Guide to the best of Ho Chi Minh City

Cycling in Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam

Zoe Macfarlane

Posted July 27, 2023

Ho Chi Minh City is one of the must-see destinations on any Vietnam experience. Here are the best things to see, do and eat in Vietnam’s most populous city.

Ho Chi Minh City – known interchangeably as Saigon - is a vibrant city of contrasts. Historical sites are adjacent to dazzling skyscrapers, where serene temples neighbour bustling markets, and the local delicacies – from street eats to fine dining - reveal flavour combinations that somehow come together in perfect balance.

All this is enjoyed against the city’s cacophonous soundtrack: the whirr of passing motorbikes. Somehow, this blend of old and new, peace and chaos, combines to create a much-loved city in Vietnam unlike any other in the world.

Take in scenes of daily Saigonese life amid the narrow alleyways, incense-infused temples, and sleek modern buildings.  

To experience the best of dynamic Ho Chi Minh City, visit from November to April. Alongside taking in the city’s iconic landmarks and cultural attractions, leave time to wander at leisure.


Dive deep into Ho Chi Minh City’s history

Ho Chi Minh City’s history is rich and complex. From fishing village, the Khmer settlement and the French occupation to the Vietnam War and reunification, the city has morphed into a dynamic city, and the financial capital of Vietnam.

A worthwhile first stop is the Museum of Vietnamese History. Housed in a stunning French colonial building, the museum’s exhibitions and artefacts take you on a journey from ancient times to modern life.

For a more sobering historical account, the War Remnants Museum offers insights into the First Indochina War and Vietnam War, and the impact of both on the Vietnamese people.

Nearby, visit Independence Palace (Reunification Palace) to learn more about how the former residence of the South Vietnamese president played a significant role during the Vietnam War.

Explore Ho Chi Minh City’s cultural gems

For an enriching cultural experience, catch a performance at the Saigon Opera House. The French colonial-style building is superb in itself, however, it’s the schedule of ballet, opera, and traditional Vietnamese theatre that impresses most.

You can discover Ho Chi Minh City’s religious diversity at two key attractions.

Phuoc Hai Tu, the Jade Emperor Pagoda, offers bold colours, a mish-mash blend of Buddhist and Taoist statues, and a thick aroma of burning incense. Together, this results in a tranquil place of worship amid the chaos of the city centre.

To see the influence of the French, head to the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon. This famed landmark stands proudly in central Ho Chi Minh City, with its stunning architecture and ornate stained-glass windows drawing you in for a closer look.

The nearby Saigon Central Post Office is as enchanting a building.


The CBD of Ho Chi Minh City. Image: Shutterstock.
A bustling area in the dynamic Ho Chi Minh City. Image: Shutterstock.

Sample Ho Chi Minh City’s culinary treats

The delicacies of Ho Chi Minh City play a part in how quickly visitors fall in love with the city.

A savoury pancake filled with treats like pork, shrimp, and bean sprouts, Ho Chi Minh City is famed for its bánh xèo because of the fresh herbs and dipping sauce that accompany the dish.

For a clear noodle soup to rival phô, sample hủ tiếu Saigon. The seafood and pork bone broth creates a distinct flavour popular with the locals.

You’ll also want to sample cơm tấm Sài Gòn. Broken rice, grilled meats, a fried egg, and pickled vegetables make for a surprisingly yummy version of cơm tấm.

The sizzle and aromas of Saigon’s street food draw you close. Try bánh căn, a crispy-yet-chewy rice cake, and bánh tráng trộn, a flavourful blend of rice paper strips, green mango, peanuts, and dried shrimps, tossed in a tangy fish sauce.

As the second-largest coffee producers in the world, the Vietnamese have perfected their cà phê sữa nóng ir. As the strong brew drips into sweet condensed milk, true caffeinated magic occurs!

Wellness and shopping in Ho Chi Minh City

Balance is an important part of the Vietnamese approach to life. From food to work-life balance to wellness, take advantage of this life philosophy during your stay. Across the city, find a range of spas offering affordable massages, facials, body treatments, and nail art.

If you prefer to unwind physically, head to Tao Dan Park or alongside the Saigon River. Watch locals enjoying badminton, martial arts, chess, and tai chi, with the invitation to join in never far away.

For an altogether different way to unwind, join both locals and visitors alike in a spot of shopping. Bustling markets, like the popular Benh Thanh, dot the city landscape, along with on-trend boutiques offering clothes, souvenirs, and art.

Keep an eye out for the bespoke tailors of Pham Ngu Lao or Le Loi streets, where high-quality silk can be crafted into a new dress, shirt, or the national dress, the áo dài.


Vietnam is where city meets culture. Image: Shutterstock.
Natural beauty surrounds the area. Image: Shutterstock.

Ho Chi Minh City day trips

The remarkable Cu Chi Tunnels make for a fascinating day trip from Ho Chi Minh City. Used by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War, the intricate network of underground tunnels transported people, weapons, and medicine - and to launch surprise attacks on the US army. On a guided tour, the tunnels are yours to explore – including going right into all but the smallest of the burrowed underground pathways.

Another popular day trip is to the 'rice bowl’ of Vietnam, the Mekong Delta. In this fertile region, rice, flowers, and juicy tropical fruit feed the country.

Check out the brilliant floating markets and enjoying a sampan boat ride along the Mekong’s narrow waterways, scenic orchards, and traditional stilt houses. Taking time to stop at an artisanal business or riverside village helps deepen your understanding of the cultures and customs of life in the country. Be sure to try elephant ear fish, a Mekong speciality!

Spend time in nature at the Can Gio Mangrove Forest. On a boat trip through this 80,000-hectare UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, watch for the fascinating wildlife that call Can Gio home, including saltwater crocodiles, king cobras, and rare fishing cats.


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