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Xin chào, or hello in Vietnamese! Ho Chi Minh City, previously known as Saigon is the largest city in Vietnam, which offers a great mix of skyscrapers and old world French colonialism. It’s a city that’s steeped in history and culture, with a good mix of hipster bars and cafes run by the younger generation which is what makes Ho Chi Minh City so unique. It’s a great weekend trip with plenty of sights to see (and food to taste!). So here’s a quick guide on the top things to do while in Ho Chi Minh City!
Before you arrive
Make sure you check on visa requirements because some nationalities may require a visa upon entry. Vietnam only has visa exemptions for 24 countries currently, so make sure your country is on the list. Otherwise, you will need to plan ahead and apply for a visa. These are subject to change so check with your local consulate for the latest information.
Tan Son Nhat International Airport is the largest airport in Ho Chi Minh City, so you will likely be arriving here if you are coming from outside the country. Once at the airport, you should try to withdraw or change for some Vietnamese Dong (vnd) as this is the legal currency in Vietnam. Some larger institutions may take USD, but bear in mind you will always receive change in vnd, so you may make some losses there. Always have some vnd with you especially when dealing with smaller vendors.
From the airport, you have a few options of getting in to the city: taxi, tuk-tuk, bus or ride-sharing (Uber or Grab)
*Download the Grab app and get a free ride with code “THEATLASEDIT” – iPhone / Android
We personally took a GrabCar, which is a ride-sharing app popular in Asia similar to Uber, and it cost us 131,000vnd (US$5.70). The price was a bit higher because of surge pricing, but when we took an Uber back to the airport, it only cost us 79,000vnd (US$3.46). This is a good option if there are a few of you who can share the car, and it’s also much easier as it takes you directly to your hotel without having to worry about navigation.
If you are budget-conscious, you can also take bus #152 which costs 5000vnd per person + 1 piece of luggage. It runs every 20 mins from 6am to 6pm.
I wouldn’t recommend taking taxis as you can easily be ripped off, especially if you can’t speak the local language. Taxi prices are also more expensive than ride-sharing apps, so I don’t see the need for taxis. In any case, you should only use the two most reliable taxi companies, Mai Linh and Vinasun.
Ho Chi Minh City is pretty walkable, as the city isn’t that huge. For further distances, I recommend take Uber or Grab as they are the safest way to get around. The roads in Ho Chi Minh City are notorious for being packed with motorcyclists so it can be quite intimidating for the first-time visitor. I know because I suck at crossing the road, and felt like I was in a game of Frogger every time.
TIP: There’s a hierarchy when it comes to crossing the road. Buses/cars > Pedestrians > Motorcyclists. So your job is to look out for buses and cars, and the motorcyclists will look out for you! Just cross the road and don’t stop! The cyclists will weave around and avoid you. The chances of getting hit are higher if you stop in the middle of the road trying to avoid them!
What to see & do
Love shopping? Well, I do. I absolutely loved Ben Thanh Market. There is just about everything you’ll need here, and it is huge. Beware though most of what you’ll see here are knock-offs, so shop at your discretion.
Need a quick dose of history? If you know me, you’ll know I’m a huge advocate of free walking tours. You get to see all the main sights of a city in a couple of hours, with great commentary by local guides, and it’s budget-friendly cause you pay what you want.
The main sights you should be hitting are War Remnants Museum, Old Post Office, and Saigon Opera House.
A good day trip is to Cu Chi Tunnels where you get to see how the Vietnamese used to escape during the war. You even get to crawl through the tiny tunnels, and trust me, they are tiny. Not for sufferers of claustrophobia! You’ll even get to fire an AK-47!
Cruise down the lovely Mekong Delta and see how the locals live along the river.
After all that walking, you can’t not get a massage and pedicure! And for cheap! We loved Coco Care Spa for it’s Hawaiian Lomi Lomi massage. Another huge chain of massage parlours is Qyunh Nhu 137. You’ll see a few branches stretched along Ham Nghi Street, and they have an all-inclusive massage routine which was really memorable!
What to eat
There are so many hipster cafes in Ho Chi Minh City now that serve great coffee, and it’s no wonder since Vietnamese coffee is so famous worldwide. One of my favourites was L’Usine Le Loi. They have a clothing store downstairs and cafe upstairs!
Get your phở fix at Phở Hòa Pasteur and Phở Hương Bắc.
Try local Vietnamese homemade food at Secret Garden Restaurant.
Dine with a view at Mad Cow – some of the best steaks ever with some of the best views of Ho Chi Minh City.
Try Vietnam’s best pizza at Pizza 4P‘s. The signature burrata pizzas are a must-try.
Vietnam is known for its cheap bear, and here in Ho Chi Minh City there are plenty of craft breweries for you to indulge in. We liked the super popular, Pasteur Street Brewing Company and up and coming, Winking Seal for their beer flights.
Check out this map for the places I mentioned & more!
Where to stay
There are plenty of nice and modern hotels in Ho Chi Minh City Center depending on your budget. If you are traveling solo or as a couple, there are plenty of hotels ranging from budget to luxury. We needed 2 bedrooms so we stayed in an apartment in Ben Thanh Tower which is really centrally located and modern. You can find more apartments on Airbnb or Booking.com.
