Ho Chi Minh City pulsates with a vibrant energy you’d be hard-pressed to find elsewhere in Vietnam. Bustling and eclectic, the city offers much to see and do for vacationers – from incense-scented temples and lively markets, to colonial landmarks and ultra-chic shopping venues. Once you’ve stepped foot into the city, it’s hard not to get carried away by its vigour and vitality, so go along for the ride!
Street food feasting
Ho Chi Minh City’s diverse street food scene offers something for every foodie. There are the classics, like beef pho and banh mi, along with lesser-known dishes like banh cuon (spring roll with fillings of minced pork, mushrooms and dried shrimps), banh xeo (a mix between a crepe and Thai oyster omelette), bach tuoc nuong (grilled octopus) and an assortment of D.I.Y. barbecued meats. Some of our favourite streets for a feast are Quán 104 for grilled octopus, 534 Vĩnh Khánh Street for seafood and grilled meats and Van Kiep Street for a variety of noodle dishes.
If you have limited time and want to cover as much as possible, jump on a bike for a three-hour street food tour in search of the tastiest that the alleys of Saigon have to offer.
Dine with locals
Dining with the locals brings brings a whole new dimension to your travel experience, letting you get a true feel for the sights, sounds and flavours of a destination. So if you’re missing a home cooked meal, tuck into a feast in the home of a local, where you share conversations and bask in your host’s warm hospitality. Alternatively, learn how to whip up Vietnamese dishes in a cosy home kitchen, from a host who boasts a repertoire of over a 100 local dishes.
Sign up for an unordinary scooter tour
Zipping around Ho Chi Minh City on two wheels is a great way to take in the sounds and sights of the city. Along with your local guide, you’ll cruise through hectic roads to discover some of the best attractions that the city has to offer. You won’t be restricted to the ubiquitous city day tour either – tour operators like Vespa Adventures have put together unordinary itineraries, such as a craft beer tour or the Mekong Delta tour, where you’ll find yourself traversing the dirt trails, rice paddies and rivers of the countryside.
Explore Ben Thanh Market
Set in the heart of the town, the sprawling Ben Thanh Market – home to over 3,000 stalls – is a bustling hub of activity through the day. The labyrinth of stalls may be a challenge to navigate and haggling is a non-negotiable part of your shopping experience, but you’ll be choosing from a wide-ranging variety of goods and souvenirs – from handicrafts and textiles, to clothes, accessories and electronics. Linger on till the evening, when numerous eateries surrounding the market start their operations – so you’ll be just in time for a street food feast.
Visit the city’s colourful temples and pagodas
Ho Chi Minh City’s variety of temples and pagodas throws up plenty of sightseeing options for vacationers. The Jade Emperor Pagoda, with its intricately decorated roof tiles, Buddha sculptures, carefully crafted figures and swirls of incense smoke makes an Instagram-worthy sight – as does the colourful Mariamman Hindu Temple. Cao Dai Temple may be located rather out of the way (it’s more than two hours by car from the city center), but its ornate interior and ceremonies promises a fascinating experience for culture buffs.
Discover Cu Chi Tunnels
A visit to one of the city’s most iconic attractions may not be for the claustrophobic – but it definitely makes for a one-in-a-lifetime experience. You’ll be clambering through tunnels several storeys deep underground, which used to contain living spaces, field hospitals and command centres, as well as trying out military rations or firing an M16 rifle. Thankfully, the tunnels have been widened and cemented, with emergency exits created every 10 metres so your exploration won’t be quite as appalling an experience as it would have been years ago.
Pro tip: Combine your visit with a day trip to Cao Dai Temple as both attractions are located within proximity of each other.
Admire the colonial architecture of Dong Khoi Street
Get a glimpse of Ho Chi Minh City’s colonial history with a walk along the colourful Dong Khoi Street. While chic boutiques, cafes, high-end dining establishments and street food stalls now line the busy street, you’ll still find buildings of remarkable colonial architecture. Kickstart your walk from the southern end of the Saigon River, keeping your eyes peeled for attractions like the Continental Hotel, Opera House, Caravelle Hotel, Hotel de Ville and Notre Dame Cathedral.
Visit the Reunification Palace
Constructed by Ngo Dinh Diem to illustrate his country’s strength and independence after the French colonial rule, the Independence Palace was renamed after the fall of Saigon in the 1970s – after the first communist tanks barged in through the gates on April 30, 1975. Much of the building has been preserved as it was since the 70s, and some of the most interesting venues to visit are the grandiose meeting rooms, library and garden containing a selection of intriguing relics.
Go on a Saigon River cruise
The glittering night lights of Ho Chi Minh city are best enjoyed through a river cruise. While there are a variety of cruise operators, Bonsai Cruise offers an excellent experience featuring a seven course meal and traditional dance performance – both of which are enjoyed in a beautifully restored Chinese junk.
Dive into the city’s buzzing nightlife scene
The vibrant nightlife scene of Ho Chi Minh City throws up plentiful options for night owls. Skip the backpacker district of Pham Ngu Lao Street; instead, soak up the lively atmosphere of chic rooftop venues like Chill Skybar and Glow Skybar. For a relaxed evening, explore the streets of Dong Khoi, home to live music establishments and upmarket watering holes. And to enjoy some of the best views over the city with sundowners, go bar hopping at places like Level 23 Nightspot and Wine Bar, Rex Hotel Rooftop Beer Garden and M.Bar at Hotel Majestic Saigon.