Top 20 Things to Do in Ho Chi Minh City You Can’t Afford to Miss

Top 20 Things to Do in Ho Chi Minh City You Can’t Afford to Miss
Photo by Quang Pham Duy / Unsplash

These 20 things to do in Ho Chi Minh City will give you a good idea of what there is to see and do in Saigon. On this list, you’ll find a good mix of historic, cultural and fun experiences, all of which you can enjoy during your stay in this fast-paced city.

Whether you are planning to stay here for a few days or longer, you won’t need to think hard about what to do in Ho Chi Minh next.

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Top Things to Do in Ho Chi Minh City

Unlike Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh can come across as cold as ice on the first account. It’s big and it's busy. But beneath the tough surface, there’s a city of many layers, eager to be discovered.

As you explore the city, Saigon’s neoclassical post office will bring you back to the most prosperous city in Vietnam. The Notre-Dame, made entirely of materials imported from France, will transport you to Europe while the colonial architecture will make up for the lack of the old town.

Here are our top 20 things to do in Ho Chi Minh City you don’t want to miss.

1. Discover Cu Chi Tunnels

Cu Chi tunnels in Saigon

Even if you aren’t into history, the Cu Chi tunnel complex is one of the most fascinating places to visit in Ho Chi Minh City.

This 121 kilometres long tunnel system was used during the infamous war by the Viet Cong soldiers as a hiding place, shelter, hospital and living space. They were cleverly engineered making it hard for the American troops to search through them.

It was also used by North Vietnam and the Viet Cong as a base for planning and launching the Tet Offensive, one of the largest military campaigns during the war.

While crawling the runnels, you'll be able to absorb the unimaginable living conditions. The lack of food, water and even oxygen made the living underground tough as hell.

Today the Cu Chi site is one of the biggest Saigon attractions. Some of the tunnels at Ben Dinh site have even been increased in size to accommodate tourists. Don't miss it.

It will take you 4-5 hours to get there and explore the tunnels so plan a half-day trip. Tickets for visiting the tunnels are sold all over Ho Chi Minh City, especially in the backpacker district.

To save time and hassle, book your guided tour online.

4. Tour Ho Chi Minh City on a Motorbike

Vietnam is the world’s motorbike capital or at least it seems so when you are visiting Saigon. And of all the best things to do in Ho Chi Minh City, sightseeing on a bike is the most fun.

To us, renting a bike in every destination in Vietnam was the best way to see the main sights and explore beyond the tourist attractions. It gave us the freedom to go and do things at our own pace.

Understandably, navigating a bike through the crazy streets of Saigon may not appeal straight away. But once you join the crowd, you'll notice that the traffic isn’t as bad as it may seem from the pavement level.

But if you think that riding a bike is not for you, you can still experience the city on the back of a motorbike. Saigon sightseeing on a bike is pretty cool. You get to pass the alleyways, stop at hidden cafes and even venture through an old mafia district.

Not to worry if you want to explore Ho Chi Minh on foot. Because you can easily see some of the main Saigon attractions in a day.

Start by visiting 6 of Saigon’s iconic buildings: Bitexco Financial Tower, Saigon Central Post Office, Saigon Notre-Dame Cathedral, Saigon Opera House, Reunification Palace, and Ben Thanh Market. We've listed them below.

2. Eat Your Way through Ho Chi Minh City

Quán Ngói in Saigon

Discovering the diverse Vietnamese cuisine, especially street food is one of the best things to do in Saigon. From tasty noodles, and crab spring rolls to the hot pot and crispy pancakes, there’s food in Saigon for every taste and budget.

As always, we recommend taking a street food tour in Ho Chi Minh City as soon as you arrive in town. That way you’ll get to know the local cuisine right at the start of your visit to Saigon.

Exploring the city with a local is such a good way to contribute to the local community as well as learn about the food culture in Vietnam first-hand. And the best thing is you get to eat the best street food in the non-touristy areas of Ho Chi Minh City.

3. Dine at Ngoc Chau Garden

If you are looking for authentic things to do in Ho Chi Minh City, head to the business district. Within a short walking distance from the Bitexco Financial Tower, you’ll find a lovely Vietnamese restaurant Ngoc Chau Garden.

This tiny restaurant only has a few seats and gets crowded pretty quickly with locals and visitors alike. We were lucky to just walk in and grab a seat.

The menu is quite extensive and a little confusing, we may add. But once you pick your dishes, they will arrive at your table expertly cooked and beautifully arranged.

Expect to pay $30 and more for dinner. But if you are planning to splash out a little when visiting Ho Chi Minh City, then come to this restaurant.

