Ho Chi Minh City, the largest city in Vietnam, is no unfamiliar name on the traveler’s tongue. Formerly known as Saigon, and still affectionately called so by locals and tourists alike, exploring the city feels like a time-travelling experience.Come experience the city nicknamed the ‘Pearl of the Far East’.
Learning about history is balanced with modern experiences, and the Renaissance architecture from the times of French colonial rule remains harmonious with the atmospheric temples and pagodas.
An amalgam of the past and present, here’s a list of the top 20 things to do in Ho Chi Minh City that will inspire and leave you with a strange sense of nostalgia:
1. Learn about Vietnam's history in the War Remnants Museum
Established in 1975, the War Remnants Museum is a popular attraction among tourists.
With exhibits relating to the Vietnam War and the first Indochina War, you can expect to see things like unexploded ordnance (reassuringly with charges and fuses removed) and “tiger cages” that depict the former horrific living conditions of political prisoners.
The ground floor’s collection of posters and photographs remembers war atrocities like the My Lai Massacre, and they are further reminders of the brutality of war.
Although a visit to the museum may leave you feeling slightly distressed, you will also step out with a renewed sense of gratitude for the country’s present peace and sovereignty.
War Remnants Museum
Address: 28 Võ Văn Tần, 6, 3, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
Opening Hours: 7:30 AM - 12:00 noon & 1:30 PM - 5:00 PM
Ticket Price: 15,000 VND (0.67 USD)
Contact: +84 8 3930 5587 or +84 8 3930 6664
2. Crawl through the Cu Chi Tunnels like the Viet Cong soldiers
The extensive network of over 200 kilometres (124 miles) of underground tunnels in the Cu Chi District of Ho Chi Minh City was formerly the location of several military campaigns during the Vietnam War. It also served as the Viet Cong’s base of operations.
Preserved by the government and turned into a war memorial park with two different tunnel display sites, Ben Dinh and Ben Duoc, visitors can crawl through the Cu Chi Tunnels and experience the struggles of the Viet Cong soldiers as they hid in the same tunnels for days on end.
3. Visit Saigon Zoo and Botanical Gardens, the 8th oldest zoo in the world
You only have to pay 10,000 VND (0.45 USD) to gain admission to Saigon Zoo and Botanical Gardens, the oldest and largest zoo in Vietnam. Including an amusement park and the Museum of Vietnamese History, there is plenty to see and do at this attraction.
Home to more than 500 animals from more than 100 species and more than 1,800 trees and plants from more than 250 species, engage in the simple joy of visiting the animals and interact with the elephants and giraffes during the afternoon feeding times.
The upcoming new and larger safari project in the Cu Chi area may lead to the relocation of Saigon Zoo’s animals and its eventual closure, so hurry and visit before it is too late!
Saigon Zoo and Botanical Gardens
Address: 5 Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai, Bến Nghé, 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
Opening Hours: 7:00 AM - 7:00 PM
Ticket Price: 10,000 VND (0.45 USD)
Contact: +84 8 3910 4811
4. Have fun at Suoi Tien Theme Park
Apart from being the biggest cultural theme park in Ho Chi Minh City, the park is also home to the longest roller-coaster in Vietnam. However, Suoi Tien Theme Park is far from your oh-so-ordinary amusement parks. With a cultural twist, you will feel as though you have stepped into the setting of a folk tale, with Asian statues and buildings, as well as landscapes that tell long-standing Vietnamese legends. Boasting attractions ranging from the water park to the dolphin and sea lion shows, there is indeed something for everyone. Even those ambitious to start a crocodile farm will be happy. The 1,500-reptile farm in the park not only allows you to feed and look at the crocodiles, but also to buy a baby crocodile to take home. Yes, you read that right!
Suoi Tien Theme Park
Address: 120 AH1, Tân Phú, Quận 9, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
Opening Hours: 8:00 AM - 6:00 PM
Ticket Price: 50,000 VND (2.23 USD), entrance fee is not inclusive of individual ride prices
Contact: +84 8 3896 0260
5. Picnic and fly a kite at Dong Dieu Entertainment Area
At the outskirts of the city, you will find an ideal spot to picnic in the Dong Dieu Entertainment Area. Also an extremely popular site for kite flying, join in with the myriad of kites in the sky by buying one from the local shop.