Find The Lowest Prices on Booking.com
Further reading: Lonely Planet Vietnam Travel Guide is an up-to-date guide on what to see and skip, and the hidden secrets Vietnam holds. It features colour maps and images, highlights and itineraries, insider tips, essential info, honest reviews and cultural insights.
Covers: Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Hoi An, Halong Bay, Mui Ne, Hue, Danang, Nha Trang, Dalat, Sapa, Siem Reap & the temples of Angkor (Cambodia) and more.
Visiting Vietnam Checklist
⇢ Compare flight prices to Vietnam
⇢ Compare accommodation options and prices on Booking.com | HotelsCombined.com | Agoda | Airbnb
⇢ Don’t forget travel insurance! Travel insurance is the most overlooked purchase when traveling, but one of the most essential. Anything can happen when you’re on holiday and you’d want to be covered in the case of travel mishaps such as flight delays, personal accidents or theft. Choose World Nomads Travel Insurance, designed by travelers for travelers.
Have you been to Ho Chi Minh City or is it on your travel bucket list? Let me know in the comments below!
I miss Vietnam, it was such an enchanting country. Unfortunately I couldn’t make it to Ho Chi Minh but these tips are great for next time 😉
Thanks for reading Mel. Hope these tips help for your next trip! 🙂
Great post!!! Couldn’t be been better timing since I’m going to vietnam in 2 weeks! Thanks for the advice!
Ohh that’s awesome!! Hope this helped, and have a great time in Vietnam girrl!! xx
We are going to Ho Chi Minh next month, it will be our first time in Vietnam – super excited! So this has been really helpful to read. I will be saving the link and reading it again before we go 🙂
Hey Alex, glad you found this post in time then! Hope it’s helpful 🙂 Have fun while you’re there, hope you have the best time!
Hi Alex, in Ho Chi Minh City, you can try places such as: Bùi Viện, Bùi Viện street, Ben Thanh Market, a small alleys in Hai Bà Trưng street (they sell many kinds of foods inside that alley).
The Reunification Palace is nice to see. The only place we visited in 4 weeks in Vietnam where we had a guided tour in decent English! In the evening they had a light show on the front of the building, but I don’t know if they still do that.
There are also several rooftop bars where you can get a drink. Very nice views! For some there is a dress code. We asked in our hostel which one didn’t. We also liked the Mekong Delta Tours. But I don’t know if you would go there if I had only two days.
Have nice trip!
Shooting AK-47, really? hehe I am from Russia and I have never done it. How do you get to shoot it, I mean, do they have a shooting club there?
Yes!! There’s a shooting range at the Cu Chi Tunnels. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to do it because we were short on time, but it’s usually included when you take a tour there and definitely worth a try!
I am flying in to Hanoi this week and I think I have to skip Ho Chi Minh 🙁 I would love to see the opera house though. I will have to try and get there someday.
Ah what a shame 🙁 I’m sure Hanoi will be amazing too though. I haven’t been but have heard great things. Have the best time! x
This is great guide!! This may be off to use for me very soon! Ho Chi Min city is definitely on my list!
Thanks for reading! 🙂
A cruise at the Mekong Delta sounds pretty interesting! I’d love to try that out when I visit Ho Chi Minch City! How many days would you recommend to explore the city?
Hey Marvi! We did 4 days in total, which is pretty sufficient for 1 day in Mekong Delta and 1 day Cu Chi Tunnels. Then you have 2 extra days to explore the city. If you’re a foodie like me and love shopping, then I would’ve loved maybe an extra day in the city.. but it’s totally up to you! I’d say you can do the city in a day, or even up to a week depending on your interests 🙂
HCMC and Vietnam are super high on my list of places to get to, before we leave Asia at the end of the year. Thanks for the great guide and tips (AND the super useful info on street crossing priority)! 😉
Glad you enjoyed this little guide, Shelly 🙂 Crossing the street in HCMC is so thrilling and really gets your adrenaline pumping! Have fun on your Asia trip! x
I really need to go explore Vietnam it looks like such a great place! Your pictures are also fantastic!
Vietnam is pretty awesome! Thank you so much 🙂
I really enjoy reading the posts on your blog. The pictures are amazing. I’ve been to Ho Chi Minh and would definitely revisit Vietnam again soon. Thanks for your useful tips and guide! (:
Thanks Sam! You really should revisit Vietnam soon. There’s so much cheap and good food waiting for you. Not to mention the cheap knock-off Fjällräven backpacks 😉
I just love Vietnam. Spent a god 3-4 days in Hanoi, and had planned another 3 in Ho Chi Minh, but couldn’t even move out for a full day because of the rains. The city is so beautiful, and yet so much of culture.
Man, rain can be such a bummer! But there are some indoor activities you could do in Ho Chi Minh if it rains such as the Genocide Museum and Ben Thanh Market. Hope you get to visit again someday!
Thanks for the practical info! Omg that tunnel!!
It was a pretty cool experience!
Wow! I am not cool enough to go through those tunnels! I would be having a panic attack for sure. I still hope I get to visit Vietnam one day!
It really isn’t that bad! I’m claustrophobic too but it was bearable! You should try it 😉
Excellent post. Detailed and really helpful!