6. Send a Postcard Home From Saigon

Central Post Office in Saigon

Saigon's Central Post Office must be one of the most impressive places to visit in Ho Chi Minh City. Be sure to wander inside to admire the beautiful interior of the building. Have a seat and soak in the atmosphere.

We were hugely impressed with the striking yellow structure designed by the famous Frenchman Gustave Eiffel (of tower fame). The most impressive part of the building is the two maps of the region painted on the walls. The floor tiles are beautiful too.

Constructed in the late 19th century, the building is a must-visit attraction in Saigon not only because it’s a beautiful historic building. But also because it’s still a full-functioning post office.

As one of the most fun things to do in Saigon, buy a postcard from the kiosk and send it to your friends and loved ones from the very Saigon Central Post Office.

Saigon Central Post Office is open from 7 am- 7 pm Monday-Friday and 8 am - 6 pm Saturday-Sunday. Opening hours may vary during Christmas celebrations.

Address: 2 Cong Xa Paris, Ben Nghe, Quan 1, Ho Chi Minh

5. Taste Beer at the Highest Official Heineken Bar

Right in the heart of the financial district, the Bitexco Financial Tower houses a 360-degree viewing platform - Saigon Skydeck. It’s an impressive piece of modern architecture sticking out way above the other buildings in the area.

Go there just before sunset to catch the views in the daylight and the dark. The entrance to the tower costs around $9 per person. Or, head to the 50th-floor cafe EON for a delicious coffee with lovely views of the city.

The viewing platform is open from 8 am - 11 pm Monday-Saturday and from 9.30 am - 11 am on Sunday.

Address: 36 Ho Tung Mau street, District 1, Ho Chi Minh

7. Visit Saigon's Notre-Dame Cathedral

Notre-Dame of Saigon

Across the road from the post office, you'll see beautiful Saigon's cathedral. Constructed between 1863-1880, it stands tall and proud in the middle of the main road not minding the busy traffic.

An interesting fact is that all the materials to build the cathedral were shipped from France plus the foundation was designed to carry 10 times the weight of the basilica.

After the visit, pop into a quiet tree-shaded promenade just parallel to the cathedral (on your right-hand side walking away from the post office, just past McDonald's). It's a tranquil spot for a brief stroll, a coffee or some light reading. You might find that chilling here is one of those relaxing things to do in Ho Chi Minh City you didn't think of.

The Notre Dame Cathedral is open every day from 6 am - 8 pm. Opening hours during Christmas time may vary.

Address: 01 Cong Xa Paris, Ben Nghe, District 1, Ho Chi Minh

8. Watch Extraordinary Shows in Saigon

Restored in 1995, the Saigon Opera House is a fine example of French colonial architecture in Vietnam and one of the most beautiful places to visit in Saigon.

Out of all the fun things to do in Ho Chi Minh City, watching a theatrical show is a worthwhile experience in Vietnam. The cutting-edge theatre/circus performances, executed by skilled artists and often enriched with mesmerising sounds coming from exotic tribal instruments are a joy to watch.

When visiting Ho Chi Minh City, check the performance schedule at the beautiful opera house. Currently, once a day, they run three highly-rated shows: A O Show/Teh Dar Show and The Mist.

Address: 07 Cong Truong Lam Son, Dist. 1, Ho Chi Minh

9. Explore the Reunification Palace

Reunification Palace in Saigon

Set within beautiful gardens, the Independence Palace features a war room with original maps, propaganda and telecommunications machinery, a casino and network of tunnels.

This site is best known for the symbolic moment on the 30th April 1975 when a tank operated by the North Vietnam troops crashed through the palace gates. This signified the end of the Vietnam war and you can now see the famous tank on display in the Hanoi Military Museum.

Reunification Palace is open daily from 7.30 am - 11 am and 1 pm - 4 pm.

Address: 135 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, Phuong Ben Thanh, District 1, Ho Chi Minh

10. See Vivid Evidence of War Crimes Against Humanity

Brace yourself for witnessing years of suffering in vivid photographs at Saigon's War Remnants Museum. The exhibitions showcase information of inhumane war atrocities including the My Lai massacre, an attack on approx 500 unarmed South Vietnamese civilians.

As well as disturbing photographs you’ll also see military armoury equipment displayed in the museum. Although very gloomy, it’s one of the most visited places in Ho Chi Minh City and Vietnam. Don't miss it.

