddess of mercy.
Thien Tau Temple
Also located in District 5, Thien Hau Temple (Miếu Bà Thiên Hậu) is another Chinese temple near Quan Am Pagoda. This small temple was dedicated to the sea goddess Mazu. It was constructed in 1760 by the Cantonese community here. The dioramas on the roof show the scenes from a 19th century Chinese city with colorful figures of actors, demons, animals, Persian and European sailors, and traders
Explore Ho Chi Minh Museum of Fine Arts
Fall in love with Vietnamese arts portrayed by local artists, both inside and outside of the building. This HCMC Fine Arts Museum has three exhibits, displaying some of the finest artworks such as modern arts, ancient arts, contemporary arts, sculptures, priceless artifacts, ceramic arts, and wooden arts.
This yellow-white grand colonial-era building was once a mansion owned by a Chinese wealthy trader, Mr. Hoa, making it a great masterpiece itself. It was built in the early 20th century with a combination of French and Chinese styles, become one of the characteristics of Indochina architecture
Address: 97A, Pho Duc Chinh Street, District 1 (10 minutes walk from Ben Thanh Market and bus station)
Opening hours: Daily from 8 am to 5 pm
Entrance fee: 30,000 VND and . It is located in
Can’t have enough of shopping, here’s one place to look for casual wear and ‘branded’ clothing including Adidas, Nike, Under Armour, and Puma.
Opening hours: Daily 9 am to 9 pm
Enjoy the city’s night views at Saigon Skydeck
Enjoy the sunset and night panoramic views from 49th floor of Saigon Skydeck’s observation deck. Standing 178 meters above the ground, the deck is the best place for photography of the stunning city night view, Saigon River, and its surrounding. There is a bar, restaurant, and Ao Dai Exhibitions showcase many beautiful Vietnamese traditional dresses worn in the 1920s until the present.
Address: 36, Ho Tung Mau Street at District 1 (20 minutes walk from Ben Thanh bus station)
Opening hours: Daily from 9.30 am to 9.30 pm
Entrance fee: 200,000 VND (Click here to enjoy discounted rate)
Dan Sinh Market
Dan Sinh Market (Cho Din Sinh) is one of the unique market in the city where you can find antique items used during the Vietnam War such as military clothing, helmets, accessories, gears, gadgets, army uniforms, badges, and ammunition parts. It is located at
Address: 104, Phurong Nguyen, Thai Bin, District 1 (15 minutes walk from Bui Vien Walking Street)
Opening hours: Daily from 10 am to 7 pm
Visit Cu Chi Tunnels
Take a day trip from Ho Chi Minh to explore and learn the history behind the long network of Cu Chi Tunnels. These tunnels were used by the Viet Cong troops during the wars against the French and for the most part, the Vietnam War.
There are two sites for tourists to visit called Ben Douc and Ben Dinh. While most guided tours will take tourists to Ben Dinh, I prefer Ben Douc because the site is more authentic and has less tourists. The tunnels still remain to its origins without modification and you actually see how small they are to fit the Viet Cong troops.
There are guided tours on Ben Douc as well. The price is so much cheaper than the tours departing from District 1. The money goes directly to the museum for maintenance. Read more for the full story of my experience at Cu Chi Tunnels.
- Vietnamese Dong (VND) is widely accepted in restaurants and tourist spots. You did not need to bring a lot of US Dollar during your trip.
- The locals speak little or no English language. Use Google Translate or the Internet to do some basic translation beforehand. That will make travel much easy.
- Crossing the streets in the city can be challenging. Remember, do not run or rush across the road. Wave your hand out or upward to draw motorists’ attention and walk slowly. Motorists do drive slowly due to its chaotic traffic and they can predict you walking forward.
- If you are traveling around by bus, download bus service app into your mobile phone to find the bus route and get updates on bus arrival using real-time GPS trackers from the buses.
- The best way to explore Ho Chi Minh is by walking because most attractions are just a leisure walk in District 1. It is good for health by just walking and being environmental friendly by not using motorcycle.
Going Elsewhere in Vietnam?
If you are planning for a long adventure in Vietnam, you can check out some of my other posts: