To be perfectly honest, I really didn’t know what to expect from this place! While I was noting the top things to do in Ho Chi Minh City, I was constantly overwhelmed by its sheer size. I was also a lot more worried about the “hectic” adjective a lot of travel bloggers liked to tack on as a descriptor, worrying I’d be in a concrete jungle lost in a sea of motorbikes, clinging to my purse in fear.
However, I was totally wrong. While, yes, there is a certain craziness about HCMC, it’s also got a ton of charm, probably best reflected in its architecture. It actually became one of my favorite cities in my Vietnam trip.
Most of the bigger sites can be found within District 1, which is very easy to do all by foot. If I had had more time, I would have loved to venture out to the other districts where a lot of the more traditional, pre-French Colonial structures are. However, I really only had my feet to take me around and a full day for all of it. To make your list searching easier, I thought I’d outline some of the places to see!
Tips on Visiting Ho Chi Minh City
If you’re a U.S. traveler, yes, you DO need a visa to enter the country even as a tourist. Unlike Cambodia, you can’t just do everything at the airport. You’ll need to get a letter of approval online first.
Print it and bring it with you. You’ll then pay around $25 USD there to get the actual visa in your passport. You can use iVisa to handle getting your letter of approval or even doing an e-visa and paying online instead of waiting until you arrive. Check their quotes here.
I actually found a decent deal with Asiana Airlines, my favorite since 2011! Michelle flew the budget VietJetAir, which she said was okay. I booked mine on Expedia, but I’ve also been impressed with Kiwi lately, especially if you’re on more of a budget.
As for getting into the city, I had my hostel arrange a driver for $13, which I paid to him, not the driver. Klook actually has a cheaper deal. It’s $12/car that seats up to 4 and $14/car that seats up to 7.
WHERE TO STAY
I got a private room at Lily Hostel since I was traveling alone for the first few days. I really enjoyed my stay, and the owners were super kind. It’s on Bui Ven, which is a big backpacker road, and it’s in walking distance of all the major attractions in District 1. Book now or read more reviews here
In general, if you want to see the main sites of HCMC, stay in District 1 or nearby. The nicer, luxury hotels are in the same area, which is close to the Opera House and Nguyen Hue Street.
I would recommend not getting on motorbikes here. It’s ultimately up to you though. I took taxis a few times, but mostly I just walked. Actually one day, I wanted to challenge myself, so I only took my camera, some money, and a paper map that I had made little notes on!
Grab is also a thing in SE Asia (it’s their version of Uber or Lyft). I haven’t tried it as I visited before it existed, but it may be worth downloading! I used it on my other trips to Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.
MONEY + SAFETY
I took out money at ATMs just fine. I have Citibank, and there were actually a few Citibanks in the city as well as an ATM right at the airport. In terms of safety, just take precautions. I never felt unsafe, but I was also in the most popular area during the day.
WHAT TO WEAR
You’re fine with whatever you want to wear. HCMC is quite humid, even when I was there in February, so dress in loose, comfortable fabrics.
Check with your insurance at home and see if they cover you abroad. You do want some sort of insurance for Vietnam just in case, especially if you plan on using a motorbike! If your insurance at home doesn’t cover you, get a quote on World Nomads. It’s really quite cheap and covers a lot of things.
SIM CARD + WIFI
I just picked up a SIM card at the airport, but every time I tried to recharge it during my trip it never seemed to work. There are probably better options, like this 3G Wifi deal with Klook. It’s only $5/day and you can connect up to 8 devices.
While it’s very easy to wander around District 1 by foot, it may be easier to go on one of these tours. I actually think I enjoy going on some sort of tour first and then wander on my own for the rest of my trip. You usually have a local guide who can tell you about the history and culture more than a guidebook could, and it’s a nice way to feel at ease in a new place. Here are some tours that include what I’ve added below:
What’s HCMC without its crazy motorbike reputation? If you want to experience riding around on a motorbike but without the fear or bargaining, then this might be the best option for you. There are different packages, including street food options. Check prices + packages here.
Another motorbike option is the Saigon City Tour by Motorbike.
Another way of getting around is hanging out in the cyclos (three wheel bikes). The tour includes a few different landmarks as well as a visit to the War Remanents Museum. And, of course, it’s more eco-friendly than motorbikes or buses. Check prices here.
Top Things to Do in Ho Chi Minh City
Drink ca phe su dua. Scratch that, become mildly addicted to ca phe sua da.
Oh sweet, Vietnamese coffee. Made with condensed milk, it’s so flippin’ good, I still dream about it and try to make it on my own. You’re going to want to try this and then drink it the rest of your trip! It’s all around, the city, and only $1-2, so indulge!
Get a view of the city from Bitexco Tower.
