Ho Chi Minh City, previously known and still referred to as Saigon, is the largest city in Vietnam. Located on the southern portion of the country, the city stands proud as proof of Vietnam’s courage and determination to rise above their turbulent past. With French colonial buildings standing side by side with modern skyscrapers, Ho Chi Minh City is a mix of the old and new. But the one thing about the city that will always stand out though — the crazy and chaotic motorcycle-filled streets.
My 3 days and 2 nights visit to the city was made possible with Actxplorer, an online travel platform that arranged all my wonderfully planned tours during my visit. However, I did have my own free time to explore and walk about the city as well. I had most fun being a part of the crazy traffic, whizzing around on the UberMOTO/GrabBikes. I have to say the bike taxi (or Xe Om) is a great way to get around Saigon — they can be found everywhere, and only cost about VND10-12K (US$0.5) per way around the city.
I had a great time in Ho Chi Minh City, and despite the fact that I wish I had more time to experience more things the city has to offer; these are my top 10 things you must do when you visit, even if you have limited time or just a couple of days!
1. Crawl through the Cu Chi Tunnels
You can’t visit Ho Chi Minh and not visit the very village that played an integral part in Vietnam’s fight for freedom during the Vietnam/American War. Cu Chi is the location of the famed Cu Chi Tunnels, a honeycomb-like network that runs deep into the depths of the underground. It served as the operations base of the Viet Cong, who used the narrow tunnels to move supplies and house troops, hide during combats, and ambush unsuspecting soldiers.
At the tourist site, visitors are allowed to crawl through the tunnels — but enter with caution, as the tunnels (though widened) are still very tight and claustrophobic. Read about my experience here:- The Village of Cu Chi and its Tunnels.
2. Float along the Mekong Delta
There really is nothing like spending a day floating along the Mekong and immersing yourself in the Vietnamese life. I had a great time during my visit to one of the country’s most important source of livelihood, and learning about the local industries that keep their people alive. I visited the brick factory and the coconut procession plant, learned a local craft, enjoyed folk music while munching on tropical fruits, had an amazing lunch of local Mekong delicacies, and sipped on a coconut as I glided down the river on a traditional boat. What an experience!
Do take a local tour on your trip to the Mekong, it makes the experience much more enjoyable and hassle-free. I followed Actxplorer, and you can read about my adventures here:- Mynn’s Top 10 Reasons to Visit Vietnam’s Mekong Delta.
3. Shop at the Ben Tanh Market & Night Market
With a history dating back more than 100 years, the Ben Thanh Market is the largest market in Ho Chi Minh City, and an important symbol of the city. The market is so huge that it sells almost everything; from local handicrafts, art and souvenirs to snacks, sweets and local Vietnamese coffee. We dropped by the market food section in the morning for a local breakfast — and had the most amazing Mi Quang (turmeric noodle dish from Central Vietnam) and Mien Xao Cua (fried glass noodles with crab meat) ever.
Come night, after the market closes, the streets beside Ben Thanh Market take over. Stalls selling almost the same kind of souvenirs and food stuff as the market open up along the streets (that are closed off to traffic), and stalls serving seafood and local dishes fill the air with their delicious aroma. The Night Market is a great place to experience the bustling night scene in Saigon.
4. Visit the War Remnants Museum
Enter the War Remnants Museum with discretion — it is not for the faint hearted. One of the most popular museums in Ho Chi Minh City, the museum opened in 1975 and displays graphic photographs of the Vietnam/American War that lasted from 1945 to 1975. It holds a collection of works by photographers and journalists from all over the world who covered the war, and though the exhibitions can be one sided, it shows the atrocities, pain and after-effects of the war on the people of Vietnam.
The museum also displays American war equipment like helicopters, army tanks and fighter planes in its outdoor compound. There’s also a re-created jail that shows the conditions and equipment used in a Vietnamese detention cell during the war. Entrance cost VND15K (US$0.7).
5. Stroll along Walking Street to the City Hall
In 2015, Saigon’s Nguyen Hue Street was changed to a pedestrian-only walking street. The strip runs 900 metres from the People’s Committee Building to the Saigon River. I visited the street in the day and it was empty (daytime heat); and then again at night, when it came to live with locals and tourists walking around and enjoying the night views. The street is lined by significant landmark buildings like the Rex Hotel and the Municipal Theatre; as well as the Apartment Cafe, an entire apartment filled with instagram-worthy cafes.
I also spent some time photographing the gorgeous People’s Committee Building (City Hall) at the start of the walking street. Completed in 1908 by the French, its cream and white colonial architecture looks stunning both day and night. There’s also a statue of Ho Chi Minh (1st President of North Vietnam) in front of the building, whom the city of Saigon changed its name to honor.
