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Undeniably yes. Over the last few months, I have been asked by several friends, colleagues and family members about visiting Ho Chi Minh. Is it worth it they ask? Yes! Is it safe? Yes! We have visited several times and this post covers some of the things we have learnt over five years of visiting. This post covers things to do in Ho Chi Minh City, a great Ho Chi Minh market or two, our best experience with a Ho Chi Minh City tour and which hotels in Ho Chi Minh City we think make the grade.
Ho Chi Minh City or HCMC is definitely worth spending some time in. Like visiting any big city, if you don’t do a bit of research before you go you may just miss out on a spectacular time. Read along to find out more about what to do in Ho Chi Minh City. You can also see here what we always pack when we head to Vietnam.
South East Asia is one of our favourite areas of the world to visit. Alongside Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia we have been to Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon, Vietnam four times – these are some of our highlights you should think about if HCMC is on your list. Or even better, hopefully, this post will encourage you to give Ho Chi Minh City a try!
Sure there are some things that are frustrating about HCMC – but no more than any other large city. HCMC is a bustling metropolis, with a population of almost 8 million people. This size means you can create your own type of experience depending on your own preferences. We are flashpackers, in that we like to have comfortable accommodation and are prepared to get out of our comfort zone. We will spend a little bit to get decent accommodation and we are happy to be scoping out bargains where ever we can. We also aren’t particularly interested in staying in huge hotels where it is really easy to stay cosseted away – and meet no one other than other tourists. Of course, each traveller has their own likes, dislikes and preferences. This blog covers some of the things we love about Ho Chi Minh city – some may suit you, some may not.
It is a city that is changing quickly – there were two years between our most recent visits and the change was astounding.
Hopefully, this starter guide can take some of the hard work out of your planning for a visit to HCMC – or even better, convinces you to put HCMC on your list!
Like any big city there are plenty of things to do in Ho Chi Minh City. There are the general points of interest that are on most bucket lists, but you have to choose what suits you and your type of holiday. If you are into Museums, great – there are plenty to visit in Ho Chi Minh. Food – plenty to discover. Sitting by the pool and drinking beer – you can do that too. Eating and drinking amazing fresh food and beverages – yep, that too!
We think Ho Chi Minh is a great place to visit. Here are some of the things we loved doing and seeing in HCMC:
There are many museums and attractions to visit in Ho Chi Minh. As to be expected there is a wide variety covering many topics – including Vietnam’s recent history. Many of the museums are within walking distance of each other which is great – but it can be easy to get overwhelmed, especially given the subjects being covered in some of the museums. If you have the time we would recommend splitting up the museums and doing one a day.
This museum was once known as the Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes and is located at 28 Vo Van Tan, in District 3, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and is open from 7.30am to 6 pm. The War Remnants Museum is a relatively modern museum and is one of the most popular visitor attractions in Ho Chi Minh City that covers some pretty gruesome subject matters including the use of Agent Orange in Vietnam, and also looks at many war remnants. It is well worth visiting.
The museum covers some pretty gruesome subject matter including the use of Agent Orange in Vietnam and also looks at many war remnants. It is well worth visiting.
Located in a large imposing neo classical building the Ho Chi Minh City Museum is focused on telling the story of the city. It is located at 65 Ly Tu Trong, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City and is open from 7.30am to 6 pm. The building itself is as memorable as the exhibitions and artefacts inside, and the war machines outside.
The Ho Chi Minh Museum is located in a former French customs house, and is nicknamed Nga Rhong (Dragon House). It is located at 01 Nguyen Tat Thanh, District 4. It is open 8am – 5pm, and closed on Mondays. This museum holds many of ‘Uncle Ho’s’ personal items including clothing and shoes, and covers the story of his life.
The Women’s Museum established in 1985 is well worth checking out. It is located at 202 Võ Thị Sáu, District 3 and is a historical museum focused on celebrating Vietnamese women.
Reunification, or Independence, Palace is an immediately recognisable place – as a North Vietnamese Army tank crashing through the Palace gates signified the end of the Vietnam War. Images of the event are widely available. especially if you have seen photos about the war and Ho Chi Minh City. It is a time capsule to 60’s design, so do check it out if that is your thing!
It is located at 106 Nguyen Du, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City.
