Looking for things to do in Ho Chi Minh City? Ho Chi Minh City is a clean, action-packed, and super friendly city, full of history, culture, and motorbikes! I have never been to a city with so many motorbikes. I read somewhere that the is approximately 5 million motorbikes in with the city! Ho Chi Minh City is the largest city and the main economic centre of the country, its former name is Saigon.
Things to Do in Ho Chi Minh City
1. Pham Ngu Lao
The city itself is set out into ‘districts’. When you first arrive, head to the Pham Ngu Lao area. This is the traveller, tourist, visitor, hotel, bar, restaurant, and market streets area. You might be surprised, as I was, at just how many hotels, guesthouses, bars and restaurants fit into one small area!
The condensed area of budget accommodation is located in, and around, Bui Vien Street. This area is considered the Khao San Road of Ho Chi Minh City, and the nightlife is a unique experience all of its own.
Ho Chi Ming City has some great architecture, huge markets, and some museums that focus on war, as well as many clean grass filled parks. An option if you are up for the adventure, would be to explore the streets on a city tour, which can easily be arranged through any of the travel agencies in the Pham Ngu Lao area. These tours can easily be arranged once you arrive in Ho Chi Minh, and it’s best you check out the traffic first, you find it easier to explore the city on foot.
2. War Remnants Museum
The War Remnants Museum is highly recommended for those with a keen interest in history, wars, and culture. The museum allows visitors to gain an insight into the brutality of the Vietnam War and also has military helicopters, attacker bomber planes and an Army Tank. It is important to note that the museum closes at lunchtime (12 pm to 1:30 pm) but is otherwise open from 7:30 am to 5 pm.
3. Central Post Office and Notre-Dame Cathedral
The Central Post Office building and the Notre-Dame Cathedral are both lovely buildings, and were designed by a French architect, Gustave Eiffel (yes, he also designed the Eiffel Tower).
Inside the Central Post Office, are walls decorated with French colonial maps of Ho Chi Minh city. The Romanesque looking Notre-Dame Cathedral, across the road from the Central Post Office, is equally impressive, and you may need to stand a substantial distance from the Cathedral to get the whole building in one photo.
4. Ho Chi Minh City Opera House
Built in 1897 by French architect Eugene Ferret the Ho ChimMinh Opera House also known as Opera de Saigon is a prime example of French Colonial architecture in Vietnam. In 1955, the theatre was restored as the seat of the Lower House of the State of Vietnam. After the Fall of Saigon in 1975, the building was restored to its original function as a theatre.
5. People’s Committee of HCMC
Ho Chi Minh City Hall or officially named the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee HQ was built between 1902 and 1908 in French colonial style. You can’t enter the building but it is does make for good photos, especially at night when it is lit up.
6. Saigon Skydeck – Bitexco Financial Tower
If you want views of Ho Chi Minh City and the Saigon river, head to the Saigon Skydeck in the Bitexco Financial Tower. The price is quite steep at 200,000 VND, but the views are worth it. Compared to Landmark 81 Skyview the price is a steal.
7. Vietnam History Museum
This is a must-visit museum to learn more about the history of Vietnam. This museum was built in 1926 by the French and you can notice the colonial architecture.
8. Reunification Place
Reunification Place is an area at which the first communist North Vietnamese Army tanks crashed through the gates in 1975, resulting in Saigon’s official surrender (The President of South Vietnam lived here during the Vietnam War). I was told that the area is preserved almost exactly as it was in 1966. There are free guided tours that run frequently throughout the day, and it is important to note that it is closed from 11 am to 1 pm each day.
9. Ben Thanh Market
If you like markets, need some new clothes, shoes, or are looking for some tasty treats, then the Ben Thanh Market in District One is the place for you. With more than 3000 undercover stalls, you can find almost everything from women and men’s clothing, bags, jewellery, shoes, wallets, hats, underwear, lollies, teas and refreshments.
It is easy enough to pick up a bargain if you haggle, as prices can quite often be inflated for tourists.
10. Landmark 81 Tower & Shopping Centre
Located on the western banks of the Saigon River, Landmark 81 at 461.5-metre is the tallest building in Vietnam and the tallest building in South East Asia. It has a luxury shopping centre as well as a multi-story observation deck, called Skyview. Tickets are 810,000VND (35USD) for adults.
11. Thao Dien – District 2
Thao Dien an area in District 2, is located on the other side of the Saigon River. It is known as the coolest neighbourhood in HCMC. It is the area where expats love to live and is rapidly changing due to the metro line that will connect it to the centre and is opening up soon. There is an amazing amount of healthy eating options at restaurants, more than in any other area of HCMC.
You will also find plenty of nightclubs and cool shops. Make sure to check out The Deck which is the best Riverside Cafe in HCMC. Another riverside favourite is Bistro Song Vie.
12. Day Trip – Cu Chi Tunnels
The Cu Chi tunnels are a network of tunnels used by the Viet Cong as hiding spots during combat in the Vietnam war. The tunnels are located in the Cu Chi district of HCMC. You can yourself experience how the tunnel network is. You can also see the tools used for guerrilla warfare by the Viet Cong. Last but not least there is a shooting range where you can shoot live ammo of various weapons, AK47 anyone?
13. Speedboat to Vung Tau
From the centre of Ho Chi Minh City, you can take a direct speedboat along the Saigon River to the coastal resort town of Vung Tau. This is the closest beach you can find near ho Chi Minh City. The boat trip is lovely and so is the town of Vung Tau. Make sure to climb the 170 metres high Nho Mount where you can find a 32 metres high statue of Jesus. There are nice views of the town here.
14. Mekong Delta Boat Trip
A must-do day trip is one to the Mekong River Delta. Where you can visit the many islands in the river delta in an area that is as large as 40,000 square kilometres and has a population of over 17 million. This is the agricultural region of Vietnam. I have written a dedicated article about Mekong River Delta trips.
15. Vietnamese Cooking Classes
If you are into cooking, or just simply like eating Vietnamese food (like me), a way to learn how to make the same food that you have been enjoying around the city would be to take a cooking class. Do you mean I can actually make this when I go home in my own kitchen?!
The best experiences for a cooking class involve going to the local markets before the cooking class, and learning from the teacher about all the different types of fresh produce at the market, where it was grown, and what type of dishes it is normally used in. This is a great experience! So when choosing between different cooking courses, opt for one that includes a market shopping tour first, and you will find that most cooking classes offer a recipe pack for you to take home.
Ho Chi Minh City is a busy, motorbike filled city with friendly people, smiling faces, and certain ease about it. The are many green parks filled with locals exercising, you might see a game of Da Cau, Vietnamese foot badminton. There are plenty of well-maintained footpaths and polite traffic, unlike Hanoi, which makes Ho Chi Minh a relaxing and effortless city stay.