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What to Do in Ho Chi Minh City: a Beginner’s Guide to Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh, formally known as Saigon, can be a vacationer’s paradise if you know some of the hot things to do. This city is a dynamic and historical place to visit any time of the year, and it’s honestly, one of those cities that changes on a daily basis. Trust me, the number of changes that I noticed from the first time I was in Vietnam in 2008 was enough to make me think that I was in the wrong city. 

There is something interesting about the people and the city in HCMC- it’s something unlike anywhere else in the world- and one of the biggest reasons behind that might be that Vietnam is one of the last five communist countries in the world.

Yes, you read that right- it’s a communist country- a one-party state- however, it’s not something that is glaringly obvious unless you really really know what that means.

Anyway, I digress- Vietnam should absolutely be on top of your list, and HCMC is definitely the place to start. The city isn’t filled with monuments like Hanoi or Hoi An might be, but if you know the right spots, it’ll keep you intrigued for weeks.

Now that you’re thinking about heading there, check out what to do in Ho Chi Minh City. Visit our top 25 for this “city that never sleeps” and find out what modern-day Vietnam is all about.

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1. The Museum of Ho Chi Minh City.  This is a great place to start on your adventure in Ho Chi Minh City. It is in the gorgeous Gia Long Palace where there are tons of exhibits on the struggles on Ho Chi Minh. Make sure you also explore the palace as it is a beautiful example of Baroque and European architecture and tourists find it simply stunning.

2. Explore with the locals at Binh Tay Market (Cholon Chinatown Market). This amazing market is located in the heart of Chinatown which is one of the largest districts. Here you will find an extensive array of fruits, vegetables, seafood, meat, poultry from all over the region. It’s a 2-story market where one can spend hours strolling all the stalls also filled with souvenirs and handicrafts from local vendors. Check it out!

3. Understand your history at War Remnants Museum.  Now this museum is not for everyone because it is set up from the Vietnamese perspective, but you will see many artifacts from the Vietnam War and the Indochina Wars. It’s comprised of many rooms that showcase the effects of the war and outside you will see American tanks, weapons, and helicopters that you can explore.

4. Get your Vietnamese Coffee buzz on.  There is a huge coffee scene in Ho Chi Minh. You wouldn’t really think there would be, but its coffee was inspired by the French. Vietnam is one of the biggest exporters of coffee in the world and their special blend is strong, but coffee smoothies have become most popular with the addition of milk. Stop in any cafe and experience a delicious cup of java. Our top tip is to hunt down the famous Vietnamese egg coffee – decide for yourself if this strange drink is actually a dessert in disguise.

5. Cu Chi Tunnels.  These historic tunnels were used by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War and now tourists can explore them in 2 different areas. Visit Ben Dinh and Ben Duoc where there are replicas of the original tunnels. This is the perfect tourist spot for all history buffs.

6. Marvel at The Cafe Apartment. Having bubble tea in an illegal Vietnamese apartment is on anyone’s bucket list, right? As tourism grew, the tenants at 42 Nguyen Hue decided to rent out their space, creating a strange building with a mix of neon on its balconies. Unfortunately, this is not allowed, so get here before the entire block gets evicted. Now mostly filled with boutiques and coffee shops, this strange building is quite the photo op on the inside and out.

7. Visit Binh Quoi Village.  Nestled a 30 to 40-minute ride away from the city centre, is a hidden oasis that feels like it’s in a different country altogether. The village is a quaint park surrounded by ponds and lantern-lit walking paths. Highly recommend heading for dinner there if you’re looking to get a break from the hustle of HCMC.

Notre Dame Cathedral is one of the best thing to do in Ho Chi Minh City: moreover, the entire area around it is filled with Saigon's best sights in walking distance

8. Notre Dame Cathedral.
 This magnificent cathedral still offers Sunday mass and although it’s not as elaborate as Notre Dame in Paris, France you will still find an exquisite cathedral to spend some time. The stained glass windows alone are worth a look-see and make for some artistic photographs.

9. Wander Dong Khoi Street. Located in District 1, this is the top area for sightseeing. This includes the Central Post Office, the Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica and Opera house – and not many tourists will leave HCMC without a visit here. Stick around a bit longer for excellent shopping.

10. Get the best Vietnamese sandwich at ‘My Bahn Mi’. Wait, isn’t a sandwich a boring travel recommendation? NO. A Vietnamese ‘Bahn Mi’ is a sandwich unlike you’ve never had – as a remnant from French occupation, Vietnam is on top of their bread game. Some of the tastiest banh mi’s are found at random street carts, but HCMC’s top bistro is called ‘My Banh Mi‘ near Notre Dame Cathedral. Their Coconut Belly Pork Bahn Mi was our fave choice.

11. Get dressed at Ao Dai Museum. Still often seen on the streets of HCMC, Vietnam’s traditional dress ‘Ao Dai’ is worthy of its own museum. While clothes might not seem exciting to some, there’s something about the craft and class behind this style of dress and the museum has a stunning collection. Note that it’s located in District 9 – quite far from the city centre. Luckily the green surroundings and canals are part of the appeal.

