Ho-Chi-Minh-City (or Saigon as it is still called by most locals) is a many-faceted mix. A city of architecture and history, a bustling business centre, a contrasting and harmonizing blend of Western and Asian culture – and a stunning multi-million metropolis that never sleeps.
To fully experience the area you should set aside at least two full days – which works well if you fly in or out of Saigon.
Need some more help planning your Vietnam trip? Check out the Ultimate Travel Guide to Vietnam.
Ho-Chi-Minh-City houses the biggest airport Vietnam’s: Tan Son Nhat Airport (SGN) from where you can get direct flights to Europe and all major Asian cities.
There are various ways to get from the airport to the city centre:
- you can take a taxi to the centre for anything between 150.000-250.000VND depending on whether you make a fixed price or use the taximeter (which you should always do)
- the bus 152 leaving from the right side of the arrivals exit will bring you to the bus station close to Ben Thanh market. From there it’s just a short walk to most hotels. It costs 5000VND per person and bag and runs every 20 minutes from 6am to 6pm
- the bus 109 (yellow bus) goes to Pham Ngu Lao street in district 1 which is also close to most hostels. It costs 20.000VND and runs every 20 minutes from 5:30am to 1:30am
- use a Grab or Uber taxi to get to your hotel without any hussle. It costs around 80.000-100.000VND to get to district 1.
You can find more information about busses, taxis and Grab over at Getting Around In Vietnam.
Things to do
- Take a stroll through the French Quarter and marvel at the architecture that doesn’t seem to fit its surroundings but makes for an interesting, harmonizing clash of cultures. Notable buildings are the Notre-Dame Cathedral, the opera house and the Central post office.
- Visit the Reunification palace – if you are interested in its history you can join a guided tour through the building or just get a glimpse of it from the outside.
- Walk around the busy streets after the sun has set. It’s like a whole nother world with the lights of the traffic, the foreign smells drifting over from food stalls preparing for dinner and everyone coming outside to enjoy their evening meal and drink on one of the million tiny plastic stools on the sidewalks.
- See a performance at the Water Puppet Theater. You will have a wonderful evening filled with traditional folklore and music. Even if you don’t understand the language, you will understand the stories told through lovingly made wooden puppets, fire-spitting dragons and melodic arrangements.
- Spend your cash at Ben Thanh Market. They have mostly clothes but you can also get souvenirs and some cheap food and drinks. Don’t get scammed: compare prices at different stalls and haggle! Don’t let them push you to buy products for a price you are not willing to pay.
- Learn about the Vietnam War at the War Remnants Museum. You will need to bring tissues and a strong stomach. Leave your kids at home. They show very graphic images on the top floors that are hard to look at, nonetheless, this museum is a must. It will change the way you look at this country and its people, who have suffered through so much and still manage to smile and welcome strangers to their homes. Please don’t be one of the distasteful tourists that take silly selfies infront of the bombers and tanks outside of the building. These are actual remnants of the Vietnam War and were responsible for many deaths on both sides.
- Spend an evening at the main party road in District 1 and enjoy some overpriced Western food and drinks. If you feel like it, you can do some partying here as well and it’s most likely the best place to meet other travelers in the city.
- Try to cross a junction without getting killed (It might not be as big of a danger, but it sure feels like it).
- Do some shopping! From cheap fakes and traditional handicrafts to cheesy souvenirs and luxury goods – the local markets and shopping malls offer you everything your heart desires.
- Get a marvelous view of the city from a bird’s eye and visit the Sky Bar or Café at the 52nd floor of the Bitexo tower. Prices for cocktails start at 200.000VND which is very expensive but definitely worth it for the view. Try to visit during the evening hours to see the sun set beyond the city limits, accompanied by live music.
- Spend an evening at the Bar 17Saloon to witness some crazy entertainment à la American Old West and enjoy awesome live rock or pop music while sipping on a cocktail. Prices start at 110.000VND for a juice but you get unlimited refills of popcorn.
- Take a break during the midday heat and find shelter in on of the parks. I especially liked 23/9 park close to Ben Thanh Marke. Get yourself a nice drink to bring with you, flap down on one of the benches and enjoy the sun shining through the thick palmtree leaves over your head, and watch the locals going after their daily business. Beware that you are not allowed to sit on the grass.
- Walk down to the water side at Ton Duc Thang street. There is a nice little landing pier by the ferry terminal and a small park where you can sit for a while to calm down from the chaos of the city and get a great view on the “skyline” of the city.
- Just explore the city centre. Walk with no set direction and let yourself be carried away. You will experience unlike things on every corner if you take your time to take it all in and let yourself be guided by your gut feeling.
- Stuff yourself with delicious street food and eat it on a teensy tiny plastic stool – it will taste a million times better and is a great chance to try out new dishes. Instead of wasting your travel funds at an expensive restaurant you can get a yummy, filling meal for less than a dollar on the street.
- If you are heading outside the city to the Mekong or the North splurge on the luxury a metropolis has to offer. You might not get to see fancy gyms and massage parlors, high-end restaurants and sky bars for a while.
Where we stayed
What were your highlights in Ho-Chi-Minh-City? Do you have a favorite park, bar or restaurant that you want everyone to know about? I would love to hear about your trip and which of these tips were helpful to you!