Going to Saigon and don’t have much time to spend there? Here’s a brief guide to 10 things to do in Saigon in just 3 days!
I visited Saigon for the first time in March 2016. I have been wanting to go back since I have left. There’s so many things to do in Saigon that I have yet to experience.
The latest book I have read made me wish to go back even more. “From Rome to Saigon” – that’s the title. I literally devoured it. It was a present from a dear friend, who read it before me and thought the story would resonate with me.
He was right. I enjoyed reading the adventures of Giorgio Bettinelli, the late author, who crossed 10 countries on a Vespa scooter. I would love to visit some of the places he mentions in his book, sometimes. And I wouldn’t mind returning to some of the others he talks about and which I have visited already.
Needless to say, one of them is Saigon, the ending point of Giorgio’s incredible adventure. I have been there during a trip that took me from Bangkok to Vietnam, which I have crossed from North to South, then to Siem Reap in Cambodia and eventually back to Thailand, in Koh Chang. I’d enjoy exploring the city (nowadays called Ho Chi Minh) through the author’s eyes. I’d head straight to those Ho Chi Minh City attractions that I didn’t have time to see during my first visit.
To find out more about Vietnam, check my Comprehensive Guide To The Things To Do In Vietnam.
Saigon: Love At First Sight
I haven’t spent enough time in Saigon. I only had a 15 days tourist visa for Vietnam, and by the time I made it there, it was about to expire. I regretted not factoring in a bit more time to explore it, because there’s really a lot of things to do in Ho Chi Minh.
When I had put it on my itinerary, I intended it as a quick stop on my way to Cambodia, thinking it would be just another big city where I’d feel overwhelmed by the traffic and the crowds. I figured 3 days would be enough to enjoy Ho Chi Minh City attractions.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. I fell in love with Saigon the minute I lay foot in the city. I felt immediately captured by its energy. It was so different from the capital, Hanoi. People here seemed more cheerful, more interested in communicating with travelers (indeed, meeting the locals is what to do in Saigon!). It may well be the sunny weather, that made it pleasant to walk around.
People were welcoming, indeed. They smiled at me and always made an effort to help me find the place I was looking for. They were glad to pose for pictures. Whenever they saw me take out my camera, they called out and asked to be photographed (and taking pictures of the every day life of the locals is one of the nicest things to do in Saigon). They seemed way more cheerful than their cousins from the North.
Sure enough, I vowed to make the most of my limited time in Saigon. I did all the most fun things to do in Saigon, and I left with a note to myself to go back one day to explore more of it.
Meantime, here’s ten things to do in Saigon in just three days. They seem like a lot for such a limited time, but they are more than doable!
10 Things To Do In Saigon In Just 3 Days
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 Saigon 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 Ho Chi Minh City attractions; but I would not skip the Central Post Office and the National Theater. They are all located in the area known as Dong Khoi.
Here’s some great tours of Saigon that will show it’s French architecture:
- War Remnant Museum, Central Post Office, Notre Dame on Cyclo
- Notre Dame and Independence Palace
- Best of Ho Chi Minh City Private Tour
- War Remnants Museum, Surroundings & Ben Thanh Market
- Half-Day Ho Chi Minh city Tour by Jeep (Private tour)
- Saigon: Insider’s Half-Day Tour by Vintage Vespa
- Ho Chi Minh City Full-Day Tour by bike
- Customized Ho Chi Minh City Experience on Cyclo with Driver
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 Bixteco Financial Tower. All it takes is a $10 USD elevator ride to get to the Saigon Skydeck. I wholeheartedly recommend it as one of the coolest things to do in Ho Chi Minh.
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.
Here’s some tours of Saigon which include a visit to the Bixteco Tower:
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. And indeed, one of the most fun things to do in Saigon is shopping! 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. Don’t forget to haggle: that’s what to do in Saigon to get a bargain.
