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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)
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.
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
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⇢ 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!