The young and vibrant metropolis of southern Vietnam.
Ho Chi Minh City (also known as Saigon) is the largest city in Vietnam with around 13 million people in the metropolitan area. The city is a blend of modern skyscrapers, historical French Colonial structures, and meandering roads in between beautiful boulevards and promenades.
Whether you’re walking down sidewalks covered with parked motorcycles or riding around the districts shoulder-to-shoulder with all the other riders, you’ll never lack in things to do and see in this bustling city. To help narrow it down, here’s 10 must do activities in Ho Chi Minh City:
1. Walk down Nguyen Hue Street
In the center of District 1 you’ll find a large promenade named Nguyen Hue that stretches between the Saigon River and the People’s Committee building. While walking between these two destinations, you’ll see a large statue of Ho Chi Minh and the spot for nightly water fountain shows in front of the People’s Committee. Along the promenade are bars and restaurants, famous hotels, and upscale shopping.
Later at night, the promenade becomes a hang-out spot for both locals and tourists. There will be young Vietnamese sitting in circles or playing games together, couples strolling while holding hands, and kids playing around the fountain. Whether you choose a swanky bar overlooking the action or just a bench in the middle of it all, there’s always something to see.
2. Stop for Tea or Coffee
No matter what street you’re walking down, a cafe serving coffee and tea is never too far. Any cafe will have plenty of tea options (green, black, scented) or you can go to one of the many bubble tea shops that are incredibly popular with young locals.
If you prefer coffee, Vietnam is the country for you. A darker brew and a stronger flavor, the coffee will not disappoint from any cafe you stop in. You’ll be able to order in style you prefer: hot coffee or iced, black or with condensed milk, espresso or traditional drip. If the traditional drip style coffee sounds delicious to you, why not book a class to learn how to roast and make drip coffee from a local:
3. View French Colonial Architecture
by Marco Verch
If you’re near Nguyen Hue Street and just finished a fresh cup of coffee, it’s a great time to explore and appreciate the French Colonial architecture in the area. You already saw the People’s Committee and a few blocks away you’ll discover the lovely Municipal Theater, the 1897 French opera house.
Two more blocks and there’s the imposing Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon, built in the 1880s with all French bricks. Turn to the right and you’ll see the Saigon Central Post Office. Be sure and walk inside for a collection of impressive murals. In between all these buildings and in the surrounding areas, you’ll find many more structures with similar architecture. Any street is worth walking down.
4. Shop in an “Abandoned” Building
by Marco Verch
All over Ho Chi Minh City, you’ll see what appears to be abandoned buildings with signs for shops and cafes. The outside of the building, hallways, and stairwells will all look abandoned with unpainted concrete everywhere you look. But once you step into a cafe or shop, bar or restaurant, you step into a different world. Adorable cafes, fancy bars, restaurants of any type all hide behind nondescript doors.
The easiest “abandoned” building like this to find is actually back on Nguyen Hue Street. Next to the expansive Nguyen Hue Bookstoke is a hallway to a staircase and elevator. Take your time and visit each floor so you can shop in boutiques and resale shops, have lunch or a quick drink, and just explore the hallways of this building overlooking the busy promenade. For a bit more challenge, there’s the Snuffbox Speakeasy. This bar sits behind an unlabeled door inside what truly appears to be an abandoned building. If cocktails aren’t for you, the same building will have cafes and coffee shops as well.
5. Take a Cooking Class
As you walk around Ho Chi Minh City, there’s no way you can miss the delicious smelling food from cafes, restaurants, and street stalls. Hopefully you’ve already had a chance to try a few things. To truly understand the history and culture steeped into every dish, to truly experience the flavors and learn the techniques, a cooking class is the perfect activity.
There are so many options when it comes to a cooking class. Do you want the class to be with master chef in the city or on an organic farm? Do you want a market tour before the class or ride a cycle rickshaw around town afterwards? Are you a vegan/vegetarian? Or are you really picky and need to pick from over 200 dishes to make sure you love everything you’re making? No worries, look through all the cooking classes offered in Ho Chi Minh City and you’ll find the right one for you:
6. Explore the War Remnants Museum
by Gonzo Gooner
This somber museum collects photography, artifacts, and equipment from Vietnam’s war with the United States and the French colonialist prior to that. On the grounds surrounding the museum, you’ll see tanks, planes, helicopters, and large guns from the wars fought in Vietnam.
Within the building is a large amounts of photographs with short texts documenting the horrors of war. Other sections have anti-war artwork and propaganda posters. Warning if you’re accompanied by children: some images in this museum are graphic.
Entrance fee: 40,000 Vietnamese Dong
7. Look Over the City at Saigon Skydeck
After exploring the city from the ground level, it’s time to get above all the noise and activity. On the 49th floor of the Bitexco Financial Tower, the tallest building in Ho Chi Minh City, is the Skydeck observation point. Once there, you will have 360 degree views of the city, the river, and the surrounding lands.
If just taking pictures isn’t enough experience for you, on the next few floors above are a cafe, a restaurant, and a bar. You’ll lose the 360 degree view and will have to order something but there’s no entrance fee!
Saigon Skydeck Entrance fee: 200,000 Vietnamese Dong
8. Stroll Through the Markets
Throughout the city, you’ll come across numerous markets. Some will focus on food, others on clothing. The most famous market for visitors is the Ben Thanh Market. Here you’ll find locally made goods, clothing from popular brands, art, and souvenirs. You’ll also have plenty to eat inside the market and in any of the surrounding restaurants. At night, stalls will be set up with even more shopping options.
Sometimes the markets can be a lot to take in. With the amount of people, the large structures, and the abundance of options, it’s difficult to know where to shop and even what you might be looking at. If you think this might be you, here’s a list of market tours for you to consider:
9. Visit the Cu Chi Tunnels
by Kevyn Jacobs
The tunnels in the Cu Chi area of Ho Chi Minh City are over 120 kilometers of tunnels used during the war with the United States. You’ll be able to see what it would have been like to crawl through these tunnels, see the rooms where major offensives were planned, and even eat food similar to what the soldiers would have eaten.
Visiting the Cu Chi Tunnels is a popular day-trip from the city to get out of the fast-paced streets. You will get some fresh air, learn a bit of history, and explore the interesting network of tunnels in this area. Surprisingly, these are similar to numerous networks of tunnels all over the country used for similar purposes!
10. Motorbike Around Town
Now that it’s time to get back into the hustle and bustle of Ho Chi Minh City, there’s no better way than on motorbike. You’ll join the throngs of motorbikers on every street and sidewalk, exploring all the districts. This is perfect to explore outside the usual tourist areas and to find hidden gems of street food and neighborhood haunts.
If you’re uncomfortable driving your own motorbike, how about booking a street food tour on the back of a motorbike? A local foodie will pick you up at your hotel and bring you to all the best and most-local food spots you’d never find on your own. You’ll also see an enormous flower market that’s open 24 hours a day!
Ho Chi Minh City has so much to offer. I hope you found enough fun activities to fill up your itinerary on this list. For the perfect experience to understand Vietnamese culture and to remember your trip, make sure you book an unforgettable cooking class: