Welcome to Ho Chi Minh city – chaotic, vibrant and full of surprises…
It has something to offer for all traveler types whether you are interested in history, architecture, culture, museums, temples and pagodas, coffee shops, parks or in a wide variety of food (both local and international cuisine). This article is based on my solo trip to Vietnam, where I spent six weeks exploring this amazing country.
To make the most of this city, I would suggest to schedule at least three full days for exploration.
Walking tour (Plan your own itinerary)
The best way to explore District 1 and the main sights is on foot. It was a great decision to stay within District 1 as it was so easy to walk to the main sights and I could made the most of my short stop in Saigon.
If you follow the recommendation on Lonely Planet, it’s approximately a 4 Km walk and the main sights would be:
- Nguyen Hue pedestrian area
- Bitexco Financial Tower
- Opera House
- People’s committee Building (Hôtel de Ville)
- Caravelle Hotel
- Majestic Hotel
- Notre Dame Cathedral
- The Central Post office
- Reunification Palace and Tao Dan park
- War remnants museum
- Ben Thanh market
Experience Nightlife the local way at Nguyen Hue pedestrian area
There is always something happening in this area but if you happen to be in Saigon over the weekend, don’t miss an evening walk here. You can witness an amazing hub of locals, culture, food and travelers. From street food, to animation for kids and amazing little concerts, this pedestrian area becomes extremely lively where people come to showcase their talents and have a good time with their family and friends.
Eat, drink and shop at Ben Thanh market
This colorful market has it all, from local food to clothing, shoes, accessories and souvenirs. Enjoy bargaining but pay attention to your personal belongings…
Food Tour (book it with the experts)
Those who say that one of the best ways to discover a country is via its cuisine, are right! I am not a big fan of arranged tours but sometimes you just have trust the local experts, sit at the back of a vintage Vespa scooter and enjoy “the ride of your life”.
I booked the “Saigon after dark” tour with Vespa Adventures, which was a mix of night exploration and food tour. I was able to sample authentic local food, enjoy a Vietnamese-style coffee shop with live music for dessert and also discovered a buzzing music bar with a local band – all this while Vespa-hopping in five different locations. The guide was excellent and the drivers were all very careful. I was in a small group of five people and I loved every second of this tour, to the extent of wishing it would never end.
Enjoy the Vietnamese coffee culture
Vietnamese coffee is something you cannot miss during your trip to Vietnam; you will find coffee shops everywhere. Vietnam is the second producer of coffee in the world. Although most of this production is low quality, you will find some breweries and coffee shops offering extremely good coffee. An excellent example is Shin Coffee, where you can taste special blends and watch them prepare your coffee the way you prefer. Delightful moment for my first coffee in Vietnam!
As it was very hot and humid during my trip, the famous “ca phe sua da” (Vietnamese iced coffee with condensed milk) quickly became one of my favorites. I also enjoyed the version with coconut milk…
On the other hand, if you prefer tea, you don’t have to worry as you will also find various options. I discovered this extremely cute English-style tea house, called “ParTea”, located in an old building overlooking the pedestrian area. Enjoy this place before the building is demolished (it seems there are plans for a new building). Sit outside on the small balcony if there is space so you can sip your tea with a view on the hectic streets below.
Sip a cocktail with a view on Saigon’s Skyline
Ahhhh… Asian cities and rooftop bars…
While people love to watch sunset or take photos of the skyline from the 48th floor of “Saigon Skydeck” at the Bitexco Financial Tower, I would suggest a location that offers a view on the latter which is a very interesting building in Saigon’s Skyline. I tried the Chill Sky Bar and bar and it was amazing, with nice canapés, great music, excellent service, superb cocktails at Happy hour and the best view on Saigon at dusk. Don’t forget your camera…
Learn about the Viet-Cong resistance by visiting Cu Chi tunnels
Around 30 – 40 km from Saigon, these are an immense network of underground tunnels built over 25 years and symbolize the resistance of Viet-Cong. Some areas have been enlarged for visiting purposes and you can try going down in one of the tunnels if you are not claustrophobic.
There are are no affiliate links in this article, the recommendations are based on my personal experience.
This article was written in 2017, and some experiences/ places might not be the same anymore…
Feel free to comment below about your Saigon experience or if you are planning to travel soon and have questions…