Ain’t no secret that Ho Chi Minh is, without question, my favourite Southeast Asian city to date and to celebrate, hers’ my list of the 17 best things to do there.
Its unrelenting energy, coupled with its earthy authenticity, meant I was quickly charmed by this huge metropolis, which seems to have far fewer of the tacky, soulless tourist trappings many other cities in Southeast Asia are blighted by.
While the chaos of the traffic here and the action out on the main streets will please those of you craving a sensory overload, stepping just off almost any major road into one of the thousands of tiny back alleys that make up this city, will suddenly transport you to a different world.
Doors of homes are flung open, kids play on old bicycles in the street and incense burns at statue-laden altars as life between the domestic and public spheres merge.
Alongside, crowds of plastic chairs huddle on every corner, filled with chatting locals, as some of the best street food in the world is served, steaming into small bowls, by hardworking women from simple carts.
There’s the French influence to account for too, the sky bars, the sensational coffee scene, the green parks and the historical, cultural and spiritual attractions, all of which blend together to make Ho Chi Minh one of the most rewarding cities to travel in my opinion.
It is, without question, 100% Vietnamese, 100% authentic and 100% brilliant.
A global city, with a distinctly local feel, here’s my list of the best 17 things to do in Ho Chi Minh that will make the perfect beginning or ending to your Vietnam adventure…
- 15 Best Places to Visit in Vietnam
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- Your Ultimate Vietnam and Cambodia Itinerary
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My trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels was kindly sponsored by TakeMeTour but, as always, all views are my own.
#1 Pay Witness at the War Remnants Museum
In my mind, there’s perhaps no better place to begin your sightseeing list in Ho Chi Minh than with a trip to the War Remnants Museum.
While it definitely doesn’t make for a cheery or uplifting couple of hours – this is an important documentation of the devastating war that blighted this country.
Visiting the War Remnants Museum will give you a greater understanding of just what Vietnam has endured and continues to endure today.
Entrance tickets cost 40,000 Vietnamese Dong (d), which is a bargain at around $2 USD.
And if you’re looking to include the War Remnants Museum as part of a guided day tour of the city, then this great option, which also includes a trip to the Independence Palace and Bến Thành Market, is a must!
#2 Marvel at the Reunification Palace
From the War Remnants Museum, it’s then an easy walk around the corner to visit my next entry on this list of the best things to do in Ho Chi Minh City, namely the Reunification Palace.
A huge, imposing structure, which lies at the end of a wide, tree-lined (and very French-looking) avenue, walking inside the hallways here imparts a sense of time having stood still.
Entrance costs 40,000 Vietnamese Dong (d), but the place closes at lunchtime, so avoid visiting then if you do want to head inside.
#3 Drink Coffee… by the Gallon
Ok, so this is definitely one of the best things to do in Vietnam full stop, but given that Ho Chi Minh was my first destination in this country and therefore my first real experience of Vietnamese coffee, it seared its way into my heart pretty quick!
For those not in the know, the Vietnamese are coffee mad (just one reason I feel we got on!) and from egg coffee to coconut coffee, evaporated milk coffee and just some good old hardcore, drip stuff, they drink it all strong af and by the gallon!
You’ll soon realise if you wander the streets of Ho Chi Minh, that there’s almost as many coffee shops here as there are people and scooters, which is really saying something!
Finding a traditional cafe, where you can sit down with the locals and get buzzed up is definitely on my list of Ho Chi Minh’s greatest things to do and my recommended top spot is the atmospheric Saigon Café Rococo situated at 140 Nguyen Tieu La in District 10.
#4 Eat, Eat & Eat Some More
And sticking with the theme, another one of Ho Chi Minh’s best things to do is eat!
Yup welcome to the culinary paradise that is Vietnam, where food is fresh, cheap, varied and unbelievably delicious!
If you’re a veggie like me, hunt out the Chay restaurants, which are meat and fish free – hoorah!
One of my favourites was Phuong Mai Vegetarian Restaurant along Tan Dinh in District 1.
Otherwise, pull up a plastic chair at one of the thousands of busy street vendors or find a local restaurant, be adventurous and tuck in!
Alternatively, if you’d like a street food tour, this private street food motorbike experience gets rave reviews.
#5 Snap Notre Dame Cathedral
But back to the sightseeing, snapping the picturesque Notre Dame Cathedral in central Ho Chi Minh is definitely one of the best things to do in this city.
Now that the one in Paris is sadly no longer in its completely original form, take a trip to Vietnam to see the spin-off – a strong remnant of the long French colonial rule here.
#6 Wander into the Post Office
And just opposite the Notre Dame Cathedral is another French colonial relic – the Saigon post office!
No longer a functioning post office inside it seems – and certainly more of a tourist trap – the exterior facade and interior vaulted architecture of this building are nevertheless beautiful and worth checking out.