The beautiful Thien Hau Temple (Pagoda of Lady Thien Hau) is a lovely, quiet and reflective place in the noise of Ho Chi Minh. It has a partially covered courtyard and an altar to Thien Hau – who is revered for her ability to travel over the sea. Within the courtyard, you will find incense coils and also see the amazing porcelain dioramas which decorate the roof. Worshippers purchase the incense coils and attach their names to them, their prayers are then transmitted on the smoke of the coils as they burn. For a quiet retreat, this is a great place to see, observe and watch quietly.
The Saigon Cathedral of Notre Dame (officially Basilica of Our Lady of The Immaculate Conception) is an impressive site. The Cathedral is an important landmark in Ho Chi Minh City. It was constructed between 1863 and 1880 by the French colonists, following their conquest of the city.
It is still a functioning Cathedral where services are still held, so be mindful of that when you go inside. If you visit on any day other than Sunday, try to be there between 8 am – 11 am or from 3 pm – 6 pm. Outside of these hours, you may find the gates to the Cathedral are locked and you can’t get in.
In front of the cathedral stands a Virgin Mary statue, which is said to have shed tears in 2005, causing thousands of people to stop around the Basilica.
The best place to take a photo that includes the Virgin Mary and the Cathedral is at the front near the road.
The Cathedral is open seven days a week. There are seven masses each Sunday, with the 9.30am session in English. For up to date Opening Hours and Mass Times check here: Saigon Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica | Mass times & Opening hours
It is located at No. 1 Cong truong Cong xa Paris St., right at the intersection of Pham Ngoc Thach St, Le Duan St and Cong xa Paris St.
Saigon Central Post Office is directly across the road from the Cathedral and is well worth popping over to see. It was designed by Mr Eiffel – yep him who did the Tower in Paris – and built between 1886 and 1891. You can go inside and post a letter, and you can even make a phone call from the still functioning telephone boxes.
Andy loves a good market. Me, not so much. Most neighbourhoods have their own local markets, and they are an eye opening experience. Most Vietnamese households pick up fresh ingredients several times a week – so markets remain an important part of communities – even in big cities. You may notice markets have everything from the kitchen sink (literally) to beautiful delicate herbs – and everything in between. Wet markets will have fresh seafood and meats – many of which may be unfamiliar. There is very little refrigeration (if any) in the wet markets – and very little smell or flies. Amazing. Such a different experience from going to the supermarket and getting everything in lovely, little packages.
Ben Thanh Market in District 1 is targeted at tourists – so expect to haggle prices down. It is centrally located and is a distinctive building – so it is pretty hard to miss! It is worth having a nose around and seeing what there is. It can be overwhelming though – vendors tug on your arm or clothing as you walk by – trying to entice you into their space.
We also recommended venturing out to Binh Tay Market in Chinatown. Binh Tay has a wet market and street market outside, and inside you can find anything and everything. If you want to see the wet and street markets at their thriving best get there early. The markets open at 5 am, so if you meander in at 8 am you may miss the market in full flight. There is a delicious food market to get breakfast, lunch, second breakfasts or elevenses. And there is so much choice. We had a wee snack, wandered around the market, and then returned to the food market for another wee snack (or two) after.
The traffic in Ho Chi Minh is a sight to behold. For the uninitiated, it can be a daunting experience stepping out into the traffic. – try and cross the road – just walk out and keep going – don’t stop! The first few times we followed the lead of the locals and ventured out into the traffic when they did. Give it a go – fairly soon you will be tackling those big streets with ease.
We think one of the best things about Vietnam is the amazing food, and Saigon food is definitely up there. The food is so varied (as you would expect in a country as diverse and big as Vietnam) and fresh. In most traditional places to eat in Ho Chi Minh your meal will often be served with heaps (literally) of fresh herbs and greens, and condiments (chilli, pepper, lime/lemon) that you can add to your meal so it is flavoured to exactly your requirements. Take it slow – it is easier to add than take away! The abundance of fresh fruit is also amazing – mango is my favourite, followed closely by mangosteen, dragon fruit, passion fruit and the trusty banana.
Andy loves to get out early in the morning – and have some of the famous Saigon street food, especially pho or coffee with the locals. The food carts and choices available in the morning differ from those in the day and at night. So make sure you wander around at different times of day and night and sample different types of street food – you may make some new discoveries in the same place.
If you are a coffee drinker then definitely give Vietnamese coffee a go. It is good – very good. We love Cafe Sua Da – iced black coffee over condensed milk. Sounds a bit odd – but goodness me – it is very refreshing on a hot day!
A good starting point is the Ben Thanh Street Food market where you will be able to sample a whole lot of stuff and figure out what you may like. It is geared towards tourists, but it will give you a chance to try new things and gain a bit of confidence before you hit up some street food purveyors. Directly across the road on the corner is also a good bbq place.