Engage in the simple joys of eating sandwiches and fruits on a picnic mat while spotting kites of different colours and shapes in the sky. If you are here during the weekend, catch the Saigon Kite Club practicing their skills with bigger, bolder kites.
Dong Dieu Entertainment Area
Address: 33/2 Cao Lo, District 8
6. Have brunch by the river at The Deck
Named as one of Vietnam’s best Asian fusion restaurants by The Daily Telegraph London, The Deck is situated on the banks of the Saigon River and is one of the few restaurants that offers a riverside view to complement your dining experience. From the restaurant’s famous Pan-Asian French fusion cuisine to the classic double eggs Benedict, the brunch menu may leave you drooling even before food is served.
If you are feeling extra lavish, consider engaging The Deck’s private boat taxi and arrive at the steps of the restaurant by boat and in style.
The Deck Saigon
Address: 38 Nguyễn Ư Dĩ, Thảo Điền, 2, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
Opening Hours: 8:00 AM - 12:00 midnight
Contact: +84 8 3744 6632
7. Enter the time capsule of Vietnam, the Independence Palace
Independence Palace, also known as the Reunification Palace, is best described as a place frozen in time. Although the building has gone through several renovations since its construction, you can find every room and space to be fitted with the original chairs and tables. Even the palace kitchen is equipped with traditional machines.
Preserving the iconic moments of Vietnam’s history, visitors can also expect to see the F5E fighter plane that bombed the palace on the 8th of April 1975, and tank 843, which led the final assault through the palace gate at 11.30 AM on the 30th of April 1975.
Address: 135 Nam Kỳ Khởi Nghĩa, Bến Thành, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
Opening Hours: 7:30 AM - 5:00 PM
Ticket Price: 20,000 VND (0.89 USD)
Contact: +84 8 3829 4117
8. Send mail from Saigon Central Post Office, the grandest post office in Southeast Asia
Pay a visit to one of Gustave Eiffel’s other creations, one as remarkable as the famous Eiffel Tower. Built during French colonial rule, Saigon Central Post Office exudes Gothic, Renaissance and French influences. The walls are resplendent with a mosaic of Ho Chi Minh and giant map murals of South Vietnam, Saigon and Cholon, while the floors beneath are immaculately tiled.
Meanwhile, do not forget to send something back from the largest post office in Vietnam. The Central Post Office is still up and running so leave a surprise in your loved one’s mailbox with a momento all the way from Saigon.
Saigon Central Post Office
Address: 2 Công xã Paris, Bến Nghé, tp. Hồ Chí Minh, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
Opening Hours: 8:00 AM - 5:30 PM (to post mail) or 6:00 AM - 10:00 PM (sightseeing)
Ticket Price: Free
Contact: +84 8 3822 1677
9. Show up at a wedding at Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon.
Visit one of the classic beauties of Ho Chi Minh City, a stunning structure with two 60-metre (197-foot) bell towers and 40-metre-high (131-foot-high) square towers. Heavily influenced by the French civilization and Christianity, the cathedral was built between 1877 and 1883 and is still recognised as a symbol of the city.
Attend a Sunday service to fully appreciate the quiet grandeur of the place – the light-filtered room and the beautiful stained glass mosaic windows. Else sneak into a wedding uninvited and bear witness to a marriage taking place.
Many vendors start selling street food around the area after 4 PM, so stick around for a real feast after the visual one.
Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica
Address: Bến Nghé, tp. Hồ Chí Minh, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
Opening Hours: 8:00 AM - 5:00 PM & Mass at 9:30 AM, Sunday
Ticket Price: Free
10. Have a coffee break complete with breath-taking views at Bitexco Financial Tower, Saigon’s tallest building
Even on holiday, consuming caffeine may be a habitual thing. However, instead of relieving the tragic scene in the Starbucks’ queue, head over to Bitexco Financial Tower, the city’s tallest building, for your coffee and a complimentary 360-degree panoramic view of Ho Chi Minh City and Saigon River.
