Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) Bucket List: 35 Things to Do in Vietnam’s Main City
Elegant architecture, rich history and culture, and mouthwatering food—these are just some of the best things that come to my mind when I think about my time spent in Ho Chi Minh City. Also known as Saigon, this booming metropolis is Vietnam’s largest city and has the perfect balance of modernization with old-world charm. From busy shopping sections to enticing street food to historical attractions, there are plenty of fun things to do in Ho Chi Minh City to keep you entertained.
The Best Things to do in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
1. ✦ Ogle Notre Dame Cathedral
Being conquered by the French has influenced the Vietnamese way of life. While standing before the towering structure of Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica, you can’t help but admire its red brick facade, two bell towers, and the serene garden with a Virgin Mary statue. The interior is just as splendid. With the light catching the stained glass windows just right and exploding to a myriad of colors, it makes you feel like you’re inside a painting. It’s a quick stop, but right across the way from the Saigon Central Post Office, and near Nguyen Van Binh Book Street. So, you can check off a few of these bucket list worthy Ho Chi Minh things to do in very little time.
Visiting Ho Chi Minh will not be complete without going to one of the grandest post offices in Southeast Asia. Going inside will make you feel like you’ve traveled back in time. Some of the distinct features you won’t miss are the wooden window shutters, the beautiful marble floors, the high-arched ceiling, and the classic English telephone boxes.
Plus, right out front are vendors selling the cutest pop-up cards!
3. ✦ Pose at the Artinus 3D Art Museum
I’m typically not a museum lover, but Artinus 3D Art Museum changed my mind forever. Featuring more than a hundred mural paintings, the magic of this unique attraction is achieved by optical illusions and actually allows you to be a part of the art. You can step into a painting, strike a pose at a certain angle and it’ll seem like you’re a a character in the scene!
4. ✦ Shop in Ben Thanh Market
In the heart of Ho Chi Minh City, is the famous Ben Thanh Market where you can buy anything from fresh produce to souvenirs like conical hats, bamboo goods, woven textiles, keychains, and local coffees. There are also aisles of food stalls where you can get a bite of authentic Vietnamese cuisines with wonderful flavors that’ll make your palate sing.
Being amidst the bustle of this indoor market is a must during your Vietnam travel, though you may want to head to a quieter market to make your souvenir purchases—it will definitely be less expensive.
5. ✦ Take in the View on the Saigon Skydeck in the Bitexco Financial Tower
What’s the fastest way to get to know a city? Go to a place with a high vantage point and view a city from above. And one off the best places to do that is from the Saigon Skydeck in the Bitexco Financial Tower. Simply buy a ticket on the bottom floor, take an elevator to the top and then the entirety of Ho Chi Minh City will sprawl below. At 262 meters high, you can get an unobstructed 360-degree view of the city and its landmarks.
Getting to know the Vietnamese culture is not only limited to going to museums. You can also do so by going to one of the most traditional attractions, a water puppet show at The Golden Dragon Water Puppetry and Theater. These shows depict Vietnamese traditions, folklore, and myths by using puppets that splash around in a water stage. They have an elaborate set-up and lively music and effects to make your experience truly unique. Although the was done entirely in theVietnamese language, don’t worry, the play was easily understood because of the puppets’ obvious actions.
If you want some extra assurance of getting a seat book your puppet tickets with hotel delivery here.
7. ✦ Worship at the Jade Emperor Pagoda (a.k.a Ngọc Hoàng Pagoda)
Temple hopping is a definite must-do during your Saigon City tour, and there’s lots to choose from. One of the temples definitely worth visiting is the Jade Emperor Pagoda. The Emperor Jade Chua Ngoc Hoang or the “God of the Heavens” is believed to decide who enters the higher realm, and those who don’t pass will meet the “God of Hell.” The temple has dimly lit halls filled with smoke which gives off a serious vibe.
8. ✦ Walk the Nguyen Van Binh Book Street
Vietnam is full of treasures at every turn and one of them is the 100-meter street dedicated to book shops. Bookworms will fall in love walking along the shaded Nguyen Van Binh book street, hopping from one store to another, and looking for a lovely book that calls to them. At the end of your book hunt, you can head over to the nearest cafe and start browsing the pages of your treasure.
9. ✦ Tour Independence Palace
Also known as the Reunification Palace, the Independence Palace was once the residential and administrative quarters of the President of South Vietnam. Now, this palace has been one of the highlights of every Vietnam tour. You get to walk the hallways, admire antique furniture, and check out the former command center and war rooms in the basement.