READ MORE: The 15 Best Things to Do in Vietnam
#7 See a Show at the Opera House
Located in the upmarket district of Dong Khoi and surrounded by swanky designer stores, heading to the Opera House is another one of Ho Chi Minh’s great things to do.
The AO Show is a real spectacle and should not be missed if you want to experience the richness of Vietnamese culture in a performance that combines acrobatics, theatre and traditional folk songs. Get your tickets here.
Otherwise, if you’re budget isn’t built to include a show, just marvelling at the colonial architecture and the upmarket location of this performance space (which shows quite another side to this city) is an experience in itself.
#8 Stroll Along the Nguyen Walking Street
And carrying on, just around the corner from the Opera House, is Ho Chi Minh’s famous Nguyen Walking Street.
Take a welcome respite from the traffic here and enjoy ambling this long pedestrian-friendly strip complete with water fountains, local families and skyscraper views.
#9 Tour the Mekong Delta
My next entry on this list of the top Ho Chi Minh things to do is actually outside of the city and will see you heading to explore some of the amazing sights around.
The Mekong Delta is the area of Vietnam that bulges out below Ho Chi Minh towards the Cambodian border and is, unsurprisingly, dominated by the many tributaries of the highly important Mekong River.
Day tours from Saigon to the Mekong are popular and tend to focus around the Ben Tre area, where you can see local crafts and food production.
However if you really want to travel deeper into this region, experience some of the famous floating markets and learn more about the locals’ way of life, an overnight trip, which generally includes a homestay and takes you further to around Can Tho, is highly recommended.
Check out this great Mekong Delta tour option from TakeMeTour, who support local independent guides and authentic tourist experiences.
#10 Scale Bitexco Financial Tower
This one is a bit of splurge, but once you see the view from the top, you’ll have no question why I’m putting scaling the Bitexco Financial Tower on my list of the best things to do in Ho Chi Minh.
With a steep entrance price of 200,000 Dong (d), this is nothing compared to the steep ascent you’ll make from the ground floor of this tower up to the incredible Sky Deck where a stunning city skyline view await you.
(FYI your ears will pop in the lift!)
Heading here at sunset to catch the awesome light is definitely recommended and your ticket then gives you 10% off drinks at the restaurants on both the 50th & 51st floors too – perfect if you want to really enjoy a sundowner in style!
Grab your fast travel tickets to the Saigon Sky Deck here.
#11 Haggle at Ben Thanh Market
And back on the ground with a reality thud, wandering the aisles of one of Ho Chi Minh’s most famous markets is sure to bring you down from the clouds to life on the street here with a sensory impact!
Bargain hard and you can definitely find some deals on great souvenirs.
#12 Grab a Grab
And talking of local vibes, grabbing a Grab Bike in Ho Chi Minh, is probably the most fun you can have on a budget… just about anywhere… ever… in the world!
Operating like Uber, Grab is a ride-sharing app prevalent across Southeast Asia, but it doesn’t stop at cars and food delivery like Uber, you can also use it for motorbike taxis!
This is by far the cheapest, most fun, quickest and easiest way to get around Ho Chi Minh and really is a whole bag of jokes!
#13 Party in the Backpacker Area
But if you do want to meet other tourists then the best place to head is the backpacker area clustered around Bui Vien street in Ho Chi Minh.
This is where most of the city’s hostels are and the place where the party goes off.
If you want the best of both worlds, stay amongst the local vibes at DaBlend and drink with the tourists in District 1!
#14 Day Trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels
Another great way to meet people if you’re a solo traveller in Vietnam is to enjoy a day tour and my trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels with TakeMeTour was excellent for this.
It was also excellent for helping me to learn more about the American war, the north /south political divide in the country and how incredibly hardcore and resilient the Vietnamese guerrilla fighters were.
This trip was also great for teaching me more about local Vietnamese food, culture and coffee too – all round winner!
With a guide who spoke impeccable English and was very knowledgeable, I’d highly recommend this tour to anyone, where the experience of crawling through the infamous tunnels will stay with you for a long time.
#15 Be Dazzled by the Pink Church
It looks like something out a fairground or a fairytale and it’s a great place for Instagram shots – yes the Pink Church in Ho Chi Minh is definitely one of the best places to visit in this city to relish its kitsch and quirky side.
The Church is situated in District 3 (take a Grab Bike to get there) and is free to enter, although closes for lunch until 2pm.
#16 Step Inside the Ngoc Hoang Pagoda
And not far from the Pink Church, is the Ngoc Hoang Pagoda, a colourful, bustling temple you can step inside to feel the diversity of Vietnam’s spiritual beliefs.
From huge wooden sculptures to devote monks lighting candles and locals making offerings, this is very much a living, breathing temple and a fascinating cultural place to witness.
#17 Hit the Mary Jane Bar
And finally, if your visits to the Pink Church and the Ngoc Hoang Pagoda mark the end of your day, why not reward yourself with an amazing sunset drink from a nearby roof bar.
