Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, is a dynamic metropolis that serves as the economic and cultural heartbeat of Vietnam. For those considering things to do in Ho Chi Minh City, delving into the city’s tumultuous history at the War Remnants Museum, and exploring the bustling Ben Thanh Market, where everything from local delicacies to traditional handicrafts can be found, are top activities.
The city’s Notre-Dame Cathedral, a neo-Romanesque church constructed entirely with materials imported from France, stands as a testament to the city’s colonial past. Nearby, the Reunification Palace, also known as the Independence Palace, offers a glimpse into the life of South Vietnam’s former presidents, with its well-preserved rooms and underground war rooms.
Beyond its historical sites, Ho Chi Minh City is celebrated for its vibrant street food scene, offering an array of mouth-watering dishes from pho to banh mi. For those seeking the best places to visit in Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City’s blend of historical intrigue, culinary delights, and relentless energy makes it a captivating destination.
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Attractions & Things to Do in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
1. War Remnants Museum
The War Remnants Museum offers a poignant look at the brutal effects of war, particularly the Vietnam War, through harrowing photographic exhibits and American military equipment on display.
Travel Tip: Some of the exhibits are graphic in nature; it’s important to prepare for an emotionally intense experience.
2. Cu Chi Tunnels
The Cu Chi Tunnels are an immense network of underground tunnels that played a crucial role during the Vietnam War. Visitors can explore the safe parts of the tunnel system to get a sense of the underground life of Vietnamese soldiers during the conflict.
Travel Tip: If you’re claustrophobic, you might want to skip crawling through the actual tunnels and stick to the above-ground exhibits.
3. Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica
This iconic cathedral stands as a beautiful example of French colonial architecture in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City. Although services are held in Vietnamese, visitors are welcome to explore when Mass is not in session.
Travel Tip: The area is great for photography, so bring your camera and also check out the nearby Saigon Central Post Office for its historical significance and architecture.
4. Ben Thanh Market
Ben Thanh Market is a bustling marketplace in central Ho Chi Minh City. The market is one of the earliest surviving structures in Saigon and is renowned for its varied merchandise, from local handicrafts to Vietnamese cuisine.
Travel Tip: Visit in the early morning or late evening to avoid the heat and the crowds, and don’t forget to bargain with the vendors.
5. Reunification Palace
Also known as Independence Palace, this historically significant building was the residence of the President of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War.
Travel Tip: Try to catch the informative video presentation on the palace’s history before you start exploring the premises.
6. Saigon Skydeck
Located on the 49th floor of the Bitexco Financial Tower, the Saigon Skydeck offers panoramic views of the city.
Travel Tip: Visit just before sunset to enjoy both day and nighttime views of Ho Chi Minh City, and consider buying tickets online in advance to skip the line.
7. Saigon Opera House
The Saigon Opera House is a beautiful example of French Colonial architecture in Vietnam, and it is a venue for a variety of cultural performances.
Travel Tip: Even if you’re not attending a performance, it’s worth checking out the building’s exterior and interior during the day.
8. Binh Tay Market
Situated in the Chinatown district of Cholon, Binh Tay Market offers a more local experience than Ben Thanh Market. It’s known for its wholesale goods and Chinese products.
Travel Tip: This is the place to sample some Chinese-influenced Vietnamese delicacies, so come hungry and ready to explore.
9. Jade Emperor Pagoda
This atmospheric pagoda is filled with incense and intricate woodcarvings, providing a glimpse into Chinese spiritual practices in Vietnam.
Travel Tip: As with most temples, dress conservatively and avoid visiting during peak worship times unless you are there to participate.
10. Museum of Vietnamese History
The Museum of Vietnamese History is housed in a building that’s a fine example of Indochinese architecture and contains exhibits spanning from prehistoric times to the modern era.
Travel Tip: Look out for the water puppet shows that are sometimes performed on the premises, offering a delightful traditional Vietnamese experience.
11. Pham Ngu Lao Street
Often compared to Bangkok’s Khaosan Road, Pham Ngu Lao Street is the backpacker hub of Ho Chi Minh City, brimming with inexpensive hostels, bars, and restaurants.
Travel Tip: This area is ideal for budget travelers and those looking to meet fellow travelers, and it’s also a great starting point for city tours.
12. Can Gio Mangrove Biosphere Reserve
A day trip from Ho Chi Minh City, the Can Gio Mangrove Biosphere Reserve is a wetland sanctuary home to a rich variety of wildlife.
Travel Tip: Consider a guided tour to learn more about the mangroves’ ecosystem and to have the best chance of seeing wildlife, including monkeys and crocodiles.
13. Starlight Bridge (Cau Anh Sao)
Starlight Bridge is an illuminated pedestrian bridge in the Phu My Hung area, offering a romantic and modern counterpoint to the city’s historical attractions.
Travel Tip: Visit in the evening when the lights are on for the best experience, and you’ll find plenty of dining options nearby.
14. Vinh Nghiem Pagoda
One of the largest pagodas in Ho Chi Minh City, Vinh Nghiem Pagoda is notable for its towering seven-story pagoda and traditional Vietnamese architecture.