10. ✧ Party on Bui Vien Street (a.k.a Backpacker Street)
From affordable bars and restaurants, souvenirs to budget-friendly accommodations, the Bui Vien Street is the mother lode of it. Typically, the younger tourists flock to this place to enjoy the Ho Chi Minh nightlife with parties happening all night long. Here you’ll get a taste of it without spending a lot of money, but be warned—it can get pretty rowdy!
11. ✦ Stroll Through Tao Dan Park
The beauty of Ho Chi Minh City is that even when you’re in the heart of the city, you can find a place where you won’t feel overwhelmed by the hustle of the cars and pedestrians. Here and there, you can find a serene spot where you can take a nice leisurely walk, and Tao Dan Park has 10 hectares worth of greenery where you can do it.
12. ✦ Nguyen Hue Walking Street
If people watching is your thing, then you can’t miss a stroll along the Nguyen Hue Walking Street. It’s a pedestrian-only section in the middle and then lined with shops on the side. It starts at the People’s Committee building, near the lotus flower fountain, and spans 900 meters to the Saigon River. If the party nightlife of the Bui Vien walking street is not your vibe, then head to Nguyen Hue for a leisurely stroll and stop at the top of the Rex Hotel for a drink with a view.
13. ✦ See the AO Show at Saigon Opera House
Visiting the 121-year-old Saigon Opera House should definitely be at the top of your Ho Chi Minh bucket list, but seeing the AO Show there will be unforgettable. The show, which has been dubbed as the “bamboo circus”, is similar to Cirque du Soleil, except Vietnamese style. And it is quite impressive!
The show is a contrasting portrait of Vietnam’s peaceful country life versus urban modernization. Entertainers light heartedly poke fun at the Vietnamese culture, do acrobatics on bamboo sticks and use large wicker baskets in creative dances that create quite an attraction!
14. ✦ Dong Khoi Street
On Dong Koi Street you’ll find plenty of French Colonial buildings that have stood the test of time, including the Saigon Opera House. From being the center of glamor during the French occupation, now, it’s the center of commercial life. If you are a shopper this street is not to be missed because it is lined with unique international brands and luxury boutiques.
15. ✦ Cafe Hop at the 42 Nguyen Hue Coffee Apartment
Ho Chi Minh City may be filled with magnificent buildings, but the 42 Nguyen Hue Coffee Apartment is definitely one of the most unique. What was once a residential building is converted to a cool commercial space, where the facade is an attraction in itself. But, you must also go inside because it has over 20 shops selling a variety of goods, though most are coffee cafes—and I drank a cup of joe at every one of them! What’s fun about this place is there’s no set layout for the floors, so cafe hopping is like a treasure hunt! Note: it’s located on the right on the Nguyen Hue Walking Street.
16. ✦ Go to the War Remnants Museum
Of all the places you visit in Ho Chi Minh City, the War Remnants Museum is probably the one that will give you the most lasting impression. It depicts the gruesome events of the Vietnam War with tanks, fighter planes, and images of victims boldly on display. Be prepared—it is graphic!
17. ✧ Eat On Fish Street in District 4
From huge crab claws to thick octopus tentacles, Vinh Khanh Road in District 4 is the go-to fish place for most of the locals. This food-centric section may be hard to navigate for the average tourist, but it will be worth the effort. Most shops open in the early evening for dinner, but it’s also quite an attraction in the mornings when the fish deliveries happen and the workers are busy preparing it along the street.
18. ✦ Walk Across Saigon’s Anh Sao “Starlight” Bridge at Night
Upgrade your nightly stroll by heading over to District 7, the commercial and financial section, and take a walk across the sparkling Starlight Bridge. Most nights at sundown water spews out from this crescent-shaped bridge and it’s lit by colorful dancing lights. The pathway also has LED lights and gives off a truly magical feel, so magical that it has been dubbed the most romantic bridge in the city.
19. ✦ Tour the Museum of Traditional Vietnamese Medicine
Back when technology was not the answer to every health concern, the Vietnamese relied on organic medicine to cure the sick. The 6 floors and 18 rooms of the Museum of Traditional Vietnamese Medicine showcases a variety of traditional drugs in the different regions of Vietnam. From the instruments used in preparing medicine to the different herbs and plants used, the Museum has carefully curated these things to perfection.
