Going to Saigon and don’t have much time to spend there? Here’s a brief guide to the best things to do in Saigon.
Saigon is the kind of city that takes you by surprise and will capture you with its phenomenal energy. You don’t expect much from it, and yet you end up loving it. Its vibe, its positive energy, the sights and the food will all draw you into it. People here are cheerful and welcoming and this, somehow, makes the overall experience of visiting much better than in Hanoi, up North.
In this post, I highlight the best things to do in Ho Chi Minh and share some useful tips to help you make the most of it.
17 Great Things To Do In Saigon
Admire the French colonial architecture
At some point in its history, Saigon was colonized by the French, who left a clear mark in the look of the city. One of the nicest things to do in Ho Chi Minh is searching for examples of the French colonial architecture. All it takes to admire it is walking around.
Examples of such architecture are scattered around the city. The Notre Dame Cathedral is one of the best kept buildings, not to mention one of the most important attractions; but make sure not to skip the Central Post Office (a late 19th century building in Gothic style that is actually still in use) and the National Theater. They are all located in the area known as Dong Khoi.
Visit the Reunification Palace
Once called Norodom Palace and now also referred to as Independence Palace, the Reunification Palace is a splendid example of 1960s architecture and decor. you may recognize the building as it is the one depicted on the 200,000 Vietnamese Dong (VND) notes.
The highlights of the building include the meeting rooms located on the lower floor, the bar on the second floor and a bomb shelter that General Ngo Dinh Diem had built after the Vietnamese air force bombed the palace in 1962 in an attempt to kill him (he was finally assassinated by his troops in 1963).
After Diem’s death, during the American War (that’s how the Vietnam War is called here), the President of South Vietnam lived there. In 1975 a North Vietnamese army tanker crashed through the main gate, marking the end of the war.
The Independence Palace is open daily from 8:00 am to 12:00 pm. There is a small admission fee to visit.
See Saigon from above
Located on the banks of the Mekong River, Saigon is pretty much flat. But it can be admired from above at the Bitexco Financial Tower. All it takes is a budget friendly elevator ride to get to the Saigon Skydeck. On clear days, the view is spectacular.
There also is a small museum inside, with a nice exhibit on the Ao Dai, the traditional dress worn by Vietnamese women. It is a nice way to learn a bit more about the culture and way of life of the country.
You can get fast track tickets to Bitexco Financial Tower here.
Haggle in Saigon’s best markets
With 8 million people living there, Saigon is a great place for shopping and it is packed with interesting markets. Saigon markets are perfect to buy all the latest electronic gadgets and to gorge on street food. They are also a great way to observe a bit of local life.
The best markets in town are Dan Sinh, known as the American Market and which sells war memorabilia; and An Dong, located in District 5 and which sells mostly clothing and accessories. Other fantastic markets are Binh Tay Market and Ben Thanh Market.
Get emotional and infuriated at the War Remnants Museum
If there is one museum that you should visit in Saigon, that’s the War Remnants Museum. Its collection includes a number of pictures taken by world famous photographers; documents; uniforms worn by soldiers and more – all from the time of what in Vietnam is known as The American War.
Visiting the War Remnants Museum is one of the unmissable things to do in Ho Chi Minh, because it is a great place to learn about the difficult history of the country, including about the devastating effects of Agent Orange, whose use was widespread during the war. Be ready to get emotional and to leave infuriated.
There is a small entry fee to the War Remnants Museum. The museum is open every day from 7:30 am to 12:00 pm and from 1:30 to 5:00 pm. For a guided tour that also goes to the War Remnant Museum, click here.
Go to the Museum of Ho Chi Minh City
This lovely museum doesn’t get nearly as many visitors as the War Remnants Museum. It has a great exhibit about the making of Ho Chi Minh (Saigon’s newer name) and about Vietnamese culture. It’s located in a gorgeous building that make it worth visiting in and of itself!
There is a small entry fee to the Museum of Ho Chi Minh City. The museum is open every day from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm.
Visit the Museum of Vietnamese History
This museum contains lots of artifacts that will help you get a better understanding of Vietnamese history and culture. There also is a collection of sculptures coming from Angkor Wat, in Cambodia. Adding to the experience, you can also attend a water pupped show.
There is a small entry fee to the Museum of Vietnamese History. There is an additional fee if you want to take photos or want to see the Water Puppet show. The museum is open every day from 8:00 am to 12:00 pm and from 1:30 to 5:00 pm.
Beat the traffic on a mototaxi
One of the best ways to get around the city is on a mototaxi, not to mention riding is a lot of fun. These kind of taxis can be easily recognized by the fact that drivers are parked at the side of the street, and they hold two helmets.
Prices are super convenient, and it is a good way to admire the city from a different perspective – not to mention, they beat the terrible traffic of the city!
Visit Thien Hau Pagoda
One of the nicest things to do in Saigon is visiting the many temples that are scattered around the city. Thien Hau is bound to become your favorite. It is located in Chinatown (District 5) and it was built in the 19th century in honor of Thien Hau (the Lady of the Sea).
Although from the outside it isn’t that impressive at all, the inside is packed with beautiful carvings and intricate details, and the burning incense gives it a beautiful atmosphere.
Visit the Jade Emperor Pagoda
The Jade Emperor Pagoda is one of the most important Taoist temples in Saigon. It is dedicated to the Jade Emperor, one of the most important gods according to Taoism.
What I am sure you will enjoy the most about it is the silence: it is a nice break from the noise of the incessant traffic outside. The incense adds to the peaceful atmosphere.