War Remnants Museum is open daily from 7.30 am - 6 pm

Address: 28 Vo Van Tan, Phuong 6, Quan 3, Ho Chi Minh

11. Stop by the Peaceful Ho Chi Minh City Museum

Pop into the used-to-be Revolutionary museum, next door to the Independence Palace and learn about Saigon’s development and Vietnam’s history. It's a less frequented museum in the city and therefore affords a peaceful, enjoyable and very affordable visit.

The Ho Chi Minh City Museum is open daily from 7.30 am - 5 pm

Address: 65 Ly Tu Trong, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City

12. Shop at Ben Thanh Market

Ben Thanh market

During its existence, the original Ben Thanh market has been through a lot. It first suffered in the fire, was restored and eventually moved closer to Saigon bus station in 1914, where it's located today.

With the symbolic clock tower adorning the front of the market building, it is one of the earliest remaining structures of Saigon. And a great place for some impromptu silk or food shopping.

One of the great things to do in Saigon is to book a cooking class that involves a trip to the Ben Thanh market. This way you’ll get to walk around the market with a local guide and buy fresh ingredients for your class.

We have the fondest memories of our experiences walking around Asian markets. It makes such a difference having a local showing you around. They know the best stalls and the best prices.

While you are at the market with your cooking class chef, take the opportunity to buy some local produce with the help of your guide, without being overcharged.

Ben Thanh market is open daily from 7 am - 7 pm

Address: Cho, Le Loi, Phuong Ben Thanh, District 1, Ho Chi Minh

13. Eat at Binh Tay Market (Chợ Bến Thành)

While the above six iconic places to visit in Ho Chi Minh City are all bunched up together, there's one more place we recommend visiting in Saigon. It’s a little further away, in Saigon’s Chinatown, District 6 on Thap Muoi Street (Duong Thap Muoi).

This central market is a non-touristy wholesale market, but souvenir and clothing stalls are also available at lower prices compared to the more touristy Ben Thanh market.

Eating with the locals is one of the best things to do in Ho Chi Minh so head to the market. The food stalls here are frequented by the Vietnamese which is a good indicator of good food.

Binh Tay Market is open daily from 6 am - 7 pm

Address: 57a Thap Muoi, Phuong 2, Quan 6, Ho Chi Minh

14. Experience Ho Chi Minh City Nightlife

Backpacker street in Saigon

While visiting Saigon, we stayed in the business district which meant we were close to some interesting Ho Chi Minh City attractions like the ‘Walking Street.’

Jam-packed with funky bars and BBQ grills, the busy stretch of road is perfect if you are interested in experiencing a little bit of Ho Chi Minh City nightlife.

Another happening spot in Saigon is the Phạm Ngu Lao street, also known as the Backpacker Street. Head there if you are on a budget and want to experience that epic SE Asia backpacker vibe.

Located close to the city centre in District 1, the street is buzzing with bars, cafes, cheap hostels and tour operators. It’s also home to Baba's Kitchen, one of our favourite Indian restaurants in Saigon.

17. Study the Secrets of Vietnamese Medicine

Visiting the atmospheric Museum of Traditional Vietnamese Medicine is one of the most impressive things do in Ho Chi Minh City. It’s a unique place in the city that offers a glimpse into the evolution of traditional Vietnamese (and Chinese) medicine.

The peaceful museum comprises of several rooms dedicated to the famous Vietnamese physicians, a collection of traditional ingredients and also instruments to prepare potions.

Worth spending $5 and exploring the museum with a guide.

Fito Museum is open daily from 8.30 am - 5 pm

Address: 41 Hoang Du Khuong, Phuong 12, Quan 10, Ho Chi Minh City

15. Sip Coffee at Secret Cafes

Candy floss tea at Boo Coffee 

There are tons of fun things to do in Saigon and if you love coffee at any time of day, pop into the funky Boo Coffee overlooking the Walking Street.

The signature drink here is the candy floss iced tea. The tea itself is lovely and reminded us of Thai tea, but beware the candy floss can be messy. It melts fast in the humidity!

You’ll find it in one of the old tower blocks on the ‘Walking Street’ on your right-hand side (when facing the Town Hall). The building is hard to miss as it has neon signs, lanterns and lights up in the dark.

Climb the staircase to the top floor following the Boo Coffee signs on the walls. You can also take a lift as it's quite a climb.

Mockingbird Coffee is another hidden cafe in Saigon. We stumbled upon the cafe only because we lived across the alleyway. Housed in a derelict building, the hipster cafe has a vintage style to it, makes good coffee and tasty hot ham & cheese sandwiches which you can eat in the balcony.