20. ✦ Smell the Bouquets at the Ho Thi Ky Flower Market
At Ho Thi Ky Flower Market the alleys are filled with fresh flowers ranging from endemic ones in Vietnam to imported ones. You can walk the vibrant and bustling streets, as you stop from one colorful shop to another. With the heavenly floral scent it will be hard not to buy a bouquet to take back to your hotel!
21. ✦ Sing in a Private Karaoke Room
Many Asian cities around the world have a nightlife culture that includes singing karaoke, and Ho Chi Minh is one of them. Karaoke clubs are all over town, but district 10 has a street lined with them, and visiting one is an absolute must-do. You can rent a private room, be served cocktails and sing your heart out.
Even though I quickly realized that I sounded way better in the shower, it was one my favorite things I did in Saigon! There are plenty to choose from, but a couple of the best are Kingdom Karaoke and Karaoke FYOU.
22. ✦ Drink at a Rooftop Bar
Just as much a karaoke bars are part of the Vietnam culture, rooftop bars are part of Ho Chi Minh’s. After a day of exploring it’s fun to experience Saigon’s nightlife on a rooftop bar in the middle of the city. A drink in your hand, a killer view of the city, and the chill, modern ambiance of the bar is one sweet way to cap your day off.
Here’s a breakdown of the ones I went to:
Saigon Saigon / / This is one of the most popular rooftop bars for tourists, but there are so many that are better. Prices for drinks are crazy high for Ho Chi Minh and the view is just okay.
Chill Skybar // could be one of the coolest rooftop bars with the best views of the city. The drinks are also at a premium price, so try to go during happy hour.
Eon Heli Bar / / This bar is in the Bitexco Financial Tower (where the Saigon Skydeck is). It’s got great views, if you can get a window seat, but if you are looking for an outdoor space to sip your cocktails in you won’t find it here!
The Social Club / / This rooftop bar is classy and cool with a very nice view. It’s attached to Shri Restaurant, so visiting the two make for a great night.
Rex Hotel Rooftop Garden Bar / / Not as high as many of the others, but it does overlook the Nguyen Hue Walking Street and the pretty lotus fountain.
M Bar / / What’s different about M Bar is that it give you a different perspective by overlooking the river.
23. ✦ Eat at a Vietnamese Food Court
You can never have too many food experiences when you’re in Vietnam, because it’s so delicious. But, there are so many different options how could you possibly try it all? The answer it by going to a food court. These one-stop shops have several different vendors to choose from. You can buy your entire meal at one or mix-and-match with a variety of them.
There are many in the city, but two very popular ones are Cocochin Food Court and Ben Thanh Street Food Market. Cocohin is a pretty local joint with lots of businessmen, where as Ben Thanh was filled with tourists due to it’s location near the famous market of the same name. Either one you choose will give you a fun and eclectic food experience!
24. ✦ Eat a Banh Mi Sandwich
A Banh Mi is like the Vietnamese equivalent of a sub. It’s a baguette sandwich with lots of cilantro, pickled vegetables, pate, chilies, and hot peppers. You can choose your preferred meat fillings like roasted pork belly, fried fish in turmeric sauce, boiled sausages, boiled chicken, and many more.
For a modern version, go to My Bahn Mi right next to Notre Dame Cathedral (the coconut pork belly is a must-try!). If you are looking for an authentic street food version then hit up Banh Mi Huynh Hoa across from Prive Nails. The banh mis there are under two bucks and delicious!
25. ✦ Get a Massage
What better way to recharge than to get a massage? Vietnamese masseuses are highly trained with traditional massage and spa techniques. They use aromatherapy oils and other natural products to help you relax and have a good time.
Though I rarely ever get a massage back at home in California, they are so cheap in Vietnam that I got one almost every other day. Just make sure to do your research so you choose a legit spa. Some of the best massage places I tried were Cat Mac Spa, Saigon Heritage Spa, and The Blush Spa. They have professional staff, clean and reputable spaces, and great amenities.
26. ✦ Get a Mani and Pedi
Perhaps there’s an even better way to recharge–have a massage AND get a manicure and pedicure. Traveling isn’t always just about hopping from one tourist attraction to another. It’s also about pampering yourself. I went to Prive Luxury Nails to get mine done and they made me feel like a queen, attending to my every request and treating me with the best customer service.
