Ho Chi Minh City, also still commonly referred to as Saigon, is the largest and most vibrant city in Vietnam. Once called “Paris of the Orient” during the days of French colonialisation and later named in honour of the late leader of north Vietnam himself the city has a very strong and diverse cultural history. Being the country’s largest metropolitan area and serving as a major hub for travellers it was also our first destination when we arrived in Vietnam.
We love the excitement and business of urban areas and were absolutely thrilled to discover what Saigon has to offer. From a dynamic food scene, beautiful colonial architecture and a modern skyline – the city definitely has a lot you could ask for. We put together a small list of our top-7 things to see and do in Ho Chi Minh City.
1) Discover the Saigon food scene
Eating is an integral component of Vietnamese culture. The food scene is incredibly large and diverse and we came to notice exactly this while walking around the streets of the city. From a huge array of restaurants to numerous places that offer street food – everywhere and any time you look you see people enjoying food. Our first mission was to get a nice traditional vietnamese soup and we found a great place not far from where we stayed that seemed very inviting. The restaurant is called Cơm niêu Sài Gòn and is a nice place to start your journey through vietnamese food. We enjoyed some delicious Bún bò and Phở Bò soup here and really absolutely loved it! Apart from the large array of restaurants you can also indulge in one of the many street food stalls. Food is being prepared and eaten constantly and you will see all of them serving freshly prepared food for you. Have a look at our review on Vietnamese food and discover some more delicacies!
2) Take a tour at the Reunification Palace
Formerly known as the independence palace the reunification palace is one of the most famous historical buildings in the city. It is a lasting witness of the many combats that have been fought against the French and Americans occupants and once served as a presidential home and workspace. It was also here where on April 30, 1975 north vietnamese troops took control over Saigon and an army tank crashed through its gates.
The building as such is rather unspectacular with its architecture of the late 1960s. What actually makes the visit to the palace interesting is to feel and experience the historic relevance that this building had to the shaping of what Vietnam is today. You will find different reception rooms where many foreign and national politicians were once welcomed as well as a basement war rooms filled with of old telecommunication devices.
Definitely a place worth visiting to get a good insight into the historic relevance of the city and to understand the historic events which shaped the country.
3) Explore the Central Post Office and Notre Dame Cathedral
Ho Chi Minh City is packed with a variety of old colonial architecture, mostly dating back to the time of French Indochina in the late 19th century. Two buildings are particularly interesting: the Central Post Office and the Notre Dame Cathedral. You won’t miss these buildings when walking around town as they are probably the most recognisable landmarks in the city.
The Post Office is still completely functional so you can buy and send your postcards from here. Walking inside you will be greeted by a huge picture of Ho Chi Minh himself along with an old map of the city and its surroundings. The building is very well maintained and stands out from other buildings around town – for sure worth a short visit!
Right across from the Post Office is the Notre Dame Cathedral, a small replica of its larger original in Paris. The red-bricked construction clearly stands out from other construction around and is a focal point for the large Catholic community in Saigon. In front of the cathedral there is a small garden with a statue of the Virgin Mary. Honestly, a very strange site to see in Vietnam and a clear documentation of French colonialism and its not only cultural but also religious impact on the city.
4) Visit the War Remnants Museum
A crucial part of understanding Vietnam and its people is by considering its history. The country looks back at a long history of wars and violence with the Vietnam War being one of the fiercest and most cruel ones. If you want to get a better understanding of what has happened during that time you should consider visiting the War Remnants Museum.
Entering the compound of the museum you will find yourself in a large courtyard displaying old military vehicles such as helicopters, tanks and fighter jets. Inside the building you will find a variety of exhibits from the war such as old weaponry, pictures and propaganda paintings. Photographies can be very explicit and shocking so beware of this! It will provide you with a good insight into what has happened in the country during that time and perhaps also makes you get a somewhat different perspective on Vietnam.
5) Enjoy some drinks on Pham Ngu Lao Street
In order to digest and settle down from the cultural impacts of the day we would highly suggest to also indulge in some Saigon party life. A great way to do so is to visit Phạm Ngũ Lão Street – a street located in the backpacker district of Saigon and known for its markets and street life. Here you will find everything from cheap clothes, budget accommodations and loads of bars, cafes and restaurants. Best way to enjoy is to sit down in one of the many local bars (preferrably the ones with the tiny, plastic chairs), enjoy a local beer (we found some for around $0,50!) and enjoy the street life around you.
6) Visit the markets
Shopping is another highlight of the city as there are numerous different markets and malls where you can go to spend your Vietnamese Dong. A visit to Ho Chi Minh is not completed without a visit to the markets, particularly the largest and most famous one named Bin Tay Market, situated between Thap Muoi and Phan Van Khoe Street. The market is great to visit both during the day and night and offers everything from clothes to food. Many locals come here to buy their goods so its a nice way to see local merchants and customers negotiate over their supplies. If you want to rest from the shopping you can also find many spots to buy local street food.
Other famous markets around are Ben Thanh Market and the An Dong Market.
7) Enjoy the view from a skyrise
To finish off our visit to Ho Chi Minh City we decided to have a look at it from a different perspective. Best way to do so is to go to the very top of one of the many skyrises in town. Most of them offer rooftop bars from which you can enjoy some great views across the city. There are numerous different ones, we chose to go to the Chill Sky Bar ontop of the AB Tower. Once you arrive at the reception you will have to register to enter, leave your personal data and are then escorted to the top. Make sure to wear proper shoes as they won’t let you enter in with open shoes or slippers!
We enjoyed a drink ontop and had a fantastic view across the entire city. It is a very impressive sight and a great way to conclude your visit to Ho Chi Minh City.