This is the place to go if you want a landscape view of Ho Chi Minh! You can go to the observation deck on the 49th floor or go up to the 52nd floor and eat or grab a drink at EON 51.
- Cost: 200,000 VND
- Times: Observation Deck: 9:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. (ticket sales end at 8:45 p.m.), EON 51 Menu, 8:00 a.m.-11:00 p.m.
- Address: Tòa nhà tài chính Bitexco, 2 Hải Triều, Bến Nghé
Visit the War Remnants Museum.
Of all the things to do in Ho Chi Minh City, visiting the War Remnants Museum is the most sobering. Give yourself enough time to wander through because it’s a lot to take in. It’s divided into different parts with a recommended order, and you can see the varying effects the war had on Vietnam. Before you go, I’d do some research so you know what to expect. Crash Courses has a good video that lays down the basics.
- Cost: 15,000 VND
- Times: 7:30 a.m.-12:00 p.m., 1:30 p.m.- 5:00 p.m.
- Address: 28 Võ Văn Tần
Visit the Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon.
Built in the mid-1800s after France took over the city, it’s official name is Basilica of Our Lady of The Immaculate Conception. Its bricks were imported from France, and it was considered the loveliest cathedral among the French colonies. It’s an excellent starting point to explore the area.
- Cost: Free
- Times: 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.
- Address: Bến Nghé
Send a postcard from the Saigon Central Post Office.
Literally, right next door to the Cathedral is the Post Office, built in the later 1800’s. It’s a mixture of French, Renaissance, and Gothic architecture. Inside is spacious and lovely, and it’s still functioning! If you can, get a postcard to send!
- Cost: Free
- Times: 6:00 a.m. – 10 p.m.
- Address: 2 Công xã Paris, Bến Nghé
Snap a photo of Saigon Opera House.
A few blocks down and past the swanky hotels (Hyatt, Continental), you’ll find the Opera house nestled in the midst. This is also probably the fanciest part of Ho Chi Minh City because it’s also where I stumbled across the big name brand stores. Built at the turn of the twentieth century, its majestic style is similar to Le Petit Palais found in France.
- Cost: Free, though I never went in and photographed it from the outside
- Times: Opening hours vary.
- Address: 7 Lam Son Square
Walk near the Ho Chi Minh City Supreme People’s Court
There’s not a lot of information out there on this building. According to this Google search, it’s in the beginning stages of restoration. It’s hard to not walk by at some point, and with its bright yellow and blue color scheme, you’re not going to miss it.
Address: 131 Nam Kỳ Khởi Nghĩa
Enjoy Nguyen Hue Street!
This seems to be the main street of Ho Chi Minh City. I was there on Tet and it was flooded with people in their best outfits taking photos with the flowers. It’s absolutely gorgeous! Walk along the whole thing and enjoy the colors and cheerful crowds.
Head up to 42 Nguyen Hue Street (an old looking building with a sketchy entrance) and find Saigon Oi, a delicious coffee shop, for a lovely view of the whole street! I also loved Parttea, a cute English tea room.
Address: Nguyễn Huệ
Eat Banh Mi outside City Hall.
At the front end of Nguyen Hue is HCMC’s City Hall (or known as the People’s Committee Hall). It’s a massive structure with a plaza in front of it for viewing. It’s an awesome meeting point, and it’s nice to hang out and eat some Banh Mi with friends. Banh Mi is this delicious baguette sandwich, and you can buy it from one of the ladies with stalls nearby.
Address: Lê Thánh Tôn
For more food options in HCMC, you may want to check out this street food tour.
Take a Day Trip to the Mekong Delta.
Since I was kind of nervous visiting Vietnam on my own, I booked a full day tour as soon as I arrived. I’d wanted to see the Mekong Delta anyway, and it was the perfect way for me to get comfortable in a new country. Also, it’s pretty much impossible to visit on your own. I wrote a post reviewing my day trip and what you’ll see exactly if you want more info.
If you have more time, you can actually stay overnight in the Mekong at a homestay, which I always thought would be a unique experience.
Here are some Mekong Delta Tours:
- Full Day Excursion – This is pretty much the tour I did. You’re in a bigger group and get taken around the different islands and learn more about the Delta region. Check prices and packages here.
- Mekong Delta River Cruise – If you want something a little more luxurious and more intimate, you might like this tour. Check prices here.
- Cai Be Floating Market and Tan Phon Island Tour – I actually wanted to go to the Cai Be Floating market, but since I was visiting around Tet, it was actually closed for the holidays. This is a great option if you’re more interested in Mekong’s culinary and food history. Check prices here.
For More Vietnam Travel Posts
What would you add to this list of things to do in Ho Chi Minh City? I know only 3 days is NOT nearly enough!