Travel Tip: Dress respectfully and try to visit during off-peak hours to enjoy the pagoda in quiet contemplation.
15. The Central Post Office
The Central Post Office in Ho Chi Minh City is not only a functioning mail facility but also a magnificent example of French colonial architecture. Designed by Gustave Eiffel, it’s a tourist attraction in its own right.
Travel Tip: While there, send a postcard home for a personal touch and to share a bit of your travels with friends or family.
16. Ho Chi Minh City Museum
Housed in a grand colonial-era building, the Ho Chi Minh City Museum (also known as the Revolutionary Museum) offers exhibits on the city’s history, from prehistoric times to the present day, including the struggle for independence from French colonial rule.
Travel Tip: The museum’s gardens are also worth exploring, providing a peaceful retreat from the city’s hustle and bustle.
17. Mariamman Hindu Temple
This colorful Hindu temple serves the small Hindu community in Ho Chi Minh City and is open to visitors of all faiths. It’s a rich display of Hindu architecture and a serene place for worship.
Travel Tip: Remember to remove your shoes before entering the temple and dress conservatively as a sign of respect.
18. The Museum of Traditional Vietnamese Medicine (FITO Museum)
The FITO Museum showcases the history and application of traditional Vietnamese medicine with an impressive collection of artifacts and exhibits.
Travel Tip: Opt for a guided tour, often included with the price of admission, to gain a deeper understanding of the artifacts and their uses.
19. Cho Lon (Big Market)
Cho Lon, or “Big Market,” is Ho Chi Minh City’s Chinatown and one of the largest Chinatowns in the world. It’s a vibrant cultural area with traditional Chinese temples, medicine shops, and markets.
Travel Tip: Visit the Thien Hau Temple dedicated to the sea goddess Mazu, which is one of the most popular in the area.
20. The A O Show at the Saigon Opera House
The A O Show is a unique cultural performance that showcases traditional Vietnamese life using acrobatics, dance, and music at the historic Saigon Opera House.
Travel Tip: Tickets should be purchased in advance, and you can often find good deals online or through travel agencies.
21. Nguyen Hue Walking Street
This pedestrian street is a hub of entertainment and public activities, especially on weekends when families and tourists flock to enjoy the vibrant atmosphere.
Travel Tip: Keep an eye out for street performances and public displays, particularly during festival times or weekends.
22. Saigon River
A boat trip along the Saigon River provides a different perspective of Ho Chi Minh City, with views of the city’s skyline, especially beautiful in the evening.
Travel Tip: Sunset cruises often include dinner and are a romantic way to end a day in the city.
23. Le Van Tam Park
This tranquil park in the middle of the city is named after a Vietnamese hero and provides a lush escape with shaded areas and playgrounds.
Travel Tip: The park is at its liveliest when locals come for their early morning or late afternoon exercise routines, which can be a cultural experience to witness.
24. Southern Women’s Museum
Dedicated to the lives and achievements of southern Vietnamese women, this museum provides insight into the roles women have played in the country’s history.
Travel Tip: Try to visit during one of the craft demonstrations or workshops to see traditional techniques in action.
25. The Fine Arts Museum
Set in a beautiful French colonial building, the Fine Arts Museum houses an impressive collection of Vietnamese art, including contemporary and historical pieces.
Travel Tip: The museum can be quite hot inside; plan to visit during cooler parts of the day and allow enough time to take breaks as you explore the three floors of art.
FAQ About Things to Do in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
What are the must-visit historical sites in Ho Chi Minh City?
The War Remnants Museum, Independence Palace, and the Cu Chi Tunnels are crucial historical sites offering insights into Vietnam’s turbulent past.
Can I explore Ho Chi Minh City by boat?
Yes, you can take a boat tour along the Saigon River to see the city from a different perspective and enjoy the bustling river life.
Where can I experience the local nightlife in Ho Chi Minh City?
District 1, especially around Bui Vien and Pham Ngu Lao streets, is famous for its vibrant nightlife with numerous bars, clubs, and street food vendors.
Are there any cultural shows that I can attend in the city?
The A O Show at the Saigon Opera House is a fantastic cultural performance that blends acrobatics, dance, and visual arts to depict Vietnamese life.
What local food should I try in Ho Chi Minh City?
Don’t miss out on Pho, Banh Mi, and Com Tam, which are among the local delicacies. Street food tours are also available for a comprehensive culinary experience.
Is there a place for shopping local handicrafts?
Yes, Ben Thanh Market is a popular spot for tourists looking for local handicrafts, textiles, and souvenirs.
Can I visit the Mekong Delta from Ho Chi Minh City?
Day trips to the Mekong Delta are popular and easily arranged from Ho Chi Minh City, offering a glimpse into the agricultural heartland of Vietnam.
What parks or green spaces are there in Ho Chi Minh City?
Tao Dan Park and Le Van Tam Park are serene green spaces where locals go to exercise, relax, and escape the city bustle.