27. ✦ Take a Scooter Food Tour
Concerned about where to find the best restaurants for a great foodie adventure? Don’t be! There’s a thing called scooter food tours in Vietnam where you can go on a food trip riding on the back of a motorbike. I went with Back of the Bike Tours, but you could also choose this award winning one: Food by Night Private Motorbike Tour. I had the best time eating everything from papaya salad to crab noodle soup. They even ordered me balut, a young duck embryo egg, to appease the adventurous food eating side of me.
If there is one thing not to miss of all the things to do in Ho Chi Minh City, this is it! Here’s why:
28. ✧ Take a Vietnamese Cooking Class
After eating all the delicious food around town, you definitely want to make sure not to miss the cuisine when you go home, so make satisfying your craving easy by taking a Vietnamese cooking class. You can learn the best techniques and secrets on how to make a tasty, authentic Vietnamese cuisine. Some even allow you to pick the ingredients straight from the market or the garden! With the skills you learn, you can be whipping up a traditional dish once you’re back in your own kitchen.
Local beers have a distinct taste and flavor. At Saigon City, part of the urban life is to head over to a bar and try the craft beers. From floral and citrus scented beers, light and crisp berry-tasted ones, to beers that smell like coffee and leave a lingering chocolate-like aftertaste, there’s always the perfect beer for every person.
Pho is a super popular (and delicious!) soup that originated in Vietnam. You can add meat or seafood in your Pho together with lots of fresh vegetables, spices and noodles in a savory broth. You can pop into one of the Pho shops along almost any street in Ho Chi Minh City, but some of the best is from Pho Hoa, Pho Dau, Pho Tinh, Pho 2000, and Pho Chay Nu.
The Private Walking Food Tour that I took made a stop at the very local Pho shop pictured below. But, double check with them when booking, because stops may change.
31. ✦ Take a Day Trip to Cu Chi Tunnels
Back when war was raging in Vietnam, the only way for the soldiers to survive the carpet-bombings was to live underground. The Cu Chi Tunnels give you a sneak-peek of how the soldiers live amid chaos and unrest. The site has over 120 km of a tunnel system that’s complete with living areas, kitchen, hospitals, and command centers.
You have the opportunity to crawl through a 20, 40 or 100 meter portion of the tunnel. But, it’s definitely not for someone with even the slightest bit of claustrophobia. I only made it 20 meters!
Towering coconut trees instead of steel skyscrapers, lush rice paddies instead of a sea of traffic, and the lazy current of the river instead of the rush of pedestrians. Mekong Delta is an escape from the big city. The tours that can include a boat ride, bicycle tour of a village and lunch are a bit too touristy for my liking, but it’s a nice day trip to get away from the hustle & bustle.
If you have a choice of tours, you shouldn’t miss the floating markets, pagodas, and the local orchards when you visit Mekong Delta. Don’t forget to wear your Vietnamese conical hat!
These tours are recommended and have good ratings:
If you’re one of those people who can’t start the day without a coffee fix, you’re in for a treat because one cup in Saigon can make your head buzz and your heart pound—in a good way! My husband claims to have had the best cappuccino in his life at The Workshop (I loved their red rooibos latte). But, the Saigon Coffee Roastery makes a mean coconut coffee. At Thinker & Dreamer, I found their drink called green thinker to be my favorite, while Dosh Cafe offers such great donuts to go with your coffee that’ll almost make you forget about calories. Some other notable cafes with great coffees are at Shin Coffee and the Village Emporium.
34. ✧ Dine in the Dark
At Saigon’s Noir Dining in the Dark you have the opportunity to take a unique culinary journey where your meal is served in complete darkness. Like, so dark you won’t even be able to see your hand in front of your face! This food-centric attraction is the perfect way to challenge your taste buds!
35. ✦ Try a Vietnamese Egg Coffee
Egg coffee is a local drink wherein egg yolk and condensed milk are mixed with Vietnamese Robusta coffee. The richness of the egg, the sweetness of condensed milk, and the bitterness of black coffee make a frothy drink that’s perfect to warm your soul. I know what you think–egg on coffee? Hard pass. However, after a single cup, I was a die-hard fan.
It’s said that this drink was discovered after the war when the locals tried to find an alternative for milk to take the edge off their coffee. Whoever thought of it was a genius. If you decide to check this off your bucket list, the best egg coffees can be found in Goc Ha Nội-Little Hanoi Egg Coffee or Okkio Caffe.
While Ho Chi Minh City is an all-year-round destination with great things to do any time of the year, it’s important to take note that the rainy seasons are from May to November, hot days occur from April to May, and cooler weather arrives from December to January. No matter which month you decide to go, the most important thing is to be safe, have fun, and take lots of pictures!