The 68-floor building designed after the lotus, Vietnam’s national flower, has been named as one of the top 25 Great Skyscraper Icons by CNN.com. Skip the 200,000 VND (8.96 USD) admission fee to the Saigon Skydeck and head straight to Eon51 café for a 130,000 VND (5.83 USD) coffee. With full-length windows and a modern, cosy interior, sip your drink while you enjoy the view for less.
Address: 2 Hai Trieu, W. Ben Nghe, D.1, HCMC, Vietnam
Opening Hours: 8:00 AM - 11:00 PM
Contact: +84 979 50 51 52
11. Find calm in the city in Jade Emperor Pagoda
Ho Chi Minh City is home to many elaborate temples, but what makes the Jade Emperor Pagoda worth your time is the heartening union of locals and worship.
Nicknamed the Tortoise Pagoda because of the abundance of residential tortoises in the temple’s ponds, the Jade Emperor Pagoda is a wonderful representation of the Mahayana branch of Buddhism that is practised widely in Vietnam.
Temporarily escape the noise of the city and seek refuge in the humble temple. Amongst the simple grandeur of wall carvings and statues, witness the sincerity of locals who come and visit to pray with generous offerings of flowers, and to light candles and joss sticks.
Jade Emperor Pagoda
Address: 40 Điện Biên Phủ Đa Kao Quận 1 Đa Kao Quận 1 Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
Opening Hours: 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Ticket Price: Free
12. Can Gio Mangrove Forest for nature and wildlife enthusiasts
Nature-lovers will be thrilled to find that Can Gio Mangrove Forest, one that stretches from the ocean to the edge of Ho Chi Minh City, boosts forty-thousand hectares (98,842 acres) of mangroves, palm-fringed islands, jungles, wetlands, and salt marsh. Known as the “green lungs of Saigon”, a visit to this reserve is undoubtedly a good break from the fast-paced, crowded city centre.
The protected national park with UNESCO Biosphere Reserve status additionally harbours a 10- kilometre (6.2-mile) coastline, 1,000 monkeys on Monkey Island, and crocodiles in Vam Sat. With opportunities to reconnect with nature, explore the vegetation, and spot interesting wildlife, it is no wonder that this is a budding eco-tourism hotspot.
13. Get a slice of country living at Thanh Da Island
Surrounded by the Saigon River, Thanh Da Island remains an undeveloped pocket of land within Ho Chi Minh City. Adopt another perspective of the city as you observe the simple lives of these locals, staying in modest houses, catching their own fish, and picking their own fruits.
A similar sight to what the Mekong Delta has to offer, be prepared to be greeted by beautiful landscapes of lush green fields, rice paddies, and fish ponds. The island within the city is coupled with labyrinths of paths and unmapped landmarks; it’s not uncommon to run into geese, chickens and pigs walking around.
14. Take a Mekong River cruise from Ho Chi Minh City
Nothing else beats the peace of a river when you want to temporarily escape the hustle and bustle of the city. Boat through the lush, green vegetation of the Mekong Canals and rediscover the simplicity of living. More commonly referred to as the “rice bowl of Vietnam”, the Mekong Delta is famous for its agriculture, fruits and flowers.
Here, take the chance to learn more about the unfiltered lives of the people. Listen to the calming lull of the language, spot the floating markets, and exchange smiles with the friendly, warm-hearted villagers. You would think life does not get any better than this! Enjoy a traditional meal for lunch at one of the orchards, including fresh tropical fruits plucked from the trees just seconds ago.
15. Bargain at Ben Thanh Market
It is a familiar scene of stacks upon stacks of clothes, rows of food stalls selling piping hot local snacks, and anxious bargaining shouts. One of the oldest surviving structures in the city, this centrally-located marketplace diffuses an undeniably upbeat energy.
A great opportunity for last-minute souvenir shopping or feasting, one feels most like a rushing local here, even if the conversation is mostly about reducing the price.
