Ho Chi Minh City is a place 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.
Saigon was originally the capital of South Vietnam under the People’s Army of Vietnam and use as the base of United States during Vietnam War or American War. During the final attack by the Viet Cong on April 29, 1975, its troops under the Army of the Republic of Vietnam forces seize 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 (SGN) is the airport of Ho Chi Minh city. It has two terminals used to serve domestic and international flights.
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. Yellow Bus #109 takes the fastest route with less stops and get to Pham Ngu Lao in District 1. It costs 20,000 VND one way and departs every 30 minutes from 5.30 am to 1.00 am daily.
You also can take 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 use the meter before boarding the taxi.
How to Go Around The City
If you are traveling on a budget just like me, I will recommend to take the public buses in the city. They come very frequent and the ride costs 5,000-6,000 VND each ride. What impress me the most is the use of real-time tracking system which will inform passengers on the time of bus arrival and really punctual.
The city attractions are mainly situated in the city centre and able to walk within each point. It will be fun to explore the surrounding, its hidden gems and search for exotic street food by foot.
There are also taxi or private cars and motorcycles operated by Grab. But I won’t suggest to use motorcycle rides because the way they drive may seem scary and dangerous.
What to Do in Ho Chi Minh?
After getting back from my Mekong Delta trip, I spent another 4 nights in Ho Chi Minh. I made a day trip to Cu Chi Tunnels (read more) and the rest of the time to explore the city. Here’s the list of interesting places to visit with most of them cost neither free or just a small fee.
Bui Vien Street
Enjoy the nightlife in one of the famous street in Pham Ngu Lao, District 1. This area will be packed with backpackers who come to socialize at the bars, nightclubs and restaurants mostly served Western and Italian food.
Ben Thanh Market
Start the day by having your breakfast in Ben Thanh Market (Cou Ben Thanh) with the choice of pho, rice noodle and other Vietnamese food. When you finish your meal, scroll around and test your bargaining skills at the inner market. You can find handmade handicrafts, art works, 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, however items are all fixed price.
Ben Thanh market opens from 8 am to 7 pm and can get there by many buses to Ben Thanh station, just five minutes from the station.
War Remnants Museum
War Remnants Museum is a war museum with nine permanent exhibits with graphic photography and weapons used related to 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 an open-air exhibits including UH-1 “Huey” helicopter, a 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.
This museum is located in 28 Vo Van Tan, in District 3. Its operating Hours is 7 am to 6 pm with entrance fee of 40,000 Dong.
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 lock down 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 lieutenant got to the top of 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.
The palace is open between 7.30 am to 12 pm and 1 pm to 5 pm with entrance fee of 40,000 VND. There is also an exhibit about Norodom Palace and Independence Palace inside the compound opens between 7.30 am to 5.30 pm with entrance fee 20,000 VND.
District 1 of Ho Chi Minh City
Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica
This cathedral built by French colonists in 1861, measuring almost 60 meters in height. It features a 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)
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 walls painted the map of the telegraph lines that crisscross Vietnam and Cambodia and another displaying a map of Saigon region in 1892.
The Central Post Office opens daily between 7 am to 7 pm.
Saigon Opera House
This French-built Saigon Opera House back in 1897 is used for many performances including opera, ballet, musical concerts, Vietnamese traditional dance and plays. It may looks small from outside but can seated up to 800 person.
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 being used as a city hall at the present. 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 with 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.
Binh Tay Market
Binh Tay Market (Chợ Bình Tây) is a large complex located in District 6 and is less touristy place 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 2-storey market is divided by 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. In the first floor, vendors sell cosmetic items, make up accessories, kids clothing, medicine and electronic items. You won’t find much souvenirs here because this is a local market cater for its people.
Bunh Tay Market opens from 6 am to 7 pm and you can take buses to Bến xe Chợ Lớn bus stop or Cho Lon Coach Station. It is about 15 minutes walking distance to the market.
St Francis Xavier Perish Church
St Francis Xavier Perish Church or Cha Tam Church (Nhà thờ Phanxicô Xaviê) is catholic church that was established in 1900 to serve the Chinese Catholic community and still use as a place of worship. 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 in 2 November 1963. Both of them later surrendered unconditionally but were assassinated before taken into custody.
This church is situated in 25 Học Lạc St, District 5 and open daily expect 12- 2pm.
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 just a short walking distance from Quan Am Pagoda. This small temple was dedicated to sea goddess Mazu. It was constructed in 1760 by the Cantonese community in Ho Chi Minh city. The dioramas at the roof show scenes from a 19th century Chinese city include colorful figures such as actors, demons, animals, Persian and European sailors and traders
Ho Chi Minh Museum of Fine Arts
Fall in love with Vietnamese arts portrayed by local artists, both inside and outside 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 buildings 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 style, become one of the characteristics of Indochina architecture
Entrance fee is 30,000 VND and opens between 8 am to 5 pm. It is located in 97A, Pho Duc Chinh Street, District 1, 10 minutes walk from Ben Thanh Market and bus station.
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.
Take a ride up to the observation deck at 49 floor, 178 meters above ground before sunset. It is the best place for photography of the stunning city night view, Saigon River and its surrounding. There is a bar and restaurant on the deck as well. There is also Ao Dai Exhibitions showcase many Vietnam’s beautiful traditional dresses worn from 1920s until the present.
Saigon Skydeck is open daily between 9.30 am to 9.30 pm with entrance fee 200,000 VND. The tower is located in 36, Ho Tung Mau Street, District 1 and 20 minutes walk from Ben Thanh bus station.
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 104, Phurong Nguyen, Thai Bin, District 1, 15 minutes walk from Bui Vien Walking Street.
- 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.
- Enjoy discounted rate for entrance to Saigon Skydeck with Klook.