Highly recommended to me by 2 locals, the Mary Jane Bar (notice the name) is situated on the top floor of a building at 85 Nguyen Huu Cau and boasts amazing city views from its 2 roof terraces.
Mini Vietnam Travel Guide
When to Visit?
Vietnam is a pretty tricky country when it comes to the best travel season.
This is due to the fact that the climate varies wildly between north and south Vietnam, meaning there’s only a few months of the year when it’s possible to visit both without being caught in a monsoon!
The best time to visit the south of Vietnam is between November and April, which coincides with high season across most of mainland Southeast Asia.
When it’s warmer in the north (from April until November) it’s monsoon season and raining a lot in the south!
2 of the best months to travel to Vietnam therefore are when you stand a good chance of sun at both ends of the country – namely during April and November.
How to Get There?
Most people arrive into one of Vietnam’s 2 major cities – Hanoi in the north and Ho Chi Minh in the south – if their travelling from abroad.
As always, I use Skyscanner to find the best flight prices.
Otherwise, if you’re already within Southeast Asai, it pays to know you can easily travel overland into Vietnam from Laos and Cambodia.
12Go are my go-to site for booking trains and buses across the region, so check them out.
You can also get step-by-step info on how I crossed from Bangkok to Siem Reap here.
How to Get Around?
Because this country is so huge, domestic flights are the easiest and the quickest way to travel here.
Pacific Airlines, Bamboo Airways and Vietjet are the budget airlines you need to check for the lowest costs.
As an alternative, buses and trains are much cheaper and also incredibly frequent and easy to catch across Vietnam.
With big distances to be covered, taking night buses can be a great way to traverse the huge stretches between cities in Vietnam without wasting a travel day (if you’re short on time) and without having to pay for a night in a hostel (if you’re short on funds).
Booking buses or trains in advance is a great idea when you travel Vietnam and I highly recommend the website 12Go, who offer a great price comparison for all services across the country, as well as a secure and easy online booking process in English.
You can also book trains and buses in Vietnam through Bookaway – another great price comparison site.
And for travel within towns in Vietnam, it’s got to be Grab!
Essentially a ridesharing app, like Uber, Grab in Vietnam includes both car, as well as motorcycle services – which are even cheaper and more fun!
Top Hostel in Ho Chi Minh City
I absolutely loved my time in the excellent DaBlend Hostel, which I’d happily recommend as the best budget accommodation in Ho Chi Minh.
Choose from one of their aircon dorms – each bed also comes with its own privacy curtain, personal light and charging point – or one of their huge private rooms and then relax at either their rooftop bar, separate roof terrace, lounge or reception common area… I know so many to choose from!
There’s a guest kitchen here, fast wifi, free breakfast, the place is spotlessly clean and, honestly, the staff can’t do enough to help you… and no, my stay was not sponsored!
But perhaps, best of all, is DaBlend’s location – situated in District 10 – this is the place to stay if you want to experience an incredibly authentic Ho Chi Minh, away from tourists, and in the heart of a very local, safe and superb suburb.
Don’t Visit Vietnam Without…
#1 Lonely Planet Guidebook – The Vietnam Lonely Planet is excellent and very helpful for any trip to this country with lots of top tips and recommended places to eat.
#2 Walking Shoes – There’s likely to be a lot of walking in Vietnam, especially around those temples and cities! As such, I advise packing a pair of good runners, like these New Balance trainers, which were perfect for my time here.
#3 European & British Power Adapters – Vietnam has a mix of power outlets, but generally opts for a mix of the European and British ones, so make sure you come prepared with a Skross world adapter.
#4 Camera and Lens – I love my Sony A6000 mirrorless, which was ideal for capturing the colour, chaos and cuisine of Vietnam.
#5 Travel Scarf – A great multi-purpose travel item that can be used to safely store valuables as well as cover your shoulders while you explore many of Vietnam’s top sights, a travel scarf is a must for me!
Travel Insurance for Vietnam
World Nomads offers simple and flexible travel insurance. Buy at home or while travelling and claim online from anywhere in the world.
Alternatively, if you’re a long-term traveller, digital nomad or frequent remote worker seeking travel health cover, check out Safetywing’s Nomad Insurance policies.
Travel Money in Vietnam
When it comes to paying for things in Vietnam, you want to ensure you’re not being charged overseas transaction fees or getting poor exchange rates when using your card abroad, which is why I always take my Wise card away with me wherever I travel.
The easy way to spend abroad with real exchange rates, no markups and no sneaky transaction fees, you can use your Wise card just like a debit card here… and it links easily with Google and Apple pay – sold! Grab yours here.
PIN IT TO PINTEREST!
So tell me, have you experienced the magic of Ho Chi Minh yet?
Or is it still on your list?
I’d love to know more about your Vietnam experiences and plans in the comments section below and if you want more tips about backpacking Vietnam, then check out this post.