6. Admire the City from Up High
While strolling along Saigon’s walking street, I dropped by the Apartment Cafe’s Buihaus Cafe on the 7th floor for a cuppa Vietnamese coffee and lovely views of the street. For night views, I headed up to the 23rd floor of the Sheraton Saigon Hotel. The rooftop lounge here offers a great place to chill with a glass of wine, beer or cocktails; and the panoramic view of the city’s bright lights are pretty stunning from up high.
Another option for a bird’s eye view of the city is at the observation deck of the Bitexco Financial Tower. Standing at 262 meters, the building has 68 floors and is the tallest building in Ho Chi Minh City, and the 3rd tallest in Vietnam. Entrance to the Skydeck on the 49th floor costs VND200K (US$9).
7. Drop by the Central Post Office and Notre Dame Cathedral
The Central Post Office and the Notre Dame Cathedral are significant and historical landmarks in the city — and it’s free! Saigon’s Central Post Office is one of the city’s oldest building and was built at the end of the 19th century in a distinctively French colonial architecture. Stepping inside, I felt like I was transported back in time — wall arches, marble flooring, patterned windows, and antique telephone booths make up the interior design of the building. There’s also a huge portrait of Ho Chi Minh hanging in the center of the hall. This is Vietnam’s busiest post office, and has been running for more than 100 years!
The Notre Dame Cathedral stands next to the Post Office, and was constructed in the 1880’s. The all-red brick Cathedral got its official name and status as a basilica in 1962. There is a statue of the Virgin Mary in the park in front of the cathedral — and come night, the park becomes a popular chill-out spot.
8. Visit the Reunification Palace
It is hard not to notice the Reunification Palace (Independence Palace) and its massive grounds in the center of Ho Chi Minh City when you’re exploring the city. The initial building was built in the late 19th century, and was used as the residence and office of the French Governor of Cochinchina. After France withdrew from Vietnam, the palace was later used as the base of the leaders of the anti-communist South Vietnam. The building was destroyed and rebuilt in the midst of the Vietnam/American War, which ended when a North Vietnamese Army tank crashed into its gates in 1975.
The Reunification Palace now seems frozen in time with its 1960’s old-modern architecture and its vast lush grounds with tropical plants and palm trees. Entrance to the palace grounds and building (which is now a museum) is VND20K (US$1). I only admired the palace from afar through its ‘iconic’ gates.
9. Savour the Local Street Food
Vietnamese Food is one of my favorite cuisines — I just cannot get enough of their noodle dishes! For a selection of local fares, head over to the food section at the Ben Thanh Market. It is the best place to sample a typical Vietnamese meal together with the locals. And if you’re looking for the best Banh Mi (French baguette sandwich) in town, head over to Banh Mi Huynh Hoa. This small hole-in-the-wall eatery packs up a complete sandwich with all kinds of meat, pate and sauces that just one bite into their crispy bread will make you feel like your mouth just had an explosion of flavors!
During my visit to Ho Chi Minh City, I managed to slot in a street food tour, and was brought to try all kinds of unique and ‘seldom heard of’ Vietnamese dishes. I had Banh Trang Tron, Pha Lau Bo and Bun Beo Hue, just to name a few; and you can read all about my foodie journey here:- A Street Food Tour on Wheels.
10. Enjoy the City’s Nightlife
After all whole day exploring the sights and sounds of Ho Chi Minh City — what better way to end it than by being a part of the vibrant city nightlife? Some of the fun and relaxing things to do in the city at night are (like mentioned above) taking a night stroll along walking street, admiring the bright lights from above, shopping at the night markets, or even taking a food tour.
However, if you’re up for partying the entire night away, head over to Bui Vien Street, also known as the Backpacker’s Street in District 1 for a wide selection of inexpensive bars, pubs and restaurants. Lots of locals and visitors sit by the side of the street as they watch people walk by, in the midst of all the bright lights, loud music and noisy party people. It’s also a way to soak up the city’s lifestyle and culture of its younger generation.
Travel with Actxplorer
Actxplorer is a travel platform that provides travel experiences while creating a positive impact to the local communities. The company works closely with locals and NGOs, and they offer unique experiences like workshops, farmstays, food tours and volunteer initiatives. During my visit to Ho Chi Minh City, I went on three Actxplorer tours and had a great time. You can read about my experiences in the links below, and there’s also a code for a 10% discount on any bookings at the bottom of the post!
For more information and tours on Actxplorer, visit here.
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*She Walks the World visited Ho Chi Minh City with Actxplorer. As always, all opinions and suggestions stated here are my own.