12. Ben Thanh market. Perhaps Vietnam’s most famous market, it’s also one of our favorites in all of Southeast Asia. Ben Thanh is shopping bliss if you want a souvenir that is a step up from a fridge magnet. Large enough to spend an hour or two exploring, this is the spot for high-quality bags, art or that beautiful tea set for just a few bucks. Remember to bargain! You can get most items for roughly 2-3 times lower than the vendor’s starting point. Ben Thanh opens daily from 6am till midnight.

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13. Ben Thanh Street Food market. Half-way in the street opposite Ben Thanh’s main gate you’ll find a hip place with food stalls. Here you can score some of Vietnam’s traditional dishes or a mix of international cuisines, ranging from sushi to Indian. Search for the Banh Trang Nuong, though we caved for some of the best quesadillas with a cup of sugar cane juice. This place is worth a trip on its own.

14. Jade Emperor Pagoda.  This pagoda is a must see in Ho Chi Minh City.  It was built in the early 1900’s by the Buddhists with help from the Taoists.  The Jade Emperor Pagoda is one of the largest in Vietnam and is known for its design and intricate carvings inside it.  There is a charming terrace on the roof that has a great view of a Bodhi tree and there is also statue of the goddess of mercy, Quan Am to check out.

15. Karaoke your heart out.  Now, this city is the “capital of karaoke” so if you aren’t shy, then go to any of the local bars and you can sing for hours.  The competition will be tough.  Have a few bia hoi, fresh beer, and sit back and relax. Karaoke is like Ho Chi Minh’s national pastime and you will have a lot of fun on any night of the week.

16. Check out Lady Pink. We like quirky things and what is quirkier than a gigantic bright pink gothic cathedral? Tan Dinh Church is an Instagrammers dream, but for us a place of sheer Barbie fun. This impressive church is located in District 3 and not too far from other sights, but you’ll probably want to catch an Uber or Grab taxi.

Lady Pink is also known as Tan Dinh church and if you're looking for what to do in Ho CHi Minh City, its a quirky add to your list

17. Street Food Paradise.
 There isn’t anything offered by the street food vendors that you shouldn’t try especially if you are an adventurous foodie. You could hit an expensive restaurant, but you won’t find the taste and quality that the vendors provide daily. The hot pots are most popular and of course, so is the Pho. Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh as a whole has one of the best reputations for awesome street food.  

18. Enjoy the arts at A O Show at the Saigon Opera House. Using live music and body language, the A O show portrays Vietnamese traditional culture in the most modern way. This isn’t your average theater show. Raved on by the director of Cirque du Soleil, the show mixes circus with bamboo art and beatboxing, and will leave you highly entertained.

19. Get Lacquared at Minh Phuong Lacquer-ware Gallery. This isn’t a simple store visit. You can easily spend an hour or more here browsing around and seeing the entire process. The making of lacquerware is so time intensive, you’ll leave the gallery with a lot more respect for this art – and likely arms full of souvenirs.

20. Get your hair done. Vietnamese ladies spend a lot of leisure time in the salon, so explore a different side of culture and get your hair done up, or even cut. You’ll find respectable salons all throughout HCMC and for just a few bucks you can walk out a new gal. If this is too far out your comfort zone, simply hop in for a wash and an extensive head massage.

21. Enjoy the sky bar view at Landmark 81. Only recently finished, Southeast Asia‘s tallest building is HCMC’s newest pride. A beautiful building from afar, the best stuff is high up: at the sky bar with a cocktail in hand. Alternatively, you can head to the multi-story observation deck in the crown. Or, rent an apartment to enjoy that view from the infinity pool.

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22. Get your drink on at Rex Hotel. Ah, South-East Asia and it’s famous roof top views… The Rooftop Garden at Rex Hotel is an easy add after a long day, since it’s smack in the middle of lots of sights and open 24/7. The building has a lot of history from the Vietnam-American war and was built by the French during colonial reign. Hit the dance floor if you’re up for some salsa.

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23. Go rooftop swimming at The Myst Dong Khoi. Escape the heat and take a dip in one of the fanciest buildings in town. The outside of The Myst Dong Khoi quite literally sticks out with plants everywhere and its inside is very warm and cozy. You can sleep here, or simply spend the day before your flight lounging about.

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24. Dine with a view at Eon 51. Perched on one of the tallest buildings in HCMC, Eon 51 offers stunning panoramic views of the city like nowhere else.

25. Adventures outside the city.  If you would like a break from the hustle and bustle of the city, take a water taxi and explore some of the islands such as Phu Quoc. The awe-inspiring scenery is everywhere as you tour for the day.

With all the amazing things to do while in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, this is an extra special destination. The prices are right, from hotels to markets, and even the tourist traps are low cost, so book your flight now and enjoy this thrilling city.


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