Essential Tips for Traveling to Ho Chi Minh City
Visa / / Apply for a visa online (you can do that here). There is an option to apply online and then get one on arrival, but don’t do that because that’s one more long line you’ll have to wait in at the airport! It’s $25 and will take about 3-5 business days, if there’s no problems.After you receive it confirm that everything on it is accurate because the airports will check every line! Then save a copy to your phone and also have a printed copy.
You will need a picture for your visa. I simply took mine on my smartphone against a white wall.
I had to show my visa at EVERY airport (including the layover ones), so keep it handy.
Getting There / / Tan Son Nhat International Airport is a major hub and most airlines will fly into it. You can easily check for the best fare deals at Skyscanner, which also has the option to choose ‘cheapest month’ as the departure to find the lowest priced dates to fly to your destination.
Arrival / / When you land at the airport, follow the signs towards arrivals. You will see a bunch of lines that say “all passports”. Pick one and wait. My line was almost to the wall and took about 40 minutes. Afterwards grab your luggage and go through the ‘nothing to declare’ lane.
Transportation from the Airport / / There are many options for getting from the airport to your hotel, so choose which works best for you.
Pre-Book a ride at Taxi.booking.com (Easiest): You can pre-book a taxi so they are waiting for you out front with a sign that has your name on it. It costs about 25% more than booking a taxi at the counter upon arrival and 50% more than booking a Grab, but it’s super easy.
Book a Grab (Cheapest—about $7 USD or 140,000 dong): If you downloaded the GRAB app prior to arrival (which you should do!) then you can just use it like you would Uber to get your car. You can download it in the US, but most likely won’t be able to add credit card information until you get to Vietnam (so if you have cell service you can do that while waiting in line at passport control). They’ll have you wait at a numbered pillar outside and they are all numbered, so it should be pretty easy.
Grab a Taxi Outside (Cheap, and more adventurous — about $15-20 or 340,000-500,000 dong: Once you are outside of arrivals you will hang a left to the main taxi queue. Once you get a taxi, ask the drive to turn on the meter.
Airport Taxi Counter (More expensive, but easier — about $25-30 or 575,000-700,000 dong): Right after you get your luggage and go through the ‘nothing to declare’ lane you will be in a small lobby (before going outdoors) where they will have taxi booths. These will cost a bit more, but are prepaid on the spot without having the worry of negotiating or turning on the meter. So if you don’t mind the extra expense, just approach one of these booths and tell them where you need to go.
Currency Exchange / / If you don’t have Vietnamese Dong upon arrival, then stop by the exchange booth that’s in the main terminal (taxis do not take American money and you may just want some local currency until you are able to get to a bank, ATM or cheaper exchange booth). Make sure to bring lots of cash just in case your ATM card doesn’t work (mine didn’t). Plus, many places only take cash.
Note: The best Currency Exchange shop I found was at 135 Dong Khoi Street in District 1. Their rates were fair and it was easy.
Communication / / Download What’s App prior to arriving, everyone uses it. Facebook is also popular for making restaurant reservations.
What to Bring Essentials / / These are just a few things that may not be on your typical travel packing list.
Safety / / Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) is generally pretty safe, but petty theft is common. My cell phone was stolen on the first day! Scooter bandits will speed by and swipe you phone if you are using it near the street, so be super careful. After replacing my stolen phone, I used my runner’s/travel belt wherever I went and made sure to only use the phone well aways from the street.
Where to Stay in Ho Chi Minh / / It’s best to stay near the city center, public transportation or the area that you will be spending the most time in. Orchid Boutique Hotel is a great choice in district 7. For something on the less expensive side, try Chez Mimosa Petite located in district 1. For a hotel with a little more extravagance, book a room at the Fusion Suites Saigon in district 1 or MAI HOUSE Saigon in district 3. Or search some great deals on hotels of your choice at Booking.com. If you’re looking for more of a home atmosphere (or are traveling with a group of people), head over to Airbnb that has houses, apartments and even just a room for rent in every price range.
Insurance: It’s always a good idea to travel fully insured so you are protected in case of trip cancellations or medical emergencies. You can check out pricing atTravelex Insurance.
Universal Adapter: Your American plugged equipment will work in most locations, but in others you may need an adapter. I use the Celtic Universal Adapter, which has brought me around the world with no problems.
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