As you climb up to the 4th floor, check out the fashion and arty pop-up shops along the way.

Boo Cafe address: 42 Nguyen Hue, Ben Nghe, District 1, He Chi Minh

Mockingbird Coffee address: 4-04, 14, Duong Ton That Dam, Phuong Nguyen Thai Binh, District 1, Ho Chi Minh

16. Find Peace at Jade Emperor Pagoda

Jade Emperor Pagoda

Built by the Chinese community back in 1909, Jade Emperor Pagoda is one of the nicest places to visit in Ho Chi Minh City for escaping the hustle of the busy city.

Dressed up with beautiful Chinese lanterns, elaborate roof tiles, flowers and burning incense, it’s also one of the most important Taoist pagodas.

Address: 73 Duong Mai Thi Luu, Da Kao, District 1, Ho Chi Minh

18. Enjoy the Art of Water Puppetry

We’ve already mentioned how great the water puppet show is in our things to do in Hanoi article so if you missed it, you can catch the puppetry show in Saigon.

The show isn’t just for children. You’ll enjoy this ancient Vietnamese performance art, whatever the age you are. It’s a truly entertaining experience and a must-see in Saigon.

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19. Go Shopping in Ho Chi Minh City

If your ideal Saigon visit involves hunting fashion labels then you should go shopping in Ho Chi Minh City. And what a better place to spot top brands and local boutique designer shops than the most popular Nguyen Trai street.

Also, check out Quang Trung and Le Van Sy streets. The Ly Chinh Thang street is great for shoe shopping.

20. Gaze Over the City from Saigon's Rooftop Bars

Bitexco Financial Tower HCMC
Saigon Skyline

We left it for last but that doesn’t mean that enjoying a rooftop bar isn’t one of the top things to do in Ho Chi Minh City. On the contrary, ordering a cup of coffee, lunch or a cocktail with a view across the city, is a must-do in Saigon.

We’ve already mentioned Bitexco Finance Tower in the 'Wall Street of Saigon'. Their EON Heli Bar is located on floor 49. And remember what we said earlier, come here just before sunset so you can enjoy the golden hour.

Also check out Saigon Saigon Bar at Caravelle Hotel, The View in Duc Vuong Hotel in the backpacker district, and Glow Sky Bar among many.

Day Trips from Ho Chi Minh City

One of the best day trips you can and should take from Ho Chi Minh City is the Mekong Delta, Vietnam's most important fishing region.

Known as a "biological treasure trove," it’s home to interconnecting river canals, floating markets, river islands, vast rice paddies and over 1,000 animal species. Some supernatural, we are told.

There are many ways to get to the Mekong Delta from Ho Chi Minh City. You can rent a motorbike in the city or catch a bus. But the easiest way to get there is by joining a small group tour from Saigon if you can only spare one day.

Ho Chi Minh City Travel Tips

Ho Chi Minh City

Getting to Ho Chi Minh City

By Air: Ho Chi Minh City is easily reachable by air. Tan Son Nhat Airport, the largest in Vietnam, is conveniently located about 8 km from the city centre.

Getting to Ho Chi Minh City From the Airport

The bus No. 152 will take you to the east end of the Pham Ngu Lao area from the airport. An additional charge of around 5,000 VND ($0.23) may apply to your luggage. Make sure you have the exact change ready.

There are two bus stops, one in front of the international terminal and the other one in front of the domestic terminal, you will need the latter.

The last bus leaves the terminal at around 6 pm. You can also catch bus No.109, it's more expensive than the No. 152. The last bus leaves at around 1:30 am.

By Bus: Futa Bus Lines is a good company to use when travelling by bus to Ho Chi Minh City from popular destinations such as Da Nang, Hue, Da Lat and Nha Trang. You can book a bus seat online or via your accommodation.

Top Tip: Avoid taxis at the bus stations, if you can. Instead, walk out of the station on to the main road and catch a green taxi. We found the green taxis to be the best, they all have a meter running and throughout our trip around Vietnam, we never had any problems.

Da Lat to Ho Chi Minh City

If you are travelling to Ho Chi Minh City from Da Lat, we recommend a brief stop halfway (4 hours) at Cat Tien National Park. After the visit, you will be able to arrange either a Futa or a local bus via your accommodation at the park.

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Top Tip: avoid local minivans. Touristy minivans or small busses are a much better option. Even though they are way cheaper and will pick you up from your accommodation, the drivers are rather speedy.

Use them if you don't mind a van full of goods over your head, sharing your seat with 2 other people, constant honking and dangerous and speedy driving.