Here’s 3 good tours of Saigon that go to local markets:
- Ho Chi Minh City: Morning Market Tour by Motorbike
- Cyclos and Markets: Small Group Tour in Ho Chi Minh City
- Ben Thanh Market Tour and Cooking Class
Get emotional and infuriated at the War Remnants Museum
If there is one museum that should be visited 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 Saigon, 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.
Here’s two excellent tours of Saigon that both go to the War Remnants Museum:
- War Remnants Museum and Cu Chi Tunnels Full-Day Group Tour
- City Highlights: War Remnants Museum & Independence Palace
Beat the traffic on a mototaxi
One of the best ways to get around the city is on a mototaxi, not to mention riding one is one of the most fun things to do in Saigon. 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 my 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). I must admit that from the outside it isn’t that impressive at all, but 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, and as such one of Ho Chi Minh City attractions. It is dedicated to the Jade Emperor, one of the most important gods according to Taoism. What I enjoyed 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 interesting 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 shown at the very end of the show.
Here’s a few good tours of Saigon that also provide entrance to the Water Puppet show:
- Notre Dame, Independence Palace including Water Puppet Show
- Ho Chi Minh: Water Puppet Show Ticket with Hotel Delivery
- Water Puppet Show & Saigon Dinner Cruise
Gorge on all the delicious food
I am hardly a foodie, but 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 one 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. This is not just a restaurant. It is one of the top Ho Chi Minh City attractions!
Here’s a selection of great food tours of Saigon:
- Ho Chi Minh City Food by Night: Private Motorbike Tour
- Ho Chi Minh: Private Street Food Night Walking Tour
- Discover Saigon’s Local Street Food and Sites by Motorbike
- Saigon Street Food: 3.5-Hour Evening Tour
- Midnight Street Food Tour In Saigon By Motorbike
- Weird Street Food And Local Sights At Night By Motorbike
- Top 10 dishes: Saigon Luxury Private Food Tour By Motorbike
- Ho Chi Minh City’s Most Tasty Street Food Tour by Motorbike
- Private Vegan Food Experience by Scooter
Quan Bui appears to 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. In fact, having a cold beer is one of the top (and most refreshing) things to do in Saigon.
Enjoy the incredible nightlife
Nightlife in Saigon is thriving and one of the things to do in Saigon is enjoying its amazing bar scene. I arrived there quite late, as my flight from Da Nang had been delayed, and I was positively surprised to find that most restaurants were still open, and that literally everyone was out drinking and partying.
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 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 Bixteco Financial Tower. The highlight of the place – other than the views, that is! – is the live music.
Among Saigon’s best bars, there are 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. It’s easy to see why it is considered one of the prominent Ho Chi Minh City attractions.
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. Definitely one of the coolest things to do in Saigon is enjoying some good rock music.
Here’s some great night tours of Saigon:
- Saigon: 3-Hour Nightlife Tour by Motorbike
- Ho Chi Minh City: Midnight Motorbike Tour
- Private Jeep Tour Saigon by Night – City Tour & Skybar Drink
- Ho Chi Minh City: City Tour At Night By Motorbike
- Saigon: After Dark Tour by Vintage Vespa
- Twilight Tour by Motorbike: See Saigon with Tiger Eyes
Where to stay in Saigon
The choice of places to stay in Saigon is very wide. I 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, keeping away from it may well be one of the nicest things to do in Saigon.
Here’s a selection of great places to stay in Saigon:
- Yellow House Saigon
- Ms. Yang Homestay 2
- Alleyway Hostel
- The Like Hostel and Cafe
- Saigon Inn
- Urban Lodge Hotel
- Della Boutique Hotel
With so many interesting things to do, it is easy to see why I would love to go back to Saigon. For even more things to do in Saigon, check out these insider tips.
Have you ever been to Saigon? What are the things to do in Saigon that you enjoyed the most?
Legal Disclaimer: This article is written in partnership with Accor Hotel Group. All the views and opinions expressed are my own and based on my personal experience. The views expressed are honest and factual without any bias.
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