Our ‘must do’ places to eat in Ho Chi Minh City is Banh Xeo 46A. We have been coming here since our first trip to Vietnam so it holds a bit of sentimental value. It is a bit further out in District 1, but easy to get to in a cab/uber. The food there is slightly pricier than other venues but the atmosphere is great. You can watch the chefs churn out great dishes, which I suspect they are doing for hours on end.
One of the best things about hot weather and being on holiday is that it is acceptable to have a beer early in the day. And there are plenty of Vietnamese options available. We also noticed a few craft beer places popping up too. If you get a chance to park up with the locals on tiny stools having a quiet beer – then give it a go. Don’t be surprised when your beer either arrives with, or you are offered, ice. For westerners, this can be an odd addition to beer, but it keeps your beer cold. We always have ice in our beer (and cocktails too) and haven’t been sick. We understand most ice is commercially produced in the big cities.
You have plenty of choice for where to stay in Ho Chi Minh City. You can go luxurious, budget or anywhere in between. We find Vietnamese hotels to be good value for money, with most providing a very good breakfast to start your day off right. We tend to go for mid-range small or boutique hotels, a few of our favourites are below. If you subscribe to www.reddoorponderings.com we will send you a $15USD discount code you can use for your next Booking.com booking!
Here are a couple of Ho Chi Minh City hotels we love. We managed to forget to take photos for most of them – a rookie trick – but you can find plenty of photos online – just follow the links provided. If you are staying over a week or travelling with children we recommend finding a place with a pool. We don’t usually go out of our way to find a place with a pool.
Oakwood Apartments Ho Chi Minh City is a great place to stay if you love big rooms with kitchen facilities, a pool, sauna and fitness centre. The hotel is in District 3 which will give you a slightly different experience than staying in the middle of District 1. District 3 is quieter, but less than 5 mins drive from District 1 – so you get the best of both worlds. We think Oakwood Apartments has the potential to be one of the best hotels in Ho Chi Minh City.
We liked that the rooms were big. We stayed in a Deluxe Studio, which was 39m2. This was much bigger than other rooms we have stayed in Ho Chi Minh. There were several comfortable chairs and a sofa to sit on too. The studio had kitchen and laundry facilities – we found that it is unusual to have good kitchen and laundry facilities in Ho Chi Minh hotels, but I suppose that is the advantage of an apartment rather than hotel room. There are at least two supermarkets within a few minutes walk, and plenty of local food options. Check here for latest rates and information.
Sanouva Saigon is centrally located in District 1 and in very good walking distance from key attractions. The rooms were a good size, and although this is an older property it is a good choice. We liked staying here and would go back again. It is a tall narrow building with the entrance up some steps, as is standard in Vietnam.
It is a good choice if you are looking for a hotel near Ben Thanh market. There are plenty of options to eat right at your doorstep including some great Saigon Street food options and the Ben Thanh Street Food Market. Sanouva is worth staying at if you would like a centrally located hotel that enables you to walk to all the key destinations, eat good street food and partake in a coffee or beer or two. Click here to see more information.
La Luna was a lovely little find – also in District 1. It was in a busy part of town that gave easy access to plenty of street food. Really great service – very friendly and helpful. They also organised a great massage for me. Really enjoyed our stay at La Luna. It is a great little hotel with lovely warm friendly service. We booked a room with a balcony and it was well worth it. La Luna is a lovely place to stay, but because it is a small hotel, rooms sell out quickly. There is a nightclub next door so there was a bit of doof doof action for while. Although to be fair the music was turned off relatively early – around 10 pm. Click here for the latest rates.
For a touch of luxury in Ho Chi Minh, then you can’t go past the Reverie Saigon. The Reverie Saigon is centrally located in District 1, and has all the things you would expect with five star hotels – swimming pool, fitness centre, wifi in all rooms, concierge services. Rooms look wonderfully appointed and big. Click here for the latest rates and information.
An Lam Retreats is a beautiful escape from the hub-bub of the City. An Lam is situated along the Saigon River, in lush tropical gardens, 15km from central Ho Chi Minh City. If you love a boutique hotel with large beautifully appointed rooms, then An Lam Retreats could be the place for you. Click here to see the latest information.
Is visiting Ho Chi Minh worth it?? Definitely yes!
If you liked this post please feel free to share it or comment. You may also like these other posts from our Asian travels:
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South East Asia with two kids and a nana (and a husband): Guest Post