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Where to Stay in Ho Chi Minh City

From luxury and budget-hotels to Airbnb, there's no shortage of places to stay in Ho Chi Minh. It's just the case of choosing the right accommodation.

We weren't entirely happy with our initial choice of accommodation in Saigon. But luckily, the next day we found our apartment on Airbnb, conveniently located in the 'Wall Street' of Saigon.

It's a comfortable, spacious and tastefully decorated studio flat, with a few funky details. The bed was very comfortable and the bedding was very nice compared to the nylon covers in the previous place. Towels were fluffy, clean and soft. Minh, our host, was very welcoming and accommodating.

Where to Eat in Ho Chi Minh City

Vietnamese food

Choosing a place to eat in Saigon depends on your taste, how long you've been travelling around Vietnam and how much you've missed comforting food.

There are plenty of high-end and western restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City, or simple carts selling Vietnamese rolls by the road. If you are looking for a cheaper option, the sandwiches are usually under a dollar, but mind you sometimes they can be quite small.

We tried to mix it up.

Nhu Lan - Vietnamese Street Food

If you find yourself in the business district also known as the Wall Street of Saigon, look out for Nhu Lan.

It’s always packed with office workers coming here for breakfast, lunch and dinner. This fast street food restaurant serves a variety of traditional Vietnamese dishes as well as western-style food such as spaghetti bolognese. Try their smoothies, they are really good too.

Around the restaurant, there are lots of snack stalls where you can purchase baguettes and other various snacks. Look out for grilled banana with sticky rice. It comes wrapped in a banana leaf, accompanied with coconut milk and peanuts. Smells just like peanut butter. Delicious.

Address: 66-68 Ham Nghi, Ben Nghe, Quan 1, Ho Chi Minh City

Quán "Ngói" - Funky Restaurant with a Rooftop Terrace

We stumbled upon this restaurant with a rooftop terrace on our first night in Saigon. There is no English version of the menu so we struggled a little. Eventually, we ordered some fish and fresh beef which we grilled on a hotplate. It was excellent.

Address: 245/23 Nguyen Trai, Ho Chi Minh City

Uptown District Banh Mi Express - Vietnamese Sandwiches

Uptown District Banh Mi Express is a cute sandwich shop located in the financial district of Ho Chi Minh City. It's a cosy little shop with a sandwich bar and a few seats at the back. The Banh Mi (sandwiches) here are freshly made, tasty and reasonably priced.

Address: 17 Pasteur, Phuong Nguyen Thai Binh, Quan 1, Ho Chi Minh City

Baba's Kitchen - The Best Indian Food in Town

If you feel like a good quality Indian food, head to Baba's Kitchen in the backpacker district. The food here is more than great and the service is excellent. The staff are very friendly and attentive. Ironically, after 3 long months of travelling the length of the country, we came back here to wrap up our final night in Vietnam.

Address: 274 Bui Vien, Phuong Pham Ngu Lao, Quan 1, Ho Chi Minh City

Hun Khoi BBQ Restaurant

You will find quite a few pub-ish looking places in the financial district. The one we popped in was a mix of a traditional wooden interior and flashy neon lights. After the working hours, the place is buzzing with the office workers having a social meal and a pint.

The food at Hun Khoi BBQ is quite decent. Both beef burger and boneless chicken wings with Chilli Sambal sauce were delicious. The best thing about this place is that the food is BBQ'd outside the restaurant on the street by a few skilful local guys.

Address: 13 Pasteur, Phuong Nguyen Thai Binh, Quan 1, Ho Chi Minh

Kichi-Kichi - Hot Pot Chain Restaurant

Kichi-Kichi is like a Sushi bar but with a hot pot. You get lots of veg, raw meat, fish and tofu on a conveyor belt and then cook it in your hot pot. Not cheap, but good fun. The meat is served frozen and cooks very quickly in the boiling pot. The clams were beautiful and well recommended!

Address: 84 Cao Thang, Phuong 4, Quan 3, Ho Chi Minh City

Papa Garden - Cafe & Smoothies

Just round the corner from the famous Phạm Ngu Lao backpacker street, you will find a place called Papa Garden. It's a very chic air-conditioned juice bar/cafe with plenty of seats.

It serves all sorts of smoothies, from the 'Luminous Bliss' made from mango, passion fruit, yoghurt and cardamom to the refreshing 'Unstoppable' made from strawberry, banana, apple and yoghurt.

Address: Papa Garden, 119 Cong Quynh, Nguyen Cu Trinh, District 1, Ho Chi Minh