Go to the Water Puppet show
One of the most touristy yet fun things to do in Saigon is attending the Water Puppet show. This is a very traditional show during which all the main pillars of Vietnamese cultural beliefs are explained.
What makes it interesting is that the puppets are moved from under the water. The trick of how it is done is revealed at the very end of the show.
You can book your tickets for the Water Puppet Show here.
Gorge on all the delicious food
Vietnamese food is delicious and one of the top things to do in Ho Chi Min is eating. Whether in the street or at a trendy restaurant, the choice of food in Saigon is incredible – so much so that you may as well browse a guide of Vietnamese street food to go prepared!
Nha Hang Ngon, in Dong Khoi, is a great place to get acquainted with Vietnamese cuisine: grouped all in one place at a very stylish location there are several street food stalls that serve all the staples of Vietnamese food, from pho bo, a light broth made of beef bones and served with thin slices of beef, fresh soya bean sprouts, and various herbs, to the most mouthwatering desserts.
Quan Bui may well be Saigon’s best kept secret. It is a place run by locals, and for the locals, where the occasional tourist makes an appearance. It is in the heart of District 1 and combines delicious food with a stylish yet traditional Vietnamese architecture.
Quan 104 is located on Van Kiep Street and has a limited menu of incredibly tasty dishes. The grilled octopus is mouthwatering.
Don’t forget to accompany a great meal with a good “bia hoi” (cold beer)! Vietnamese people love a good bia hoi, and streets are packed with small places that serve canned or even craft beer.
Enjoy the incredible nightlife
Nightlife in Saigon is thriving and I am sure you will appreciate the amazing bar scene. The place to be is Bui Vien street. It’s supposed to be a pedestrian street only, but it actually isn’t so expect to find the typical scooters parked on sidewalks and the usual chaos.
While younger crowds will love Crazy Buffalo Nightclub, older generations of both locals and foreigners tend to prefer Acoustic Bar, perfect for those who enjoy rock music.
This is the kind of place where it is possible to have a drink while listening to The Beatles, The Doors or Jimi Hendrix. There’s also a dance floor that becomes busier and busier throughout the night.
Go for a walk along the Pedestrian Mall
It’s not often that you manage to get away from traffic, cars and scooters in Vietnam, so I am sure you will enjoy a walk along Nguyen Hue Street, a pedestrian-only area that goes from the People’s Committee to the river.
Highlights of the walk will be spotting the statue of Ho Chi Minh and the evening fountain show. You will also find loads of street food vendors in case you get hungry.
Have a drink at a rooftop bar
If seeing the city from above is what to do in Saigon, a great choice for a drink is a rooftop bar. For an early start and a great view of the city, head to Saigon Rooftop bar. Rex Hotel Rooftop bar, on the other hand, is only located on the 5th floor, but the views of the People’s Committee Hall and Saigon Opera House are stunning.
Eon 51 Heli Bar is located on the 51st floor of Bitexco Financial Tower. The highlight of the place – other than the views, that is! – is the live music.
Among Saigon’s best bars, there is also Chill Skybar, which is located on the 25th floor of the AB tower. It is the kind of place that has a strict dress code, but the selection of cocktails, the good music and the breathtaking view make it all worth it.
Visit the Cu Chi Tunnels
One of the best things to do in Saigon is getting out of the city. Thankfully, that’s an easy thing to do and there are plenty of places to visit that can be reached without hassle. One of the best day trips from Saigon is that to the Cu Chi Tunnels.
These are part of a much larger network of tunnels in Vietnam that were used by the Viet Cong soldiers during the war, as hiding spots and as communication and supply channels. Things such as food, weapons and medicines were smuggled via the tunnels, where many North Vietnamese fighters also lived.
You can book your tour of the Cu Chi Tunnels here.
Go on a Mekong Delta tour
The floating markets are a great place to visit if you want to get a good idea of the local way of life; whereas the Mekong Delta is an incredibly scenic place, with small villages, lush vegetation, and great photo opportunities. They can be visited on the same day and make for an incredible day trip out of Saigon.
For a great guided tour of the Mekong, click here.
Ho Chi Minh City Travel Tips
How to get to Ho Chi Minh City and how to move around
The easiest way to get to Saigon from other cities in Vietnam or even from other countries is to fly there. From the airport, you can take a taxi to your accommodation. Make sure to insist to pay by the meter – more often than not, the flat rates suggested are higher than what you should be paying.
Once you are in town, you can easily move around by mototaxi or by taxi. Use Grab – the South East Asia version of Uber – to order a taxi. It’s super easy!
Safety in Saigon
We found Saigon to be a safe city – but just like with any other major big city, you need to be smart to avoid scams and other issues. The worst areas are those crowded with tourists.
It’s not uncommon for tourists to get their phones or cameras snatched – take out your phone on a side street, and by all means do not flash it. Keep your wallet in a safe pocket inside your purse and keep some small change in your pockets.
Where to stay in Saigon
The choice of places to stay in Saigon is very wide. We stayed at the Yellow House Saigon, a lovely small design hotel in a narrow alley where there’s no traffic whatsoever – and considering the level of noise in Asian cities, this was a nice change.
For even more things to do in Ho Chi Minh, check out these insider tips.
Make sure to read my other posts about Vietnam:
- The Best Things To Do In Vietnam
- 17 Fun And Unmissable Things To Do In Hanoi
- 13 Great Day Trips From Hanoi
- What You Need To Know Before Visiting Vietnam
- How To Get The Vietnam Visa Online And The Vietnam Visa On Arrival
- The Best Things To Do In Hoi An
- The Best Things To Do In Sapa