Ben Thanh Market
Address: 32-30, 36-34-32-30 Phan Bội Châu, Bến Thành, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
Opening Hours: 8:00 AM - 6:00 PM & 7:00 PM - 12.30 AM (night market)
16. Take a stroll along Ho Chi Minh City’s own Oxford Street, Dong Khoi Street
Revel in the nostalgic vibe of the street situated among the old colonial buildings. The centre of glamour during the French occupation, Dong Khoi Street is the shopping paradise of Ho Chi Minh City. Lined with international brands, boutiques, cafes, and restaurants, treat yourself to a day’s worth of shopping and eating to your heart’s content.
Waiting just opposite the street is the city’s largest shopping centre, Vincom Centre. With over 250 shops, you should really get ready to shop till you drop.
Dong Khoi Street
Address: Dong Khoi Street, District 1
17. Indulge in a relaxing massage at the L’Apothiquaire Spa
With all that Ho Chi Minh City has to offer, your limbs may be asking for a well-deserved break before you know it. In the thriving market of spas and wellness centres, L’Apothiquaire Spa easily stands out with its endless charms and achievements.
Highly raved about online and offline, L’Apothiquaire Spa was voted the best spa in Ho Chi Minh City since 2003 and has seen customers old and new coming back for their services. Housed within an old colonial mansion, think impeccable service, 75-minute-long massages, revitalising facials, and a meal by the pool afterwards. Therapeutic and luxurious? You’ll find yourself never wanting to leave!
La Maison de L’Apothiquaire
Address: 64A Trương Định, Phường 7, Quận 3, TP Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
Opening Hours: 9:00 AM - 9:00 PM
Contact: +84 8 3932 5181
18. Dine in the dark at The Noir restaurant
It may not be your first time savouring delicious food with an interesting blend of flavours. But it may very well be your first time dining in the dark. Customers are to keep belongings and any light-emitting devices in a locker and are subsequently led into a pitch-black room for their meal.
Do not fear if you are already an everyday klutz, for the patient employees guide and serve you well. The helpful nature of the blind or visually impaired waiters or waitresses will make you feel more at ease, and you will find your cutlery soon enough. So put your worries aside and glasses away and immerse yourself in a sensory experience where your taste buds do most of the work.
Address: Lane 178 Hai Ba Trung, Dakao, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Opening Hours: 11:30 AM - 2:30 PM & 5:30 PM - 11:00 PM
Contact: +84 8 6263 2525
19. Watch a live performance at Saigon Opera House
Also known as the Municipal Theatre, Saigon Opera House’s architecture alone is enough to take one’s breath away. Built in 1898 by Eugene Ferret following the “flamboyant” style of the French Third Republic, the structure’s exuberance is projected even more by standing in still splendour amid never-ending passing traffic and sterile high-rise buildings in the heart of the city.
Watch a local performance of song and dance in a comfort that makes you feel like royalty. From the signature crystal chandeliers, wine-coloured velvet seats, and Greek columns, being in the Saigon Opera House is a luxuriant privilege itself.
Saigon Opera House
Address: 7 Lam Son Square, Ben Nghe Ward, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
20. Grab a local draft beer and unwind at Bui Vien Street
Popular with locals and tourists alike, Bui Vien Street is the perfect lazy spot to simply unwind. With music blaring from the local businesses, the multi-coloured lit street is made more vibrant with the different types of backpackers and motorcyclists making their way around.
Grab the local draft beer, Bia hoi, and settle onto a seat facing the street to watch the interesting blend of people amid the comforting foreign language. Alternatively, share a table with some strangers and divulge your interesting travel stories over the slur of drinks.
Bui Vien Street
Address: Bùi Viện, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
Ho Chi Minh City merits its own trip this time
A city of its own kind and time, Saigon needs no extra selling for a visit. Bourne out of the country’s past struggles, the city offers rich sights to see, past events to learn about, and food to eat in the most humble and welcoming manner. Mark this as your next vacation destination and get ready to relearn the marvels of travelling in this culturally-rich city.