by Catalin Geangos
If you are visiting Vietnam, at some point in your trip you are likely to spend some time in Ho Chi Minh City, also commonly known as Saigon. Ho Chi Minh is a massive city surrounding the Saigon River and located in the southeast of Vietnam. While not the capital of Vietnam, it is the main economic and financial centre. It has many historical and cultural landmarks. Today I’m going to share with you some of my favourite things to do in Saigon. Also, you should check out the nightclubs and nightlife in Ho Chi Minh City.
Where to Stay in Ho Chi Minh City?
Before getting into the best attractions, I’d like to share my recommendations for where to stay in the city and the best time to visit Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh is a compact city, meaning it’s easy to travel around and stay near the main areas you want to explore. Most visitors stay in District 1, and that’s where I chose to stay on my last trip there. This is where you will find most of the historical and cultural Vietnam tourist attractions. There are also plenty of malls and high-end restaurants if you are looking to treat yourself on your vacation. If you are looking for a cheaper area, District 3 is another good option. This is a less touristy district, but still close to the city centre and all the action.
Must-See Attractions in Ho Chi Minh City
Ben Thanh Market
Located in District 1, spending time in Ben Thanh Market was undeniably one of my favourite experiences during Ho Chi Minh City stay. It is one of the earliest structures built in Saigon and attracts locals and visitors alike every day. Open every day from 6 am to 6 pm, how many of the 1,500 booths will you hit? Make sure you have some cash in hand for your visit. You’ll be able to purchase all your souvenirs and gifts here, and they have a great selection of clothes, Vietnamese coffee, and accessories.
War Remnants Museum
Located in District 3 at 28 Vo Van Tan, the War Remnants Museum chronicles the Vietnam War and the First Indochina War. It is one of the most famous war history museums in the world. I highly recommend you stop by here. The exhibits are fascinating, with original tanks and helicopters from the wars. Consult the daily schedule for the museum before your visit, as they close daily for a lunch break.
Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon
You will find this cathedral in downtown Ho Chi Minh City. Built by French colonists between 1863 and 1880, the cathedral stands 58 metres tall, boasting two bell towers. I think it’s one of the most beautiful sights in the city. The interior of the cathedral is well worth a look as it features beautiful stained glass windows. If you want to learn more about the history of the cathedral, staff are available to answer questions.
If you are like me and enjoy learning about the history of the places you are visiting, take my advise and check out the Independence Palace. It is one of the landmarks of Ho Chi Minh City and was the home of the President of South Vietnam during the war. You’ll want to spend at least an hour here, and you should make it a priority on your first day’s itinerary.
Ho Chi Minh Post Office
I wasn’t sure what to expect before arriving here, but this just isn’t your usual post office! Designed by Gustave Eiffel (of Eiffel Tower fame) the building was constructed in 1886 and is one of the must-sees in the city. Don’t just view it from the outside — head inside to see the domed roof and decorated walls.
Bonsai River Cruise
If all the sightseeing has worn you out, I’d recommend having a relaxing evening on the water with a river cruise. Many of these come with dinner included, and recreate the elegant voyages of the past. Try to sail on a traditional dragon boat for an authentic experience!
Củ Chi Tunnels
In my opinion, this is the number one must-do for anyone visiting Saigon. Located about an hour outside the city, it’s best to take an organised tour here. The tunnels of Củ Chi are part of an extensive network of tunnels located underground. Soldiers originally used them during the Vietnam War as a hiding spot, as well as living quarters and as underground passages. I’d recommend getting a guide for your visit here as it will help you understand the true significance of this landmark. You will even get to enter one of the tunnels through the tiniest of holes in the ground! Ensure you book in advance so you don’t miss out on an unforgettable day there.
Jade Emperor Pagoda
Also known as the Tortoise Pagoda, this is one of the most important and visited shrines in Ho Chi Minh City. It represents the Mahayanist brand of Buddhism, which is practiced by many in Vietnam. It was quite crowded during my visit here, but it’s well worth stopping at. The Pagoda is stunning, and I loved spotting the turtles outside on my way out!
Bitexco Tower and Sky Deck
If you are looking to discover the city’s modern side, head to Bitexco Tower. At 262 metres tall, it’s the highest building in Vietnam. As you can imagine, the views from the sky deck are incredible! I also highly recommend the sky bar, Alto, where you can enjoy a sunset cocktail and tapas.
There is so much to do in Ho Chi Minh City, and it’s the ideal place to use as a launchpad when traveling in Vietnam. I enjoyed immersing myself in Vietnamese history and culture during my time here. Flights to Ho Chi Minh City are available throughout the world, so this is the perfect destination to fly into before heading off to explore the country. I hope I’ve inspired you to embrace the history, cuisine, and culture of Ho Chi Minh City as much as I did on your next visit!