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. This is a massive city surrounding the Saigon River and located in the southeast of Vietnam. While not the capital of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City is the main economic and financial centre. It has many historical and cultural landmarks. Here are my top nine things to do in Ho Chi Minh City.
1) Shop at 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 7:00am to 8:00pm, how many of the 1,500 booths will you hit? You’ll be able to purchase all your souvenirs and gifts here, and they have a great selection of clothes, Vietnamese coffee, and accessories.
2) Visit the 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.
3) Explore the 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.
4) Drop by Independence Palace
If you are like me and enjoy learning about the history of the places you are visiting, take my advice 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.
5) Pop into Ho Chi Minh City 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 ceiling and decorated walls.
6) Take a Bonsai River Cruise
If all the sightseeing has worn you out, I’d recommend having a relaxing evening on the water with a Bonsai Cruise. There’s an option to enjoy a floating dinner, and recreate the elegant voyages of the past. Try to sail on a traditional dragon boat for a more authentic experience.
7) Head out to Củ Chi Tunnels
In my opinion, this is the number one must-do for anyone visiting Ho Chi Minh City. Located about an hour outside Saigon, it’s best to take an organised tour here. The tunnels of Củ Chi are part of an extensive network 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! In addition, ensure you book in advance so you don’t miss out on an unforgettable day there.
8) Pay Your Respects at 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 practised 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!
9) Go Up in the World at 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! After that, 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. Above all, 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!